Atelier Wenger And Relationships Between Space And Form

Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju, March 2009

The idea of transformative potential in relation to female biology emerges as a central motif in the art of the school of Susanne Wenger. It is represented by the centrality of evocations of female biological spaces in their sculptural and architectural works as well as inhere in her transpositions of ideas developed in relation to the transformative powers of female biology in relation to her interpretation/conception of this art as a means of stimulating a psychological and spiritual transformation in the audience. Imagery evocative of the nuturant darkness of the womb, of the vagina as creative passageway, are central not only to the formal expression of the art itself to but to its interpretation by Wenger.

Central to her conceptions are ideas that centre on the interaction between space and from as suggestive of transformative processes, the relationship between creator and the created from/creator, created from and process of creation. This development of ideas of transformative process represents her interpretation of endogenous Yoruba thought and iconography in terms of her own transmutation of the tradition through her own imaginative terms, fed as they are by a cosmopolitan culture, a central aspect of which is the relationship between space and form as evocative of relationships between the ground of being and its expression in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. She adapts Lao Tzu’s ideas, in relation to endogenous Yoruba iconography and its symbolic values in order to provoke sensitivity to the creative paradoxes her work is meant to dramatize and which represent her efforts to incarnate/ stimulate a response to the multidimensional world represented by the Yoruba orisha through her visual art and her poetic verbal expositions.

The physical qualities of the vagina are evoked in relation to philosophical values that arise in relation to those qualities. Wenger’s sculpture achieves this primarily through the relationships her work develops between space and form, specifically between sculptural form and sculptural space and sculptural space and natural space. Sculptural space consists in the spatial forms she creates through the creation of concavities within her sculptural and architectural works while natural space refers to the space constituted by the forest in which her sculptures are sited and with which they interact.

The interaction between these elements of space and form is directed at realising values related to the penetrative encounter associated with the sexual act as it emerges in relation to the vagina as well as to the generative processes that emerges from this penetrative encounter and as this is manifest in the conception and gestation of new life in the womb. The constitution of the entranceways to various parts of the forest in terms of entranceways that are evocative of vaginal and womb spaces realises this directionality of meaning while the amplitude of volume/ spatial resonance between these sculptural spaces and the surrounding natural space helps to foreground the qualities of volume realised through sculptural space.

One of the most prominent realizations of this balance between sculptural form and space, both sculptural and natural, emerges in the Chameleon Gate through which the navigator in the Oshun Forest, where her work is sited, enters the field dedicated to the Orisha or deity,Iya Mopo. Dynamically curving walls shape a central space that resonates with three smaller spaces at the top of the structure that surmounts the central space. The entire structure generates the impression of dynamic emptiness realised through the manner in which the convoluting forms of the surrounding pillars seem to energise the empty space that they shape. This structure is evocative of the vagina of the chameleon, in which the empty space is evocative of the vaginal space, the upper smaller spaces with which the centrals space resonates, its anal opening and the curvature of the space that surrounds the vaginal and anal openings. The pillars represent the animal’s legs.

In relation to ideas which emerge in Yoruba and other African cultures of animals as evocative of values of central value to human society, even values that are representative of metaphysical significance since they constitute unique forms in the tapestry of existence, Wenger evokes the values associated with the chameleon in relation to the ideas associated with the vaginal entranceway. Both forms of biological symbolism, as they emerge from ideas associated with the vagina and from ideas related to the chameleon, converge to realize a synergistic form that resonates in relation to a host of ideas suggestive of the possibility of physical penetration associated with the vagina and its consonance with cognitive penetration, and with the relationships between the ability of the chameleon to blend its colour with that of its environment and discernment in relation to the ability to identify imaginatively and psychically with one’s environment as well as with the ability to discriminate between n its various levels/aspects of meaning.

The navigational penetration of the vaginal entranceway becomes evocative of the cognitive penetration into the cosmographic framework represented by the forest and entry to which Wenger’s sculptures are directed at facilitating. The chameleons ability to blend its colours with that of its environment suggest the character of this contemplative navigation as means of harmonising oneself in consciousness with the metaphysical signals communicated by the forest and ones environment in general so that ,in such cognitive identification one may be enabled to cognise aspects of meaning that would be otherwise inaccessible. Such cognitive penetration into hidden depths of meaning makes possible the ability to distinguish between the various aspects of meaning that the forest embodies, from the material to the aesthetic to the metaphysical, while being able to grasp their interrelationship.

The chameleon metaphor, therefore, is evocative of the cognitive penetration into the cosmographic dynamics embodied by the forest in terms of the development of the capacities for both grasping the particulars of that cosmographic integration as well as understanding its cohesive integration arrived at through the unity the forest constitutes, and which itself is suggestive of the unity realized by the cosmos, a level of perception/a perception of depths of meaning made possible through a sensory and imaginative identification with the forest.