I wonder if Sarah Lucas fancies Frank Ocean’s Bad Religion? I always liked the part where he mistakes the taxi driver’s blessing for being cursed out.
It feels like the British sculptor would relate to the unrequited love – the folly of – praying to an unseen superpower, the ridiculousness of such one man cults.
Sarah Lucas enjoys word puns and Paul Robeson song titles and poking sacred cows with rather large sticks. She be lieves that her phallic sculptures are always a form of appropriation given that she’s minus a dick herself. She knows that cigarettes will kill you, but maybe worshipping Jesus on the cross is no way to live either.
I can’t imagine that Sarah Lucas is a big Sam Kinison fan his jokes veering into the misogynistic at times and yet the late comedian’s take on Christ thru an Everyman’s lens offers an earthly perspective which I’m confident she would appreciate in its irreverence. “I guess that’s why he never got married,” hypothesized Kinison on his 1986 comedy album. “No wife would ever buy the Resurrection. Sure, she sees him on Friday afternoon, he takes off with twelve fucking guys. She’s doesn’t hear from him again until Monday… Yeah, it never would have worked. There would have been all kinds of press. JESUS GETS DIVORCED.”
I thought of this stand-up bit after seeing her Jesus was married sculpture from 2005. The focal point is a lightbulb illuminated in a metal bucket belly dangling from two electrical cords suspended from a wire hanger. It all has a found-object quality by design or as the artist will tell you… “An old bucket has more spirit than a new bucket. More character.” Reverse ageism makes sense in this context, the seeking out of sympathetic magic. Personally, any time I see a clothes hanger in a work of art I think of Man Ray’s Obstruction sculpture, his flock of seagulls. It’s funny, kind of stupid in an endearing way. What’s the least you can do and still call it art? The minimum artifice. Then again, you can wink and nudge yourself into oblivion, too. Pranksters without punch end up in purgatory.
“I’m a raw material. I can be constructed badly or well. Nobody’s gonna do that bit for me. So it’s up to me.”
John Currin once explained to me how he handles humor in his work. When he’s drawing studies for paintings then anything goes and he tries to ignore the acidic inner critic and not filter or govern his imagination. Then months later, he will return to a stack of drawings and if something makes him laugh he might make a painting of that scene but remove the jokiness from it. Retain the humor, delete the jokiness. I suspect Sarah Lucas subscribes to a similar methodology.
In his studio, I have witnessed John Currin wrap bras around pillows and stand them up. They almost resemble maquettes for unmade Sarah Lucas sculptures. In his case, the assemblage is present to offer clues as to how folds in the pillow might mimic the wrinkles in skin from being pinched by a bra strap. For Sarah Lucas, there is no stand in. The figure is created as a manifestation of its syncretic power. In the end, we are all just environments of our products.
There’s something theatrical about her set pieces in their ephemeral appeal, the fragility of a split second. A pair of women’s tights suffering from rigor mortis. Worth noting here that this posthumous stiffening of the joints is a condition that itself only lasts one to four days. It’s not a permanent state.
Even the making of her sculptures can have that lightning in a bottle feeling. When she casts body parts with a live model, Sarah Lucas uses a waste mold which can be employed only once before it’s discarded, the way a prima ballerina wears her pointe shoes a single time during a performance before they, too, are tossed away. The rigidity we, civilians, look to eradicate from our fresh soles is a necessity for a New York City Ballet member. To break them in is an act of making them obsolete.
As a Rolfer once taught me, there are two ways to relieve pain in the human body. You can attack a pulled muscle, for instance, proximally going straight to the injured area or approach the tissue distally starting at the edges of the problem and working your way towards its epicenter. Sarah Lucas seems to tackle her subject matter from the periphery like a recipe of conjured symbols and meaningful detritus. A surface reading reveals reverberations of Hans Bellmer and Eva Hesse, but eye touch is only partial context.
I keep coming back to Sarah Lucas’ titles: Prayer in the square, Christ you know it ain’t easy. And it made me think of a parable from the religious philosopher Simone Weil: “Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.” You might reach a similar conclusion about the relationship between the artist and the viewer, the distance between making and observing. Every separation is, indeed, a link.
Sarah Lucas is on view at The Tate Britain from September 28th, 2023 until January 14th, 2024.