Canadian artist Maskull Lasserre’s “recarved” sculptures are aptly named—Lasserre takes existing clichéd figural wood carvings and “exposes” the skeleton underneath. Of course, the new carving only seems like a reveal of what lies beneath. Part of the success of these works is how inevitable they feel.
Lasserre’s drawings and sculptures explore the unexpected potential of the everyday through allegories of value, expectation, and utility. Elements of nostalgia, accident, humor, and the macabre are incorporated into works that induce strangeness in the familiar, and provoke uncertainty in the expected.
In the style of an anatomy book, the bifurcated sculptures preserve the existing sculpture on one side while exposing the fantasy skeleton on the other. It’s a reverse of the classical artist’s process of learning about anatomy in order to draw more realistic figures. Lasserre is taking fully realized figures and imagining their bones. In an interview with Joseph Kendrick, Lasserre said,
“There is an intrinsic honesty and humility to the carving process. There is no magic, no hidden technology or trick, just the simple subtraction of what was already there. This humble quality makes the amazing alchemy that carving can achieve so much more interesting. … Like the physical materials I use, and the processes I apply, there is something categorical about death/mortality. The aspect of it that I try to coax out is that death is a potent sign of life — albeit an ended one. To carve skeletons into inanimate objects infers their past — and maybe even future — potential for life.” (Source)
Although these sculptures are whimsical, in concept if not execution, there’s an “Alas, poor Yorick!” undertone that’s sobering. Those who are fortunate enough to be healthy and whole rarely think of the inevitable end, the skull beneath the skin. Lasserre’s skilled carving work reveals what was never there, and in doing so makes us think of what eventually will be.
Bones automatically insinuate death, and often are the only physical remnant that insinuates life once existed. Shen Shaomin‘s bone works are equal parts terrifying and fascinating, man-made memorials to human intervention on the planet. Creatures that never have been or should be are pieced together from human and animal skeletons. The bones are carved and relief-carved with text taken from several sources, including the Bible, the Koran, and various sources. Inscribed in English, Arabic, and Chinese, the texts serve as warnings to the two largest industrial nations in the world of the damage being caused to the planet.
Related to the Chinese practice of bonsai, or long-term manipulation of a living tree to one’s will based on aesthetic and stylistic choices, Shaomin has also used bonsai in past works as a metaphor for human intervention upon nature.
In an interview with the University of Sydney’s ARTSPACE CHINA, Shaomin explains the terror he hopes to evoke in his skeletal works, “China’s current situation is very much like my bonsais. At first glance you will find it beautiful, but once you look more carefully you’ll see there are terrifying things behind that beauty. China has over a billion people, but over 800 million of those people are peasants. A peasant’s standard of life in China is still pretty basic. They say that if every one of those 800 Chinese peasants showered every day it would take more than all the water on the planet. That’s a scary thought.” (via myampgoesto11)
Though it might look like any other Polish chapel from the outside, the Kaplica Czaszek chapel sets itself apart: behind a humble pair of wooden doors, it contains the bones of thousands. After visiting shallow grave sites commemorating the fallen soldiers and civilians killed in the Silesian Wars, the Thirty Years’ War, plagues, and cholera, a local priest named Vaclav Tomasek collected and cleaned skeletal remains, embedding them in the chapel walls.
Constructed between 1776 and 1804, the building’s architecture stunningly deconstructs the human skeleton; skulls and leg bones are meticulously arranged over the ceilings and walls, while other bones are hidden behind a trapdoor and kept in a crypt. The repetitive patterns that emerge from a single human bone laid out a thousand times over serves to remind us of our connectedness; while each individual femur or cranium stands in for a deceased individual, it takes on a deeper, more universal meaning as part of this expertly-constructed whole.
Within this celebration of oneness, Tomasek set apart strange and unusual bones, placing them on the church altar. Alongside the skull of a mayor and the chapel founder, sits a skull morphed by syphilis, one of a rumored giant, and a few penetrated by bullets. In this way, the structure daringly elevates the macabre—and those who suffered from uncommon maladies—to the spiritual level of relics left behind by local religious and political leaders.
Within the context of the church and its representations of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, the remains offer a potent juxtaposition between the spiritual and the corporeal. Visitors cannot escape this powerful reminder of mortality, but if they so wish, they are poignantly invited to consider the possibility of salvation and eternal life. (via Lost at E Minor and Smithsonian Magazine)
Something feels oddly luxurious about John Breed’s strange mixed media sculptures and installations. His work largely depicts a capitalistic culture of excess and its relationship with death, the most provocative of which includes the implementation of skeletons, animal and human. In “Goodbye Paradise“, Breed portrays a silver-plated Edenic scene of human and animal skeletons, speaking to the nature of renewal that is perpetually haunted by our eventual decay. His work breathes new life into these skeletons and other found objects by coating them resin,silver, or gold, giving them an effect of purity and newness. Threaded throughout his work is the idea of monetary value and how the value of something fluctuates within a newer, shinier context. Perhaps the work that best encompasses our excessive capitalistic culture is “In God We Trust,” an installation comprised of silver-plated pig skeletons labeled with the names Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and citi bank. Breed lives and works in The Netherlands.