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Karin Sander

By Keith Miller

D'Amelio Terras


April 1 - May 13, 2000November - 23 December 1998

First Published in ARTPAPERS, July/August 2000

In Karin Sander's show, "1:10", the German artist has filled the gallery with a small city of bases. On top of each stands a single figure protected by a plexiglas vitrine. The 40 figures are all unique and contain the idiosyncrasy appropriate to individual portraiture. The poses are strikingly naturalistic and detailed and each figure is 1/10th life size, or only slightly larger than six inches tall.

Upon close inspection one realizes the figures have tiny cylindrical lines, as if they had been carefully lathed. In fact, they have been fabricated by a process created by the artist combining two processes of industrial design. The figures are 3-D scanned and then carved in an acrylic material with a machine called an extruder in a process which takes up to 40 hours. The figure is then airbrushed by a technician to give natural color.

The exquisite presence of these figures calls to mind plastic toy soldiers with infinitely more individuality and detail. Yet while they are each individual, they end up almost too knowable. There is a bland universality to the portraits. The miniaturized photographic mimesis does not bring out any individuality but instead places them in the open category of 'figures in a room'.

The portrait that comes out of the forty figures is human, particular and strangely troubling. Walking through the forest of little people and bases there is a strange joy as we recognize in them any number of individuals we might know. The soccer player, proudly erect, one foot on his ball; the small boy in baggy yellow checked shorts, standing impishly, almost defiant; the older woman whose gesture reflects her age and timidity.

The virtual nature of these little figures places them in the ambiguous realm between art object, individual and mechanical representation. The result is a mix of seemingly hand-crafted elegance and mechanical virtuosity. Sander has given us the satisfaction of craft while challenging that very idea. She has also given and denied us any real sense of the humanity one might find in portraiture. The technologically advanced process, with which the artist had very little do manually, produces portraits that function as such only in the most distant way. The elements of human portrayal become skewed and the sense is not of probing human psyche but instead toying with the possibilities of technology to push the limits of our definitions of reproduction and sociological categories.

As we come close to the figures and scrutinize their dress, their glasses, their haircut, we are as fetishistically impressed by the tiny lines and the process that gave birth to them as we might be of their human qualities. We see them as belonging to this world of amazing figurines to which they owe their existence. They are individuals and pawns. Sander has put us in the position of enjoying the marvelous quality of the little detailed figures and wondering about their humanity and individuality. It is their individuality that might be shown through the specificity, but instead it seems lost to the multiplicity of the figures, just as one might be lost within any city or mechanized world. The play between the delicacy of the individual figures and the digital/mechanical production method seems poignant, as if to point out the seduction inherent in technologies which at once bring about advances and also dehumanize us. And she has done so in a manner that is both simple and delightful to walk through.