Like a trail of breadcrumbs, Yasmin Kaytmaz leaves a succession of faux fragments—sections of a horse’s leg—strewn across the Lilliputian gallery space at 17Essex. In this exhibition, all the sculpture is piecemeal. We never get a whole horse or even a whole leg. Only Lame (2019), a horse’s hoof and pastern, is carved from marble itself, the rest (cannons, knees and forearms) is cast in a mix of plaster and concrete, aping marble. Kaytmaz’s exhibition is a series of dualities: the part versus the whole, the original versus the copy, the hand of the artist versus mechanical reproduction—in this case, casting. These are ideas that have plagued sculpture and art history since artists became aware of and obsessed with the historical sweep of types and subjects they deemed fit to recreate. They are hung from the wall, placed on the floor, and rest on the steps of a marble and wood folding ladder. The latter is called Running Gate (2019) and the objects that climb its rungs make their way into or emerge from an imaginary attic, designated by a blank hatch inscribed in the ceiling.
Kaytmaz sets a scene of sweet nihilism. When all is said and done, and the sculpture is broken and much of its meaning lost, what function can it serve? Her touchstone of reference is the well of Hippocrene, who burst forth from the arid slopes of Mt. Helicon at the touch of Pegasus’s foot and was considered the source of inspiration for artists. As the title,“Hippocrene Runs Dry,” suggests, this show is about where we source our ideas and the problematic concept of originality. How we appropriate and disseminate pre-existing images is a bit more complicated than just sipping from a magic stream.
Kaytmaz plays a game of bait and switch with her two media: marble, and its doppelganger, a mix of plaster and concrete. These two materials traditionally fall into the hierarchical position of original (marble) and its means of proto-typing, repair, and restoration, we are meant to discern which are the real fragments and which are the imitations. Initially, the viewer gauges that all the pieces are related, largely through the fact that the artist has rendered the equine musculature, ligaments and underlying bones convincingly. Next, we become aware that each of these sculptural fragments has been modified with the addition of an embedded wooden cane, transforming them into both tool and pseudo-prosthesis.
Kaytmaz’s idea of taking a piece of something—in this case a fragment of a horse’s leg augmented with a cane—and restoring its “walkability” or usefulness, offers a novel approach to the eternal question of what to do with a beautiful shard of something that once was. In Lenient (2019) a segment of a horse’s upper leg floats midway along the length of a cane that hangs from a nail on the wall, resting against an overcoat. The inverse of Lenient is Front Runner (2019), the lower portion of a leg standing resolutely on its hoof, still thoroughly useless in and of itself. As the pieces of whole and partial canes amble across the room, the artist’s solution to salvaging this mess comes into focus and is far afield from other approaches to interpreting, resuscitating and embedding sculptural relics.
For example, the only part of a Roman statue of young Hercules (AD 62) at the Metropolitan Museum is the muscular trunk. His head and extremities are a complete fiction. In the Renaissance, this classical trunk was restored with a plaster head, arms, legs, club, apples, and lion cloak. Alternatively, Rodin’s L’homme qui marche (1907), mounts a similar classical trunk amputee on two functioning legs and extols the strength of a sculpture that has withstood the slings and arrows of history, proud of its scars. Kaytmaz’s crippled fragments are sweeter and subtler than these two precedents. There are mild traces of shame and guilt as they hang or lean or sag in front of us. While some maintain an erect posture, others, like Dys∙func∙tion∙al (2019) lie prostrate, tired and beaten. The pieces in Running Gate mostly seem to stumble up or down the steps of the ladder, expressing a feeble will, at best, to change their current position. The artist allows for the idea that something may be lost over time. Refusing to candy-coat the violent history that most ancient sculptures betray in their cracked joints and missing parts, she instead attempts to address their wounds and help them to stand again: honestly, and of their own volition.