between heaven and hell

artist's statement

I have chosen the human head – my head – as the ubiquitous object that will be the subject for the assessment item “Re-Cast

I have taken the familiar form of this normally revered human appendage and placed it in an extreme configuration that not only will confront the viewer but will invite them to question their own values and frailties in respect to the human condition in general.

The upturned latex facsimile of my head undergoes an obvious physical stress under the duress of gravitational distension and uncomfortably alludes to a scene of pain and torture. The darkened space, the ghostly pallidness of the white painted “skin” and the distorted facial expression further contribute to the gruesome notion that either death is imminent or there is such a strong potential for calamitous disaster.

At the same time the work possesses a certain solemnity and uplifting calm not unassisted by a serene internal glow from a small internal lamp within the head. The head is poised in space – perhaps hovering between heaven and hell – and exudes an all-knowing messianic wisdom that attempts to elicit a metaphysical arousal within the viewer.

I offer a challenge to the viewer to immerse themselves in this work and discover if not one or more emotions are stirred. It is my head; it is part of me; it embodies my spirit; and may capture theirs.


“The individual is obsessed by the obligation to act as a function of ‘the other’, obsessed by the obligation to exhibit himself in order to be able to be. The over-riding desire is to live collective ethos and pathos, to grasp the existent in all of its brutal physicality, to communicate something that has been previously felt but that is lived in the very moment of communication, to return to the origins without leaving the present, to lead the individual to relationship with both himself and others, to lead the individual, in short, back to his specific mode of existence …”

Lea Vergine, from ‘The Body as Language’ Milan: Skira, 2000 (pp. 7-9)

Whilst Vergine is referring more specifically to the body artists of the 1960s and 70s, her comments are still relevant today in respect to artists’ portrayal of their own bodies in their work. They offer up simulacra of their physical identities as the subject – or vehicle – for their art. It is a very personal investment and probably not unadorned with a cocktail of the notion of ego and perhaps the desire to promulgate a fragment of the artist’s character or even a hidden truth. Of course, using oneself as the subject of one’s art is not only self-referential to the extreme but is perhaps a plea to the Other to look at me, take me as I am, masticate and digest me; an aesthetic sacrificial gesture met by a reciprocal leap of faith by the viewer.

Along this line of thought, Vergine (2000, p. 26) states:
“The relationship between public and artist becomes a relationship of complicity. The artist offers his hand to the spectator and the success of the operation depends upon how and how much the spectator is willing to accept it. The gesture of the artist who makes the proposition acquires significance only if his actions are met by an act of recognition on the part of the spectator. The artist needs to feel that the others are receptive to him, that they are willing to play the game of accepting his provocations and that they will give him back his ‘projections.’ It is indispensable that the public co-operate with him, since what he needs is to be confirmed in his identity.”

I have selected my head (or at least a facsimile of it) as the subject for the Re-Cast, Re-Configured assessment piece. Originally, I had planned to perform a three-part plaster casting (with assistance) of my own head but an enduring head cold caused me to go to Plan B and sculpt a clay facsimile as an alternative. Plan A comprised the plaster cast of my actual head and a latex mold taken from that. As it’s turned out, a latex outer mold of the clay head has had sufficient detail to be used for this project. Whilst brushing on each layer, four extensions (around 1 metre long) were formed at equidistant points around the neckline. I brushed on six generous coats of latex but four would probably have sufficed – and produced a lighter result.

My intention was to produce a lightweight “skin” of my head that could be bolstered by a helium balloon to an approximate height of one metre above the ground and weighed down at the tips of the extensions by four river stones or equivalent. The process of disembodiment references how I perceive man’s spiritual framework – the spirit, or soul, resides in the mind; the body is superfluous.

Unfortunately the resultant skin was too heavy for the helium idea so I looked at an alternative presentation – and, consequently, an alternative hypothesis.

By suspending the extensions from above instead, the upturned head becomes a receptacle and can be filled with water, sand or pebbles causing an interesting distortion as gravity stretches the head towards the floor. This physical inversion of the piece suggests a similar reversal of the premise where instead of representing the ethereal perception of a levitated spirit, the weighing down of the head could relate to a negative-based sentiment, such as guilt. The more weight inside the head, the more distortion occurs, and the potential for the distending structure to collapse entirely is prevalent – not unlike the human stresses endured with copious feelings of remorse and self-condemnation.

The impact of the installation of this piece is greatly enhanced by carefully considered lighting and minimal structural framework. The four latex extensions and suspended from a box frame itself suspended approximately two metres from the floor. The room is darkened with the only illumination emanating from inside the head itself.

27 June 2006, SASA