Irina Lotarevich, Unit, 2023, cast silver, stainless steel, 4 3⁄8 × 11 5⁄8 × 2 3⁄8".

Irina Lotarevich, Unit, 2023, cast silver, stainless steel, 4 3⁄8 × 11 5⁄8 × 2 3⁄8".

Irina Lotarevich

With the exhibition “Modular Woman,” Russian-born artist Irina Lotarevich continued her long-standing sculptural confrontation with the processes of standardization and optimization, and with the power mechanisms that maintain social systems. Using casting and other techniques with metals such as stainless steel, aluminum, silver, and tin, she develops a physical relationship with her materials. Pieces that range from large, almost human-size objects to petite, jewelry-like charms reference architecture and comment on labor.

Many of her new works repeat the primary form of a box or a container as a unit, a module, a measure—for example, Modular Body (container ship cross-section), Unit, and Double Relation (all works 2023). Invoking Le Corbusier’s iconic modernist Unité d’Habitation (1947–52)—a housing complex developed according to the architect’s anthropometric scale of proportions, the Modulor, based on the conventional six-foot stature of male detectives in English mystery novels—Lotarevich questions not only the masculine ideal of his buildings, but the existence of universal standards in general. “Modular: A problem of the ego by which I mean the me is nothing but one more piece of them,” writes Miriam Stoney in a generous accompanying exhibition text. Lotarevich uses her own body (“Woman: Almost whole,” writes Stoney) as a physical referent in Steel Price Index. A long, vertical steel strip, almost like a large ruler, the work is the same height as the artist. The information engraved on its surface reproduces the front page of the most recent catalogue of a steel supplier in Vienna. The fluctuating, unpredictable price of steel is decisively interlinked with global events and markets, as well as with the artist and her craft.

The elegantly fabricated Overtime and Pedagogy is a relatively small, freestanding constellation of twenty-one compact Plexiglas frames that fan out from a curved mount, each frame preserving one week of shavings from the metal workshop at the university where Lotarevich teaches. If the compact wall sculpture Housing Anxiety 7—consisting of more than eighty small metal boxes nested in its front and side compartments, with chains and hooks hanging from the bottom—reflects upon the precarity of housing systems, Overtime and Pedagogy, an accumulation of time and matter, quite literally “houses” the remains of her colleagues’ anxieties and aspirations. Such delicate allusions to her personal sphere contribute to the vitality of Lotarevich’s work. It feels cold and numb, conveying a certain unease that corresponds with the growing anxieties and competitiveness of the present while remaining somehow gentle and vulnerable (emphasized by the handwork and the changing character of the steel, which is not immune to the human touch and reacts to the environment).

An uncanny yet bizarrely charming inclusion, tiny silver- and tin-cast pigeons perch on top of Unit and Housing Anxiety 7, respectively. The pigeon, said to be one of the first species to be domesticated by man, is a symbol of freedom but is also considered, wrongly, to be a disease carrier. A resilient creature, the target of extermination and of biotechnological breeding, the pigeon is what Donna Haraway, in Staying with the Trouble (2016), called “treasured kin and a despised pest”—an example of how (human or nonhuman) actors are easily classified as being either/or rather than observed in all their complexity and relationality. In their strict order and logic, some of Lotarevich’s sculptures resemble the structures of hard drives and servers, like analog depictions of technological information systems. Turning away from human exceptionalism and Le Corbusier’s obsession with anthropometric (masculine) scale and standardization, we discover a world teeming with connections between living and nonliving structures, in which the “living” is often solely the remains of human labor, a by-product of standardized life.