Eva Rothschild’s sculptures at Modern Art, starting with an unravelling tapestry at reception, seem to share a sense of dark innocence. Something untoward may be going on, yet I can’t quite put an accusative finger on any one thing in particular. This is a game of seek and hide where all the more looking leads to all the more mystery. The exhibition title ‘Iceberg Hits’ smacks of tragedy. Titles like ‘Cosmos’, ‘Yr Crystal Brain’ and ‘Tooth and Claw’ point to a dramatic narrative of agony, ecstasy and self destruction. Yet the objects, all made this year, hide their mischievous smirks behind black lines of steel, cushioned plinths and blameless bystander stools as if double meanings are perfectly natural. Perhaps they are. Or maybe this is all a Duchampian ruse of titling against the object to jolt us into searching, rather than just looking.
For her 2011 exhibition ‘Hot Touch’ at The Hepworth Wakefield, Rothschild explained to Director Simon Wallis that her objects function as a group and she gauges ‘what they might need materially in terms of what the other pieces they are with might lack or benefit from.’ Here too they appear to be a collective piece.
The downstairs gallery displays a hanging, hovering pole, a partial wall, two stools and a precarious steel framework. Metal challenges concrete and both are softened by fabric printed with what looks to be primal markings, wrapped mostly unseen. All the while ‘Stool’ and ‘Stool’ conspire as dizygotic twins sharing a language of colour and playfulness, side by side as if attentive invigilators.
Upstairs there are eleven works, once again situated on vastly different points of the hand-made-to-industrial-output spectrum. In the artist’s favourite black, ‘Tooth and Claw’ is a take on Eva Hesse’s ‘Laocoön’ (1966), removing the father and sons from the scene of wrestling the serpent. As the hose-like creature writhes within a pedestalled, open cage, I recall ‘Cosmos’, the steel framework downstairs which allows visitors to walk inside it. The identity of the wild being and the terms of its imprisonment become confusing, my role implicated somehow.
Opposite, ‘Hangouts’ is a shiny black, populated platform. Coated clothing appears thrown over a couple of the rebars like a super-charged, club night with all the fun of illusionary rainbows on an oil slick. See the skylight reflected in the glossy blackness – heaven’s here on the dance floor.
Stools painted in bright, wishy washy abstracts repeat themselves here though, this time clustered in a discussion group. Nearby ‘Leanover’ is an elevated line of triangles arching itself to the floor where a neat pile of shapes begins. Is the bunting being folded away or springing upwards and over in readiness for the next celebration?
Rothschild’s sculptures tantalise us with scripted hints while continually resisting meaning. Clues across titles make it tempting to consider the passion, rejection and sensuality of human relationships as much as how sculptures might relate to one another and to us, who seem more like investigators than viewers. And just when this all seems to make sense, Rothschild breaks the rules. Her ‘Boys and Sculpture’ (2012) film has primary school children pulling apart her artworks and leaving only wreckage behind them. There’s no cold cornering or hot touching here. It’s sculptural anarchy! We are left with one child who admits ‘I want to make rather than break’. Let’s hope the iceberg doesn’t actually hit after all.