Materials and methods: a look into Florian Roithmayr’s world

Thomas Dixon 12 October 2018

In a partnership with the Museum of Classical Archaeology and Kettle’s Yard, artist Florian Roithmayr has developed a two-year project investigating the materiality of plaster mould collections throughout Europe. This has culminated in a pair of exhibitions and a catalogue presenting his research material. ‘The Humility of Plaster’ is also accompanied by a podcast series consisting of tours around sculpture facilities and readings of exerts from sculpting manuals. 

Between the two exhibitions, Roithmayr exposes his working process through research materials and the remnants of plaster left in bowls in his studio. Through this, he is attempting to lay out his key interest in the almost magical moment between moulding and casting a sculpture. He is participating in a wider discussion happening in contemporary art about the nature of materials and drawing the audience’s attention to their unique qualities. 

In the Museum of Classical Archaeology, the space of academic tradition is now over run with strange contradicting abstractions. Rocky, polychrome surfaces which are suddenly surgically smooth. Soft triangular objects defy our idea of plaster as they float weightlessly and look like a collection of paper cut outs.

In ‘these here withins 02’, one of his sculptures installed at the Museum of Classical Archaeology, the moulding material has clearly adopted the marks of another surface creating organic, coral like juts and spikes, which end abruptly as if placed against an invisible wall. Thin strips of wood intersect the piece, framing it. Perhaps, he is alluding to the modular scales used for creating the perfect ratios for human bodies in the Renaissance (see Vitruvian Man). These competing textures reveal the infinite possibilities of moulding materials like plaster and clay which refuse to ever take up a singular quality. The manipulation of materials, what they look like and how they really are, is being questioned and Roithmayr is encouraging us to look past first appearances.

Equally, the accompanying book Aftercast makes us reconsider something we previously might have felt familiar with – the textbook. Aftercast compiles dozens of pedological writing on sculpture, casting and moulding, breaking them down into their component parts page by page interspersed with plaster heads or the anonymous hand of an artist at work. Pages from the book are also displayed in Kettle’s Yard. Twenty-seven separate ‘Contents’ titles in different fonts and sizes make up the first page followed by pages on Acknowledgments and Preface. The approach taken by Roithmayr in his artistic practise and research isn’t necessarily about creating new material of content but new arrangements and readings of materials and texts.

Roithmayr’s more playful works at the Museum of Classical Archaeology present a direct conflict with the tedious didactic content of the sculpture textbooks. His works are perhaps a critique of institutionalised and formulaic learning. Roithmayr’s jarring interventions in the Classic’s space are “staged as a series of inversions” according to Agnieszka Gratza. The bright colours and assorted textures of Roithmaryr could not be further from the cold Classical and Academy traditions.