We went looking for what was not there and found something that we were not looking for. We got lost among fanciful objects generated by a mixture of sculptural figuration and abstract painting that bloomed on a concrete foundation. We can scan them for echoes of known biological forms, but it is difficult for us to feel at home among these unreal and stunning specimens.
The most recent works by Norbert Delman (b. 1989) are a continuation of his longstanding interest in the processes of the body and their relationship to the psyche. Even though their form is different from his previous works, they are immanently embedded in his earlier practice, often based on performative activities. In projects carried out after graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, the artist has trained his own body, driven by curiosity about the transformations that it has been undergoing. He has expanded on this concept by noticing in sports the mechanisms that also govern the world of art (competition, restriction, discipline). Each subsequent project (working with prisoners or gym regulars) has made him aware of the multitude of questions about the functioning of the human body that can be asked in the language of art. The “Body Over” exhibition that was organized at the Exhibition Office in Warsaw (2017) heralded the artist’s interest in non-verbal communication of organisms. Constructed in a linear fashion, the exhibition’s narrative, depicted the process of liberating oneself from corporeality. The real bodies of bodybuilders, sculptures and spatial installations were eventually confronted with a computer-generated space accessible through VR goggles. In the spirit of a futuristic vision, the artist envisioned a form of our consciousness functioning outside the body, exclusively in virtual space.
The works displayed at the HOS Gallery exhibition continue this futuristic tale of longing for a dying corporeality, being also a form of speculation on the future reconstruction of physicality in entirely new shapes. Delman’s concept of the body preceded by developed consciousness opens the way for imagination to move in a different direction than that belonging to us, humans, who first recognize our own corporeality only to develop spirituality, mentality and personality over time. Would new entities that function as virtual consciousness miss their bodies? And if so, how would they try to recreate the bodies and what form would they want to give to their expanded selves? Like the author of a science fiction novel, the artist strives to design the way of thinking and acting of the future entities of virtual consciousness that try to recreate physicality, but understand it in a way completely different from us.
Delman expresses his vision in sculptural forms whose bodies are made from unused elements left over from his earlier works. An important role in his work is played by the belief that the remnants left behind in the creation process are no different as matter from what constitutes the work itself. The “side effects” of creation in the form of scraps, shreds, and splinters still remain wood, metal, and stone in their own right, although, according to Delman, they haven’t been lucky enough to exist as artistic works per se. Moreover, the artist insists on using materials that are not often used in sculptural projects, such as polyurethane foam and plastic cable ties, suggesting that plastic, a highly durable material that is a problem of our times, will be used again in the future to build structures resistant to all adverse conditions. Elements cut out from MDF boards and plywood are designed by means of computer technology, and then covered with acrylic paint using an airbrush. Delman toys with colour combinations that are closer to the environment of the Internet, advertising or computer games than to nature. He creates a single organism from incompatible elements, one, however, very biological in form that evokes associations with entities on the fringes of flora and fauna, equipped with feelers, tentacles or legs that are sprouting and, at the same time, taking root.
While working on his latest sculptures, the artist also revisited the concept of inflammation, a mechanism that has negative connotations and at the same time initiates purifying processes. This narrative began with the “S.P.A.” exhibition at the Foksal Gallery (2019). It featured a performance during which he was subjected to a painful Gua Sha massage that involved rubbing his body with, among others, a buffalo horn until he got bloody effusions. Causing inflammation ultimately improves blood microcirculation and metabolism in the body and increases cellular activity. Individual elements of the sculptures created by the artist originate from different stories and clearly do not fit, something that he does not attempt to mask. Individual parts seem to be fixed almost by force, coerced into obedience, twisted to fit the author’s will despite resistance and pain. These points of contact and, at the same time, incompatibility around which the entire structure grows and develops, resemble irritations. The artist emphasizes the dissonance and tensions caused by this incompatibility both through the use of plastic structural elements and an intensification of colour or a change of tone. Delman calls these places “inflammations”, a term borrowed from medicine, which is the body’s response to injury and a signal that alarms about the presence of a threat, and symbolically refers to the social body with all its tensions and confrontations.
According to Delman, sculpture is the best medium for talking about the human being, because through its form it weaves narratives about both the existence and the absence of matter. Emptiness becomes the main theme and a pretext for creation, as it symbolizes the natural state of the human being. The rifts of light make his works seem fragile, balancing on the verge of losing stability and reality. According to the artist, the human being is a mixture of events and experiences from the past, but also of the situations and occurrences that did not take place in his existence. With age, we gain knowledge about ourselves and begin to accept these shortcomings.
His latest projects are a consequence of his experiences so far and their logical extension. The experience of the pandemic crisis and ongoing climate change and environmental degradation can also be seen as a starting point for this new chapter of his creative activity. Delman’s sculptures tell a story about presence, consciousness that abandons corporeality, and social relationships framed in abstract terms. Expressive compositions, held together by cable ties, bent dynamically in spasms of pain or ecstasy, contain a considerable load of hope in the first place. Delman emphasizes that inflammation mobilizes the body, having a cleansing and soothing effect. And by allowing the unfortunate bits and pieces to come into full existence, he suggests that having “a second chance” or even a second life, is not just a pipe dream.
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