An awareness of materials is crucial in pursuing any artistic endeavour. The capacity of the artist to resonate with their medium while grasping its true potential occurs through careful observation, during which a full understanding of its chemical properties, durability, and texture proceeds. For the painter or the etcher, the mental is translated into the physical realm predominately with the aid of utensils. The sculptor however relies less on this mediating process, for it is the tactile, his very own hand which possesses the knowledge to manipulate and assemble substance. It comes as no surprise that the greatest innovations in sculpture of the past century resulted from an increasing immediacy towards the generative process manifest through methods such as direct casting (Medardo Rosso) and carving (Constantin Brâncuşi) or the collection of novel, unconventional materials for further assembly (Iza Genzken). Olivia Bax's work is a distinct example of this aesthetic manu propria, for Bax not only physically leaves the imprint of her hand, her gestures on the surface of her sculptures, but she also uses handles as a recurring motif (Hot Spot, Boulder (with handle) and Pump). Her stand-alone pieces (Rumble and Roar) have a human scale, as if they were based on her own height.
Bax's investigation of material rhythms can be likened to the act of sketching, of which the varying tempo, the drawing and selective retracing of preferred parts, aid in the development of her sculptural pieces. There is an unprecedented fascination with the armature of her pieces, which she does not completely conceal with the malleable paper pulp, opting rather for the visibility of the different processes. The sculptures are activated not only through the revealing of their anatomy and the material dialectic that ensues, but also through their humanistic dimensions. Scale holds a significant role within Bax's oeuvre, evoking both the domestic, and trying to escape from it by experimenting with site-specific height. The work Footloose, having been previously installed twice, is now refashioned to accommodate the low ceilings of this space while still slightly protruding through the support grid. Bax's work is at large not only through its diversity, resembling a smaller retrospective, but also through the sheer dimension of the space (the largest space she has exhibited in thus far), which allows for the sculptures to escape confinement. There is sufficient expanse within the gallery for the works to exist as individual entities, while simultaneously undergoing a mutual, collective activation. Palisade, the blue fence-like structure suggests a tripartite segmentation of the sculptural environment while similarly acting as a chromatic backdrop for works such as the aforementioned Footloose, and a three-dimensional framing for Slot & Groove. This seemingly divisive curatorial choice however, conversely facilitates discourse between the sculptures of the ensemble, acting not as a barrier, but rather as an interactional tool.
Bax's work extends beyond the removal of a sculpture from its pedestal as the sole source for immediacy. By imprinting her hands onto the surface of the work and using her height as a unit of measurement, by exposing diverse layers of materials causing thus an interaction within the anatomy of the work itself, and subsequently one within its collective pairing, the artist creates a cycle closed off by the viewer. Within her process of making, Bax activates herself, the space, the works and viewers, whether at a local level or at large.
Words by Smaranda Ciubotaru