Material/Technique: Lacquered bronze casting
Dimensions: 283 x 175 x 178 cm.
The shell was produced for the niche on the south-western corner of the Asklepios 8, the building on the Rhine designed by Herzog & de Meuron. It was cast in bronze at the St.Gallen art foundry and then coated in a light green lacquer with a conspicuously matte finish, a device the artist consistently uses to eliminate any reflections or mirroring. It is placed four meters above the Rhine and can already be seen from afar, from boats passing by on the river or when standing on the Dreirosen Bridge. Due to its bright and luminous green color and its disturbingly toothy opening, it creates an exciting contrast to the formal design of building.
The cowrie shell also makes many references to the history of civilisation. They are found as grave goods in Neolithic graves in Eurasia and Africa. In the 6th century they circulated throughout Europe via water trade routes and served as currency, as jewelry, or as a symbol of female fertility. Furthermore, they were worn as amulets against the evil eye and inserted as eyes in the fetish figures of Oceania. Among other things, the cowrie shells ultimately represent the yearning and desire for the sea, and one might ask oneself if it produces sounds when the wind whistles through it.
The artist has cleverly played with the multiple meanings and interpretations of the cowrie shell, placing it in a spot that was previously an important Celtic settlement and looking directly down upon the Rhine, one of the most important water trade route in Europe.
Katharina Fritsch (Essen 1956-) is a contemporary German sculptor. She first studied history and art history at the University of Münster and later transferred to Kunstakademie Düsseldorf where she graduated in 1984. She represented Germany at the 1995 Venice Biennale. In 2013, her giant statue of a Hahn/Cock occupied Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth in London, sparking both controversy and renewed interest in her art. Fritsch’s work is included in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and has been the subject of solo exhibitions at White Cube in London, the Gwangju Museum of Art, and the Tate Modern, among others.
Her work mixes reality with imagination to create surreal imagery that contract reality and fantasy through her large-scale monochromatic sculptures of animals, people, and objects. Her works' iconography is inspired from many different sources, including Christianity, art history, fairy tales, fables and popular folklore.
In her working process, Fritsch combines the techniques of traditional sculpture with those of industrial production. She uses models to create moulds, from which the final sculptures are cast in materials such as plaster, polyester and aluminum. As in the case of Novartis, many sculptures are realized as editions, meaning that multiple casts are taken from one mould. The attention that Fritsch pays to the surfaces of the sculptures, and to their colour, scale, and the space in which they are presented creates a strange tension between the familiar and the uncanny.