Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Power and Mystery of Ursula Von Rydingsvard

I recently ran by this large maple stump in Montpelier and immediately thought of Ursula Von Rydingsvard's work that I had seen on a visit to Storm King Art Center in July. I thought it was interesting because I've wondered about her inspiration for her creations since seeing them, though I still believe the resemblance is mere coincidence.
Maple Stump -- Montpelier, Vermont
Here is For Paul. Perhaps the resemblance isn't total coincidence in that her work is monolithic and organic so an occasional tree stump will be VonRydingsvard-esque, but what I find interesting, and captivating, about her sculptures is that they are more than organic and monolithic, they are also mysterious.
For Paul
cedar and graphite
Her work draws viewers in by causing them to ask questions. What is the material? Stone or wood? I looks organic-ish but there are still hard edges, so is it man-made or natural? Additionally, it is interesting on both the macro and micro scales, as viewers look at it from a distance they need to come closer to answer questions but as they get closer the texture and detail bring them closer, and the closer one gets the more there is to look at, until one is a few inches away examining the wood grain.
 For Paul
In both of these images, above and below, For Paul looks like it might be a wall of stone but it is confusing because of the deep crevices, that look like they might have been gouged out by water, but the edges are so sharp, contradicting the water theory. 
 For Paul
I think the monochromatic nature of the work adds to the mystery of the material and method, helping to hide the human involvement in its construction.
 For Paul
Luba creates similar levels of confusion, questioning, and interest from viewer though it has an added aspect of being partially made with bronze. 

cedar, cast bronze, graphite
The integration of the bronze is so well done that it is hard to identify through a casual examination of the piece (the narrow "legs" -- on the lower left in the above image).
Again, the quasi-natural look is mysterious.
The work is constructed out of stacked four by four cedar but depending on the angle of the cut on the end-grain, it may look wider, adding to visual confusion.
The mystery of Ursula's work goes beyond questions of construction and materials, it extends equally to her inspiration, what she is seeking to accomplish and what her inspiration is. Writers tend to spend a lot of space discussing her early childhood in German labor camps, her associated exposure to rough lumber and harsh living conditions, and her difficult emigration to the US; but few actually discuss the emotional quality of the work and her goals in its construction, including Ursula. For me, the power and mystery are the point, where the line between natural and man-made are blurred and the forces of either can be overwhelming, dwarfing where we stand.

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