Upon arrival at the Austrian Cultural Forum in Knightsbridge, London, which has a faded, airless grandeur of a kind you thought only existed in the pages of Graham Greene novels, you’re escorted downstairs to a windowless, locked room. There, you will find the latest exhibition by Oliver Laric: "Giving Away The Moulds Will Cause No Damage to His Majesty’s Casts."
Once admitted, you’re left alone to ponder the history—or not—of the work on show. The grand setting is apt. Laric’s work often appropriates the look and feel of the ancient or iconic, albeit with the most 21st-century of techniques.
No wall texts are in evidence, no titles even. Instead, an exhibition catalogue, costing £10, sits on a lectern to the left of the door. It appears to be a catalogue in the most mercantile sense of the word: black-and-white scans of objects populate its pages, along with URLs where they supposedly can be downloaded.
Laric has said that he doesn’t see “any necessity in producing images himself”—that everything he needs exists, and that “it’s just about finding it.” He’s also revealed (rather playfully, one suspects) that he has experienced some of his favorite artworks and movies only through his friends' descriptions of them.
In short, he's interested in mining the image economy. His show at the Austrian Cultural Forum, however, takes that approach a step further. It gathers together 3-D scans of objects and artworks from museum collections in England, Norway, and China—including a Yuánmíngyuán marble column from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.
Despite the show’s relatively small size and scale, these objects have already undertaken a momentous journey from sculpture to image and back to sculpture again. Small friezes that appear at first to be made of marble reveal themselves, upon closer inspection, to have been turned from marble to digital images and, finally, into plastic. They are seemingly no less potent for this inverted alchemic transformation.
Three classical Greco-Roman figures, meanwhile, are wafer-thin and infused with a dye that highlights what appears to be musculature or cellular structure. The marbled effect brings to mind both the insides of old book covers and the preserved bodies of Gunther von Hagens, appearing simultaneously exquisite and gruesome. With Laric, the gap between source material and context is all.
"Giving Away The Moulds Will Cause No Damage To His Majesty’s Casts" is at the Austrian Cultural Forum until July 3