by Colin Perry
A figure stumbles across a tufted cliff-top field. She is abandoned in her Sisyphean task of dragging a dense bluish foam monolith, half-bleached yellow by the sun and storeroom-neglect, across a grassy terrain. The video is looped, her task endless. Her travails might be read as allegorical, for they appear otherwise without purpose: the foam is being taken nowhere, and its ungainliness appears designed specifically to impede the protagonist (performed by Bettina Buck herself) from making headway. This is the lot of the artist: the physical labour; the perverse logic of forcing mute objects into relational forms; the unwieldiness of interpretation.
I like to read the work as a backhanded tribute to plein-air art making: the artist as the post-Romantic wonderer. More obliquely, to my eyes the whole set-up recalls those television comedies from the 1970s and 80s, when recording outdoors was evidently a cheap trick to save on expensive artificial lighting. Growing up in television-age Britain, I watched endless capers set in fields and outdoor spaces. It was a sort of pastoral slapstick that’s sadly vanished from today’s small screen. Buck’s purpose is, of course, more serious. And while they may be futile, they are not without satisfaction. She sits on the foam to rest: the sculpture can be a prop, too.
Like an homage to the wobbly inconsistency of home-movies, Interlude welcomes visual erratum. The horizon bounces up and down with the extreme zoom and lack of steady-cam technology; the air is electric with a tinnitus whistling that denotes audio-overload in the camera’s microphone. In fact, these elements are all quite deliberate. The sound levels have been post-processed to a steady cyclonic buzz, and that quivering zoom is carefully utilized to capture moments of gentle absurdity (in one scene, a kindly stranger carries her load, a dog running alongside them bucolically). Also, it recalls the edginess of her location on a cliff-edge and the imperative of gravity (the sky here plummets straight to the sea and her sculptural burden slumps towards horizontality).
Gravity is a key ingredient in Buck’s post-sculptural practice. Of all sculpture’s innovations, the pedestal is the most consistent denial of gravity. Pedestals are the stepping-stones of art history’s gods, nymphs and heroes. For thousands of years they have kept the toes of those immortals above our torrid world. Buck’s Age of Bronze tips a nod to gravity’s manifold meanings: the tired slump and our mortal end. These makeshift looking plinths are based on those created especially for Auguste Rodin’s sculptures at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Museum’s plinths are shallow affairs, giving the works some sort of ceremony, but allowing proximity and intimacy with the viewer. By contrast, Buck’s plinths are not entirely well behaved objects, being constructed awkwardly from sheets of cast bronze that have been welded together, or rendered in cardboard – that most unmonumental of materials.
Buck’s works forever threaten to fall over in front of us, on us, or after we have left the gallery. The challenge is to feel relaxed about the mutability of such objects. After all, should the edifice collapse, we could simply learn to appreciate it anew – sit on its newly horizontal bulk or pick it up and trudge onwards, like the protagonist in Interlude. This contrariness is evident too in another, hidden aspect of Age of Bronze: Buck assigns as much effort and meaning to the residues of the casting process on its inner surface as to the welding marks on its outside. The object’s potentiality sticks in the mind like a vague threat, or a rumour of things yet to come.