June 10, 2015

While researching Stefan Blom’s exhibition DShk I came across some amateur film footage in which a group of young civilian men in an open, unspecified field fired heavy ammunition into the distance.

The weapon, an oblong contraption with a long perforated muzzle stood precariously on a spider legged tripod. It shook and rattled shooting out flame with the force of each emission. Each man was given a chance to shoot. And intoxicated with the power of it all, they sprayed round after round of bullets into a target less distance like rogue tom cats on a steroid rampage, falling about with laughter, whooping with pleasure and egging each other on.

Their weapon was a DShK, the acronym for “Degtyaryova-Shpagina Krupnokaliberny” and the name of a Russian made heavy machine gun invented in the 1930’s.

Blom titled his exhibition after this piece of weaponry that. The irony apparent in the weapons nickname “Sweetie “for its phonetic sound of the abbreviation- similar to the Russian word “dushka”- and one that runs through Blom’s exhibition.

It starts on the surface.

Blom’s sculptures have a pastel palette of lemon curd yellow, ice cream pink and baby blue; a palette at odds with thehard core subject matter of the eleven fiberglass sculptures they colour.

Although the young men operating the DShk harmed no one, their orgiastic delight is bound up with the godlike power to potentially destroy at most or maim at least that this weapon can provide. It’s the same pornography of violence between perpetrator and quarry which Blom explores in pastel shades. The cracker of the Enigma code Alan Turing who was severely bullied as a child is quoted as saying about violence. “Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes… hollow”.

It’s been 10 years since Blom had his last solo exhibition in Germany. Although he has added new work Blom regards this exhibition as “reworking older work” and “a culmination of my technical skills, knowledge and maturity”. His aim is to promote an emotional rather than an intellectual response to his subject matter in an atmosphere that at first invites the viewer in and then shifts to discomfort.

As the press release suggests Blom’s latest sculptures continue to channel his first-hand experience of psychic wounding inflicted by personal trauma, around themes of sexuality and gender -into the more impersonal and largely unstable area of political and social forces.

His work investigates the victim and perpetrator continuum bound together as one entity in an eternal symbiosis.His current sculptures may still show his concern with the dark side of sexuality and gender but his modus operandi has as moved light years away from the drama of raw, cathartic blood- letting – ashy and scabby bandaged surfaces-that characterised his earlier work.

In their place are the highly polished surfacesthat have more in common with the slick ducco finish of a high end sport car –not a speck of dust in sight. It’s the pornography of trauma in pastel shades.

Apart from three figures,”Egress” and “The Orchestrator” which are both self –portraits and “Varaahi” a pig like creature with a blunted face all the sculptures involve the manipulated, amputated female form as victim and conduit.

The sculpture “Egress “could be interpreted as the portrait of the artist as a child. His little sputnik shaped body is armless, supported by the spindly legs of a tripod. His face is tattooed with the dark glyphs of Blom’s private symbolic language only known to him; his mouth is plugged closed with a perforated nozzle. Speech is not Blom’s natural metier. The capsule of his body is crowded with warring toy soldiers . We catch a glimpse of them through the sputniks fogged walls.

Ironically “Egress” –which means to leave a place- will never move from its fixed base. From a steel pipe in the child’s middle some unseen vital essence will continue to drip into a drain in the base of the sculpture carrying the words “exit only” from.

If Blom were a creature he would be a pale gecko, gentle and extremely sensitive, so transparent you could see his inner organs and hyper vigilant looking at the world through the palest of glass green eyes.

The sculpture “The Orchestrator” is an adult a self portrait. Here the child has grown into yet another bound incarnation encased in a pale sarcophagus cocoon inscribed with his secret writings. Its back is scored with a cross shaped, open wound, his arms ending in two Berettas.

In the treatment of the female figures there is some reference to the comic strip characters and the mannequins of the 1950’s departmental stores. All contain elements of both victim and perpetrator. Proportionally they may have much in common with the ideals of fashion but the sculptor has turned these figures into cyborgs by including bio mechatronic parts associated with transhumanism. Yet unlike the purpose of transhumanism, whose aim is to improve the organic nature of the human being, these so called improvements compromise the humanity of these figures. And each contains both the roles of aggressor and victim.

Fly by night girl has stunted air-craft wings that will never fly instead of arms, Beretta and Dushka sprout the perforated barrel of a heavy duty machine gun. The arms of other sculptures end in chrome yellow boxing gloves to defend and Dina of Ephesus breasts for the nurturing of an infant and to provide pleasure but they will struggle to caress another.

Perhaps the most disturbing piece on exhibit is the sculpture, Dushka (Russian for sweetie). In it a woman’s form lies slightly titled in a prone position on the top of a steel tripod similar to theta of the DShK weapon. It’s a vulnerable position associated with intimate medical procedures. Instead of ending in hands, the ends of her arms merge with her torso and she has no lower legs. From her thighs she births a machine gun muzzle and from her head emerges two metal handles with grips for her handler to guide her in whichever direction he pleases.

This article is an amended version of “The Pornography of Trauma in Pastel Shades” by Lucinda Jolly first published in the Cape Times newspaper, June 10 2015