Text by Alice Miller
The work of Sarah Lucas has long been associated with crudeness, controversy and a ‘laddish’ effrontery. These outdated connections have been duly dispensed with at the Henry Moore Institute, which currently has on display 31 works made by Lucas throughout the last two decades. The exhibition seeks to place emphasis on Lucas’ sculptural exploration of form, material and process, and yet an inescapable sexuality permeates the work.
In ‘Au Naturel’, Lucas uses a well-worn mattress to suggest the bodies of a couple, with melons and a bucket representing the woman, and a cucumber and two oranges representing the man. In this work Lucas imbues the human body with a poignancy and pathos, as it is shown to be slumped and sagging, stained and decaying. Yet the work is not without humour, as Lucas also seems to be poking fun at the absurdity of our own bodies. She hints at the anxiety that surrounds our bodies, and how we can sometimes view the body as something comically obscene.
In recent years, Lucas has abandoned the decaying, transient materials of fruit and fried eggs, in favour of more abiding matter such as concrete and plaster, yet the connection between body and food resolutely remains within her work. In a series of works made around 2002, Lucas cast various food-stuffs in concrete, and on display we can see edibles such as a marrow, squash, and courgette. Here Lucas continues to use vegetable forms to evoke the body, and this association is made particularly explicit through the title of one piece, ‘Man Marrow’. Seeing something of the erotic in the everyday forms of fruit and veg, Lucas explores these forms for their sexual, as well as comical potential.
Alongside these concrete works is another series, ‘Penetralia’. Cast in plaster, these works are far more sexually suggestive, as Lucas explores the phallic form by casting branches, lumps of flint, and erect penises. These works are not humorously crude depictions of the penis, they function more like effigies or symbols, markers for the body. Displayed on wooden blocks, and supported by wire, these bone-like objects have the appearance of found relics, with the potency of ancient fertility symbols.
The body of work which dominates the exhibition is ‘NUDS’, a series of sculptures which Lucas began making in 2009. These works appear to be born from the earlier ‘Bunny’ series, as both utilise stuffed tights as their primary material, yet in these recent works Lucas takes that material into more sinister abstraction. Lucas’s amorphous forms have the appearance of soft, contorted bodies that, devoid of bone, can knot, twist and even penetrate themselves. The ‘tan’ coloured tights give a disturbingly corpse-like quality to these bone-less bodies, and yet some seem to suggest a writhing movement. The fabricated word ‘NUD’ provides a fitting title for these works, an amputated word for amputated forms.
Sarah Lucas: Ordinary Things is on display at the Henry Moore Institute until 21st October 2012.
Alice Miller is a History of Art postgraduate and writer based in Leeds.
Published 22.07.2012 by Bryony Bond