Sculpture is one of the most fascinating and expressively striking forms of visual art, and in recent years an increasing number of artists have been focusing upon dementia - and issues deriving from the condition - as the subject matter of provocative and stimulating new works. Just as understanding the disorder presents a very specific range of challenges for scientists and health professionals, so too have visual artists been working diligently to articulate the ways in which dementia influences and changes the lives of those affected by it.
Dementia (2013) is the title of an inspiring sculpture created by Karoline Hinz, a renowned Berlin-based designer, installation artist and set decorator. Crafted from plaster and amethyst, the piece depicts the head of an androgynous human being with the rear of the cranium strategically carved away and replaced by a concave quartz-like formation. The graduated purple of the amethyst, ranging from deep hues to lighter tones, forms a daring tonal contrast with the dull off-white of the plaster, provoking the spectator to take notice of the immediacy that is suggested by its sheer visual incongruity. From a frontal elevation, the portrait of the subject appears completely innocuous; only by viewing from the side or rear can the work’s true effect be fully appreciated.
Hinz’s piece is an arresting example of artwork which subverts expectation. A number of sculptures depicting the symptoms of dementia have, in the past, laid particular emphasis on what is missing - part of a head, specifically the exposed cerebral cortex and/or skull, removed or torn away to indicate a loss of brain function and practical ability. However, Dementia differs from this trend in that it posits not simply depletion but rather a subsequent alteration of normative state. The complex mineral formation of the amethyst is suggestive of a radical shift in both thought and attitude - both for the person who is host to the dementia, and for the audience who are viewing the sculpture and considering the multifarious ramifications that it suggests.
Dementia challenges the spectator to move beyond any preconceptions they may have about the condition. Hinz takes great care to ensure that the amethyst content of the sculpture is contained entirely within the plaster of the head construct, thus making the point that the change wrought by dementia is taking place within the body and mind rather than being outwardly visible. In so doing, she underscores not just the transmutational characteristics of mental illness generally, but also confronts her audience with the fact that dementia - and numerous other disorders of a similar nature - is a disorder not always engaged with directly by society at large, meaning that its effects are so often concealed in a manner which can become damaging and stigma-inducing. Clearly intended to dispute these misconceptions, the piece’s stimulating, even angry nature is difficult to ignore.
The artist has explored mental states in her work to great effect, not least in the remarkable Coma (2014), a brass and plaster sculpture which features a Bonsai tree growing in fertile soil within a wireframe construction forming the upper two-thirds of a human head. They form part of a series of works which Hinz intends to depict health issues which are not perceptibly apparent to the naked eye. With Dementia, she presents a piece of artwork which demands attention just as it entreats its viewers to consider carefully their individual presumptions about the condition and those whose lives have been touched by it. The sculpture may be elaborate in its execution, but the persuasive message that it conveys is both powerful and crystal clear.
Dementia is featured on Karoline Hinz’s official website, which can be found at: http://karolinehinz.com/dementia/
*Photography copyright Karoline Hinz (https://www.behance.net/gallery/8453621/DEMENTIA)