Ian Kiaer’s work is hard to talk about. Perhaps this isn’t the way that I should open an article about his current exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute. However, the difficulty of discussing art work that relies on an encounter still stands as a valid obstacle in trying to convey its weight and presence. An encounter – a physical meeting – is exactly what Kiaer’s work asks for.
The exhibition Tooth House spans across the last decade of Kiaer’s art practice, drawing on references within architecture, literature and philosophical writing. His chosen mediums are for the most part familiar within our everyday lives: bubble wrap, polystyrene and plastic sheeting all appear throughout his material decisions. The elevation of the ordinary in order to portray concepts is something very much considered by Kiaer – he has said that ‘very often the work fails to carry the literary ideas or references within the work’ and that it is this ‘failure to carry or hold information’ that interests him. The balance is held between theory and materiality injects the atmosphere with an unspeakable, poetic air.
On visiting the show, it was the lightness of the work in the space that I was first aware of. Whether his work should be spoken of as a whole or as a collection of discrete objects is uncertain; regardless, each component appears to be in dialogue with the others around it, while simultaneously breathing in the environment itself. Kiaer’s light and sculptural gestures seem to whisper to one another through a material language, echoing and reflecting shape and colour. A yellow used in a 3D form is mirrored in a slight drawing hung low on the wall; a geometric configuration creates a subtle visual link between a work on paper and a nearby sculptural element.
In the first room of the exhibition, the viewer is initially presented with work at floor level, while a translucent, spherical form comes into sight further away. Erdrindenbau project: building for Scheerbart – the title of a once clear, now dirtied mat that seems to bear the unconscious marks of a painter’s studio – appears like an object barely there. As I was beginning to observe, the fragility of Kiaer’s materials encourage a careful investigation of what is seen. The inflated construction titled Erdrindenbau project: inflatable is continually filled by air from a domestic fan that also tethers it to the ground. On closer inspection of the shape that stands a little taller than myself, I see a silver sheen on a part of its surface; the silver-leaf has begun to flake away, like a skin being shed. This noticeable changeability of Kiaer’s objects allows for an element of site specificity, as the physicality of the work is altered simply through movement or reconstruction.
Something surprising about Kiaer is that he often frames his work through the discipline of painting, rather than directly aligning himself with the history of sculpture – an association that would seem quite natural, given that many of his materials could be discussed in relation to the ready-made. Through sculptural constructions, he manages to navigate contemporary notions of painting and its proposed death, while decidedly avoiding the fixed viewpoint of a 2D landscape. On the contrary, the art objects present, feel open to being rearranged; each article becomes merely a sketch of a thought or a model of something to come.
In the exhibition’s publication, Kiaer comments that a ‘model can hold multiple associations and also remain unknowable. It could just be a very particular form that is impossible to describe, or a piece of material that stands in, or acts as a foil to something else. The model is both evasive and ridiculously precise.’ In this way, the work does not provoke or command but rather presents you with an idea through material experience. Kiaer’s titles allude to a variety of literature and theory but when I’m stood in a room with the work itself, all I can see is the way the silver-leaf clings to the surface of a plastic sheet that towers above me; all I take in is the glow from a yellow, Perspex ceiling. When the weight of an idea is heavier than the material it embodies, perhaps it’s better to avoid talking of the unknowable and being present within the encounter instead.
Written By Sarah Botha