»Vulnerability is a total testament to power«, cameron clayborn writes in a short text in the exhibition catalogue for ›nothing left to be‹. The artist goes on to pose what they call a »childish question«: »If power were a substance, what would it look like?« It’s a good question. Really.
Indeed, what sort of materiality, what substance adequately expresses power? Especially power that is conscious of its own vulnerability? Would that material be »gray, yellow, blue, orange, brown, or red«, as the text puts it? »Mooshy, goopy, solid, or firm«? »Cold, warm, or hot«, »soft or prickly«? And what, precisely, makes this question so »childish«, to use clayborn’s word? Its insistence on the concrete? On knowing the tangible, the visible, the haptic? (In other words, the only supposedly simple and direct?) Perhaps. Probably, even.
»›If power were a substance, what would it look like?‹ It’s a good question. Really.«
Let us assume, then, that clayborn’s own sculptures provide an answer to this question about the materiality of a power that also admits vulnerability—an answer that could perhaps (probably, even) be expressed less in words than in the specific material, in its deliberate selection, handling and manipulation, indeed in the shaping of it. Take a sculpture like ›homegrown #1‹ from 2021, for example, a work that—along with ›homegrown #2‹ from the same series—was purchased and donated to the Hamburger Bahnhof—Museum für Gegenwart Berlin collection as part of the Baloise Art Prize, where it will be on view in a Berlin Art Week-concurrent exhibition of the prizewinner’s work. It is a work that merits a closer look.
›homegrown #1‹ has (atypically for a sculpture) a front and a back, with one side kept in white and made of a rough, flocked substance best known from so-called ›popcorn ceilings‹, while the other consists of a dark blue, mottled insulating material made from the remnants of shredded denim. Appearing at the edges, along the transition zones between front and back, are little outgrowths: stubby, tentacle-like appendages occasionally adorned with beads. There is no question that this sculpture looks like a body, yet it is flat (almost like a free-standing relief). One is also struck by the fact that these forms—thin, soft, and tapered towards the bottom—cannot stand on their own, and instead have to be attached to the ceiling with thin pieces of steel wire.
And that is what a closer look at this work reveals: a very specific materiality, soft on the one hand and hard on the other, with a clear surface texture; a very specific, if amorphous form that evokes concrete associations: a cocoon, a colossal shell, a kind of oversized egg sac, like the kind some shark species use to hide and protect their offspring until they are big and strong enough to hunt for themselves. Last but not least, it is a body with very specific footing in space, precarious and reliant on supportive fastenings, that nevertheless presents as a proud, lofty counterpart. All of this is openly, directly apparent in this work—the embodiment of vulnerability and power in one.