contemporary sculpture

The Chapman Brothers, Sturm und Drang (2015)

June 5, 2015

sturm und drang

To hear this described, you might imagine something on a more imposing scale: a blasted tree hung with bodies of soldiering age, the reconstruction of a Goya etching.

But the truth is, Sturm und Drang looks a bit like a toy. This wicked bronze plays out in the shadow of the viewer, as if these dead were sent into battle in our name.

And that’s not a million miles from the way in which wars operate. How many are to be killed on our behalf in our comfortable lifetimes? If we consider ourselves moral, the joke is on us.

Or if we consider ourselves rational, these grinning corpses might say otherwise. From the 1760s to the 1780s, Sturm und Drang was a German movement which celebrated passion and nature.

But the artists don’t seem like Romantic (or even proto-Romantic) types. This piece is ironic about Goya, ironic about German literature, and ironic about anyone who takes the above seriously.

Cadavers are not the stuff of enlightenment statuary. This piece presents you with skeletal forms which you could play like a xylophone and entrails they are yet to relinquish to dogs.

Since the entirety is in monochromatic bronze, the forms emerge slowly. The faces come to you as goblin masks; maggots are having a time of it. The Chapmans have been to the joke shop.

That’s one place I would love to be a (plastic) fly on the wall. It says something that two of our most fêted artists source their materials from a realm of cheap costumes and tricks.

A pity that’s where we’ve ended up, and nowhere could be further from the culture wars of the 18th century. That’s the Chapmans for you: nihilists who must only get out of bed to laugh standing up.

Sturm und Drang is now on permanent view at Ekeberg Sculpture Park, Oslo.

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