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Creative Research Lab

FEVER - July 2005

installation by Cunningham

Erin M. Cunningham
Love Handles, 2004
cast bronze
dimensions variable

Catalog Essay by Andy Campbell and Erin Cunningham:


Find a model with whom you already have a relationship.
I was reading
Men's Fitness (or is it Cosmo) - "Get rid of those love handles!"
Set up an appointment with said model to visit your studio.
I read this shortly after I had set up an appointment with Erin Cunningham to talk about her artwork. In our meeting she walked me through some of the metal pieces she has made ­ jewelry, brass knuckles, and bronze and iron body parts.
Using sculptor's alginate (similar to the stuff used in a dentist's office to take a mold of your teeth), create a cast of the model's two hips.
I became very excited by the work she had done. Words started to popping into my head almost immediately:
Talk to the model during this process.
Embodiment, body casting, dissociation, cult of beauty, disembodiment, weight gain/loss, statistics. Go to town, Andy, go to town.
Show the model a Home Depot catalogue and say, "Pick a handle. Which do you like? What would you put on your cabinets?"
Next, buy those handles and take plaster molds of them as well.

The work thrives on a play between what is grotesque (at least what
Cosmo or Men's Fitness considers grotesque) and what is appealing, beautiful and comforting. And yes, it is a pun. Love handle / hardware handle? Get it?
Cast wax into both negatives ­ body and handle.
But there's something stopping me from using art history and theory as a tool. Something stops me from saying things like: "In the tradition of Kiki Smith…" or, "Like the Venus of Willendorf…"
Next join the wax hip and wax handle in a way that makes sense to you. Something that would provide the viewer (at this point the viewer is only theoretical… you've still got a ways to go) with a comfortable viewing experience.
Why wouldn't I say those things? Because it doesn't do Cunningham's work justice, only a pale form of lip service.
Attach wax sprue system, an avenue of tubes which will allow you to cast the form in bronze. This is tricky. Remember, if the sprue system is not well thought out then you will have to begin the process all over again. Don't fuck this up.
It became apparent in our first meeting that these rhetorical tactics, which I have been schooled in for years, would at some point fail. And then what?
Submerge the wax model in slurry and fire it so that the slurry hardens and the wax drains out.
So I'll try.
You now have a negative mold.
I'm tempted to tell you that everything you need to know about this work is right there, hanging from the ceiling and attached to plinths, in front of you. Furthermore it is you, dear viewer, who truly completes Cunningham's work.
Bronze melts at 1800-2100 Fº.
By putting your own body inside the work, giving heat and motion to the cool bronze hips you are enacting something greater than embodiment - greater than art historical referents.
Assemble a team to perform a bronze pour. Choose friends, colleagues, and teachers. Preheat the shell so that the extreme temperature won't ruin the mold. This part is like a dance. Everyone should have a role and they should know when and how to perform it.
So do it.
Try them on
When the bronze cools, it will start to crack the shell it was cast from.
And when you come out of that experience you might be able to reflect back and remember what you were thinking. Were you embarrassed to be trying on someone else's body? Were you grave? Serious? Or had you already written the work off because it was not what you wanted/expected/needed?
After removing the bronze piece from the shell, cut off the sprue system and begin to polish and sand the bronze piece until you feel it is right.
All I'm thinking about now is that headline in a familiar magazine and how silly it is - “Get rid of those love handles!” The exclamation mark, being the most annoying aspect, displays an urgent need. Why get rid of them when you can keep them forever? Cast them and keep them!
Repeat five times.