Text by Annie O’Donnell
Rosella Biscotti and Kevin van Braak’s commission for AV Festival 14, forms part of their long-term project, After four rotations of A, B will make one Revolution (2009-2013). Using arguably the most fundamentalist sculptural paradigm, floor-based minimalism, it critiques another, monumental figurative statuary that continues to be a towering hegemonic device worldwide.
Biscotti and van Braak’s project transforms public monuments into quantitative research data and then mutates them back to their essential materials. Just how much would a colossal, yet hollow, cast-bronze sculpture weigh? How could that weight be translated into another completely different solid form, thus simultaneously reducing the space its mass occupies, and intensifying the top-down oppression its weight has on this new space?
Although focusing on aspects of agency and place identity in socialist and post-socialist regimes, Biscotti and van Braak’s use of metal as a metaphor for power has significance for its current site, Middlesbrough. Born out of iron and steel, the town has a long history of watching as its statuary is moved around its squares and parks, in order to serve and legitimize the political tendencies of the day.
Installed in Platform A, on Middlesbrough’s Railway Station, the works share the space with the gallery’s twin steel pillars stamped with Dorman Long, a Middlesbrough company name seen on steel bridges and structures from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Sydney, Australia. Each of the sculptures also has a dual form, and a doubling of global and local.
Moving to the right on entering the gallery, Alexey Sakhanov (House of Culture, Moscow) uses as a trigger a heroic depiction of a Soviet miner and the tools of his trade. The sculpture’s original elevation on a plinth, literally and figuratively separating it from the everyday, can no longer act as a ‘centre of power’ (Wright 2010) to intimidate viewers. Instead, here we loom over its two conjoined rectangular bronze forms that now appear like an aerial view of the flat-roofed houses familiar to us from war footage on TV.
Similarly, the small cubes of gilt bronze, opposite the gallery’s windows, Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx,(Stasi Museum, Berlin), play with our perception of how an object’s scale affects space and self, telescoping the viewer Gulliver-like into Lilliput. Their closed forms, each slightly different in height and width, seem to offer detailed portraits of the ideologies of their original subjects in a miniaturised, condensed form.
Perhaps the most successful piece, and that most relevant to its site, is Industry and Construction, (Green Bridge, Vilnius), formed as two cast iron rectangular pillars weighing 902 kg. Almost touching one another, the rough surfaced pillars can be read as echoes of Middlesbrough’s most famous Victorian ironmasters, the inseparable Bolckow and Vaughan, who ran the area’s metal-based economy from the nearby Royal Exchange Buildings.
Details of the importance of local site to the artists is evident in van Braak’s beautiful metal doorstops made specifically for Platform A’s double doors, and in his gallery floorplan which lies stacked on the floor of the space like a paper sculpture. The devil is in the details.
It seems just when iconoclasm was thought to have peaked, and statuemania had been banished to a sculpture prison/park in a remote area, events, such as the attacks and protection of statuary in the public squares of the Ukraine, intervene, highlighting how After four rotations of A, B will make one Revolution helps us rethink issues of identity and power in a global setting.
Image © Colin Davison