Summary

Lava I is a large sculpture consisting of flat horizontal sheets of orange-painted Perspex covered with a fine steel grid. The asymmetric six-sided construction rests on small L-shaped legs on the floor. Although the legs are visible, the thin horizontal nature of the sculpture spreading over a large area of the floor just above the ground makes it appears to hover. The mesh of the steel grid is cut away in the middle of the sculpture in an asymmetric gash revealing the intense orange of the Perspex beneath. In shape and colour the gash bears an abstracted resemblance to the flow of molten lava.

The reflective, sensual surface of the Perspex contrasts with the hard edges and straight lines of the steel mesh. Bustamante has used the juxtaposition of Perspex and steel grids in other large scale lateral sculptures, notably an installation that formed part of the artist’s Pavillon des Amazones when he represented France at the 2003 Venice Biennale. He has also worked with Perspex in other works including several series of photographic images screen-printed on Perspex (see Light 01.03 2003, Tate T11899). The artist has discussed how he is drawn to the changeability of the material (conversation with the artist, 27 January 2005). The surface of the Perspex in this sculpture buckles slightly, reflecting and refracting the light. At times the juxtaposition of steel and Perspex in the light produce an iridescent effect.

Bustamante is interested in the physical encounter of the art object in the gallery space by the viewer. The shifting colours and textures in the surface of Lava I encourage the viewer to move around the work, emphasising the connection between visual and physical experience. The horizontality of the work and its low placement make it possible to read the surface of the sculpture as a map.

The sculpture has anthropomorphic and psychological resonances. The softness and mutability of the Perspex suggest skin, while the cut-out in the grid’s surface can be read as a wound. Bustamante has contrasted his approach to cutting with that of Lucio Fontana (1899-1968; see Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’, 1960, Tate T00694), who cut the surface of his paintings to suggest an opening to a sublime void beyond the canvas. Bustamante has said, ‘My way of cutting is the antithesis of Fontana’s slits. Fontana takes you towards the sublime, I don’t take you anywhere. Fontana is fascinating, it’s so beautiful, an artistic gesture that takes you somewhere ... I want to be closer to man than to God’ (quoted in ‘Fragments of an Interview: Jean-Marc Bustamante with Jan Debbaut and Yves Gevaert’, Jean-Marc Bustamante, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1993, pp.12-13).

The incision in the sculpture also suggests the eruption of something primal beneath the ordered surface of the grid. In his early photographic series Tableaux (1978-82), Bustamante depicted areas of the Barcelona suburbs where nature appeared to be reclaiming man-made structures. Lava I suggests a similar encroachment of the organic and gestural on the precise and geometric.

Further reading:
Jan Debbaut, Jean-Marc Bustamante, Yves Gevaert and Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Jean-Marc Bustamante, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1993.
Matthew Arnatt, Jean-Marc Bustamante: Nouvelles Scènes, exhibition catalogue, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London 2003.
Alfred Pacquement, Michel Gauthier, Jean-Pierre Criqui, Katy Siegel and Michel Poivert, Jean-Marc Bustamante, Paris 2003.

Rachel Taylor
September 2005