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Lambe, Claire - 2009.41-48

Claire Lambe

Ultra Primo 2009
dimensions variable
Purchased 2009

Claire Lambe is a Melbourne-based British-born sculptor known for her mixed-media installations that interface quotidian objects and tactile materials, while exploring themes of corporeality, sexuality, transgression, violence and humour.

Ultra Primo is significant as the first body of work created by Lambe on her return to the studio after seven years, having ceased working as a sculptor to concentrate her energies on childrearing. Ultra Primo consists of a constellation of approximately 100 objects, fashioned by the artist from a range of substances, including plaster, wax, bronze and wood. The forms materialise the concerns Lambe experienced upon reviving her practice, as she states that she understood the series ‘as a way back into thinking about art’.[1]

The work’s leitmotif is a rolling pin, recurring several times within the suite. The rolling pin is a functional tool, yet in Lambe’s hands it has been de-functionalised – wrapped in layers of plaster or dribbled with white acrylic paint, appended with faux-organic growths or cast in bronze. Dysfunctionality is produced via a strategy of inversion: instead of being an active tool performing a process, the wooden form has been pacified through the processes visited upon it; blanketing, cloaking and other forms of encasement.

These enfolded forms relate to French artist Annette Messager’s effigies of birds enveloped in crocheted cosies (My Borders 1972) and convey a similar ambiguity of affection. In both artists’ practices, the object is swaddled, nurtured and muffled, suggesting a spectrum of maternal actions both tender and quelling: mothering, s/mothering.

In contrast, the baseball bat, as the second typology of object in Ultra Primo, is not structured by a logic of inversion but of verisimilitude. Instead of being tampered with, the object’s physical integrity is maintained. Although the two versions in the work are crafted from different materials (one carved in wood, the other cast in wax), both connote material obduracy and the potential for violence.

Ultra Primo demonstrates the artist’s attraction to textural materials and expresses the tactile beauty of ordinary forms. Yet, in spite of their status as innocuous everyday things, Lambe’s material interventions and re-fashionings unearth a sense of latent aggression in the objects. Parallel to French artist Louise Bourgeois’ biomorphic forms (Soft Landscape II 1967) and engulfed female figures (Spiral Woman 1984), or contemporary Swiss artist Urs Fischer’s truncated, paint-smeared bodies (Melodrama 2013), Lambe’s sculptures incarnate a complex beauty – both tender and absurd – while simultaneously emanating a brooding sense of menace.

In her studies of childhood psychic development, psychoanalyst Melanie Klein described the way that an infant’s aggressive impulses are governed by mechanisms of introjection and projection. The infant takes in ‘good objects’ – the primary one being the mother’s breast – and projects its own fear of danger onto external bodies, turning them into ‘bad objects’. Such items are invested with threatening power but altered by the mind’s psychic response, producing what Klein referred to as an ‘imago’ – an internalised phantasmatic distortion of real things.

Klein’s understanding of the child’s sadistic phase elucidates Ultra Primo’s latent aggression. Lambe has affirmed her interest in violence and cruelty, posing the question: ‘How can it resonate in the work without being overt?’[2] Her cluster of mutant objects – domestic, phallic and ultimately enigmatic – hold these disparate aspects in tension, exuding a sensuous materiality subtly suggestive of pleasure, whimsy and coercion.

Sophie Knezic is a Melbourne-based writer, academic and visual artist who currently lectures in Critical and Theoretical Studies at VCA, University of Melbourne, and in History + Theory + Cultures at the School of Art, RMIT University.

[1] Claire Lambe in conversation with the author, 17 October 2018.

[2] ibid.

From the series
Lambe, Claire - 2009.41
Claire Lambe

Untitled (no. 2) 2009
wooden baseball bat
60 x 5.5 x 5.5 cm
Purchased 2009

Lambe, Claire - 2009.42
Claire Lambe

Untitled (no. 9) 2009
hard dazed-painted acrylic bronze
28.6 x 7 x 6 cm
Purchased 2009

Lambe, Claire - 2009.43
Claire Lambe

Untitled (no. 14) 2009
red wax
27.5 x 4 x 7 cm
Purchased 2009

Lambe, Claire - 2009.44 a
Claire Lambe

Untitled (no. 26) 2009
plaster molded original
30.5 x 10 x 9.4 cm
Purchased 2009

Lambe, Claire - 2009.45
Claire Lambe

Untitled (no. 31) 2009
wooden assemblage
27.5 x 3.5 x 3.5 cm
Purchased 2009

Lambe, Claire - 2009.46
Claire Lambe

Untitled (no. 50) 2009
plaster molded original
29.4 x 8.3 x 4.8 cm
Purchased 2009

Lambe, Claire - 2009.47
Claire Lambe

Untitled (no.6) 2009
wax baseball bat
66.8 x 4.6 x 4.5 cm
Gift of the artist 2009

Lambe, Claire - 2009.48
Claire Lambe

Untitled (no.25) 2009
22.8 x 7.5 x 6.5 cm
Gift of the artist 2009