Three Poses for a Newborn, 2018, FAN Kunstverein, Wien
Series of angular plaster babies.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
– Philip Larkin ‘This Be The Verse’
Talking babies and parenthood in the art world is awkward. There is always the implication that you get less serious about your art after becoming a parent. The belief is that art works are fragile, like new-borns, and must be nurtured into maturity. “My work,” many artists declare, “is my baby.”
Niclas Riepshoff doesn’t have any children and, in his own words, “A baby never played a role in my life.” As a gay man it’s not impossible that he might someday start a family, but the decision to do so would be more complicated; it would most likely involve lawyers and contracts and would be dependent on laws that differ from country to country or sometimes state to state. While I’m no therapist, it‘s not a stretch to imagine that the objects on display, collectively titled 3 Poses for a Newborn (2018), were influenced by Riepshoff’s ambivalent attitude towards fatherhood. Although instantly recognisable as babies, the four plaster sculptures are not cute but angular and solemn. They do not have squishy bodies and the smell of their skin would not induce adults into fits of cooing adoration. Instead they’re reminiscent of gargoyles, which as well as serving a practical function (they drain rainwater from buildings) are said to ward off evil spirits through their grotesque forms.
The geometric shapes that make up these sculptures are a clear but surface level reference to cubism – surface level because cubism is treated as an historical style rather than an ideological movement. “It’s an aesthetic that I chose… it’s one aesthetic, not the aesthetic that I’m working with,” says Riepshoff. “It has nothing to do with personal taste.” In the past he’s remade two Jugendstil sculptures by Austrian artist Richard Luksch out of Paper Maché (This is how we Stand, 2017), created a series of five black & white woodcuts based on a forest of crooked trees in Poland (Krzywy Las- Fantasien des Verlustes, with Sarah Ksieska, 2018) and staged a collaborative Dadaist theatre play (Doubt on the 5th Floor, with Tanja Nis Hansen, 2017). That is to say, there is an inquisitive to Riepshoff’s practice that sees him constantly learning new techniques – and as a result no two projects look alike.
Often, the research process involves learning from experts in their respective fields. For example, when Riepshoff wanted to recreate the sound of the wind whistling through the highrise buildings of Frankfurt (where he had recently moved for his studies) he worked with an organ builder to learn as much as he could about the process so that he could create his own automated wind instruments. The result, Sketch for an Organ, 2018, acts as a test for a planned installation that will incorporate both the sound and the famous skyline of Frankfurt’s corporate buildings. For now, though, the installation remains loose and low-fi, offering a counterpoint to what Riepshoff called the ‘completeness’ of the baby sculptures, as well as ‘music’ for them to listen to as they slumber.
Text by Chloe Stead