Sculptor Eva Rothschild is Ireland’s representative at the 2019 Venice Biennale. The first survey of her work in Australasia, Kosmos, is currently on at Wellington's City Gallery. Maeve Hughes explores the shapes in the space.
On entering Eva Rothschild’s Kosmos at City Gallery Wellington, the viewer becomes a cosmonaut in a space of shapes. Placards beside each work reveal the name and year of the work, no more. ‘I don't understand people’s desire to have everything explained to them’ Rothschild says, ‘get confused, stay confused.’
Technical Support was coloured resin casts of tape rolls placed one on top of the other from floor to ceiling. It resembles a Brancusi, an unending tower. The more time spent with this work the less meaning the objects offer. After acknowledging the Brancusi reference, I kept looking, noticing all associations I had brought to this column of colourful shapes. I realised that essentially these objects were shapes built to be shapes, without a function or a history.
Throughout the space Rothschild plants small stools as ‘prosaic invitation[s] to spend time with the objects’. Melded steel rods make the base and jesmonite resin casts of rotting, spray-painted polystyrene make the seat. It took me an hour to realise I could sit on these seats, I didn’t notice anyone else using them. It was a joyful experience to sit down but once there I found no new connection to the art. I agree that art exists in the viewer, not the object but I don't believe the artist can relinquish their responsibility to inspire. The stools were a virtue signal of ‘involvement’. It is true they got me involved in art in a way that is uncommon in galleries but it feels disingenuous to say that anything remarkable came of it.
Boys and Sculpture is a video Rothschild made of boys in a gallery of her sculptures. The boys creep from piece to piece, keeping a sharp eye on each other. Their confidence grows until one sculpture is bouncing around the room and knocking down the rest. The division between ‘art’ and ‘viewer’ disintegrates into a collision movement. The sculptures becoming soccer balls, fighting sticks, building blocks and boys.
The most successful work was Boys and Sculpture. In it we see the young viewers finding possibility with the objects. This is, no doubt, what Rothschild wants us to do; locate ourselves within the art and find possibility. I think she underestimates the power of adult inhibition, especially in the great white box. Confusion can come only through interest, otherwise you are left with the boredom of an outsider. Rothschild’s shapes hold a depth which on close inspection secreted interest. An interest which in the uninterrupted pace and mood of a gallery was slow to emerge.
Eva Rothschild: Kosmos
City Gallery, Wellington
Until Sunday 28 July