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Action and Material

I first encountered Evelyn Loschy making artworks of quiet and understated beauty
in disused hospital buildings in Beelitz, Germany. The works she made there involved the slow and patient revelation of intricate and delicate surfaces by a laborious process of chipping, cutting, scraping, sanding and polishing small sections of the building's walls to create subtly layered and seductively textured images. These are reminiscent of abstract paintings, but their surfaces are uncovered rather than applied; sculpted drawings made by revealing hidden depths and colours through a shallow excavation of layers of paint and plaster. In contrast to some of her other sculptural work which tends to rely on a mechanics of destruction, these wall pieces explore a more subtle and sensitive relationship between action and material.

Both the ʻcontentʼ and the ʻaestheticʼ of these works (their sensory qualities and the meanings they allude to) coincide in their surface, because that is the place where the object and the body coincide. The imprint of human contact on an object shapes and defines its material surface, and the impact of the objectʼs material surface on the human senses shapes and defines its readings or ʻmeaningʼ.

So the surface of this work is important both as the site of a significant element of its seductive visual pleasure, and as the primary site of its ʻcontentʼ, its capacity to trigger ideas, memories or associations. It is on the surface that the traces and imprints of human contact and use are evidenced, and Loschy is careful to excavate that surface to make our experience of it as rich as possible.

In these works Loschy goes beyond an art of appropriation, for she is not merely taking and re-using the materials that are there, she is picking up where others, many years ago, left off, making a gift of her own labour that recalls and honours the forgotten workers who invested their labour in the making of the building. This is a process of regeneration and continuation involving both an uncovering and a recovery - and there is beauty in both - a subtle and visually seductive sensory experience in the colours and textures of the surfaces that are uncovered, and an emotive and resonant echo of human connection in the histories that are recovered.

The accretions and reductions of time constitute a physical manifestation, within itself, of an objectʼs history. When these accretions and reductions are the result of human contact, the object acquires a particular resonance, the phenomenon that Walter Benjamin called „aura". One of Benjaminʼs definitions of aura was the awareness of "a moment of forgotten humanity", the recognition and momentary restoration of the complex web of human connections inherent in material objects.

Buildings, like many manufactured things, last longer than people, they outlive the people who made them. Anonymous or forgotten human lives and aspirations are hidden in the traces of labour that remain within such material objects. There is a deeply human link between Loschy's patient and laborious manipulation of the material surface of the walls she excavates aesthetically and the investment of time, effort and energy of the labourers and crafts-people who made, decorated and repaired them with an eye only to their functional purpose. In these works Loschy is engaged with nothing less than the retrieval, reclamation and revaluing of lost histories and forgotten lives. Not just the lives of those who made these walls, but the lives of the many who have touched and existed within them, throughout their troubled history.

© Derek Horton, 2012

Derek Horton is an artist, writer, curator and teacher. He lives and works in Leeds (UK).

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