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  • Sabine Schaschl-Cooper 2004

    The Chewed and the Still to Be Chewed

    Markus Schwander’s studio houses a large crop of chewing gum, which, although without any date notations, makes up an archive of material and forms. What is chewed en passant meets up with that which has consciously been formed from its plasticine-like mass, the one not fundamentally distinguishable from the other. Lined up on a tray or kept in individual tin lids, they await their further use. In 1999, Markus Schwander did his first pink-lacquered chewing gum sculpture from such predecessors.1 It marks the lead-up to a series continued up to today of the most various of works, which formally and thematically take into account what has been chewed and what appears as traditional sculpture, object or model. In order to (re-) contextualize these current sculptures, a look back at what went before is called for. Highslide JS

    untitled, chewed #2

    2000, plaster, lacquer, 80 x 60 x 50 cm. Photo: Serge Hasenböhler, Basel

    Ten years before Untitled, chewed #1, a wax sculpture was modeled, which seems to describe the volume of a large, upside-down, dish-like form. Placed on a wooden table, it resides in harmony with the table’s proportions. Stumme Zeugen [mute witnesses] from 1989, which the artist has nicknamed table with belly, shows the cast of a form modeled in clay. Highslide JS

    Stumme Zeugen [mute witnesses]

    1989, wax, table, 105 x 90 x 60 cm. Photo: Louis Brem, Luzern
    It unites three themes that are central to Schwander’s work: 1) molded forms and imprints, 2) incorporation of everyday furniture as pedestal ersatz and 3) model. As the French philosopher and art historican Georges Didi-Huberman points out in L’Empreinte,2 an imprint is the result of a procedure permanently marked by the composing hand. In contrast to the single imprint, it is the totality of the process of manual pressure on the malleable material that determines the final shape. In Stumme Zeugen, the way the hand has molded the nature of the sculpture’s surface and volume is manifest, which is specifically aimed at our sense of touch and tactile experience. The pedestal chosen for the work, a scored and notched table as a bearer of imprints, prepares us for the narrative potential of the molded surface. What remains unclear is whether this work is actually a sculpture on an unconventional base or an architectural model presented on an everyday table. Such an ambiguous reading is also evident in Der kleine Prinz [the little prince] Highslide JS

    Der kleine Prinz [the little prince]

    1989, concrete, cake tins, footstool, height: 38 cm. Photo: Louis Brem, Luzern
    , a piece looking like a loaf of bread made of concrete with four positive imprints of cake pans worked into it and placed on a low footstool. If the sculpture in itself is readable as the model of a landscape, then the correlation between base and sculpture defines the whole work as an object. How much the early works by Schwander are intended for a literal hands-on reaction is shown in a series of small pieces from the early 90s, which can be viewed within the scope of the clay figures of Fischli and Weiss.3 “Miniature sculpture,” writes Manfred Schneckenburger, “prompts us less to walk around it than to turn it around, to grasp it physically. Also ‘taking something in’ literally requires the hand. Only what we can grasp, do we take in as real.”4 Accordingly, miniature sculpture is defined essentially as manual fabrication and haptic reception. ”The hand’s dimension is responsible for the size of the sculpture.” Further features such as “proximity, immediacy, personal contact and intimacy are the result of working manually and tactilely”.5 Schwander’s Engel [angel] Highslide JS

    Engel [angel]

    1989, wax, 95 x 40 x 30 cm. Photo: Louis Brem, Luzern
    , a hose-like, irregularly bent wax form, challenges to touch it and is, depending on its sur-roundings, read as a handle or grip. Eier [eggs] Highslide JS

    Eier [eggs]

    1995, clay, 9 pieces, each ca. 12 x 5 x 5 cm. Photo: Louis Brem, Luzern
    , a multi-part clay work of tube-like, hollow forms, portrays tautologically the formal precedent of the modeling hand, and at the same time, the work’s actual genesis. A further piece is made up of two shower-curtain rods that at different places have had fingerprints of silicon applied to them. These prints underline the primary holding function of the shower-curtain rods, which in turn become the support and base for the molded mass. Another work shows a hanging conglomerate of metal hooks, each of which is covered in kneaded, fingerprint-depressed vinamold plaster. Highslide JS


    1991, metal, Vinamold, 33 x 22 x 8 cm. Photo: Markus Schwander, Basel
    In a further step Schwander had recourse to a small ready-made piece for a work that used soap common in France, each with a central metal shaft running through it, meant to hang from a hook. Highslide JS


    1991, metal, soaps, 28 x 21 x 14 cm. Photo: Markus Schwander, Basel
    Function is inscribed in the pieces and has influenced their final form; jammed into each other, they too are hung up for presentation.

    Parallel to the small sculptures from the early 90s, several sculptures result whose focus is aimed at the form and functionality of the pedestal. Ruh auf Truh [rest on chest], a 1991 work group of three different wooden sculptures, presents each of these on a wooden chest. The carved sculptures that recall fruit can be accommodated inside the chests and in this way transform the pedestals back to furniture. A year later, three ‘pedestal sculptures’ came about that in themselves unite the aspects of pedestal and of sculpture. For the one, the artist molded convex and flat parts in clay that he then cast in concrete before assembling them into several basic cubic structures. In the second sculpture, Schwander arranged and manipulated several pieces of long-legged furniture in such a way that they present the same (pedestal) height. Highslide JS

    Sockel [pedestal]

    1992, furniture, lacquer, wax, 150 x 200 x 200 cm. Photo: Louis Brem, Luzern
    In the third ‘pedestal’ sculpture, a metal grid reposes on four ring-like wooden parts that seem about to bend under the grid’s weight. The earlier pedestal sculptures oscillate between ‘use’ – in its everyday sense of utilization – and ‘ennoblement’; they allow different close-up and far-out definitions and anticipate how pedestal and sculpture will coordinate with one another. Schwander rejects the neutrality of the obligatory plinth of museum white. The pedestal-to-sculpture ratio in his works tend to follow the legacy of Constantin Brancusi, who made particular pedestals to underline and anticipate the qualities of each of his sculptures. An important step, which marks the transition from the imprints committed to reality in the cited mini sculptures up to the first chewing-gum sculptures, is the one Markus Schwander took in the period from 1994 – 1997 with a series of ‘fake’ or imitated imprints. These manifest, in contrast to the impressions left by single parts of the body, the idea of an idealized, abstract duplication of a human trace. One of these, for example, is a three-dimensional carved footprint, the ball and the toes of which are presented on a shelf; a single, negative footprint on a highly polished surface Highslide JS

    Schritt für Schritt

    1995, wood, lacquer, 9 x 40 x 160 cm. Photo: Markus Schwander, Basel
    or negative finger and thumb prints on a tabletop. Didi-Huberman stresses the radical difference between a form produced by an imprint and an imitative form: “An imitation requires distance, optical characteristics and mediation.” He goes on to say that in humanist theory, imitation is always accompanied by Vasari’s ‘magic words’: idea, disegno and invenzione. “The imprint, on the other hand, excludes any distance to the depicted object, since its method is based on immediate contact. At the same time this contact also demands an absolute reduction in any kind of mediation.”6 Schwander’s fake imprints follow the principle of imitation, where the concept of conserving single moments is just as inherent as in imprints. However, the carved sculptures stand for imprinted traces of a general kind and represent the individual wish to leave behind a trace of one’s own existence. The theme of imprints (as initiated in the miniature sculptures) and of pedestals (as already taken up in the early pedestal sculptures) is pursued further through diverse variations in the chewing-gum sculptures mentioned at the outset. They function in Schwander’s oeuvre not only as single and unattached, but also as parts within various other presentation arrangements. The solitary sculptures of polyurethane or concrete are forms that are hybrids, namely both imprinted and imitated. Although they originate from an individually formed chewing imprint, when they are translated onto a larger scale they pass through universality and consequently experience distance to the initial form. The modeling function of chewed gum is, in turn, comparable to the traditional mold of a cast, by which the chewing-gum sculpture approaches the territory of imprints. The size of the sculptures seeks a relationship to that of man, which the artist explains in the following: “My central concern is with sculptures, three-dimensional things that do not move, and in their appearance in space are similar to the human body.”4 In his many kinds of arrangements, Schwander avails himself of furniture that can double as pedestals, as in his artistic beginnings. A red park bench, for instance, placed on a gravel bed and bearing a chewing-gum sculpture, invites us to have a seat next to it. Highslide JS

    Kautsch I

    2002, garden bank, polyurethan, gravel stones, 80 x 250 x 200 cm. Photo: Serge Hasenböhler, Basel
    It thus attempts to bring the viewer down to its own height and onto a hierarchically equal relationship with its sculptural presence. In Wandern from 2003, a form-restricted gravel bed determines the pedestal area of two chewing-gum sculptures cast in concrete. The tables, chairs, benches and cabinets from living-room and garden produce in museum-goers a mediating sense of proximity, who then feel the break when the chewing gum is made larger-than-life. “By the use of furniture, I reap the benefit of the everyday, which stands in opposition to the exotic. This confrontation reinforces the everyday as well as the exotic,” as the artist notes.8 Along with the archived pieces of chewing gum that, concerning their form, were chosen as sculptural models, others have been integrated in Schwander’s work as real ‘material’. This series of ‘models’ takes the rank of conceptual models, which in their fiction – in a heuristic sense – open up diverse real as well as fictive forms of sculpture. Modell (Landschaft) [model: landscape] Highslide JS

    Modell (Landschaft)

    2000, paper maché, table, chewing gums, 125 x 80 x 65 cm. Photo: Serge Hasenböhler, Basel
    from 2000, for instance, is composed of a close-to-nature landscape shaped from papier mâché, which is spread out across the tabletop over which several real, chewed pieces of gum are scattered. This work evokes the idea of an actual conversion to what the model suggests in its title. In contrast, Modell (Hügelige Landschaft) [model: hilly landscape] from 2003 is because of its regularly repeated hill forms more abstract and remains rooted in the fanciful. In Modell (Pult) [model: school desk] Highslide JS

    Modell (Hügelige Landschaft)

    2003, paper maché, wood, lacquer, chewing gums, 60 x 60 x 80 cm. Photo: Serge Hasenböhler, Basel
    from 2002, the pieces of gum become control knobs. They are arranged in horizontal rows on the surface of an old, historical school desk. Schwander’s models release our energy for fantasy. They include the poetic as well as the playful, the humorous and the hidden. What is chewed becomes a trigger for the discovery of new places for art, whether real or fictitious. In this sense we can look forward with some excitement to what is still to be chewed.

    1 The first chewing-gum sculptures were made of plaster; later they were cast from polyurethane or concrete.
    2 Gorges Didi-Huberman, Ähnlicheit und Berührung: Archäologie, Anachronismus und Modernität des Abdrucks, DuMont: Cologne. L’Empreinte was published in 1997 as an Édition du Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
    3 The Fischli/Weiss exhibition Plötzlich diese Übersicht took place in December 1981/January 1982 in the Galerie Pablo Stähli in Zurich. It showed 250 small and somewhat large sculptures of unfired clay on white bases and hanging on the wall lit by blue-white neon. Markus Schwander saw the exhibition.
    4 Manfred Schneckenburger, Fingermass und Matterhorn, in Kat. 3, Triennale Fellbach, 1986, p. 18.
    5 Sabine Schaschl, Kleine Plastik – Kleinplastik: Historische Aspekte und Positionen der Moderne, degree thesis at Vienna University, 1996, p. 32. 6 See fn. 2, p. 75.
    7 Markus Schwander, cat. Really Real, Austellungsraum Klingenthal (ed.), Karo Verlag: Basel, 2003, p. 33.
    8 See fn. 4.