The first time I encountered Brooklyn-based artist Carol Bove’s works was at David Zwirner Gallery almost 6 years ago.
She was making a very different kind of sculpture art then (see Polka Dots), but was still working with transforming steel and using paint to facilitate a part of its manipulation.
What follows are photos from her recent exhibition, Chimes at Midnight, at David Zwirner Gallery, W20th Street (running through June 18, 2021) and excerpts from her conversations with art historian Johanna Burton and art curator Phillip Kaiser:
Johanna: Again, pervasive narratives around large-scale metal sculpture usually foreground a kind of battle of wills behind the maker and the material, with, in the end, the maker wrangling the material into a certain configuration. It seems that what you’re talking about is more of a discursive or dialogic dance, where you’re showing an innate quality of the material in a form that is not usually seen. And this negotiation enables different ways of thinking about that process. You do leave certain subtle hints about the process that I think are interesting, such as the use fo bolts and the seams that are produced from welding. There’s a very different logic or purpose in deciding whether to put things together with a bolt or through welding.
Carol: Yes, you can see the decision-making most in the connections. There’s some sort of narrative to either decision too. When parts are welded, it is an instance of two pieces of the same type of material being melted together along a seam. When parts are bolted together, it is a temporary and reversible connection. Bolting is a more erotic relationship because one discrete entity penetrates the other. I tend to choose the mechanical connection when I’m bringing two different materials together. There are reasons for breaking this rule, but in general, if I’m connecting a highly polished, fabricated element to a matte, manipulated tube element, then I could use a bolt. The bolt underscores the way these two elements sit uneasily together, that they can’t be reconciled.
Johanna: So you’re allowing the distinction but forcing the union.
Carol: Yes, and these connections are very erotic. Just as two people can be fully sympathetic and sexually engaged, they are never going become a single person. There will always be difference.
Johanna: And there’s a kind of violence to it?
Carol: There’s violence to it, and desire. The connections have all the pull for me.
Phillip: Are you talking about the fictional nature of any presentation of art?
Carol: Right. That’s how we know something is a sculpture, because in the context of art it’s bracketed out of the world of regular objects. But, because I’m putting a lot of work into this dimension of display, it’s like putting a bracket around the bracket, so you can look directly at the framing devices.
Phillip: This makes me think of your MoMA exhibition a few years ago titled The Equinox, where you included a large riser that elevated and unified various sculptures. Does this presentation form elevate them in a different state?
Carol: I think when something is on a pedestal, especially a big pedestal, we imagine that it’s in a different type of space. It’s qualitatively different, as if it were a live broadcast on television. There’s a belief that the pedestal space isn’t real in the same way that something in “our” space is. Part of my ongoing play with pedestals and display strategies is to understand how that language works and what it means. How much of its meaning is from convention and how much from physical poetry? It seems very much to be about ontology: is this thing on display real? If it’s real, in what way is it real, and to what degree?
Johanna:… How do you listen to the material in a way that feels more like a dialogue and less an exertion of will? Or maybe you disagree with that.
Carol: No, I agree. I want to find out what stainless steel does, what its qualities are. We think stainless steel is hard and strong, and I’m wondering if this is really the case. Is there a gentle and persistent way to act on it so that it will behave differently? Can it be tricked into showing a different side? Under what conditions is it soft and supple? I never force the material to do something it doesn’t want to do. I let it lead me as much as I lead it. I’m invested in an improvisational process where I’m making and solving a puzzle simultaneously.
I also imagine a mirror effect on perception, where the material’s plasticity acts on the imagination. What we know about the material is contradicted, so maybe our grip on reality should be a little lighter, too, enabling us to see what is in front of us rather than only what we think we see.
Johanna: what are the conditions that render the material supple?
Carol: It has to do with the way I prepare the tubes, by pressing them with a series of differently shaped tools that we make specifically for this purpose.
JB: Can you say more about that? In the resulting works, the material looks so distinct from how we ordinarily conceive it, rendering the process a mystery. In discussions with you, you don’t take the pains to hide the process, but if a viewer simply encounters the finished object, how it is produced can feel kind of magical.
Carol: Right. We use a hydraulic press to start bending and massaging the tubes, and then we pull the bends closed using a chain-hoist system. Through this process of manipulations, the geometry of the steel becomes very complex, making the tube seem more like fabric, or something with a softer texture. It takes some patience, and my ability to manipulate the tubes has developed over a few years.
I think it’s interesting how incidental the illusionism is. I leave a lot of evidence of the work’s construction, and you can even come to the studio to see the tubes being manipulated. But in the end the labor is invisible, and in some way the tubes don’t look fully real.