The Cloak of Conscience by Anna Chromy

Anna Chromy is an artist who has evolved from painting to sculpture and is the creator of monumental public sculptures, mainly in bronze that have been installed in a number of prominent sites in Europe and China. Although many of her works appear to be hyper real in the delineation of the human body, and derive from themes related to Greco-Roman mythology such as the stories of Orpheus and Sisyphus, Chromy cites one of her main influences as surrealism. These influences are reflected in a number of works that depict human figures with shrouded faces, missing limbs along with wheels detached from vehicles. Chromy has turned to marble as the material for her latest and largest piece, the Cloak of Conscience, which raise a number of issues about classical and contemporary sculpture.

Now, at last, Phineus regrets the unjust fight, but what can he do? He sees the figures in diverse attitudes, and recognises the men, and calling on each by name, asks his help. Disbelieving, he touches the bodies nearest to him. They are marble.

Ovid, Metamorphosis, Book V

The massive scale of Chromy’s Cloak of Conscience, and the whiteness of the Carrara marble, with its connection to the Cave of Michelangelo, inevitably recalls what some writers have called an ‘excess’ in reference, for example, to the art of Bernini: flesh and cloth rendered as stone – the very opposite of its natural material qualities. This has also been referred to as the ‘art of petrifaction’, recalling Ovid’s story of how the animism and ‘diverse attitudes’ of some marble sculptures can be such that they could be mistaken for real persons, even in a situation of war, which is a reverse operation in addressing the traditional ambiguity of sculpture.

The avowed aim of sculptors such as Michelangelo and Bernini was to achieve the possibility of marble to appear as both solid and translucent and to imply a plasticity and weightlessness that is radically at odds with its material quality. However Chromy references this tradition with an inversion of the illusion of stone as flesh and cloth. First of all there is no positive analogue of the human body with which we can engage in the illusion of soft tissue, which almost always demands at least partial nudity. Instead the work is dominated by the folds of cloth and the absent volume of a body, which implies weight – so much weight in fact that we can call this a building (or an ‘archi-sculpture’ to use Chromy’s term) even a ‘chapel’, and as such it perhaps has more in common with the use of marble in architecture than in sculpture. In an inversion of Rachel Whiteread’s procedure of making positive volumes out of negative space, Chromy constructs a negative space out of a solid volume: the human body. The marble therefore becomes a material of strength, a structural material, rather than one that engages in the illusion of weightlessness – a very different approach to Chromy’s works in bronze, which appear to defy gravitational forces by capturing the dynamism of the human body.

All of this appears to serve very well Chromy’s intention of creating a post-humanist work whose very solidity grounds the sculpture in a relationship with earthbound, material concerns rather than the mythological subjects of Greco Roman mythology or even the particular ethical positions that derive from the Judaic-Christian humanist traditions that place the body at the centre of the representation. Through such means the work is freed from the original gendered inspiration as representing ‘old woman weighed down by suffering’ – there is an illusion of a body (anybody) and the cloak envelops an empty space which spectators must fill with their own bodies and interpretations.

Next Post

Tapestry in Literature and Creative Writing

The combination of the decorative arts with literature and creative writing has led to many classical stories and novels themed around a painting or artifact. Others have used tapestry as metaphor to imply a weaving of a tale, and using tapestry to theme a story has strengthened the power that […]

You May Like