Featured in
Issue 233

June Crespo’s Uneasy Anthropomorphism

At P420, Bologna, the artist’s canny combination of materials fuels dark leaps of imagination

BY Ana Vukadin in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 05 JAN 23

June Crespo’s sculptural assemblages beckon you to come up close and pay attention – to the materials she has chosen, to the traces of her process, to her subtle yet persistent allusion to human bodies. For ‘Acts of Pulse’, her first solo show at Bologna-based gallery P420, the Basque sculptor has created a series of new works that combine natural and synthetic materials – such as clay, resin, fibreglass and concrete – with bronze or steel castings.

June Crespo, ‘Acts of Pulse’, 2022–23, exhibition view, P420, Bologna. Courtesy: the artist and P420, Bologna

Throughout the exhibition, Crespo endlessly reimagines forms, imbuing them with an expressiveness and dignity as they inhabit a new space or role. Inanimate objects like a toilet bowl are recast and repositioned so that they might remind us, say, of an enlarged ear (No Osso (Occipital), 2021), or appear delicately frayed, bearing the remnants of casting, so that paired together on the wall they resemble deeply weathered orbital bones (Óptico (1) and (2), both 2022), which look like they may have been excavated from an archaeological site.

Connecting all these works is Crespo’s unique take on (mostly lost-wax) casting. Her love of the laborious moulding process is evident in the hints she actively chooses to leave behind, such as traces of ceramic coating, which would usually be sanded down, or sprues that haven’t been completely cut off, so that they jut out like impertinent little growths. The edges, too, are often left unsanded, which gives the works an unexpected frailty. They oscillate between the polished and the imperfect, the figurative and the abstract.

June Crespo, Untitled (jaw bone) (2), 2022, steel, resin, textile, 113 × 35 × 64 cm. Courtesy: the artist and P420, Bologna

In Untitled (jaw bone) (2) (2022), four steel cast horse saddles have been stacked on the floor and interwoven with the remnants of a discarded hiking backpack. Seen from behind, the piece looks like a freestanding backpack, but the moment you walk around it, the stacked saddles begin to resemble a ribcage or a spine. My mind jumped from saddle to horse to paralysis in quick succession – with the dark leap fuelled by Crespo’s use of blood-red fabric.

Crespo often pairs bright textiles with hard surfaces, cutting them up and sewing them around or stuffing them inside her sculptures. Crumpled jeans, old jackets and sleeping bags trigger an uneasy sense of familiarity that encourages anthropomorphism. One of the more haunting pieces in the show is É para lá que eu vou (That’s Where I’m Going, 2022), a five-part work comprising single or paired mannequin legs, cast in bronze or steel, whose cavities are filled with nylon stockings, often in deep crimson, their unnerving forms recalling flayed or charred human limbs.

June Crespo, Pulse (1), 2022, steel, textile, 215 × 39 × 46 cm. Courtesy: the artist and P420, Bologna

This juxtaposition of fragility and violence is also evident in Pulse (1) (2022) – a frail, skeletal sculpture made of steel flowers welded together. Resting vertically against one of the gallery’s columns, and enveloped partly by rusty orange and white textiles, it might also be read as a small figure. The artist cast these works by pouring the molten steel directly onto the flowers themselves, rather than a wax mould, simultaneously disintegrating them while preserving their form indefinitely as a kind of memorial.

Walking through this beautifully installed show, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was in a life-size Rorschach test, which prompted me to wonder what my invariably dark interpretations revealed about my own psyche. Such is the power of Crespo’s work: her investigations into the endless possibilities of sculpture, her pairing of ancient traditions with mundane materials, and the subtle upending of our perceptions nudge us to examine our own expectations of forms, while elevating the process of form-making itself.

June Crespo’s ‘Acts of Pulse’ is on view at P420, Bologna, until 5 February 2023.

Main image: June Crespo, ‘Acts of Pulse’, 2022–23, exhibition view, P420, Bologna. Courtesy: the artist and P420, Bologna

Ana Vukadin is a writer, translator and editor who lives in Jesi, Italy.