Leading Australian contemporary artist Julie Rrap reinvigorates bronze with a nod to historical military regimes and politics. In her latest show Twisted Logic presented by Melbourne’s ARC ONE Gallery, Rrap takes as her central theme the historical process of melting down bronze sculptures and artworks to create weapons and armour during times of war. From Ancient Greek and Roman times to World War II, bronze and metal sculptures have been melted down to make weapons for war or new artworks suiting the tastes of the men in power. Rrap has translated this history in her latest works, articulating the ambiguous relationships which can exist between culture and politics. For this body of work she has cast her own body in bronze through a technique of direct silicon moulding, transforming an ordinary sculptural pose into objects which blur the boundaries between body and weaponry or armament. By transfiguring body and weapon Rrap has created a space of uncertainty in which her body becomes objectified and the object personified. Squashed breasts are suspended on a military style vest; serene faces form half of a helmet head piece; fingers are presented as bullets; and cellulite and vein clad legs are displayed as leg armour. Toying between vulnerability and strength, her works highlight the conflict between culture, art, politics and war which are seemingly never in harmony.
The bronze sculptures project a nature of preciousness with their sleek surfaces and carefully mounted presentation, it’s as if they are centuries-old relics on display at a museum, yet they speak of their contemporary inception. Works like ‘Back to the Wall’ 2019 and ‘Thunder Thighs’ 2019 exist in a suspended performative state between forming and un-forming. They are frozen in a transformative process yet what they are transforming to or from is unclear – are they being created or destroyed? While her sculptures are inherently personal, literally displaying casts of her thighs and breasts, they also speak of the wider ongoing struggle in which the potential of art to question and challenge politics can be silenced through destruction. While art can both manipulate and be manipulated by real world situations, Julie Rrap’s latest works suggest that art can break through conflict in new and sometimes more enlightened ways. This exhibition was a gentle and beautiful reminder that history informs our present and determines our future.
Images from left to right: Julie Rrap, "At Arm's Length" Grip, 2019. Bronze, edition of 3, 10 x 28 cm x 53cm; “Back to the Wall” Shield, 2019. Bronze, edition of 3, 59 x 39 x 18cm; “Thunder Thighs” Shield, 2019. Bronze, edition of 3, 28 x 46 x 8cm. Courtesy: the artist and ARC ONE Gallery, Melbourne. Photograph by John Gollings.