The man becomes a bear or bull, the harmless crab swallows people, and the beautiful conch looks like a bomb. All that is needed is that the old instincts, lurking in the human unconscious, come to the surface, or that the dimensions change. – Excerpt from press release of “The Animal In Us”
Walking into Galerie Albrecht in Berlin (warning: exaggerating teaser ahead) I felt as if the sculptures on display were stripping away dozens of millennia from my eyes and body. It was the reminder that humans once molded, twisted, and shaped tangible matter into symbolic objects way before we clothed them with the term “art.” “The Animal In Us“ might be the contemporary work of French artist Frédérique Edy, but its vestiges are ancient.
Artifact & Artifiction
Entering the gallery, waiting for you, is the menacing gatekeeper and a worthy adversary of the Minotaur: a life-sized half man, half bear wooden sculpture hungry for your attention. But wait! Dare to take a closer look. What appears as carved wood from a distance is actually bronze that has been carefully crafted to fine detail. This is where the exhibition immediately grabbed my attention: not only are these contemporary sculptures dressed with an ancient aesthetic, but even their surface appearance hide what they’re really made of. Garbed with the look of artifacts that could have very well been excavated from, say, the caves of Lascaux, these sculptures create a blur between what is and what isn’t. This blur is further heightened by their half animal, half human characteristics.
“Untitled,” a bronze sculpture by Frédérique Edy at Galerie Albrecht. Photo: Chris Phillips
Possibly the best exemplar from these chimeras is the only untitled piece in the exhibition (pictured above). Its surface undoubtedly recalls the texture of wood, especially with the branch-like shape of its deer antler, which is in turn acting as the undulating tail of a fish. The body part that a fish might have used to flee in fear from the threat of a predator appears now as a hardened and spiked, fear-inducing weapon. Rough, raw and beautiful, this sculpture indeed conjures the animals in us, by reflecting our ability to see connections and attach meanings where perhaps there are none.