Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ron Mueck - Dead Dad

***Recently, I wrote this overloaded description.***

Ron Mueck's 'Dead Dad' (1996-1997) is one of his earliest pieces and continues to be my favorite.  I did not know about the hyperrealist extraordinaire until I chanced upon his exhibition at the National Gallery when I visited London in 2003.  Despite my penchant for meticulously crafted works, I honestly was not prepared for the exact and exacting verisimilitude of Mueck's sculptures.  Mueck single-handedly seemed to have set a new benchmark in the long history of figurative sculpture as well as to have overturned a certain complacency toward what the tradition can achieve.  The presentation of 'Dead Dad' is straightforward enough, austere, a depiction of the naked and supine corpse of Mueck's father, two thirds life-size.  It was produced with silicon casting from a clay model and mixed media including Mueck's own hair.  A merely formal representation is transcended by the clinical details themselves taken to an impeccable if not impossible level, where it becomes akin to products of steadfast religious adoration, or some miracle.  No doubt, the piece cannot help depending on the illusion of faithfulness to reality, but quite unlike any painting or sculpture hitherto seen, the unequivocal likeness down to every pore, wrinkle, and hair turns on the viewer's passive perception of reality, compelling a certain equivocality of perceptual givens - I must admit, I was almost tempted to touch it as if it would awake or move, absolute realism was "unreal."  Unlike in postmodernism, however, Mueck's hyperrealism is not the loss of an affective engagement with reality, but rather, it signals to a rapprochement with reality, and possibly its re-enchantment.  Reality can be reimagined through (hyper)realism.  Mueck could have constructed the piece to scale, but miniature is an effective performative device to invite intimacy and empathy but also to frustrate identification-cum-disavowal.  The doll size portrayal of the deceased is a poignant one, preciously wrought, and the physical smallness alludes to existential smallness.  Moreover, the pathos is somewhat undercut by the hyperreal strangeness itself, which elicits the viewer's omniscient gaze only to expose the reductio ad absurdum of its pretensions to self-certainty and security. The piece, like most of Mueck's oeuvre, explores the darker and disquieting channels linking humanity.  Mueck's subject is archetypally neither hero nor jester, and if there is any irony, it is only natural to a greater awareness of the traumas of quotidian life and existential vulnerability, that frailties and failings, incompletion, and puzzlement are just as much essentially human, needing to be recognized, and daresay beautiful and enthralling.  Mueck captures imperfection perfectly.  That said, there lingers what can be a bleak assessment, that both the original and the copy are no longer privileged sites of truth and unable to claim inherent authenticity, this disjunction which also provides for a human confluence.  By uncanny means necessary, the familiar becomes peculiar, and the peculiar becomes all-too-familiar ... such is Mueck's uneasy humanism.