Klepsidras y Gnomenes
Waterclocks & Gnomes
know next to nothing about waterclocks, I know next to nothing about
gnomes and I know next to nothing about sculpture. Consequently, I am
the least fit to comment on Klepsidras y Gnomenes, an exhibition
of sculpture by Encarnación Contreras, held in the showrooms of Caja
Rural, Toledo (18-30.ix.06).
starts up that old dispute between coming to art with knowledge and
coming to it as an innocent. What elucidation does the expert bring
to any art? What accidental beauty or destructive chaos is spread by
the babbling ingénu? It is a debate that will not stop here;
I merely state where I am coming from...
is to be seen at this exhibition? – Some dozen or so sculptures, two
of them apparently apart from the others in that they take no anthropomorphic
form: maybe they are full abstractions from the theme. We are left with
ten or more of Contreras’s gnomes, recognisably humanoid forms, tending
towards various levels of abstraction. They are, on the whole, small
and intricately fashioned: they sit and brood, they twist and dance,
they are poised to spring.
whose feet have spread out into formidable tree roots, seems to sit
in bewilderment at all that passes by. He sits on a log of dead
wood. Thus old, gnarled roots and a dead wood log form the triangular
base for this contemplative gnome; skinny, yet seeming strong in the
sinews; above all, his exquisitely fashioned head and detailed face,
so lost in other worlds, keeps the viewer at a respectful distance,
so as not to disturb his reverie.
female form gains its life from two crossed verticals that twist the
body masses round in a seductive dance. Yet the head is a common house
key, planted in the neck; perhaps it unlocks the vitality of the form.
The conundrum it sets up is whether to read it from the base up, or
from the apex down.
upwardly, the base is a solid rectangular tablet, equally solid legs
rising from each corner. We associate four legs with animals. But a
third of the way up, two twisting spindly legs grow; one turns into
a shoulder and a woman’s breast; the other tilts the masses somewhat
and taking the other shoulder higher, forms a semi-enclosed space from
which there dangles a heavy testicular globe; or could it be the other
breast, grown slack and heavily pendant? - And then the severed neck.
And then the key.
read, this gracefully dancing female figure rises from a solid animal
base, takes an abandoned twist through suggestions of sexuality and
ends in an enigmatic key. The key is actual; it is not itself sculpted.
It is a machine made item stuck in a human form, to make the most crucial
part, the human head. Thus the piece takes us up from an animal world,
through a human world into the world of the machine. Picabia would have
do we read it downwards? If we do, then the key, the machine made object,
probes the human neck, as if the dancing form below needed to be turned
on before the power will flow. For a moment, the figure dances, but
then all power goes to ground, heavily to ground: positive and negative
go to earth.
suspect Contreras does not want us to read her masses from either up
or down. I suspect she presents us with something much more “African,”
in that the entire piece, in the round, is an exercise in the all round
plasticity of the human form. Her sculptures are not conceived in the
European tradition of bas-relief; they are not made up of front, back
and side bas-reliefs. There is, instead, that same plastic freedom noticed
by Roger Fry in 1920, when he famously and bravely wrote:
these African artists really conceive form in three dimensions. Now
this is rare in sculpture .......... [they] seem to have no difficulty
in getting away from the two-dimensional plane.
Fry: Vision & Design: Pelican / Penguin, 1961: p. 87.
of Contreras’s forms are more anthropomorphic than humanoid. Limbs
become cylindrical, even tubular; bases become some part of a leg, not
necessarily a ‘leg’ in itself: abstracions from legs. A thigh-shape
will weight a figure for two points of the essential base triangle,
leaving freedom for the second limb to touch ground lightly, at point
of balance. The effect achieved is a form that can best be described
as that of the puff adder in strike position.
any (generic) snake; imagine it stretched out on the ground inert, like
a piece of rope; now pick a point one third of the way along and lift
from both there and from the head. What you should have, is a distorted
‘S’ shape: the base of the S stretches out behind in a long tail,
thuswise - ?S. Now you have the puff adder in the strike position;
two thirds of its body are on the ground; the other third, with the
head, is muscled back. The very next action can only be forward movement
–deadly striking at that!]
is the effect achieved by some of Contreras’s more dynamic pieces.
Her gnomes are varying forms of the duende. Some sit in silent
contemplation; others threaten to change shape in the instant. This
changing of shape is not quite changing of form: there is
no hint of metamorphosis. Instead, they suggest a shape for the form
to switch to; the difference between couchant
and rampant. We call it movement.
lighting for this exhibition was poor; overhead, stark and unrelenting.
Maybe it was meant to divorce these forms from all context; maybe pure
plastic form in all its glaring isolation was the intended presentation.
Yet I see these sculptures in the contexts of subtly lit homes. I see
them brooding and moving, guarding and prompting. Human kind rises out
of the earth, writhes and dances itself into discovery of the keys to
power. But what power? There is malevolent power, certainly: Contreras’s
gnomes are no pretty elves. There is also that much more potential power
for good – the human head in profound reflection of human ways.
Wallace, Toledo, 3.x.06.