Heidi Bucher (19 September – 9 December 2018) has recently closed at Parasol Unit. In today’s post, I will be reporting my impressions about the show, which presents an outstanding ensemble of iconic works by the Swiss artist. Parasol Unit, founded in 2004 by art historian and curator Ziba Ardalan, is a non-for-profit exhibition space hosting thought-provoking exhibitions in central London.
Heidi Bucher (1926-1993) is mostly known for her sculptural works, often combining unexpected materials. Over the past few years, Bucher and her oeuvre have been the object of renewed attention following the inclusion of her works in the 2017 Venice Biennale, Viva Arte Vita. The works gathered at Parasol Unit follow the new trend, presenting a broad selection of her “skinnings”, a term that she used to describe her characteristic flesh-like casts of bodies and architectural spaces. The exhibition space also included a series of videos documenting the making of Bucher’s pieces, emphasising the performative link between the work of art and the environment in which it was conceived.
Many of the works on display were obtained by covering a surface with sheets or clothes and then covering them with liquid latex, impregnating the fabric with the viscous substance. Soon, the rubber-like material would solidify, allowing Bucher to tear the sheets away from the original “mould” while maintaining most of their solid shape and texture. Moreover, the latex surface tends to collect dirt and change colour over time, so that the objects would soon develop patchy light-brown and yellow hues. This adds a leathery quality to the sheets, which resemble dry and aged animal skins hanging from the walls of the gallery.
Bucher’s works reflect on the relation between body and space. As one walks around the individual pieces, the eyes linger on the minute details of the surface, registering each variation of texture and thickness across the latex folds. At the same time, the works maintain a powerful sculptural imprint and confront the beholder with their mass and sheer dimensions. To some extent, they retain the physicality that is intrinsic to their own making, standing monumentally against the walls of the exhibition space. On the other hand, they emanate an aura of vulnerability, given by the skin-like features of the material, whose creases, bruises, and chromatic variations tell the story of a human body.
In the exhibition space, the works are able to speak for themselves, using the white-cube environment as a contrasting backdrop, which further emphasises the bodily look of Bucher’s creations. Twenty-five years after the artist’s death, her “skinnings” remain a powerful testament to the role of the human body in the art of the twentieth century, following the development of performance and Feminist art between the 1960s and ’70s. The works on display bear the legacy of Bucher’s own original contribution, made unique by the use of peculiar materials and techniques.