Fawn Krieger’s “Soft Power” inaugurated the new Assembly Room, a gallery run by curators Natasha Becker, Paola Gallio, and Yulia Topchiy with the mission to celebrate and empower independent women curators. “Soft power” typically describes a technique of using cultural and economic persuasion, rather than military coercion, to achieve political ends. Krieger’s interpretation gathered together a series of “Experiments in Resistance” (2017–18)—relief sculptures hanging on the walls or resting on the ground to create different forms of perspective—along with examples from the ongoing OUTFIT project (launched in 2016), which consists of a modular and handmade line of practical work-wear.
The essence of the “Experiments in Resistance” works lies in constantly questioning and finding answers through actions: What happens when you push accepted ideas? What happens when two strong and resistant but very different materials like ceramic and cement meet? How does this encounter, or “collision” as Krieger calls it, take place? The act of creating unfolds in various, extended stages, with the work then taking shape in a few moments as the physical strength of the artist and the material force of the elements come together. Krieger makes ceramic forms inspired by the pastels of an atomic-age domestic space—pink, sky blue, yellow, green, orange, black, and white—and then presses these premade elements into molds filled with cement. The process continues in various stages as the cement paste dries.
Krieger considers her fired clay slabs as metaphors, signs, thoughts, or objectives, which she then adds to a material that resists—even though it is malleable in part, at least for a few moments. The introduction of the ceramic into the cement paste resembles a rigorous ritual (which Krieger often records): the movement is pre-established, but the material that she attempts to dominate also reacts out of her control. The cement moves in ways that cannot be predetermined, taking on a life of its own as it cracks or spills onto the ceramic. What happens if the pressure is too much? Or too little? What is the right proportion of physical force on the materials? The questions that Krieger asks clearly refer not only to the work of a sculptor, but also to the work of negotiating life in the political and social world at this precise historical moment.
The “Experiments in Resistance” works involve principles of bodily control, transformation, and displacement. It is fascinating how these strong and heavy sculptures convey a sense of fluidity and sensuality. Krieger’s rigorous performative ritual cannot be seen, but it is perceived in the spaces between forms, in the displacement caused by a soft collision between material bodies. In Experiment in Resistance 1 (2017), the space where this game plays out is minimal and the collision between materials clear-cut; in Experiment in Resistance 39 (2018), the ceramic elements pressed into the black cement have more space and a wider range of action, reflecting how the movement of the cement itself had more opportunities.
Like many sculptors who use their own bodies, Krieger seems attracted by the potential of performance and is unquestionably influenced by physical movement and the body’s connection to space. The body as an integral part of sculpture can also be found in OUTFIT, her ongoing garment project. She creates the pieces herself and initially offered them in a mail-order catalogue. OUTFIT is wearable theater, a bit like Archizoom’s Dressing Design (1972) for the No-Stop-City. But Krieger’s outfit-sculptures are designed for an urban dimension, for bodies that work in motion.