The title of Austrian artist Oliver Laric’s new solo exhibition now showing at the Austrian Cultural Forum in London is the first clue as to where the potency of the works really lies. Curated by Victor Wang, Laric’s sculptural works at first seem small and unimposing, but behind the process of their creation lurks a deeper significance that attempts to break into the tradition of sculpture with decidedly contemporary augmentations.
The exhibition itself contains five pieces of physical sculpture, four of which are housed in the small downstairs gallery space of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Knightsbridge, with the fifth placed inconspicuously on the mantelpiece in an upstairs room. All the works are 3D scans of pieces from a selection of international museum collections, in some cases altered with colour schemes almost comically (at times, possibly cosmically), removed from the originals. Alongside this, Laric has produced a catalogue entitled ‘Lincoln 3D Scans,’ a collection of scanned objects which can be downloaded for free without copyright or licensing requirements, to be shared and used in the creation of future works.
Here then is where Laric’s work supposedly takes on its greater consequence, creating a new fissure between the work and the context in which it is shown. Travelling exhibitions, particularly those which feature antiquities and other, sometimes contested, objects of historical importance, already present a contextual break that allows curators and others to reframe these pieces in new environments within new historical timeframes. Laric here goes one step further, taking objects which come loaded not only with signifiers of time and place, but by extension often high financial values and places them in the hands of those able to access the required technology to recreate and reform them.
There is a playful challenge to the power of ownership and the centrality of authorship alluded to in the title that belies the very real paradigm shift being suggested by Laric’s appropriation of these works and the creation and distribution of these scans. I use appropriation here advisedly, because therein lies the rub, so to speak, in what Laric is doing. His approach here not only serves as a challenge to the classic model of the museum or gallery space, and the way these works are typically presented within them, but also allows the seemingly boundless and often lawless limits of the digital age to take them further away from their origins, for better and worse.
Clearly the familiar issues of authenticity are alive and well here too, also present in the title which perhaps offers both a critique and caveat all at once. More pressing is the possibility of new works and collaborations, new interventions, all made possible by the entirely contemporary production technique of 3D scanning. Less obvious perhaps is what value these new movements will have when still so clearly different to the nature of their origins. Does Laric’s work here hint at a new mode and medium, or merely a new way to create replicas? Are these really new ideas or simply the extension of something made possible because he is able to manipulate new technologies to achieve greater accuracy of imitation?
What stands out to me several days after seeing the exhibition is the lack of information available regarding what pieces Laric has taken and where from. This is fitting, in some ways, since the distance between the objects and their source is such a big part of what he’s doing here. In the press release, a somewhat oblique reference to “a contested Yuanmingyuan marble column from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing” is the only specific object mentioned, alongside museums in Lincoln, UK and Bergen, Norway. The release goes on to say that with the break from source material and context, “the value of sculpture is levelled.” The question then, is what is the value of this leveling?
All the pieces Laric takes as his source material are loaded with historical significance, and are not simply design items or commodities. Is Laric creating something bold and new, or merely adding to a sense of distance and separation already present in the way these objects are treated? The claim that his actions here open new pathways to collaboration and engagement may well be one answer. By rendering these pieces totally authorless and context free, the artist here has arguably democratised them, taking them away from the hegemony of the gallery or museum space and placing their shape and potency into the hands of anyone who knows how to use the necessary technology to reshape them.
On the other hand, Laric here may simply be contributing to something which already has its starting point in conflicts of colonisation and imperialism. His moves here to drive these objects further away from their point of origin may really just be one more intervention by an outside force into cultural, social or political landscapes that have seen many more like it before (albeit with less technological flair). Whichever angle you think more likely, there is certainly a lot to be considered in Laric’s work here.
‘Giving Away the Moulds Will Cause No Damage to His Majesty’s Casts’ is on show at the Austrian Cultural Forum in London until July 3rd.
By Will Gresson