The art of transportation

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British artist Toby Ziegler uses Finnair cargo containers in his newest work, an installation currently on display at Helsinki’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.

A familiar sight for frequent flyers is that of the boxy aluminium cargo containers being loaded into the airplane hold just before take-off.

Until I met British artist Toby Ziegler I had never given much thought to those containers. But as we walked through his new exhibition, Toby Ziegler: “The Alienation of Objects” at Helsinki’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, I found myself peering into the scuffed aluminium boxes and admiring their world-travelled, battered beauty.

Where had the containers been and what had they transported?  On one of them a prominent pink and blue sticker labelled “PACTL” provided a clue – PACTL is the abbreviation for Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport Cargo Terminal.

Empty vessels

These questions of what and where inform Ziegler’s work. “The way that I go about making sculptures is that I take a historical or found object. Quite often these have lost their narrative along the way,” says Ziegler.

He searches for pictures of historical art objects such as ancient classical sculptures or Victorian Staffordshire pottery dogs. Using 3D modelling software, Ziegler then turns these images into sculptures made of oxidized aluminium panels such as the ones atop the cargo containers here.
The London-based artist says that he is fascinated by the transformation of pictures and objects when they travel from one age and culture to another.

Ziegler cites the example of an Egyptian baboon statue made 4,000 years ago, the starting point for one of his works. “Who knows exactly what its maker was thinking? The Baboon of Thoth was perhaps the god of wisdom or fertility. Presumably it disappeared and was buried and dug up by someone else thousands of years later and what did it signify to him or her?

“Then (psychoanalyst) Sigmund Freud got a hold of the statue. He collected artefacts because they seemed to symbolise something about the drive. Apparently he used them as a screen for his patients because he didn’t want to have eye contact when he was analysing them. So he created diversions with historical artefacts. Among the case studies of his famous patients, there was the Wolf Man. Now what was he thinking when he was looking at the baboon?”

The baboon’s journey parallels that of an installation in a gallery: it means different things to different people.

Viewer participation

One of the most frequently asked questions about contemporary art is, what does it mean?

“The content is located somewhere else,” answers Ziegler. “I suppose the way that objects are transformed in their role and humans transform them constantly suggests that content isn’t really located in the object – it’s located in the collected consciousness.

“For example, with the cargo containers, it’s like they have become kind of a skin – a large body with holes, cracks, and fissures – yet objects that have a physical history,” he says.

Location specific

In each gallery where Ziegler installs his work, it takes into account the particular space. At Kiasma his work is displayed in a second-floor room that overlooks the statue of Finland’s most famous statesman, Marshall Mannerheim, a great adventurer who travelled from St Petersburg to Beijing in the early 1900s. The form of Ziegler’s installation mirrors Mannerheim on horseback.

The works of Ziegler, 40, who also works in painting, are featured in many international collections including The Arts Council of England, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery UK, François Pinault Collection, Paris, France, The Saatchi Gallery, London and The West Collection, Philadelphia, USA.

Toby Ziegler: “The Alienation of Objects” is sponsored by Finnair Cargo and runs to January 13, 2013 at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. The works are on loan from the Zabludowicz Collection London.

Read more about Kiasma here and about Zabludowicz Collection here.

By Katja Pantzar

Published October 9, 2012

Category: Collaboration, Environment, Local features

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