Uncompromising ghostly panels of latex hang from the Parasol Unit’s gallery. This is Swiss artist Heidi Butcher’s first major survey of work in the UK. Her very first pieces originally gravitated around the body. Over the years, she expanded to more imposing types including structures such as doors, windows and facades. Her first large scale work using the idiosyncratic method of ‘skinnings’ entitled Borg, was created in 1976.
If it seems like Butcher’s work is familiar, it may be because it stems from the vernacular. The door plinths are comparable to skin veins, the imperfection of the latex casts reminiscent of wrinkles and the cumbersome of events from the past.
The process appears to have been delicate but Butcher radicalised it into an empowering moment. She first applied gauze to the surface of the desired structures followed by several layers of liquid latex. The video projected in the gallery confirms the theatrical experience of the skinnings almost comparable to a performance. Violently ripping off the layers from the buildings, Butcher wrestles with the medium, agitating her own body to give life to her art. The procedure appears to be a painful one, the swift movements of the latex layers coming off the walls and dragged across the floor translate the idea of resurrection or even childbirth. It is as if Butcher was releasing all the emotions soaked in the building’s surfaces, the good and the bad, the laughter and tears. Latex replicas, of a former butcher and a psychiatric facility discharge the intense atmosphere of such daunting locations. Shutters, shingles, parquet floor, balcony, doors, and costume projects dramatically invade the space, hauntingly looming across the walls.
Other pieces from Butcher’s repertoire have been displayed. On the terrace stands a fluid stream spilling from a jar into a blue pool around the base. On the gallery’s upper level, textiles covered in mother-of-pearl pigments and miniature versions of houses strike with their fragile nature.
‘Frenetic dialogue’ seems to summarise Butcher’s work. In each piece, there is an element of nostalgia, as if there were something crucial to be remembered in each of the objects and buildings encountered. The artist caught their essence brilliantly or perhaps more than essence, could we say she caught a feeling?
It appears to be a moment in time, a snapshot of her reality, translated into the subconscious of her mind. One cannot be fooled by the physicality of her work. Behind each sculpture representing a pure material such as brick, cement, or water, hides her perception of life at that given time.
Butcher has seemingly immortalised her roots. The thin skins of latex’ transparency confer a vulnerability to the pieces which mirrors our own. They cautiously invite us to reflect on our childhood traumas and other symbolic periods imprinted on our past. As a result, we stare at the vestiges of our memories.
Heidi Butcher at Parasol Unit (19 September – 9 December 2018)