Georgia Illetschko
Nail on the Head

One would think it could hardly come any differently. When someone, in whose artistic works the head sculpture plays a dominant role, was born or reborn “by the heads” – in Biedenkopf [“kopf” translates to “head”], where the hills in the vicinity are shaped like “heads”. Of course that is a low pun, but the corniest jokes are written by life itself. Is it the pun's fault when destiny is such a match? And when a soul from Africa – “My African Soul” – of all things ends up in a small Middle Hessian town where a legendary Maure guise steps up every seven years for the institutionalised marching of the border?

“Walk the Border March!” – with this, in its equivocation, surreal-poetical command, every seven years the Citizen Colonel sets in motion steeds, horsemen, men´s clubs and youth groups, as well as thousands of inhabitants and visitors in Biedenkopf, who will ceremoniously stride along the boundaries of the municipal forest in Biedenkopf over a three-day period. With this ancient German ritual, particularly revived since the 17th century, the “Maure” is supposed to wake up the local citizens as well as the possibly envious inhabitants of the neighbouring communities and make sure that everybody is aware of the border. In contrast to the duelling fraternities, with their dashing brandished sabres, the Maure wields his sabre with dance-like gracefulness.

“Walk the Border March!” Dancing, prancing, walking along border-lines, probing them, challenging them and at the same time safe-guarding them – this may well provide a creative script to an entire artistic programme. One who goes to the limits and touches boundaries is a scout as well as a mediator. The wondrous and precise English term “go-between” designates exactly this function of an individual, who – as a go-between – becomes a vehicle, a middleman.

One who dances across boundaries – whether those between Africa and Biedenkopf or those between heaven and earth – can feel, peel, carve counterworlds and simultaneously transform them. He can dissolve topographic, cultural, even temporal disparities. He can leap across time and demonstrate as go-between that everything is one in the final analysis. Someone like that can show that everything is connected and interrelated. He can make whole and heal what seems to be in contrast. He can...

“Make heads with nails” [*]

One might think it is actually a technical detail. But here again, there is no coincidence. Otherwise, things may have turned out differently. As it happened, at the beginning of his career a young artist, contrary to custom, wouldn't entrust his plaster models to the final production, but cast them by his own hand and was then caught up in the magic of the work process. In many works the core nails no longer appeared to be a needless, even embarrassing stage magic that needed to be removed post festum. Instead they remained as position markers and remembrance of the Before. Where there is a Before, there also is an After, there is time and life.

In a sense of “non finito”, the works keep breathing. Where the cast skin was preserved, one senses the fluctuating condition of living tissue between the archaic aura of old excavation exhibits and the still or yet again weathered impression of a transitory subject. A wooden sculpture refers back to its existence as a tree when upon completion a part of the trunk which was used for clamping remains at the crown. Or is it, as in Sheltered [translates to snug, as well as to salvaged and contained], still completely intertwined with its past life, just like George Tabori with the womb.

The core nails, casting channels and burrs as docking sites of the past life are the technical remnants of the origination process, and at the same time references to an implicit after-life. They are virtually passes from the bygone to the hereafter that subvert the sculpture’s general immanent pretence of the perpetual static.

Sometimes the casting channels and burrs remain as integral design elements and attributes, but occasionally they also form a complimenting mesh essential for the human shape that only then provides it with a connection, even a foothold, to the sphere. On other works this foothold also appears as prison and torture.

Through the residues of the technical origination process the figures themselves transcend their isolated existence and become border crossers on the boundaries between media, spheres and times. As umbilical cords and remains of the past life, the nails and casting channels testify to a larger continuum of existence. At a first glance, nails and holes in head and body might seem destructive, disturbing, even a violation of the individual – like scars of Bosch's nightmarish creatures of torture who penetrate and maul the human body in a hundred inventive ways. In some works, nails and holes in the head also bear literal witness to suffering and pain.

In the occidental humanistic tradition, the perfected personalised bust portrait is regarded as a culmination of sculpture, elevating the sovereign individual to timeless majesty – transforming every sitter into a little emperor, a minor deity. Heroic, even when fallen or pierced by tools and instruments. The dignity of a ceremonious bust portrait is also denoted in the self-portrait of the artist. Despite all gothic economy and a total height of only 20 cm, it emanates the pathos and the auratic monumentality of a medieval head reliquary.

But the essence of a head reliquary also provides a precious indication: the head, which our culture perceives as the utmost expression of the individual – the head, too, is just a box. During the High Middle Ages, the ancient bust portrait revived in the shape of the head reliquary that didn't serve the reproduction of individual facial features, but as a magic housing for sacred relics – just like the head was considered the home of the soul in the Augustinian teachings. In the occidental tradition, this idea has since gone quite out of fashion. But in the African tradition of Yoruba, the idea of the head being a vessel lives on in the concept that there is an outer head (ori òde) in which the inner, spiritual head (orí inú) was planted at birth. While the outer head is of transitory kind, the »inner head« represents the true existence, the god-given soul, that returns to creation after its journey on earth. The inner double serves as a protecting companion, as a navigational guide and as docking station for the divine while walking the path of the earthly life. So, whether it's bronze or the soul that is cast by a creator, what would be more natural than to keep these communication channels open?

Frequently there are holes to be found in the bronze-heads from the Yoruba-kingdom Benin which were sometimes used to attach beards and hair to the heads. Ubbo Enninga also retains the holes in the “African” head sculptures and even enhances them to be highly expressive, like the nails which encircle the head as an aureole (382 Corona) or form a Medusa’s head out of dreadlocks. Nail on the head or nail out of the head? Is it the nail that meets the head or the head from which the nail springs?

[* Wordplay: “make nails with heads” is a German idiom for doing something properly]
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1955 Born in Biedenkopf, Germany
1975-76 Studied at Philipps-University, Marburg
1976-77 Studied at the College of Fine Arts, Kassel
1977-83 Studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Stuttgart
1984 Married Elcilyn
1983-86 Teacher for Bronze-casting at the Academy of Fine Arts, Stuttgart
1983 Scholarship from the Baden-Württemberg Art Foundation
1985 Villa Romana, Florence, Italy
1991 Studio-grant Baden-Württemberg
1992-93 Teacher of Drawing at the Faculty of Architecture, Stuttgart University
Lives and works in Berlin and Stuttgart.


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