A glistening biomorphic tower stands atop of the green sloping hill within the grounds of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. This elongated sculpture is ‘Tongue’ by Swiss artist Not Vital, whose exhibition at YSP is the first major UK exhibition of his work.
The exhibition is spread across the park, with the main area centring both outside and inside the Underground Gallery. Not Vital’s work is linked to his hometown of Sent in the Swiss Alps, the colour palette of the works reflects this. Each shade of black, charcoal, silver and white seem to have been taken directly from the snowy alps. Throughout all the works on show, there is a sense of the delicate craftsmanship that has gone into the process of making.
Within the aesthetics of all the works there is a blend between graffiti and the Old Masters. This curious mix is most prevalent within the work at the Underground Gallery, where self-portraiture becomes merged within the cool feel of stainless steel and marble. There is always a need to relate sculpture back to the human form in some way, but with Not Vital’s work this is explicitly teased out and explored. This occurs within the subtle form of some sculptures, or within the titles of works, ‘HEADS’ and ‘Tongue’ for example. ‘HEADS’ is a series of large black stainless steel forms, which each resemble the shape of human heads. The display of the series, in a long line and against the concrete backdrop of the gallery, recalled the heads of the ‘Engineers’ in the 2012 film Prometheus: the large sculptures alien in size yet human in shape. These blackened orbs, standing in space, possessed an eeriness which often occurs when the human form is dislocated or enlarged.
Alongside sculptures, Not Vital also presents a series of intriguing self-portraits, which again uses his normal palette that ranges from glistening silver and warm grey to coal. Each of these works feature a figure emerging from the gloom of the canvas, often loosely painted. There titles paint a picture of a sensitive artist who travels is now reflected in their practice. Titles such as ‘Self-portrait as a North Korean’, ‘Self-portrait as a Chinese Singer’ and ‘Self-portrait with Alzheimer’s’, all call for prolonged and fresh look at the portraits. The question here is, how do we view the portraits after seeing the titles? Do we look for elements within the portrait that refer back to the title? Within these works, Not Vital shows us the power of titles and words within a work of art, how does a label alter a self-portrait?
Around the corner from the Underground Gallery in the garden, lies one of the standout works from the whole exhibition. ‘Let 100 Flowers Bloom’ is a glorious display of 100 large-scale lotus flowers on three-metre stems. Each flower is made from stainless steel and reflects and changes the reflection of the landscape and each viewer like 100 hall of mirrors. ‘Let 100 Flowers Bloom’ glistened in the Yorkshire sunlight during my visit, which created a dazzling installation along the 18th Century Terrace.
Although Not Vital’s practice is rooted within Sent, the nomadic element to his life mains that he can work with craftspeople from around the world, including glass-blowers in Murano and ceramicists in Jingdezhen. Although this internationalism is not obvious within the exhibition, there is a subtle hint of globalism within these works. This exhibition also provides a wondrous link between contemporary sculpture and the work at Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Henry Moore. Moore’s own sculptures constantly referred to the human form, blurring the lines between abstract and figurative. Within the work of Not Vital, Moore’s linage can be seen loud and clear.