‘I think interrupting the surface is a way of interrupting other things that are in place and taken for granted. If these interruptions are provocative, then they play on the permission that I myself as a woman or as artist am supposed to have been given from elsewhere. Well from where? From whatever things have already been made, and whatever ways in which women and artists are supposed to have been organised’ (R. Warren, quoted in conversation with H.-U. Obrist and J. Peyton-Jones, Rebecca Warren, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 2009, p. 65).
Included in Rebecca Warren’s celebrated Turner Prize exhibition, for which she was nominated in 2006, the beautifully articulated, visceral form of 00 rises majestically from its plinth like a bronze totem. Engaging with a powerful history of expressive figurative sculpture, 00 shows the artist expanding her sculptural practice from roughly hewn, unfired clay works, to explore the artistic possibilities and historical significance of bronze. Created by the artist with a deliberately ambiguous gender, the sensual, anthropometric silhouette of the sculpture twists upwards, crowned by two pastel painted esoteric spheres, neither specifically male or female, perhaps the 00 to which the enigmatic title refers. Although androgynous the sculpture is nevertheless ardently corporeal, a celebration of the human form with all its idiosyncrasies and imperfections. Clothed in swathes of chalky paint, Warren disturbs an exalted medium traditionally left unaltered, commenting on the enduring, yet illusionistic figure of the nude in bronze sculptural practice. Concerned with appropriating and rewriting masculine models of art-making, Warren’s sculpture aims to deconstruct traditional figuration in favour of a process that resists easy categorization, drawing together the distinctive iconographies of her male antecedents but developing a dialogue around her work that deals with male objectification, female power and the legacy of classical sculpture. In 00 Warren presents her viewers with a Tiresian figure, thus seeking, and finding, an escape from the objectifying male gaze.
Warren’s work is imbued with references to the prevailing sculptors of the last hundred years: from giants such as Rodin and Giacometti, to the amorphous forms of Jean Arp and Degas’ dancers. Fascinated by the masculine perception of the feminine, both historically and in everyday representations, Warren developed a unique vernacular that exposes ways in which masculine interpretations exalt and diminish the female form. As the artist has observed, ‘I think interrupting the surface is a way of interrupting other things that are in place and taken for granted. If these interruptions are provocative, then they play on the permission that I myself as a woman or as artist am supposed to have been given from elsewhere. Well from where? From whatever things have already been made, and whatever ways in which women and artists are supposed to have been organised’ (R. Warren, quoted in conversation with H.-U. Obrist and J. Peyton-Jones, Rebecca Warren, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 2009, p. 65). Deliberately thwarting both sculptural and gendered expectations, Warren interrupts the viewing of the object, mutating the male gaze in the process. While other works in this series have unmistakably female titles, such as Pauline (2006), 00 is far less overt. Feminine characteristics are hinted at in the expressive texture of the work: a painted protuberance could be a skirt, while distinct curvatures may indicate hips or breasts, yet, in abstracting these features the viewer’s interpretation of the female figure in traditional sculpture is disturbed, its accepted definition irrevocably altered.
Among the first bronze works exhibited by Warren, 00 exemplifies the artist’s fascination with the shape-shifting properties of model-making. After receiving the clay models back from the foundry, beaten and fragmented in the casting process, Warren revised and added to them before returning them for recasting in bronze. This composite quality, embodied by the seductive protrusions of 00, expresses a disregard for this historically illustrious medium. Placed on a fibreboard plinth painted in a dusky rose colour, 00 makes reference to the art history it intentionally misappropriates, the humble, homemade quality of the plinth parodying its predecessors, playing with the notion of the anti-heroic. With delicate, impressionistic brushstrokes Warren paints directly onto the bronze patina, her unique visual language imbuing the work with an intimate, hand-crafted quality that resonates throughout her work. A work of elusive figuration, in 00 the artist’s physical presence is manifest in the tactility of the self-setting clay she employs. When cast in bronze these gestural, haptic traces are elevated, placing the artist within the canon of figurative sculptors that her work both pays tribute to and critiques. Displaying many of the textural characteristics of the coarse clay sculptures that had provided the foundation of her artistic practice, the kneaded and pummelled surface of the present work is rendered elegant by its bronze casting. The move away from working in unfired clay and towards bronze, a traditionally value-laden medium, indicates the way in which Warren appraises the history of traditional sculpture and establishes herself as a pioneer of a new practice that works outside of the genre’s historically imposed parameters.