Eva Hesse: Studiowork
The Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh
5 August to 29 October
Looking at an artist's work-in-progress can be like reading their diary; it offers a tantalising glimpse into their unconscious mind. The 50 or so incomplete fragments that make up this exhibition, Hesse's self-named 'test pieces', are like dried-up innards or body parts and, scattered across various surfaces, they can't help but speak of the war and degradation she experienced as a child fleeing Nazi Germany.
These process-based test pieces were an integral part of Hesse's practice, giving her the knowledge and confidence with materials to expand them into iconic, large-scale installations. More importantly, the curator of this exhibition, Hesse scholar Briony Fer, has collated these sculptures with a wider goal in mind--to emphasise 'studiowork', a term which she uses to refer to 'the things that just get made or are put out in the world, that maybe never get completed, that maybe fail'. Fer reveals a fascination for the intuitive, often intensely psychological sculptures of numerous surreal artists who have influenced Hesse, including Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Marcel Duchamp and Louise Bourgeois.
When working in 1960s New York, Hesse made a clear divide between her test pieces and large-scale installations by keeping the former in the downstairs and the latter in the upstairs of her two-storey live-in studio. The test pieces, or studioworks, as is clearly demonstrated in this exhibition, were a chance to push the properties of materials around, to bring out unexpected results through working. The downstairs of the Fruitmarket Gallery used a series of glass display cases to contain arrays of small, often sexually ambiguous objects, many of them testing out a range of her characteristic materials, including latex, wire mesh, sculp-metal (aluminium powder in resin), cheesecloth and wax. Her experiments with latex on cheesecloth are particularly dominant and create fleshy, amorphous forms resembling ears, lips or labia; that they reveal the browning, curling process of ageing makes them appear all the more human.
The deliberately haphazard arrangements of the small sculptures were intended to mimic the crowded surfaces of her much documented studio, where she would have explored inter-relationships between sculptures and questioned what might or might not be worth developing.
Downstairs, one sheaf of latex-stained fabric almost extended from the floor to the ceiling, hovering alone like a ghost among the display cases. …