Surface Tension

Skin is a fascinating organ. While reading these words, you might be aware of it: the skin between your toes, on your back or on your fingertips. The largest human organ contains the body and simultaneously describes the border between oneself and the outer world. As a sensory shell it fosters the sense of touch that allows one to touch and be touched. In combination with the gaze, it constitutes the very essence of the perception of space, one’s own position in it as well as how we relate to the world around us and encounter ‘the other’, whether it is nature, another human being, or even a sculpture. In the history of art and philosophy, the union of the two senses and the relationship between seeing and touching has been heavily debated. Aristotle established a hierarchy of senses in which the ability to touch was considered a lower faculty of the human condition, secondary to the ability to see. In his thinking, the eye and its gaze evince the possibility to view, analyse and reflect on the world from a distance. This ability cultivates the analytical skill of the viewer and her cognitive capacity—the element that distinguishes us from other, more primitive, animals. The work of Matea Bakula takes issue with this traditional primacy of the gaze. In other words, her sculptures evoke the desire to touch them, and see them with your fingers.

The source of this desire springs from the surface quality of Bakula’s sculptures. In series of several triptychs, the artist investigates the behaviour of certain matter by combining contrasting materials and applying force. This may take the form of energy released due to the material’s internal dynamics, such as the extending force of PU- foam that pushes against the confines of its cast. The result is a shiny, polished looking surface that allows us to see what happened inside the cast—a battle of components. In another series, rectangular pillars are folded, causing their plaster shell to burst open, crack and splinter. External force is applied to transform the volumes, and the traces on the surface reveal the difference between the elasticity of the core and the rigidity of its shell.
A very different application can be seen in the recent use of wax, cast in layers on surfaces of packaging material, creating a delicate translucent relief structure. Energy transforms a solid into liquid, rendering it a malleable material which, in turn, solidifies again. Each technique reveals specific material properties and, as a result, shows that a surface can function in very different ways: as a border, container, or veil.

Like an alchemist, Bakula’s artistic investigation of material properties seems connected to the very fundamental physical knowledge of solid matter. From a scientific perspective a surface occurs due to a difference in energy, molecular structures, or disparity between elements like liquid or air. Take, for example, the surface of natural stone, polished wood or even the surface tension of a drop of water. While physics researches the fundamentally different states of energy in matter, the material manipulation within sculpture proposes a very different investigation into the behaviour of materials through transformation. A red thread in Bakula’s work is the use of polymer materials like synthetic foam or a natural variant like wax. Artificial materials not frequently found in nature and which, within the tradition of sculpture, are not considered a classic artistic medium either. Rather they are functional, industrially manufactured materials intended for mundane uses and, unlike marble or wood, are devoid of any particular intrinsic value. Yet the principles of physics still apply.

A distinctive characteristic of polymer is its high flexibility. It can be poured, pulverised, mixed, shaped and manipulated into a great variety of shapes. It is this capacity of resilience that Bakula uses in dialogue with other materials that lack this property, such as hardened plaster, stiff plastic tubes or brittle cardboard. The pairing of opposites results in a volume of a unique composite material that combines contrasting material behaviour when put under pressure. Like the inner workings of the human body, the inside of the sculptures remains hidden from sight, but the surface of the works bears witness to the events and processes that took place during their becoming. The surfaces have transformed from a material boundary to a plane of expression, or rather a skin, resembling the behaviour and gestures of a body in motion.

Expressing movement in sculpture poses a certain paradox and is one of the principle questions within this spatial discipline. A static object simply does not move, yet the illusion of movement and time is traditionally expressed through the figurative representation of activity, or by more formal compositional solutions, like balance. The sheer presence of the very object and matter seems to subvert the creation of an illusion and the seduction of the viewer’s imagination. At least, according to the battles between the artistic disciplines of painting and sculpture that were central to intellectual Renaissance debates, as seen in Paragone by Leonardo da Vinci. He argues that the very difference between the disciplines lies in the degree of illusion and abstraction. Sculpture being a mechanical art due to its manipulation of matter and use of craft techniques. It can never attain the realm of illusion and abstraction, since it remains physically present in the here and now. Painting, on the other hand, transcends its physical realm to create an illusion of space on a two-dimensional surface. This hierarchy of the disciplines echoes Aristotle’s hierarchy of thesenses—while the image and the gaze appeal to our higher consciousness, the body, sense of touch and sculpture belong to a lower, worldly realm.

In Bakula’s work, the very use of surface as skin challenges these classicalhierarchical notions that shaped the understanding of artistic disciplines. By doing so, Bakula’s work appeals to multiple senses; the gaze and the touch conflate requiring a haptic way of seeing. A term coined by Alois Riegel in the beginning of the 20th century, this notion departs from an embodied way of viewing. It is not just the eye or the gaze that perceives and reflects, but the bodily awareness constructed by the synergy of our senses that creates perception. The interaction between, for example, gaze and touch, causes one to anticipate the body of ‘the other’. In the case of Bakula’s work, the sculptures trigger an empathic understanding of the sculpture as a body and the skin as part of an expression. Similar to a human body, the skin functions not only as the body’s material, physical boundary, but also as a means of communication. Emotions like shame, excitement, anger or fear are mediated through the skin as well, often manifesting involuntarily: skin as the shell of the human psyche.

It is these physical and psychological properties of skin that are embodied by Bakula’s animated sculptures. While the gaze might recognize the material and read the vestiges of expression, we do not trust our eyes entirely; in order to be sure, we need to feel it and simply want to touch. 


Written by Alexandra Landré 





Lumen Travo gallery, Amsterdam

2009 - 2013
HKU (University of the Arts, Utrechts)

(Upcoming) Art Rotterdam 2021, represented by Lumen Travo gallery, Rotterdam
Collector's item, Centraal Museum, Utrecht 
Koop dit of dit of dit, Kunskoop exhibition by Mondrian Fund, Capital-C, Amsterdam
Commisioned artwork: A letter from a free man @ Het Utrechts Archief, Utrecht. Click here    
Duo-show: One eye and two takes on vulnerability, Lumen Travo gallery, Amsterdam. Click here
We do matter (collaboration with Nick Steur), Beyond the black box (Vlaams cultuurhuis de Brakke grond), Amsterdam
We do matter (collaboration with Nick Steur), Playground festival (STUK), Louvain. Click here
Scenarios of desire II, Emergent, Veurne. Click here
Jonge beelden, Beelden in Leiden, Leiden. Click here
The reflections on nature, Lumen Travo gallery, Amsterdam. Click here
Art Rotterdam, represented by Lumen Travo gallery, Rotterdam
Soloshow: Between grace and fury, Kunstvereniging Diepenheim, Diepenheim. Click here
Prospects and concepts, Art Rotterdam, Rotterdam. Click here
Unfair, Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam
Art Cologne represented by Lumen Travo gallery , Cologne
Soloshow: The chemistry between doctor Frank and me, Lumen Travo gallery, Amsterdam. Click here
Dream online art fair, represented by Jeanine Hofland gallery
Work Title Situation #4, Work Space Brussels, Brussels
Let us meet and let us meet again, Casco, Utrecht
Work Title Situation #3, Work Space Brussels, Brussels
I wish I never kissed that frog, Jeanine Hofland gallery, Amsterdam. Click here
Art Brussels, represented by Jeanine Hofland gallery, Brussels
Art Rotterdam, represented by Jeanine Hofland gallery , Rotterdam
Unfair,  Amsterdam. Click here
Matea Bakula (Solo), GAVU, Cheb. Click here
Started, Czech Centres, Prague
Start Point Prize, Arti et Amacetiae, Amsterdam. Click here
We Know This Much, Space Untitled, Maarssen
Start Point Prize, KASK, Ghent
The Artist As Producer, Bewaerschole, Burgh
Start Point Prize, Dox, Prague. Click here
Best Of Graduates Exhibitions, Ron Mandos, Amsterdam. Click here
Exposure, HKU, Utrecht. Click here
Formal Attire, Kunstpodium T, Tilburg. Click here

Prizes  / Honorable Mentions / Nominations / Funds 
Nominated for the K.F.Hein stipend. Click here
Nominated for NN group art award, Art Rotterdam, Rotterdam. Click here
Project investment awarded by Mondrian fund
Project investment award by Gerbrandy culture fund. Click here
Interest free loan awarded from Fonds Kwadraat
Werkbijdrage Jong Talent awarderd by Mondrian fund
Prize winner, Startpoint Prize: Best European Emerging Artist, Prague


Selection of publications 
Palet Magazine
Between grace and fury, made possible by Kunstvereniging Diepenheim
Mister Motley. Click here 
Tijdschrift Ei #46. Click here
Matea Bakula, made possible by GAVU Cheb & Start Point Prize
Startpoint Prize Catalogue 2013 

Residency @ atelier KANS with Nick Steur, made possible by SoAP Maastricht, Brussels
KAMEN artist residency, Orah. Click here
Startpoint Prize Emerging Artist Residency, Prague

2015 -2017
Member @ Das Spectrum, Utrecht
2013 - 2014
Committee member, Foundation AAN: Platform for starting artists, Utrecht

Works and lives in Utrecht. Born in Sarajevo, 1990.

0031 (0) 637401180