Art teaches us about the importance of form, but where does art get its ideas? This is a question that is addressed by the sculpture of David Adamo, who is fascinated by natural forms, and how their ‘realness’ can not only charm or convince but also obfuscate. The artist uses sculpture as a kind of metaphysical or ontological excavation: he starts with a material and an idea and, with both in hand, he digs at the material or amasses it, shaping and sculpting until forms emerge to fulfil his concept. Nature itself presents a version of the real that clashes with the ideas of art history, displacing them.
Adamo’s objective this time was to re-create an object that exists only for a specific class of insects: termites who within certain climates are driven to construct massive vertical mounds. The mounds are reduced in size from their manifestation in the wild, where they range in height from three to eight metres. Prior to formal or conceptual reasons for making this series of sculptures, Adamo was struck by the ironies they represented. They are domiciles constructed by a species of insect well known for its destructive abilities, and his versions of them, being decidedly smaller than actual mounds, are small objects made by a large being versus a huge structure fashioned by a multitude of tiny creatures. The result is the same even if the aims are different.
As it was especially hot on the day I visited, the gallery had its air-conditioning turned up, giving the cavernous, high-ceilinged space the feeling of an aquarium. In this setting, Adamo’s sculptures initially reminded me of the faux natural features found in fish tanks. Yet with no works installed on the walls, and the lights dimmed to a mere glimmer, the sculptures assumed a charged presence in the space. Adamo successfully replicated the appearance of natural termite mounds by mixing Zellan – a type of synthetic porcelain – with a single pigment and leaving it in the rawest state possible.
The first work encountered by visitors was Untitled/Cathedral F (all works 2013), a pair of ‘cathedral’ mounds named after the type of termite that lives within them, which are typically formed into rib-like structures that resemble the spires atop churches or, to my mind, bony hands. Positioned in the entrance to the space in such as way as to force visitors to inch past, the work also prevented anyone from glimpsing the main installation until they had circumnavigated it. This consisted of an assortment of ‘cathedral’ and ‘magnetic’ mounds pigmented in brown, gold or grey – as well as one in a cool blue – with the ‘magnetic’ forms, such as Untitled/Magnetic E, being rounded at the bottom and flattening out towards the top so that it resembles the ridge of a dinosaur’s back.
I was struck by the notion that Adamo’s fascination with the natural might be a foil for envy, that he is ambivalent about the desire to create imitations of real things that fall outside everyday experience and the need to create artistically impressive objects. Though many people understand that termites create mounds, few have seen them in person, so we must take it on Adamo’s knowledge that they are as he depicts them. His installation reminded me of a childhood trip to Monument Valley in Arizona, bordered on each side by a mountain, a suspended boulder and a vista of more ridges and stones to come. It was the only time I felt we were breathing the same air as these objects; that we were in time instead of merely passing time. I felt this again with Adamo’s sculpture, and the air was good.