Hans Hemmert

Rubber has remained largely undiscovered as a medium in contemporary art. When it has been employed, it has been associated with the fetishization of the body. Artists like Kiki Smith and Marc Quinn have used the material rather conventionally to make body casts, exploring issues of health, loss of aura, and the transience of the individual. Berlin-based artist Hans Hemmert works with rubber much more playfully, without, however, renouncing the space of reflection the medium potentially affords. While Hemmert, too, emphasizes the material’s fetishistic quality, his approach achieves more distance from than proximity to the object of desire. In sculptures, videos, and photographs, he uses bright yellow latex as a wrapping under which all contours disappear, often leaving only an abstract, egglike shape.

In his exhibition in Essen, one was greeted in the entrance hall by a floor-to-ceiling yellow balloon squeezed between two columns. While the object appeared to accommodate itself to the static walls of the white cube, at the same time it seemed about to ooze out, upsetting the observer’s sense of space. Hemmert sees within his medium a sculptural problem that can be traced back to the work of Henry Moore, for whom every “body” is equal parts form and material. The balloon, on the other hand, remains a hybrid object, a thin layer that both swells between and distinguishes two experiences of space.

Three light-box transparencies show Hemmert sitting in his car, standing in his studio, and relaxing in his living room. These banal scenes are rendered strange by the fact that all the photographed spaces are completely lined with yellow rubber. Laying itself over every object, the rubber becomes a shield against the context of the everyday. The material obstructs the artist from his surroundings and the viewer from any real access to his private milieu. Within each hermetic situation, the movement is twofold: Protection and separation are inextricably linked. A fourth light-box photograph, Im Atelier 2 (In the studio 2), 1998, reveals an even more paradoxical relationship between inside and out: Sitting in his studio-turned-yellow-cave, the artist himself is hidden within a smaller yellow cocoon. The protective layer has become still less penetrable, with the artist turning himself into his own object of alienation.

Im Atelier 2 is a logical continuation of a series of photos hanging nearby, in which Hemmert attempts to use a variety of everyday objects from inside his egglike latex covering. In comical situations, one sees this elongated yellow balloon sitting on a motor scooter, standing on a ladder, or pinned to the wall by a wooden bar—an homage to Charles Ray. Finally, the artist appears in the video Hans Hemmert und Linda and the Funky Boys shame on you, 1998, as a hopping air bag dancing to disco music. The more forceful the artist’s movements within the balloon, the more clearly the surface captures the details of his body. Here the impossibility of coming into contact with the outside world becomes even more sculptural. Emerging from the dialectic between body and cover in Hemmert’s work is a meta-object, in which intimacy and the easy sign-ability of artificially generated situations are combined.

Harald Fricke
Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella.