Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Quinn mixing the art sceen
Quinn is no stranger to mixing art with science.
Quinn’s sculpture, paintings and drawings often deal with the distanced relationship we have with our bodies, highlighting how the conflict between the ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ has a grip on the contemporary psyche. In 1999, Quinn began a series of marble sculptures of amputees as a way of re-reading the aspirations of Greek and Roman statuary and their depictions of an idealised whole. One such work depicted Alison Lapper, a woman who was born without arms, when she was heavily pregnant. Quinn subsequently enlarged this work to make it a major piece of public art for the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square. Other key themes in his work include genetic modification and hybridism. Garden (2000), for instance, is a walk-through installation of impossibly beautiful flowers that will never decay, or his ‘Eternal Spring’ sculptures, featuring flowers preserved in perfect bloom by being plunged into sub-zero silicone. Quinn has also explored the potential artistic uses of DNA, making a portrait of a sitter by extracting strands of DNA and placing it in a test-tube. DNA Garden (2001), contains the DNA of over 75 plant species as well as 2 humans: a re-enactment of the Garden of Eden on a cellular level. Quinn’s diverse and poetic work meditates on our attempts to understand or overcome the transience of human life through scientific knowledge and artistic expression.
Meet Kate Moss - contorted
The White Cube gallery
Mark Quinn's Sphinx, after Kate Moss
'This is not a portrait of a person, it's a portrait of an image twisted by our collective desires. She is a knotted Venus of our age' ... Mark Quinn on Sphinx.
Marc Quinn's last sculpture transformed Alison Lapper - a woman lacking arms and fully developed legs - into a dramatic, powerful figure for Trafalgar Square. His new work, Sphinx, takes a woman of unearthly beauty and transforms her into a contorted figure with her ankles uncomfortably wrapped round her ears.
The work is Quinn's much anticipated sculpture of Kate Moss, seen here for the first time before going on view in the Netherlands this month.
"The two sculptures are really about the same thing: why we do, or do not, find a person beautiful," he said.
And no, Moss is not working up to an alternative career in extreme yoga. Though the body depicted is Moss's, and the hands and feet are life casts, another model was used to create the position. "I found a person who could do the yoga pose," said Quinn, "and we made a lot of drawings, photographs and measurements. Then Kate came into the studio. I'd done some life casts of her in the past, and we made more measurements and photos. From all that we sculpted Kate's body in the pose; this is her body and her proportions."
Quinn was drawn to Moss because of her ambiguous place in our culture: a creature who is admired and observed obsessively, but about whom we have little real knowledge.
"She is a contemporary version of the Sphinx. A mystery. There must be something about her that has clicked with the collective unconscious to make her so ubiquitous, so spirit of the age," Quinn said. "When people look back at this time she'll be the archetypal image, just as Louise Brooks was in the 1920s. For me as an artist it's interesting to make something about the time I live in."
This is not a personal portrait of Moss; the work makes no attempt to convey her inner life. "It's a portrait of an image, and the way that image is sculpted and twisted by our collective desire," Quinn said. "She is a mirror of ourselves, a knotted Venus of our age."
Alison Lapper Pregnant was a conscious counterpoint to the Venus de Milo. The latter, though once complete, is now instantly recognisable by its missing limbs. The Trafalgar Square sculpture is complete in itself.
Sphinx, on the other hand, appears to have more limbs than it really does - like a version, Quinn suggested, of the multi-limbed Hindu deity, Shiva. He also pointed to the Hellenistic sculpture of Laocoön, the priest who, with his sons, was strangled by serpents for warning the Trojans about the Greeks' wooden horse. That statue, in the Vatican Museums, is a writhing mass of arms, legs, and thigh-thick snakes. He mentioned, too, the painting by Ingres in the National Gallery of Oedipus and the Sphinx, in which the mythical Greek figure confronts a half-woman, half-lion, and answers her riddle (what goes on four legs, three legs, two legs? - answer: man).
Moss - who has proved an irresistible model for artists including Lucian Freud - had no hesitation in being thus depicted. "She came round to the studio and looked at some drawings. She got it immediately and was really excited about it," he said.
The work is not carved from marble, like Alison Lapper Pregnant. It was cast in bronze and then painted white, creating a flat, blank surface. "Marble is too delicate, Quinn said. "I wanted a screen, something totally neutral."
If anything, said Quinn, Moss's brushes with the law had only made her image more potent. "When she had those troubles there was a collision between her real life and the image. The two didn't fit, and it seemed unacceptable to people.
"Paradoxically, though, it's made her bigger and stronger because it has humanised her. It's a bit like going back to ancient marble sculpture. One of the reasons people like fragmented marble sculpture is that there's a sense of loss that makes it more human.
"Kate's body is perfect, but her problems with the press and drugs and so forth is her lost limb; the one imperfection that makes her more beautiful."
The sculpture is part of a planned series of works of Moss in yogic poses, to be first shown as a group in New York. Quinn's next project is no less striking. The walls of his east London studio are now hung with watercolour sketches of foetuses - over the course of the next year to be transformed into nine three-metre-tall pink marble statues of embryos at each month of gestation, to go on display, he hopes, in London. The man who famously cast his head in his own blood and froze it is still "into birth and life and death - all the usual stuff".