Carol Bove and 'The Intimacy Gradient'
Our Akademie X artist's magnificent new show at Zwirner unfolds over three floors of varied yet related work
“Artwork comes from the total personality,” Carol Bove writes in our new book Akademie X. “I believe that in order to make something that’s meaningful you have to start by figuring yourself out psychologically.”
It’s a tenet you find yourself returning to as you move from room to room at her new show, The Plastic Unit, at Zwirner Mayfair. For Bove who’s applied all manner of self critique to her work including: feminist theory, Marxism, ayurvedic principles, philosophy, astrology and even psychedelic experiences, the path to her new show has been anything but a linear one even if the work in it has a remarkable relational pull.
"Initially I thought I’d bring the show that had been on the Highline for a year which would look weathered and great in this space,” she tells us during a walk through of the show. “But I took many paths to get here. It took a lot more ideas before things gelled up into this correct form.”
Part of the reason Bove works so slowly she explains is her desire to ensure that she challenges the gallery visitor to come to each work with a different viewing strategy.
“The opposite type of show would be say a colour field painting show,” she says. With a show like this what I want to make is something that challenges you to look at it in a different way, to adopt a different strategy. So part of your strategy with the chain netting is that you walk around it and view the show through it. It sounds simple but it's not really. So this particularly conditions the space because you have to look at every single thing through it. But it also projects a Cartesian grid onto the space. And it also puts the father of modern philosophy in this room and after 300 years we still haven’t made too much progress with this idea of mind, brain.”
The Geneva born, New York resident artist who describes her work as “not installation but related to installation” says she also wanted to make things “at different production levels” in order to add “a different texture in the registers of the exhibition." The materials she’s used at Zwirner range from the wood of a 30 million year old tree to cold fabricated steel, from concrete to brass - more of which later.
"I also wanted to make each of the rooms different so there’s a different feeling in each room,” she said. She confessed that finally standing in the Zwirner space felt “uncanny” because she had “rehearsed being in it so much” in her studio.
As well as the objects themselves in each room, there is also what she called “the single non-object in the room – which, for her is “the relationship of the parts,” something she described as akin to there "being notes and the music between the notes. I think of the non-thing as being a significant element in the exhibition,” she added.
If you’ve followed her work you’ll know that the glyph and petrified wood are common materials and recurring themes in Bove's work and the Zwirner show features both. Just as intriguingly, there's also a fair amount of concrete.
“Even though like forty years ago we wouldn’t have thought of concrete as a romantic material, it’s kind of grown on us,” she told us. “Now, it seems earthy and has so much touch,” she added, pointing out how the little brass cells on the piece pictured below are bolted together with tiny bolts “the same connection strategy as the way the bigger pieces are put together.”
It’s these seen and unseen relationships between the pieces across the three floors of the gallery that makes The Plastic Unit such a success.
Bove described how, as you walk from the ground floor space of the Mayfair gallery, originally a Georgian townhouse, up to the higher floors there’s the unfolding of “an intimacy gradient”.
“On the ground floor the work relates to the street and it’s the most powerful, self-protected work. As you come up into the space it’s more private and you have more privileges as a viewer.
"Then just like as when you walk into a house when you go up to the highest level that’s where you have the master suite and the bathroom more intimate spaces. Within this gradient things are almost heavier downstairs than they are on the upper floors.
There’s repetition of elements on the uppper floor but they been made lighter. The curtain relates to the curtain downstairs and on the upper floors drift wood not petrified wood is employed.”
The show is at Zwirner until May 30 You can read Carol’s thoughts on what it’s like to be an artist at Artspace here or go ahead and buy the book Akademie X which also features contributions on how to live an artistic life from Walead Beshty, Marina Abramovic, Olafur Eliasson, Liam Gillick and Bob Nickas among others.