Digging Deeper with Isabelle Cornaro

Archeo, an outdoor group exhibition about technology and obsolescence, brings together the work of artists who employ outmoded technologies and outdated machinery as a reflection on humanity's continuous fascination and frustration with technology.

The following Q&A with artist Isabelle Cornaro is part of a new series, Digging Deeper. Organized in conjunction with Archeo, Digging Deeper will offer a closer look at the exhibition's artists and work.

High Line Art: How does history inform your work – are there very particular moments that you are interested in referencing or unearthing in your sculptures, or a more general sense of the experience of archaeology and preservation?

Isabelle Cornaro: For this series of works I was indeed interested in historical forms produced during the Italian Renaissance and Mannerism periods. I spent a lot of time looking at different kinds of bas-relief sculptures, some of them very composed and rationally organized, and some of them tending toward more chaotic and anti-classic organizations; I would mention, for example, the doors of the Florence Baptistery by Ghiberti and the Mannerist grottos by Vasari. Alongside my research for this work, I came to study other important bas-relief works such as the Door of Hell by Rodin, and by extension, the series of wall sculptures Robert Morris produced in the 1980s.

HLA: You work very much in relief – in both your rectangular, wall-based compositions as well as your freestanding work. Could you talk a bit about your interest in this space of bas-relief and how it changes in your wall-based work versus your more sculptural work?

IC: Bas-reliefs work like images that solidify out of a first shapeless material such as plaster or elastomer. When they are wall-based, they directly reference paintings – the sculpted compositions exist for themselves. With the free-standing sculptures, there is an additional combinatory system which articulates and joins the different casts together, so that the multiple combinations offer multiple possible readings. I like to play with these combinatory arrangements as it relates to the history of the medium: with a sculpture, you can walk around it and discover its multiple faces through time, while with painting, you can experience it in a single moment and from a single vantage point.

HLA: In your sculptures you often use a variety of materials and textures, including hair, rope, bricks, and found objects – what do you think is the effect of equalizing these materials through casting?

IC: I cast these materials in order to transform them into an image, making them look like they all belong to the same time and realm.

HLA: In your construction methods, what is the difference for you between casting and 3D printing? Do you feel the difference more in the process of making the work, or in the experience of the finished object, as well?

IC: To me there is an important difference between 3D printing and casting. Casting functions as a print, as a record of found, used objects which are then mechanically reproduced without subjective interpretation. 3D printing appears as a recreation of those objects. Also, most of my sculptures are bas-reliefs made in one single piece, so that the shaped sculpture is like the solidification of a previously liquid and shapeless material.

HLA: Can you tell us about the term "God Box," the title for this series of sculptures?

IC: The title of the sculptures is related to a specific series of "Concept Tableaux" titled The God Box #1, The God Box #2, and The God Box #3, dated of 1963, by the Californian artist Edward Kienholz. In a sense, the sculptures are a free adaptation of the text-based work by Kienholz, which referenced an hypothetical box containing elements that "stimulate thought on organized religions and what they have done to and for civilization."

HLA: What are some of the materials that you used in your casts for the columns on the High Line? Did the history of the High Line inform your choice of materials for this piece?

IC: The compositions cast and presented as columns on the High Line are made of decorative objects and architectural elements from flea markets, antiquity shops, and hardware shops, and include ropes, bricks, stars, fake wood, little ceramics, fans, and other objects. They do not reference the specific history of the High Line, but they do evoke American and Western cultural forms – regardless of whether they are inherited from mass culture or modern and contemporary art and architectural.

Photography by Timothy Schenck.

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