Sculpting lines, opening up space

Do we really know what iron is? How many centuries of invention and manual intelligence were needed to discover, isolate and extract the ore, then succeed in producing these blocks of iron and steel in forges like the one at Buffon near Montbard in the 18th century, using blast furnaces that were as architecturally splendid as they were technically efficient? From the mythological workshops of the Greek god Hephaestus to the ultra-technological steelworks currently producing millions of tons per year, a whole human phantasmagoria accompanies the different moments of this progressive work, of this artisanal and industrial manufacture where a series of human experiences are condensed in the four dimensions of our being, the body, the heart, the intelligence and the soul. As strange, even foreign to our humanity, as it may seem in its rusty colour, in its hardness, in its weight, metal is, obscurely, our neighbour, our brother.

Metal is a brother whose companionship does us good. In an age where the virtual has become all too familiar, where the concept often replaces the real presence, it is good to contemplate the worn side of a supertanker that has braved the oceans, or to follow with one’s gaze the immense bars of a golden gate spanning some immense void. At the heart of the lines drawing the improbable polyhedra sculpted by Robert Schad, we discover something of the secret of our being, in the quest for balance, no doubt, in the tension where antagonistic forces that cancel each other out by adding up are resolved. The heaviest alone goes to attack the void, this is a fact of experience, counter-intuitive perhaps but verified many times. Weight, in these compositions of steel bars of section 10 by 10 cm, is no longer a gravity that pins us to the ground. Where the lightness of a feather or straw would not lift us, the mass of the metal leads us safely, becoming a necessary condition for the stature of these three-dimensional drawings in space.

I call Robert Schad’s sculptures, these calligraphies in metal, statures. Their abstraction, their emptiness, distinguish them from the usual statues with masses of stone, earth or bronze, but like them they have the outstanding quality of standing in space like choreographed human bodies. Robert Schad’s abstract compositions, in the energy of their composition (structure ?), are real suspended bodies in motion. The limbs, the bars, skilfully assembled, dance to the very rhythm of their composition. An essential movement permeates their being, which is static only in appearance. You have to have experienced, as I had the pleasure of doing for the exhibition Inventing singular worlds at the Caillebotte estate in Yerres in 2011, the installation of a work by Robert Schad to understand that his sculptures, even if they require powerful trucks to transport them and solid cranes to erect them, are in no way technological objects like the frightening colossal robot in the 1927 film Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Each composition reveals itself as a singular poetic creature that invites us to engage in a joyful and cheerful dance with it. The installation on site is based on the minute subtlety of the vertical positioning in the site, on the way the silhouette is cut out of the architecture or the world of trees of the place. A dialogue is established, as all dance is a dialogue, a body to body from which a heart to heart is born which blossoms into a breath of soul to soul. The metal forged by Hephaestus – who was precisely the husband of the desirable Aphrodite, the goddess of love – mysteriously leads to the sweet commerce of bodies and souls. ¨I am looking for notes that love each other¨, said the young Mozart. Robert Schad uses the term ¨families of sculptures¨ which travel together, are exhibited in company and are in harmony, complementing each other in our view and understanding of his work. The vertical composition of this Signal deployed in height is associated with the horizontality of a KNOX or a BORNI.

And the relationship to the site, clearly distinct from the contemporary practice of the in situ of a Daniel Buren, is the result of an alchemy that can be summarised by a singular mathematical formula: 1+1 = 3. A site and a sculpture do not make a simple additional composition but a new reality, which has a provisional life of a few months. This makes it possible to understand the extensive undertakings in Linz in 2013, in Brittany in 2016, in Metz and Saarlouis in 2018, in Upper Swabia in 2019, in Bremen in 2020, and in many other places where these nomadic sculpture theories have, for a time, settled far from their place of origin, Larians or Portugal. And we imagine these tangles of steel lines that stop over for a few months in new places, which they inhabit with their ever strange presence. In contrast to the statuomania of the Third Republic, which punctuated Europe with commemorative monuments of stone and bronze destined for a perennial existence but which have become invisible today because of their academicism and blandness, the constellations of lines in space that are the sculpted inventions of Robert Schad aim at no other eternity than that of the living memory in our minds. Today here, tomorrow there, they draw on the surface of our Europe an original cartography that stretches from Germany to Finistère and Portugal, a network of temporary presences whose memory is preserved in photography.

Drawing with steel in space means tracing constellations of energy in the four dimensions of our lives and cities, height, width, depth and, above all, the time that orders the three-dimensionality of measurable space. It is a question of calligraphy in a space where the compositions of lines are constantly initiating new dimensions. From this aesthetic and technical point of view, Robert Schad has nothing in common with Richard Serra or Chillida, who work with volume, in its fullness and surface, and have made the plane and mass the very heart of their formal invention. For him, it is the line, sculpted, assembled, composed, that splits and perforates space with an unparalleled energy. These metal figures, these brothers of steel, take shape and metamorphose according to the modulations of light, in the full clarity of the sun, in the shadow of the evening or the whiteness of the early morning, and invite us to enter into an endless dance. The dance of the living, which never ceases to rise and rise again, to escape the earth’s gravity by their very weight and to raise their matter to the stars. Earthly constellations erected to lead us to the sky. Robert Schad’s sculptures open up an ever-future hollow in space. They lift us up, they familiarise our souls with the softness of the earth, our bodies with the transparency of the heavens.

Paul-Louis Rinuy
Art historian