restricted access 6. Images That Do Not Rest: The Installations of Lawrence Malstaf
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151 Belgian artist Lawrence Malstaf (1972–) creates installations that invite the viewer to enter interactive environments and to become actor and spectator at the same time.1 He has also created works that rework images from the past—portraits and sculptures, which are often literally set in motion. Malstaf studied industrial design and, during the early stages of his career, he worked with choreographers creating scenographies for their pieces.2 Several of his installations borrow religious motifs: Sandbible, 1999, is a book with pages cut to create a hollowed space filled with sand, laid open on a vibrating surface (Figure 14).3 The vibrations gradually change the surface of the sand, thus making the quivering book appear as if it were simultaneously writing and erasing itself. Madonna, 2000, is a life-size hollow sculpture made of semitransparent adhesive tape and illuminated from within (Figure 15). It releases air and slowly collapses; then, in sudden darkness, it is noisily re-inflated. The translucent, semirigid material keeps the sculpture in a vertical position without any support, yet it is still flexible enough to allow the escaping stream of air to collapse it slowly. One of the Madonna’s hands points downward, touching her belly, and the other is c h a p t e r 6 Images That Do Not Rest The Installations of Lawrence Malstaf Warburg would never have been tempted to treat artworks as dream forms, but they share with dreams those initially inexplicable transformations, displacements, and reversals that puzzle us and cry out for interpretation. —KURT FORSTER, introduction to Aby Warburg, The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity 152 The Installations of Lawrence Malstaf raised in a greeting-like gesture. This “breathing” sculpture is a reinterpretation of a religious figure with a long history of depictions. Shrink, 1995, alludes to religious meanings more indirectly (Figure 16). The installation consists of two large, transparent plastic sheets; the visitor is invited to enter between the sheets, and a device gradually sucks the air out from between them, leaving the body (in the illustration, the artist himself ) vacuum-packed and vertically suspended. A transparent tube inserted Figure 14. Lawrence Malstaf, Sandbible, 1999. Mixed media installation. Gallery Fortlaan 17, Ghent. Courtesy of Lawrence Malstaf. The Installations of Lawrence Malstaf 153 Figure 15. Lawrence Malstaf, Madonna, 2000. Mixed media installation. Gallery Fortlaan 17, Ghent. Courtesy of Lawrence Malstaf. 154 The Installations of Lawrence Malstaf between the two surfaces allows the person inside the installation to regulate the flow of air and to breath. As a result of the increasing pressure between the plastic sheets, the surface of the packed body gradually freezes into multiple microfolds. For the duration of the performance that is shown on a video screen next to the empty installation, the artist moves slowly and changes positions, which vary from an almost embryonic position to one resembling a crucified body. Figure 16. Lawrence Malstaf, Shrink, 1995. Performance, installation view. Gallery Fortlaan 17, Ghent. Courtesy of Lawrence Malstaf. The Installations of Lawrence Malstaf 155 Malstaf’s pieces reside in the space between sculpture, installation, and performance, and set in motion a number of religious motifs. These artworks resist univocal iconographic interpretations that would refer them to a text or explanatory narrative. By setting flexible surfaces in motion and by using fluid elements such as light, sand, and air, the three installations foreground the transformability of the body, and simultaneously illustrate a profound ambiguity about images. Sandbible, Madonna, and Shrink address the complex cultural history of representing the body, including in the fields of medicine and science, which traditionally have claimed visual mastery over it, and in Christianity, which defined the body as a medium. The three works also problematize the status of the body in the visual world, in the sense that it can be, and often is, considered a medium of artistic and mental images that have the power to fix, shape, or even “invent” the body. Hans Belting argues that internal and external representations, or mental and physical images, are two sides of the same phenomenon, and that images exist and migrate between our bodies, the media of images as a mental construction , and their physical media as their support.4 In this sense, Malstaf’s installations are visual objects, but also a surface where images seen in the past, or, in a broader sense, mental images, can be copresent. His installations transform the very condition of mediality, the capacity of a body or physical object to be a...