New Sculptural Works by Anders Krisár

By Arnaud Gespacher

When it comes to sculptural work, especially in the tradition of marble, it takes a geologist to care about its embedded earthen qualities: that the metamorphic limestone (made of crystallized calcite or dolomite) was formed by eons of heat and sedimentation; that further back one finds a pressurized swirl and compaction of skeletal fragments of marine organisms—part of the silty and continual forming of our planet’s cranial mantle (perhaps like the head of a child, which continually shapes and hardens after birth). By contrast, the art historian wants to cut to the chase of form and narrative: that the artist made something out of nothing; that the material enters the new time of art, which ideally coalesces for posterity. One could not imagine art historical interest in the geological prehistory of the Carrara marble of, say, Michelangelo’s David (1501–04). We know the Florentines had a block of marble left over from a previous project. We know its iconography from the Book of Samuel and the allegorical significance of this figure for the Florentine Renaissance. But the exact location of where the marble was found, and the nonhuman processes that produced it before being unearthed for production, is of little significance to its meaning. The time of the earth, as Nietzsche would say, had not yet come.

In this hypothetical meeting of disciplines, all hinges on their distinct approaches. The geologist is interested in how the marble was formed (by nonhuman forces), while the art historian cares about why it was formed (by human forces). These two approaches are reconciled in works—such as the two new untitled pieces by Anders Krisár (2017)— whose geological composition is intrinsically significant to their meaning. In these works, lithological deep time informs the human time of arts and relationships. One features Krisár’s and his mother’s faces cut from the same block of marble (the block was split in two and carved under the direction of the artist). Their facial features were sculpted out of the stone as if they had been subterraneously facing each other nose-to-nose with eyes closed all these many millions of years. Or in the other related work, imagine the mother’s face now fashioned from another block of pristine marble in the negative, with the chiseled remnants laid to rest in a delicate pile of flakes and dust inside the stone from which they were carved. Both of these works thematize separation and loss in terms that are equally conceptual and concrete—one through the carving out of the gap needed for any face-to-face encounter, one through inaccessibility via the very substance that would otherwise allow the viewer access to the facial features beneath. This oscillation between revealing and concealing, accessibility and inaccessibility, is at the core of Krisár’s project.

The hybrid geologist–art historian finds complicity among earth, marble, mother, and son that is both figurative and quite literal (perhaps a place where these two modes of meaning collapse into each other): the artist, who carves the work, is himself initially formed by a process of mineral enfleshment in the womb; he is carving what carved him. In turn and well beforehand, the marble was formed by a parallel nonhuman motherly process of planetary mineralization, which made earth, marble, mother, and son all possible; he is thus carving what carved him in a dual sense—and it is here where human and nonhuman timescales meet. After all, our skeletal existence—formed in utero and continually remodeling itself ex utero—is an index to planetary skeletalization. This is true not only in relation to the mineral beginnings of our universe via supernovae (dying stars some millions of years after the Big Bang), but also in relation to our vertebrate forms of living. As the philosopher Manuel DeLanda points out, around 500 million years ago “the conglomerations of fleshy matter-energy that made up life underwent a sudden mineralization, and a new material for constructing living creatures emerged: bone. It is almost as if the mineral world that had served as a substratum for the emergence of biological creatures was reasserting itself, confirming that geology, far from having been left behind as a primitive stage of the earth’s evolution, fully coexisted with the soft, gelatinous newcomers.”[1] So both marble and bone have similar calcified beginnings. The earth has always been in our bones.

Krisár’s work also attests to a fundamental irreversibility. From the Big Bang to meteoric collisions to the oceanic metamorphic pressures forming the marble quarries of Italy, all of these processes are immutable. Likewise, extruding the block of marble and carving out facial features are equally irreversible procedures (they could be destroyed, but this would not undo their having been made). Like photography, like birth, there is no going back (as they say, it is all carved in stone, which should now resonate in a doubled sense). So what makes us possible is irrevocable and necessary. For us, it cannot be arbitrary—neither earth nor mother. Nonetheless, this condition seems to only hold for material processes informed by entropy and the conservation of mass. Love and death seem to reside as painful surpluses to all this. For how can it be that what formed us—skin and bones, planet and loved ones—comes to an end? Not in the eyes of physics, but in the eyes of the existential complexity that allow us to see and feel at all? We find ourselves at the difficult crossroads of reversibility and irreversibility: on the one hand, the processes that form us are set in stone—yet on the other, we and the ones we love do come to an end (and perhaps death is the impossible moment of an irreversible reversal of our present condition of life, as far as we know).

These questions far exceed the geologist and art historian. Krisár’s recent work points toward a fundamental condition of human existence and the capacity to reflect on ourselves in order to test the limits of our own being, origins, and destinations (and who knows, maybe all the nonhumans with the capacity to love each other are aware of this in their own ways—or perhaps, mercifully, they are not tormented by such questions). The work points toward the limitology of the afterlife, which always brings a certain amount of fear and trembling. What would be worse: an eventual pure oblivion of nothing at all (not even nothing), or another form of existence altogether, no matter how paradisiac or hellish, that is divorced from the ones we love in the here and now? Would not the latter scenario make the present frighteningly arbitrary? Would it not represent a perversity, in the sense that the relations for which we might well die would thus be utterly lost in this very act of dying? Is it of any consolation that this would represent the most infinite of sacrifices? But even eventual oblivion, somehow, would dampen the necessity of our present relations (Pascal did not consider this in his famous wager; we do have something to lose in betting against an afterlife—namely, those we love and can never imagine no longer knowing). Perhaps there are only two options: a radical embracing of the here and now, or a humble faith, not in some pleasures of paradise, but that somehow we will meet again.

[1] Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (Brooklyn, NY: Zone Books, 1997), 26.