Ugo Schildge, Essence

October 14 - November 30, 2020

16 rue des Minimes, 75003 

1/12

installation views | photo credits: Diane Arques

Ugo Schildge’s new exhibit « Essence » traces the artist’s pursuit to explore the dichotomy between subject and matter. With a heavy focus on vegetation in several forms, this is an invitation to explore the fragility of our natural world and our impacts upon it and vice versa. This is the dialogue between man and nature, its tenderness, cruelty, excess brutality, beauty, impact, consequence. The delicate and fragile nature of composition clashes with the brut technique of the artist, coupled with materials such as concrete, plaster, wood. There is weight, there is a true intensity, there is a sense of brutality in what has been built. Although the presence of man is physically absent from these pieces, the flora is wickedly fragile in the discussion of its impact on the natural world. It is inevitable to consider that the artist is not simply celebrating a superficial beauty that this vegetation offers, but there is a clear attempt to immortalize what is destined to die. The composition that is built with the technicality of a building’s foundation, has constructed the image of a wilting flower. When you tear the flower from the stem, you place it in a vase with water to maintain it. Schildge’s vase is much more stable and wildly layered with implications regarding our relationship to the natural world. Highlighted as a major vehicle within the exhibit is the sunflower. The common flower, protagonist of mythology, ritual, and nourishment for millennia of the genus Helianthus. Its familiar interconnecting spirals oriented by the golden angle, its flower head providing the most efficient packing of seeds mathematically possible. In other words, perfection. The flowers here are beautiful, built with a relentless tension of wood, plaster, wiring and concrete. They’re as nurturing as mothers. They’re strong as rocks. Some stand straight with militant discipline, others wilt drunk in a romantic stupor, their rich pigments highlighting all of its perfect beauty. They are not only meant to be admired, but to be reflected upon. As when you look over the tombstone of someone gone from this life, could we have done anything to prevent this goodbye? Were we responsible? And when we look upon these flowers, we are entranced in the same way that our ancestors have been entranced. To inspire to create the story of Clytie’s transformation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, to worship as an offering to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war. To practice this ancestral mesmerization, is to be linked to the roads of mankind and civilization that have brought us to where we stand now, before this field. It is a symbol of unity, of connection, of togetherness, it is a federation of what it means to be human. The piece is structured as a composition of fifty individual frames, each denoting a single flower. Together, it creates a vast network of electric beauty to breathe, each piece individual, an artefact to own, celebrating mankind’s relationship to hold a vanishing beauty. Juxtaposed intelligently to the sunflower is the cactus. Native to both the old world and the new world, it’s message is not necessarily one of generosity, but one of warning, in its vivid greens, rich desert hues, and barbs which protect not only its unique and robust body, but its exotic fruits and wild flowers. The cactus hoards water, its photosynthesis works in reverse scheduling, in the night. The pieces include tableaus and a sculpture. The sculpture, built with such painstaking brutal precision, is a siren song ode to its beauty, inviting you to come closer, to almost touch its wild exquisiteness at your own risk. A different kind of mesmerization, a different message from nature, a different kind of admiration, not what we can take from it, but what we fear to grasp, what we want, but cannot touch.

The complete dialogue of this vegetation denotes one of the most universal dichotomies, the positive and negative, man woman, yin and yang, a universe of chaos in constant and perfect opposition of itself, absurdity kissing logic. Our admirative and cruel relationship to nature. The exhibit itself also houses a monumental piece symbolizing perhaps one of the most controversial and divisive, yet fundamentally key instruments to modern life. The pump jack. Schildge’s pump jack, responsible for extracting crude nectar from the soil, is a mechanically functioning monument. Sluggishly pumping away as sisyphus in an eternal reminder that reveals the nature of man, its dependence on nectar, while its crooked frame reflects on relentlessness in pursuit of mankind’s excess. A piece that evokes empathy, as it may inspire fear, remorse, regret, the artist employs the massive machine as a sort of mirror, a point of reflection. Its slow moment is heavy and dangerous while its dangling wires seem to mimic brushstrokes, hair, or a dance, perhaps that of man with its own fate.

The dialogue in « Essence » is pure. It is seeking to identify where we stand in our relationship to nature, it questions why we must practice such a cruel surrender to our excess, to the cycle of progress and its implications in pumping macerated nectar from the ground in order to survive, in order to move forward. It is a generous oxymoron, it offers a new concrete memory of something so intrinsically beautiful and true that will inevitably die. It is an attempt at holding, maintaining, celebrating. In the end, a hopeful paradox in reminding us that once this landscape is gone, so are we.

Jack Rothert