Rock crystal has always had symbolic functions: in antiquity as the eternal ice of the gods, in the Middle Ages as a symbol of virgin birth. But, precisely because of its purity and transparency, the homogenous mineral has, at times, also been viewed as something mysterious and uncanny, associated with magic or witchcraft. Not least thanks to Robert Smithson’s seminal essay ‘The Crystal Land’ (1966), crystalline surfaces and their symbolism continue to fascinate contemporary artists today.
‘Tra di noi’ (Between Us), Loredana Sperini’s latest exhibition at Freymond-Guth Fine Arts (and the first show in their new space in the Löwenbräu Complex), centred on contrasts between crystalline surfaces and the human body. Since the beginning of her career in the early noughties, the artist has focused on the fragility and vulnerability of the body. Her oeuvre has also been shaped by her experimentation with combinations of unusual, often ephemeral materials such as fabric, wax or even butterfly wings. Sperini came to prominence with her black and white drawings and embroideries, which show finely articulated figures or groups of figures in the process of dissolving into root-like tangles. In hand embroidery, Sperini found a medium that slows time down – which dovetailed with her interest in rendering visible time and its slippages.
Since 2005, she has been working with wax, applied in liquid form and layered onto surfaces such as wood or Perspex in a lengthy procedure or, in some cases, straight onto the wall, creating figurative reliefs in the tradition of encaustic painting. She has also used fragments of found porcelain figures, reassembling them into small sculptures. As with the embroideries and wax paintings, this results in strangely hybrid bodies. The porcelain fragments, which Sperini bought at souvenir shops in Berlin, come from hills of rubble from World War II bombings, in which people still dig for valuable objects. By using this material charged with human history, Sperini addresses the ‘body trauma’ of the 20th century.
‘Tra di noi’ marked a turning point for the artist, not only in terms of materiality – she is now mixing wax and concrete – but also a move toward abstraction in this precisely arranged, minimal exhibition. Combining a group of new sculptures with a series of new wax and concrete tableaux, the body here appeared integrated into the sculptures in small fragments such as hands or lips. In one untitled crystal-shaped sculpture made of concrete and violet wax, a hand grew, stalagmite-like, out of the wax side, merging with a fragment of lip (all works Untitled, 2012). In another work, fragments of casts of lips were arranged inside three differently-sized triangles. This ‘vocabulary’ can be read as a reference to the post-Surrealist formal idiom of Alina Szapocznikow, one of whose best-known works is Lampe-bouche (Illuminated Lips, 1966). Crystalline forms also featured in the show’s largest work, a room-filling sculpture made of black-painted aluminium and black mirrored glass that could be read as a three-dimensional geometric drawing. In a series of eight abstract pictures, areas of dark blue, violet or fir-green wax grew out of concrete-like crystals – a particularly intense constellation between the poles of the abject and the beautiful. The entire exhibition had these kinds of ambivalent moments, creating tensions in the dialogues Sperini developed between her diverse materials. Her oeuvre oscillates between assured manifestation and a sense of dissolution – even while it grows steadily. And that growth is still very much in progress.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell