Larry Bamburg might find the idea of discovery and play, coupled with do-it-yourself-determinism, the object of his work, but his exploratory processes leave fascinating evidence of this artistic problem-solving. Visitors to GRIMM Gallery this month are treated to a display that might find itself variously at home in a natural history museum, laboratory, or children’s playroom.
The artifacts, specimens, and toys at GRIMM consist of truncated tree branches, unfeasible assemblages of temperature controlled animal bones, a gravity defying cantilevered tripod, videos of dead (or nearly dead) animals, and an explosion of wood, bark, parquet, and wood-like laminate. If these constructions constitute the results of Bamburg’s experiments, then like any good scientist, Bamburg shows his work. Pipes, wires, thermometers, cameras, and buckets of wastewater appear throughout the gallery, tangent to, and built into the works themselves.
Bamburg’s empirical curiosity can be likened to that of a 19th century gentleman scientist: he’s at once amateur biologist, botanist, zoologist, and engineer. Surely he could have consulted experts in these fields to ask, for example, “if I remove a pollarded tree branch from its trunk, attach it to a metal support, water it with a mist every few hours, and provide it with natural light… will it live?” Instead, as Mobile owl perch photoprop demonstrates, Bamburg prefers to find out for himself. (Two weeks into the installation, the answer to this question, by the way, is yes.) In an even more ambitious project, Committing to the idea that this thing is important, Bamburg flays a tree limb of its bark, molds the naked limb in concrete, grafts the excoriated bark onto the concrete replica, stores it in a moist and well-lit environment, and watches as the displaced bark supports new life, including ferns, moss, and mushrooms. As the title suggests, it is the idea and process that Bamburg finds important. Yet as you can imagine, the final result is pretty stunning.
You might ask where these objects go from being the relics of boyish experimentation to sculpture. It is pretty clear that Bamburg’s work follows in a long tradition of sculpture (and art more generally) that examines the material properties of its media. The results are in the form, but the art is in the analysis. Bamburg’s materials have agency and there is a tension between what he asks them to do and how they respond. There are no forgone conclusions – man and nature, re-scripted here as artist and medium, operate without hierarchy in an egalitarian relationship characterized by suggestion, evolution, response, and chance. “Can I do this?” is an interesting question, but materials might revolt. Bamburg seems to know that if he asks the better question, “What happens if…?”, the materials will always respond in kind.
~Andrea Alessi, a writer living in the Netherlands.
(Images: Larry Bamburg; Courtesy of the Artist and Grimm Fine Art)