At his studio in the Caochangdi district of Beijing, Vital has produced stainless steel sculptures such as Cüq (2011), Moon (2010), and Tongue (2010). Their smoothly polished surfaces are highly reflective, and one’s perception of the work changes vastly depending on its environment. Fragmented colors and forms are reflected in the variously sized craters of Moon and in the long, muscular contours of Tongue. The form of the tongue has been present in Vital’s work since 1985 when he was in Lucca, Italy, and cast cow tongues in bronze. The shape – raw, elegant, and erotic – pleased him, as did the transformation from daily foodstuff down to “high” artwork. Over the years, Vital has simplified and enlarged the tongue to various heights. Over seven meters high, the stainless steel Tongue is a totemic, architectural structure.
Counter-balancing the smooth stainless steel pieces in 十 五 are the rugged, brittle blocks of Chinese coal carved into small-scale mountain shapes. The tension of scale brings focus to the work’s material and form. Vital juxtaposes the solidity and strength of a mountain by representing the subject in a material that is brittle and fragile, and in doing so, reinforces his tendency towards the bizarre or surreal.
The series entitled Hanging & Weighting (2010) presents bulbous plaster sculptures that, although abstract, refer to organic forms or suggest a figure. These pieces hang precariously from stainless steel rods, balanced only by their distributed weight. The rods, as well as a stainless steel base, act as framing devices -- the rounded forms contrast with the geometric, minimal steel pieces. In Twinned (2011), animals appear in the form of headless bodies.
Vital’s Golden Duck (2009-2011) is a solid 18-Karat gold Peking duck, a delicacy in China, and a symbol of Beijing. The use of gold alludes to religious iconography, but the symbolic significance referred to in the Golden Duck is contradicted by Vital in its installation. Here, the duck is hung from the ceiling by its neck and swings from a thin string, creating a tension.
Not Vital (b. 1948, Sent, Engadin, Switzerland) studied in Paris and Rome before moving to New York in 1974. At present, he lives and works in Sent; Beijing; Agadez, Niger; and NotOna, Chile. Vital's major recent solo exhibitions include Plateau of Humanity at the 49th Venice Biennale, Italy (2001); Not Vital: Agadez at Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany (2005); Not Vital at The Arts Club of Chicago, Illinois, (2006); Not Vital: Schlafendes Haus at KÖR Kunsthalle Wien public space Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria (2009 – 2010); and Not Vital: Full On at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China (2011).
© Alma Zevi, 2012.