Old Art Review
Gary Hume at White Cube, Bermondsey 6th March – 21st April 2013
The limbs so arranged suggest both legs and fingers. From one angle the sculpture appears to be a giant hand, with middle finger raised in the common western cultural gesture meaning “fuck you”. Despite the phallic origins of this gesture and the upraised middle limb, the sculpture is undoubtedly female, or at least in some way related to femaleness.
what it is and what it is not. The segments of the piece are both obviously limbs (of a human being) and not limbs, since the central section rises into the air like the trunk of a tree abruptly cut off and shorn of its limbs. It is both female and not female, not just because of the separation of the hand and the body, since the limb is amputated at the wrist and the shoulder, but also expressed through the pink painted flat surface of the visible wrist. It is the puke pink of faux femininity, the colour of girl’s plastic toys so recently extended to any product, from handbags to laptops, that will apparently turn on everyone’s desire as long as they have a vagina. Our unease is explained when we read from the gallery notes that the limb has been cast from the arm of a mannequin, that quintessential object of the not-human, famously disproportionate to make clothes look better and often lacking in heads or limbs. Further, the fusion of two of the arms at the shoulder at the base of the scultpure gives the strong impression of buttocks and legs, but stuck together in a neat uniformity that cannot speak of a human female, but rather of that most famous doll, Barbie herself.
In this installation, the interplay of real and not real or female and not female is further extended. The base supporting the sculpture is made of rough-surfaced railway sleepers, which assert their presence in the room through their subtle but potent smell. This seems to be a reminder of the natural world, juxtaposed with the artificial surface of the painted bronze. Similarly, the works of art around the walls are entitled “Three Yellow Horizons and a Green Wood”, depicting natural scenes using unnatural materials – gloss paint on aluminium. Historically, women have been equated with ‘nature’ while men, or masculinity with ‘culture’. Imbued in the idea of culture is intellect, progress and industry. Here Hume has taken a mass produced post-modern object vaguely related to feminine forms and arranged these damaged limbs to resemble other mass produced post-modern feminine forms in a material and at a scale that suggest both old and ancient symbols of masculine triumph.
I hesitate to speculate on the artist’s position on these institutions, from ancient Rome to the modern fashion industry, since the piece seems to fold time and history over itself to the point of collapse, and the sculpture clearly invites levity. However, looking at similar works by Hume, for example ‘The Tumble’ where a clearly female figure appears with arms and head facing down, midway through a cartwheel, it seems Hume has a narrow view of the female forms he depicts. In ‘The Tumble’ the form is once again segmented and coloured in pale pink with long curly hair, doll-like in every way save for the impression of movement. As I walked around this piece, dwarfed by its size and in closer contact to the wooden pedestal than the work, I caught a glimpse of my small and indistinct shadow on the brushed surface of the bronze. Everything about this work ties femininity with artificiality and violence, leaving individual humanity a mere shadow on its surface. I am obviously conscious that the author is not synonymous with the narrator, however my personal reaction to ‘Liberty Grip’ is “fuck you, Gary”.