When you look at Manuela Leinhoß’s art, various tendencies emerge: some of her sculptures seem like somewhat trashy and greyed functional furniture that does not much care to reveal its particular use. Other objects look more like amorphous organisms mutating into their off-white substrate – foreign, incomprehensible, artfully adapted life forms from science fiction (e.g. Chances, 2014 or THEY ARE, 2013). Other sculptures from Leinhoß’s studio look like mechanical deformations of bodies. The hole that has been ripped in the gauzy surface of a black speaker-like object in The blackest black (2013), for example, appears to have been wrought by a sudden change of air pressure, and the gaping opening in Tiny Furniture (2013) – a dingy grey chest standing on swivel castors – has such sharp edges that it looks almost like a bullet wound. (A small detail: the artist did not buy the swivel castors from a building supplies store, but rather reproduced them in plaster. An absurd inversion of the Bauhaus mantra, here function follows form.)
For a few years now, Leinhoß has been exploring various approaches to the dissolution of form – rendering forms ambiguous and fragile. Concealing some sort of private mythology, her sculptures never reveal all; trying to open them completely would destroy them. The artist prefers to use sensitive, delicate and ephemeral materials such as plaster, modelling clay, papier-mâché, paper and wood. By this she is able to imply temporality through a process of decay. Leinhoß has recently begun working with foils (e.g. Night Shift, 2012). ‘I felt a need to make my sculptures even more fragile, more transparent, almost floating’, she tells me. And many of her works do indeed seem ephemeral and fleeting.
Leinhoß’s exhibition Like a Human Being, at the artist’s Zurich gallery RaebervonStaenglin last year, showed around half a dozen of her mid-sized apparatus-like sculptures – arranged without hierarchy or narration. Shown without pedestals, the works were placed directly on the floor or hung on the walls. Somehow lost and mute – they resembled guests at a party who haven’t been introduced to each other, waiting for the host to come by to break the awkward silence.
Rather than art, Leinhoß studied philosophy and German and English language and literature in Cologne, as reflected in the frequent literary references (to Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Rainer Maria Rilke and Emily Dickinson) in the titles of her works. A formal feeling comes (2007), for example, quotes an Emily Dickinson poem. Accordingly, the reception of her work sometimes tends towards literary analysis. Leinhoß herself understands these literary references as links between the body and signs, from the three-dimensionality of bodies to the two-dimensionality of texts: ‘I wouldn’t say that the titles I choose are descriptions of the works; I think they extend them. They add another dimension, a different point of view.’ By way of explaining her working method, she takes out a small apricot-coloured book published by Merve Verlag in 1977, and quotes the French writer Hélène Cixous: ‘a method is a word that means nothing to me. I would not follow one, as my work is analogous to a relationship of love.’
Certain texts do influence her, Leinhoß says, by affecting how she approaches her materials. She prefers to speak of ‘kinships’ – not only between her sculptures and literary texts, but also between art and life in general: ‘my works do not illustrate anything and they also do not translate anything,’ she tells me. Texts are only a part of what influences her work. Art stands in relation to many other ‘real things’: films, music, life events. Sometimes, Leinhoß says, ‘these are simply measurements, like the heights of tables or other objects that I often observe, that accompany me in my daily life. All of this flows into my work and likely also shows itself in spatial form.’ Perhaps, then, one could understand her amorphous forms as highly idiosyncratic storage units: constructions in which the events of everday life condense – like reading or the routine crossing of her studio. Depending on the audience they encounter, these works answer in multifarious ways. Still, shy and withdrawn, their response never tells all.
Translated by Jane Yager