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Ugo Rondinone

Becoming Soil
Carr dArt
Place de la Maison Carre, Nmes
April 15th September 18th 2016
Published at Hyperallergic as Ugo Rondinones Fragments of Nature Mourn the Environment
hyperallergic.com/322413/ugo-rondinones-fragments-of-nature-mourn-the-environment/

elevated rectangle landscape (2016) partial view, soil, circa 800 x 500 x 6 cm, photo by the author

Ugo Rondinones zombie nature show Becoming Soil is an unintentional reminder that a terrifying Anthropocene age
is upon us, where the human influence on Earths soil has been so profound it will leave its destructive legacy for

millennia. Rondinones newest, grand sculpture, elevated rectangle landscape (2016), opens the show and sets this
forlorn context into play. It is a low-floating plane of soil that reminds one of Walter de Marias New York Earth
Room (1977), though I noticed one big difference: there is no smell of the earth. It has been sealed under a spray of
plastic resin, appropriate since plastic is a key marker for the Anthropocene, even giving rise to the nickname
Plasticene.

Primitive (2011-2012) installation of 59 bronze birds. Collection Maja Hoffmann/Fondation LUMA & Thank
you Silence (2005), bois, papier, grille en mtal, moteur, 30 x 200 x 40 cm. Courtesy de lartiste. Vue de
lexposition Thank you Silence au M Museum, Leuven, 2013
Like many other artists who have been addressing the natural world in their work, Rondinones other sculptural gallery
installations, spread out with too cute little animals, lack strong, intense affect. Only a tinge of regressive numb naivety
was experienced in the room of 59 serene bronze birds, Primitive (201112). These grounded birdies are arranged
as essentially lonely figures around Thank You Silence (2005), an inert artificial snow machine suspended from the
ceiling that is the source of the patch of fake paper snowflakes that centers the bird cluster. Given my human scale, I
dominated the space of the grounded birds and that struck me as aberrant. Even evoking Glenn Albrechts term
solastalgia which he invented to describe the homesickness felt by people whose natural landscapes have been
transformed about them by forces beyond their control. Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the
pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. The lonely and grounded birds, frozen around the results of the now still

snow machine, provided a simple visualization of this solastalgia and remind us that Anthropocene art is,
unsurprisingly, obsessed with loss and disappearance of animals and ice. Relevant is the bad fact that the current
extinction rate for birds may be faster than any recorded across the 150 million years of avian evolutionary history.

Primal (2013) installation at Esther Schipper of 44 bronze horses in 2013. Courtesy Esther Schipper Gallery,
Berlin.
Another installation of miniature animals, Primal (2013), features 44 bronze horses. The statues generic uniformity
suggests a memorial to the ongoing biodiversity crisis of extinction. The small scale of these representational
sculptures, set low on the floor, recalls Joel Shapiros famous Untitled (197374) cast iron series, which began with
him making a small horse, a radical break from the abstract art tendencies of the time. Moving away from Process
Art, Shapiro started showing simplifications of familiar objects that, like in Primal, sit lonely, distributed on the
floor. Indeed, one of Shapiros first works of this type, Untitled (1972), incorporated a bronze bird on the floor as a
reaction against the austerity of Minimalism.
Rondinone, who himself was an excellent curator at the Palais de Tokyo with The Third Mind (2007) and a glamorous
show I much appreciated, I Love John Giorno (2015), here has been curated by Jean-Marc Prevost, who told me he
sees the show as a quasi-retrospective for the artist. Certainly the selection of work is sufficient to be so, even if
missing examples of Rondinones circular paintings series that cannot but remind me of Kenneth Noland his

metal trees, and his paintings of windows seen in different cities during his travels. Perhaps Prevost should have
excluded one more, as I found Norman Fosters Carr dArt space a bit too clean and cold for any imaginative magic
to spark from the 47 flying fish of Primordial (2016). Especially in light of the Anthropocene, Primordial seemed
to me simply too childish, too intellectually regressive and too plain old corny to be of any sustained interest, calling
to mind Bruce Naumans rather weak work One Hundred Fish Fountain (2012) and Kiki Smiths less than stellar
Rabbits (1998). By contrast, I suggest the much greater grunge groupings of Christy Rupp, an artist more than
superficially involved with the fusion of representational sculpture with animal studies.

Primordial (2016) moulage en bronze, patine; 47 lments, d. 1/3 + 2 AP, installation, dimensions variables.
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York & Bruxelles, photo by the author

fuenftermaizweitausendundelf (2011) encre sur papier, cadre en bois, plaque de plexiglass, 272 x 427 cm.
Courtesy de lartiste et Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zrich
The Carr dArt struck me as much better suited to Rondinones vast landscape drawings mounted on canvas and his
chance-based paintings of starry nights. Indeed, my preferred works in the show are his monumental imaginary
landscapes, such as fuenftermaizweitausendundelf (2011), done in Indian ink and titled with the date the work was
completed. Here, fuenftermaizweitausendundelf is installed near a kinetic relief sculpture, Big Mind Sky (2007),
which consists of a metal keyhole, seemingly from an old, over-sized door, set into the wall, from which a current of
air blows. Rondinones poetic landscapes are assembled from smaller sketched compositions the artist did en plein air
in Austria and at various other outdoor locations. They project a fairytale-like sensorial propensity to me that suggests
the complex cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability that exist between us and other animal species, yet they are
sleek and mural-sized. fuenftermaizweitausendundelf contain something beautifully gnarly, hinting at a deep inner
intimacy that reminded me of the poem Tomb (Of Verlaine) (1897) by Stphane Mallarm. Sumptuous and grand,
these ensnarling pen drawings evoke unseen realms and timeless obscurities and are the lushest work in the show, full
of complex connections. Perhaps when imagined as tombstone engravings they engender feelings appropriate to the
Anthropocene in that we have erased entire biomes and crashed whole ecosystems. Magnificent yet delicate, the pieces
in this series call for a contemplation of ghost emissaries.

N 559 dreissigsternovemberzweitausendundacht (2008), acrylique sur toile, plaque de plexiglass, 430 x 320 cm.
Courtesy de lartiste et Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zrich

The large toiles (stars) paintings, like N 559 dreissigsternovemberzweitausendundacht (2008), speak of a darker
ecological impulse in which categories such as the picturesque congeal into kitsch. In his book The Ecological
Thought, Object-oriented ontology philosopher Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject that may apply to these
paintings, as the term denotes some of the characteristics of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are so massively
distributed in time, space and dimensionality that they defy comprehension. Among the examples Morton gives of
hyperobjects are climate change and mass species extinction. At the same time, Rondinones toiles paintings
transmit a visual romantic sublime based in vertiginous infinity that recalls trippy trips to the Space Show in the
Hayden Planetarium, Vija Celminss night charcoal drawings, like Night Sky #18 (1998), and the poetic writings
of Grard de Nerval and other Romantics.
The sublime feeling nurtured by Rondinones night sky paintings receives a jolt of jokey, Pop lightness with the
Grands Nuages series of sky blue, cloud-shaped canvases, like fnfundzwanzigsterjunizweitausendundfnfzehn

(2015). These breezy works are less than edgy and dont offer much to the imagination. They may be too simple and
cute for our complex and ugly epoch. Their passive emptiness suggests to me that Rondinones romantic, nature-based
art might be better served by moving past formal interests in Minimalism and confronting particular challenges and
ideas specific to the Anthropocene. What were missing here are fresh visual vocabularies and art narratives that might
account for the kinds of relations and responsibilities in which we find ourselves entangled. How could a cloud
painting or a pack of tiny handmade horses possibly stand up to our creation of global-scale environmental changes
that will play out across millennia, let alone shape the nature of that change? So at the end, one feels for Rondinones
cultural impotence in lieu of it all.
At least the exhibitions title, Becoming Soil, generated for me a set of hopeful, creative, and generative thoughts and
expectations based on Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattaris ideas of becoming becoming molecular, becoming
woman, becoming animal, etc. They explained that the process of becoming is not one of imitation or analogy, but
is propagative of a new way of being that is a function of influences rather than resemblances. The process is one of
removing the element from its original functions and bringing about new ones.
In their terms, becoming soil means drawing one piece of the earths assemblage into the territory of another,
changing its value as an element and bringing about a new unity. Becoming Soil does this by asking us to contemplate
art as a form of becoming landscape, becoming star cluster, becoming cloud, and becoming animal. All this while also
imagining becoming participant in a funeral procession, slowly and inevitably working our way toward the
Anthropocene tomb of our own making.

Joseph Nechvatal

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