Giving body and form to the ephemeral Skin, density and volume in the work of Andreas Zingerle

Heavy concrete bodies and torsos, reminiscent of human bodies or even artificial skins, banal pieces of clothing, special prostheses and artefacts: the sculptural works of Andreas Zingerle make you marvel. For the artist, concrete is the adequate material means of expression to create three-dimensional works; he is tempted to brush precisely its coarse, hard structure against the line, to cast it into soft, sometimes delicate forms. Zingerle confronts us with extraordinary, often irritating objects that challenge our perception and elude clear interpretations. In terms of both material and content, the works stand in the tradition of an expanded concept of sculpture. Classical features of the sculpture are retained, but at the same time they are renegotiated and critically questioned.

When talking about sculptures in postmodern art practice, it often seems unclear what exactly is meant by them. The traditional generic term refers to a body-forming work with the specific characteristics of three-dimensionality, positioning in space and haptic experience. However, in the 20th century the concept of sculpture was broken up and decisively expanded from the artistic side. While sculpture had been a reflection of the human anatomy for centuries, at the beginning of the 20th century it turned away from the principle of the figurative. This was the time when, on the one hand, the process of abstraction, a displacement and destruction of the world of objects, and, on the other hand, an objectification of sculpture began (one need only think of the so-called „Readymades“, ordinary objects and industrially manufactured commodities that were transferred to art and declared as sculptures). The expansion of the concept of sculpture that began in the 1960s and 70s (by Joseph Beuys or Fluxus, but also by Conceptual Art, Minimal Art and Arte Povera) then created fundamentally changed, in some cases completely new conditions and brought a multifaceted opening in the choice of materials and forms of representation. Artists experimented with different material and aggregate states, they began to expand the traditional concept of sculpture by the temporal dimension, they became interested in making the artistic process visible and in the energies that were at work, they developed space-consuming multimedia installations or invited the audience to participate by giving instructions, sometimes the objects only became works of art when they were operated. Connected with this is a reflection on the artistic possibilities of the autonomous sculptural work, the boundaries between sculpture, action and performance become blurred. A sculpture can also be a purely linguistic utterance, a text or an instruction, a photographic document, a social sculpture. Recently, one can again observe a stronger examination of the human figure as a body in space. And alongside the new, experimentally used working materials and forms of expression, „classical“ materials such as bronze, marble or wood can still be found. (1)

With the use of concrete, Zingerle chooses a material that is rather unusual in art; he transforms a malleable, light shell (an inflatable sex doll as well as conventional trousers) into a static, heavy object, thus giving it a presence charged with meaning. And even though mostly figurative bodies determine the work, they are far from a traditional sculptural examination of man and object. Stretched and pressed, deformed and knotted: Zingerle tries to rethink the density, mass and volume of a body by transferring it into concrete, to make the intangible tangible, to give it weight and durability in the best sense of the word. The basic materials such as trousers or T-shirts are left in their original state, cast in plaster and then duplicated in concrete, or – in the case of the sex dolls used, for example – with a mixture of sand and sawdust, sometimes filled with water, placed in the desired forms, a plaster negative is made and then cast in concrete (whereby a clean and detailed reproduction of the surface is essential for the artist). It is a lustful dialogical game of opposites: lightness and heaviness, emptiness and mass, light and shadow. It is an exhaustion of the material, a fathoming of the limits of what can be represented, also a capturing and visualization of the (kinetic) energy that seems to emanate from the body and object or is stored in them.

In a photo series, the human body and its skin merge with a chain hanging from the ceiling or with inflated volumes; in the sculptures, the skin becomes a malleable object. It is fetish and object of desire, a malleable shell and boundary. Lying scattered on the floor, arranged on metal tables, mounted on the wall (as if growing out of it) or hanging from the ceiling: Zingerle stages the sculptures like a technical-organic experimental arrangement, which in their clean sterility and experimental setting sometimes make one think of a horrible laboratory. Surreal in form and staging, the dead matter is enlivened and yet it always remains only the image of a second skin, a body substitute, a substitute for man and what man has made.

From a cultural-historical point of view, the skin is imagined as a protective, retrieving, but also as a hiding and deceptive shell. It serves as a demarcation, is the border between the human being (the inside) and his surrounding space (the outside), it covers and veils, but can also be torn open and injured. At one point the authentic lies under the skin, hidden in the body and thus eludes the gaze. The skin is thus different from the self and foreign to it, and is conceived externally. Then again, the skin is the same as the subject, the person. The „essence“ does not lie under the skin, hidden inside, but is the skin that stands for the whole person. Two basic ways of looking at the skin are linked to this, representing the two contrasting models of the body/soul relationship that still prevail today: The skin as a shell and the skin as I. The skin as apartment or house, as an enveloping layer in which the subject is hidden, is diametrically opposed to the skin as a perceived border, which can be experienced through sensory perceptions such as pain or pleasure, as an organ of world exploration, but at the same time also as a prison. (2)

 Zingerle’s skin has detached itself from humans, it is a second, an artificial shell, cold and technical, sterile and inaccessible. Finely and neatly prepared, we see modelled and compressed skin balls, but also anthropomorphic fragments and organic forms that have taken on a life of their own. Physical mutations – such as knee casts that are combined with various everyday objects – consciously dissolve the boundaries between body and surrogate, man and machine. It is not the original object as in the „Readymades“ that is used, but its plastic transformation into plaster and concrete. Are the works symbols of our highly technical world, in which man and machine increasingly form one unit, our reality is increasingly permeated by artificiality and virtuality? The artist does not want to give clear answers to this question.

Besides sculpture, painting is the second preferred medium in Zingerle’s work. Finely glazed painted figures that seem like shadows of themselves, blurred, blurred faces that are located between the individual and the stereotype: here too the artist gives form and appearance to the disappearing, wants to capture it on canvas, to escape the short-livedness of our time. Like the sculptures, the painted pictures refuse to be clearly readable in terms of content. In their unagitated form, their manifold delicate shades of grey (although they are never exclusively a mixture of black and white, but, as the artist emphasizes, always contain some yellow, red or blue as well) and restrained pictorial motifs, they unobtrusively and self-confidently distinguish themselves from the multimedia reality surrounding us, a garishly colourful world in which attracting attention is often the highest maxim. To be louder and louder and to aim for the superficial effect is also not alien to many contemporary artistic positions. But to Zingerle it is.

Photos, self-made or found on the Internet serve as a starting point. They are digitally processed on the computer and reduced to their light and dark values. The analog implementation – oil on canvas sprayed by means of a stencil and then painted with a fine glaze – is painting through and through. The artist quickly detaches himself from the photographic model and, like a process of elimination, removes everything superfluous, until nothing takes the concentration away from the actual motif, until no details refer to specific places and the personal opens up to general validity. The painterly process and the time invested, the alterations and layering, the spraying, the finely glazed painting and wiping away again is inscribed in the pictures and creates a high density – a density that can be felt when looking at the pictures and is also visible through deliberately left traces of color. In addition to shadow figures, Zingerle mainly paints portraits, faces with transparent skin between sharpness and blurriness, which always move in a field of tension between recognizability and anonymity. In one series he shows terror attackers, in another, victims of such attacks. The titles of the pictures are the initials of the people depicted. „There have been these people“, Zingerle seems to want to tell us, at the same time he refuses a clear identification. He obscures his motifs, makes them appear like nebulous, incomprehensible dream images which can disappear again at any moment, even before they have completely penetrated consciousness. They are documents of our time and yet more than that. The artist is interested in the specific and the general, in the personal (or even in what affects him personally) and in what points out, of fundamental, even universal importance. Why painting and not photography? Perhaps Zingerle sees more possibilities in this classical medium to give meaning to the fleeting moment of duration, the incidental depth, the medial overkill by peeling out individual pictorial motifs.

But how does painting position itself in a world in which the role of the picture has fundamentally changed? Here, too, a brief digression. For a long time, painting had a monopoly on the large, colorful and effective picture. But then it was replaced by photography as the new leading medium of the picture. Nevertheless, painting remained the undisputed main medium of art until well into the 20th century. In recent decades, however, this has changed permanently. With far-reaching consequences. The release of painting from its traditional, hegemonic status has possibly freed this medium from formations and external (e.g. social) constraints even more than the revolution of classical modernism around 1900. Painting as a „minority medium“ no longer had any social justification, only an artistic one. The new role of painting can certainly be seen as an opportunity, which is expressed in the diversity and in some cases independence from the now dominant types of pictures. In this situation, the painter is free to decide in which relationship to the contemporary pictorial world, to other artistic media and to the tradition of painting he wants to enter with his art. The nice thing is: today everything is possible and permitted in painting. (3)

Zingerle knows about the potential of painting, and he knows how to use it. His paintings build on the painting tradition, but they are present and current. Freed from the art discourses of the 20th century (which he probably does not care about), he has found a very personal style, a style that uses photography as a supporting medium without shyness or concealment (as the painters of the 19th century often did, by the way). The artist needs photography to emancipate himself from it. The concentrated, grey paintings are counter-designs to the striking, unambiguous and fast-moving (photographic) visual language of our time, as we encounter it on the social media channels of the World Wild Web, for example. Zingerle’s paintings remain mysterious, ambiguous and complex.

Capturing the moment, giving it meaning, has always been a central drive of artistic creation. Artists try to bear witness to their time – a world appropriation and world invention in form and content, which at best has charisma and weight far beyond its present. Zingerle’s work can also be viewed in this way: In this form and shape his sculptures and paintings could probably only be created here and now, but in their themes they are highly topical and timeless at the same time: being, the body, human existence in a rapidly changing world.

1 According to: Peter Waibel, Die Skulptur im 20. Jahrhundert. Zwischen Abstraktion, Gegenstand und Handlung, in: Österreichischer Skulpturenpark Privatstiftung (ed.), Garten der Kunst. Österreichischer Skulpturenpark, Ostfilden 2006, pp.13-26.

2 According to: Claudia Benthien, Haut. Literaturgeschichte – Körperbilder – Grenzdiskurse, Reibeck bei Hamburg, 2001 (2nd edition), pp. 27-48.

3 According to: Robert Fleck, Die Ablösung vom 20. Jahrhundert. Malerei der Gegenwart, Wien 2013, pp. 23-27.


Text: Günther Oberhollenzer; Translation: Judith Zingerle