Liane Lang has spent several months photographing the plaster copies of classical sculptures held in the Royal Academy collection. These sculptures, often cast from already damaged originals, are yellowed with age and show additional damage from generations of use as teaching material in the art schools past.
At first glance the artists interventions in these photographs seem to point to performance art. A girl is draping herself across a section of the Elgin Marbles, adding to the confusing and headless outline of the heavily damaged Dione and Aphrodite. In another image a figure is snuggling up in the arms of Theseus, who takes his name from the Greek word for Institution. Theseus is also heavily damaged and missing his hands and feet. The figure in his arms displays her limbs to the viewer almost provocatively. The artist is seeking shelter in the arms of the crumbling institution.
The artist suggests that her work is performance art without performers, with no acting or self consciousness. The photographs are animation in a still image, bringing dead matter to life convincingly enough to be unsettling. An uncanny semblance of life can at times suggest more sentient depth than the real thing, and can induce closer scrutiny in the viewer. In this series particularly, its about dead art being resuscitated for a photograph.
In Madonna and Children a young woman is wrapping her arms around Michelangelos Madonna in a gentle embrace. The title invites the viewer to imagine Marys teenage daughter. Fondling Germanicus, shows a pair of hands groping an effete looking Roman nude from behind. But what is that tiny object hes holding in his right hand? Ars Equina, is an erotic image of a naked girl with an unnaturally tiny waist, modelling a horses bottom out of clay. Next to her is her model, a flayed plaster cast of a horse, seen also from behind.
The figures look carefully arranged and sometimes appear incomplete and slightly awkward. Clearly all is not as it should be with these performers. They look a little limp and lifeless, their skin in places damaged and discoloured, faces turned away or hidden.
The reason for their strangeness is that these figures arranged with the sculptures are in fact sculptures themselves. Cast in rubber latex and silicon, these bodies pose convincingly as human, but are no more animate than the casts they adorn. The images are still lives, sculptural interventions, more about formal composition than photographic storytelling. They are in fact the opposite of live art.