Saturday, October 1, 2011

Theresa N: Ursula von Rydingsvard

I chose to write about Ursula von Rydingsvard, a contemporary sculptural artist, born 1946 in Denseen, Germany. In the class we are learning tools and techniques of woodworking for functional purposes, and I feel it is appropriate to get to know the non-utilitarian ends of what a woodworker can do. With this objective in mind I intend to make a brief description of the artist von Rydingsvard and her work, and in the following written assignments explore specific details pertaining to her work.

When I first happened upon the images of the artist's sculpture, I had been perplexed as to why her name appeared in the list of “woodworkers.” Firstly, she is a female in a dominion of "masculine" activities where females are traditionally absent. I understood that the sculpture was made of wood or involved wood at a greater proportion to other materials used, but I expected “woodwork” to be the result of designing a use for wood that can serve as human apparatus.
Detail of Ocean Floor
The shapes are both symmetrical and roughly textured, creating a tension where the viewer can perceive the man-made shapes and surfaces and the organic, untamed surfaces which also demonstrate the inherent personality of wood as a material.

The interest in this artist's body of work is that one can meditate on it as a collection of deliberate statements about the relation of “woodliness” to time, to the elements, and to human beings. Such properties of being “woodly” include but are not limited to the grain, texture, coloring, age, mass, its codependence in the planet’s ecological system as well as its principal existence in human cultural systems. As the same properties exploited, or exemplified, in the work, they further enrich any discussion about human relationships with the environment around us, as well as what we may see in future conversations about the conversation of natural resources.

Von Rydingsvard’s sculpture of consists of 3-D sculptural images usually on a scale bigger than humans, and due to their massive scale, exist as outdoor installations. The majority of works consist of cedar, which have undergone a process of gluing together and subtraction by hand and machine tools, sometimes mechanically fastened to other materials using nuts and bolts, or arranged under metal armatures, while treatments vary from resin to stain and varnish, graphite, and sparingly, paint and cow intestines.

Mold for Damski Czepek
Joinery seems to be absent from the process of creating her sculptural pieces, or the pieces seem to obliterate the sense that joinery was used, whether it is in the piece at all.  Through intensive intervention with the natural material, it is apparent that the overall image will read as an organic shape, that the resultant forms could evoke in the viewer a sense of displacement between the organic than the sum of a series of human interventions.

Her work began in the late 1970s with other contemporaries whose works lived in outside spaces as “site-specific” work. According to The Sculpture of Ursula Von Rydingsvard [sic], the artist has drawn influence from Robert Smithson, another artist “associating art with the condition of displacement.” (80) That “purity was a deep need for her” meant that her art education espoused the values of minimalist art makers of the time, who would rather create works with a clear statement of gesture, of material form, than of their predecessors the Abstract Expressionist art makers. (11)

The artist creates images which are ambiguous as to how they arrived at the state in the moment that the viewer happens upon it. Despite what we know about the sculpture being human-made, what we are able to read a transition taking place within the installations. We might assume that the piece began as a rough, natural, organic surface which shows signs of human intervention and refinement into clean-cut, smoothed, angular shapes.

Ignatz Comes Home
On the other hand, there is an equal potential to assume that the structures began as orderly as synthetic, architectural objects which have progressively decayed back to their natural form. The artist has captured, using symmetry, the mass around negative space, and tension between textures, a moment in time where there could be a transition taking place in some other reality.

The pieces demonstrate the artist's unconventional mentality of how to use the material, where its inherent properties of grain, color, scale, and mass, are the focus of the piece. In retrospect of the tradition of woodworking, the very existence of her art says that wood does not need to take the subordinate role as the visual or structural support of something else, for instance, a painting which needs a frame or a human that needs a rest, or a roof that needs a pillar to support it. It can be interpreted from her work that "wood-ness" can exist as the focal point where other ideas may emerge.

As a student I admire that the body of work is massive, also possessing a consistent theme of “transition in a moment.” However, I tend to differ with the artist on the general idea of how wood ought to be used. I see wood as a natural resource that should be respected for its potential uses but not exploited so that an enormous amount of of it ends up as non-utilitarian matter.

In my study I consulted the artist’s website,; two books, The Sculpture of Ursula Von Rydingsvard from Hudson Hill Press and The Conversations: Interviews with Sixteen Contemporary Artists by Richard Whittaker; as well as various videos on YouTube including interviews from the Art:21 program which aired on PBS.

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