Belén Uriel’s research stems from the observation of everyday objects, from tools of common usage to pieces of furniture and architectural elements, investigating their sculptural potential beyond their functionality, and including their possible display in conversation with the surrounding environment. For her new project, Descanso, the artist focused on the constituent parts of some specific objects shaped to accommodate the human body and that, through their distinctive forms and curves, maintain a strong relationship of mutuality with the body. A seatback, an armrest, a handler: all these furniture details contain impressed in their features, as well as in their names, the parts of the body that they usually support or interact with. These elements served as casts to produce glass sculptures, created by the artist herself, that faithfully reproduce the shape of the objects, including the traces of their use and imperfections due to wear and consumption. These isolated fragments are detatched from their usual context and function of physical support to the body, and converted into fragile, and transparent items which in turn need a support.
Installed directly on the wall or on chrome pedestals, the sculptures’ display is inspired by the showcases of clothing or shoes stores in which the rigid and abstract structure of the stands contrasts with the softness and versatility of the garments shown on them, ready to fit the body. In a similar way, the human figure is evoked by Uriel’s sculptures: through their anthropomorphic contours its absence becomes a ghostly presence.
In particular, the project looked at the new approach to window display introduced by Austrian architect Frederick Kiesler, author of innovative exhibition designs in the 40s, and who, in 1928, arranged the vitrines for the Saks Fifth Avenue Department Store in New York. According to constructivist principles, in his shadowcases mannequins were often forsaken in favor of single items presented in isolation and in asymmetrical arrangements, using monochromatic, minimal, props, echoing orthogonal geometry.
By referring to the arrangements of goods in store windows, Uriel’s project questions the status of the object in the contemporary world, the meaning that the item acquires as soon as it is produced in series and consumed, in a society in which also comfort and rest are commercially promoted at every level. The artist opposes to the standardisation and repetition of the form, the uniqueness of the sculpture: each object is translated into a delicate glass piece, turned in colours according to the colour range of confetti production, and inclined or rotated in the space, in order to further deny its original function. Through this change of perspective, the object moves from the plane of its value in use, to the plane of contemplation, allowing the observer to recognise in it that intrinsic connection with the body, which actually shaped it.
The glass pieces were possible with the generous support by VICARTE (Glass and Ceramic for the Arts) Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon.
Belén Uriel (Madrid, Spain, 1974) lives and works between Lisbon and London. Her most recent solo exhibitions include: ‘Topázio’, Gabinete, Lisbon, 2017; ‘segunda-feira’, Culturgest, Lisbon, 2016; ‘Sand, Paper, Scissors’, Projektraum, Museum, Wiesbaden, 2016; ‘Lama no sapato’, Parkour, Lisbon, 2014; ‘Pedra, papel e tesoura’, Pavilhão Branco Museu da Cidade, Lisbon, 2013; ‘Useful household objects under 10$’, Montehermoso Cultural Centre, Vitoria, 2012. Recent group exhibitions include: ‘Vacío Perfecto’, MUSAC, León, 2017; ‘Art en Trànsit’, Muxart-Espai d’Art i Creació Contemporanis, Martorell, 2016; ‘Art en trànsit’, Cerdanyola Art Museum, Barcelona, 2015; ‘Drawing Biennial 2015’, Drawing Room, London, 2015. She was awarded the Programa de Apoio ás Artes Visuais Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, 2015, the Art and Research Motehermoso, Montehermoso Contemporary Art Centre, Vitoria, 2011, and the 6th Edition of the MUSAC Artistic Creation Grants MUSAC, León, 2010-11; Matadero Contemporary Art Creation Grants, Matadero Art Centre, Madrid, 2010.