A new exhibition of biomorphic art works by Slovakian artist Maria Bartuszová opened at Tate Modern on 20 September, and will be there until mid-April 2023. I went to see it with my pal Jo. Ironically, Bartuszová is little known in Slovakia, and this, reportedly the first international solo exhibition of her work, comes more than 25 years after her death.
I like her ovoid white plaster sculptures, which often look like alien, blown-apart eggs, including a series that she described as ‘endless eggs’ (apparently influenced by the goddess Venus.)
Much of her work is resonant of the natural world, such as drops of water, seeds or dividing cells. You can sometimes see physical traces of her, where she pressed the plaster by hand.
She acknowledged the challenges of working while being a woman at that time:
“Maybe because I had so little time besides working on commissions and childcare, maybe because of that I had the idea, while playing with inflatable balls, to blow liquid into a balloon.”
She first used gravity to shape balloons after filling them with poured plaster, and often submerged them in water (calling this process ‘gravistimulated shaping’).
Later she used her breath to inflate small rubber balloons (and condoms), as well as large meteorological balloons, calling this ‘pneumatic casting’, and making use of air pressure as well as gravity. After pouring plaster over balloons to make a cast she would allow them to burst, making disintegrated, delicate, hollow egg shapes and shells.
Later in life she moved to the mountain city of Košice in eastern Slovakia, living in a house with a studio and a large hillside garden where she could experiment on a larger scale, displaying work such as Tree in her garden.
Later work was more personal and meditative, and she made use of rope and string to constrict and restrain shapes and question human relationships, and to examine the contrast between hard and soft textures, and binding and pressure (perhaps reflecting difficulties in her marriage! – she divorced in 1984).
I wasn’t surprised to learn that Bartuszová did quite a lot of work with children. Much of her work seems potentially very adaptable to teaching in schools, fusing artistic imagination and a demonstration of scientific principles.