To make sure that this article is not simply a disparate list of sculptors connected only by their gender, it is paramount that we begin by looking at Şekerciler's Ecstasy and the themes that it concerns itself with. It is ideas of the body and sexuality that strike first. On looking and reading more, next comes the restriction of gender, and then an idea of timelessness. Subsequently, these are the themes that this article will linger on. Significant artists that deal with these ideas in some form are Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and Sarah Lucas, who will form the focus of this article alongside Şekerciler.
What are Şekerciler’s figures? Are they male, female, one person, two? They are entangled, genders mixed up until they have become meaningless. Some, like Ecstasy No.2, are two, joining at the upper torso, one figure floats into the other, with double shoulders, double ears, but a single head. Others, such as Ecstasy No.4 are one, a figure lays on its back, with two heads and sexual hands, a stark meditation on pleasure and identity.
Influenced by the ‘realistic’ works of renaissance and Hellenistic periods, Şekerciler has made hairless, genderless, completely smooth figures. Her art operates with the knowledge that gender doesn’t exist, expanding on Judith Butler’s idea that it is an “identity tenuously constituted in time”. It is a performance, played out through speech, clothing, and sex, thus Şekerciler strips her figures of everything. As a result, they appear at peace with their sexuality and orientation, purified of accessories, freed from labels. Once they’ve been stripped, what’s left? A communion of bodies with the soul in perpetual flux, an indistinguishable breathing organism. Untethered to time, place, or gender. As stated in the exhibition catalogue, Şekerciler’s work is somehow about “letting the bodies depart their mortal shells and re-join the universal cycle of life.” They are a timeless yet ultra-contemporary representation of the body, focused on the eternal conflict of one’s identity.
Louise Bourgeois’ work is deeply personal, bursting with memory and things, so not much can be drawn between these and Şekerciler’s impersonal polished figures. However, there are a couple of artworks where we can see some overlap in terms of themes and aesthetics. These are Seven Figures in a Bed and Couple I.
Seven Figures is aesthetically similar to ecstasy no.5, which Frances Morris describes as “seven bodies with double heads making love in the same bed, full of resonances of passion, relationships, [reflective of] memories of a family at odds with itself. It is a very explicit work, the genitalia, the bodies are touching.” It references the tenderness and intimacy of a bed, but it still disturbs, it is a dehumanised scene, soft and fragile. Şekerciler’s work contains a similar confusion of bodies and sex, yet they are more certain than Bourgeois.
Both artists look at the restrictive nature of gender and sex, but whilst Şekerciler depicts bodies that are free of labels and judgement, Bourgeois wants to show how gender restricts. This is evident in Couple I, where two headless figures are embracing, hung on a meat hook, their genders illustrated by their clothing (one in a shirt and flannel (male) the other in lace collar and tights (female)). There is a Tate entry for this piece stating that “the figures of Couple I are locked in an embrace that could be read as both supportive and strained. The masculine figure both constricts and holds the feminine figure. Likewise, she encircles him with a caring arm whilst straddling and weighing down his hanging body”. Lucy Askew says that this work “suggests more anguish than pleasure,” intense emotional attachment as well as the physical act of having sex. Tate concludes by noting the “timeless nature of the work” because “we are unsure of the age of the headless figures”. The same can be said about Şekerciler’s work. Though instead, she is looking to eternalise her figures by removing the fabric, the gendered signifiers.
Şekerciler’s bronzes give off a sense of “hope and immortality”, and as a result I want to talk about the work of Eva Hesse to act as a counterpoint to these ideas. Born in 1936 and dying of brain cancer in 1970, Hesse was a pioneer of post-minimal sculpture, and whilst there is there is nothing aesthetically similar about these two artists’ work, the idea of time, hope, and mortality rings with them both. Her constant innovation with materials has meant she is understood as “one of the most important sculptors of the post-war period.”
Where Şekerciler is interested in creating immortal figures, cast in bronze and appearing timeless, Hesse wanted the opposite, creating a body of work that was not intended to last. Many of her works will soon cease to exist or fade considerably, and I am inclined to believe her struggle with brain cancer and her terminal mortality contributed to her desire to use impermanent or semi-perishable materials such as latex, rope, cheesecloth, rubber, and string. Talking about her art, Hesse said that “I am about [impermanence] in life, rubber lasts only a very short while. I’m not sure where I stand on that, at this point I feel a little guilty when people want to buy it, I want to write them a letter and say it’s not gonna last, life doesn’t last, art doesn’t last”. Her rubber works age, the chains break and become liquid, then they harden once more. This is where crossover ends, as Hesse’s art resists “categories or fixed points of reference,” in total opposition to Şekerciler, where categories and references are worn proudly on her sleeve.
Finally, our attention is turned to the work of Sarah Lucas. For my money, Lucas is the best artist to rise from the YBAs, alongside Tracey Emin. She speaks of “the necessity of actual boldness” in art, to tackle themes head on. Lucas deals with themes similar to Şekerciler, and those that are important to this article are the presentation of gender and the body. On this, Roberta Smith writes for the NYT that Lucas’ “work tends to be raw, sexually hilarious and heartily sceptical of propriety and societal repressiveness, especially concerning the body and its basic impulses.”
Looking at some works from HONEY PIE, an exhibition held at Sadie Coles HQ earlier in 2020, where Lucas extended her long-standing Bunny series. Lucas takes gender binaries and laughs at them. In works such as CROSS DORIS and MRS NICUBATOR, she uses sleek corporate modernist chairs as stand-ins for masculinity, around which she wraps her ‘honeys’ which Osman Can Yerebakan brilliantly describes in Wallpaper as “bronze or wool-stuffed pantyhose seducers, who clinch, caress, and conquer the benches’ erected spines and inviting laps.” It is a free entanglement of confused body parts, the genders of these stuffed objects are never clear, as Lucas says, “I love mixing up the sexes. I love that you can never get to the bottom of it,” which is something that Şekerciler performs so well in Ecstasy. Yerebakan expands on this, noting Lucas’ carefree assembly of the body, saying that “limbs stretch to extremity, hinting phallic erection or architectural epitome; breasts (‘Having tits doesn’t always make you a woman,’ Lucas underlines) blossom from one another, multiplying into a bouquet of buds or bumpy highlands.”
There is plenty of overlap with Ecstacy and that of Sarah Lucas, Louise Bourgeois, and Eva Hesse. Lucas’s figures are resisting gender, Şekerciler frees her figures from gender, and Bourgeois shows gender resisting. Şekerciler wants to make her figures timeless, Hesse makes time a determinant part of her sculpture, as her materials are fundamentally impermanent. The body features prominently across all these artists in one way or another, though whilst Bourgeois, Lucas, and Şekerciler depict it, Hesse’s postminimalism and the terminal condition of her work and her own body force us to ruminate on the fragility of our bodies.
Louise Bourgeois, Seven in Bed, 2001.
Louise Bourgeois, Couple I, 1996. Fabric, hanging piece, 2032 × 685 × 711 mm, 15 kg.
Hande Şekerciler, Ecstasy No.2, 2019, 1AP Edition of 6. Custom made chemical patina on bronze, 83 x 44 x 22.5 cm
Hande Şekerciler, Ecstasy No.4, 2019. Custom made chemical patina on bronze, 52.5 x 36 x 13 cm
Eva Hesse, No title, 1969–1970. Latex, rope, string, and wire.
Sarah Lucas, MRS NICUBATOR, 2019. Tights, wool, wire, spring clamp, chair, acrylic paint, and shoes with MDF plinth. © Sarah Lucas. Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki
Sarah Lucas, CROSS DORIS, 2019, concrete, bronze, steel, iron, acrylic paint. © Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki