Page 1


“Luke...” “Ben?” “You will go to the Dagobah system.” “Dagobah system?” “There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me.” As Luke Skywalker descends onto planet Dagobah with his XWing, Adrian Searle of planet Earth, critic for the Guardian newspaper, gets ready to interview Thomas Schütte. Luke Skywalker, instructed by a near-death hallucination of his deceased mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi after fighting an ice monster on planet Hoth, is looking for an old Jedi Master named Yoda, who will teach Luke to be a Jedi himself. Adrian Searle is looking for no such induction into the mystical powers, but is more interested in enquiring how Thomas Schütte came to manifest the art he is currently exhibiting in the Serpentine Gallery London, in November 2012. Both Yoda and Thomas Schütte only very reluctantly reveal themselves as what they signify. Thomas Schütte, a successful German sculptor of figurative art, is sitting on a bench in Kensington Gardens identifying himself as a practitioner who works 'to kill time'. Yoda, once the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy, now lives in exile on a swampy planet that no one has ever heard of. His home is a shelter not dissimilar to a hollowed out ant-hill located near a cave teeming with dark force energy. He has not done anything in particular over the last 20 years. However, if the swampy wasteland of Dagobah had an art market, Yoda's sculptures would not look unlike Thomas Schütte's current exhibition of ‘Faces and Figures’. Instead of occupying the Serpentine Gallery, Yoda could show his work in the neighbouring dark musky caves in which Luke Skywalker will later behead a vision of Darth Vader (who turns

out to be Luke himself in case we have not understood the oedipal undertones of the Star Wars saga yet). Yoda's iteration of "Always two there are. No more no less," becomes reality in Schütte's bronze versions of 'United Enemies', tied together in a struggle for power over each other outside the Serpentine Gallery. These gigantic bronzes have their origins in smaller work, with their faces made out of Fimo stuck on a stick with a piece of fabric draped around it, reminding the viewer suspiciously of the Jedis and their counter-cult, the Sith Knights – galactic warriors in bathrobelike attire. One apprentice, one master. One destined to kill the other to establish the survivor's hunger for power was greater than the perished one's. Inside the gallery there are more bronzes: face portraits mounted on the walls just underneath the ceiling looking down on the viewer – hairless, with distorted faces, not too unlike Mace Windu's face after being flung from a Coruscant skyscraper by a Sith Lord whose head is also terribly distorted, or Anakin Skywalker's head, burnt from the lava of Planet Mustafar, after his older master-now-turned-rival Obi-Wan gained the 'high-ground' on him. In the middle of it all a giant bronze, Father State, double the height of a mere human, and above that titan a council of Jedis, framing the back of Father State's head like a plasticinefaced halo. Most of these figures neither have any visible arms nor hands, as if they had lost their limbs in a lightsaber fight – a theme dominating the whole Star Wars saga, in which around 15 limbs get severed from humanoid and android bodies throughout the movies. Another common theme in both the Star Wars Saga and the Faces and Figures exhibition is the abundance of Fathers. The Star Wars saga opens with the distinct non-existence of a father, as Qui-Gon Jinn reveals that Anakin Skywalker was immaculately conceived through a “convergence of the force.” Qui-Gon then goes on to take up the role of Anakin’s first father figure, yet is quickly killed off by the demon-creature Darth Maul, himself the son to a yet unknown dark father. ObiWan Kenobi replaces Qui-Gon as a brotherly father figure,

teamed up with Master Yoda who is acting as the more restrictive and stern patriarch. Chancellor Palpatine also takes part in Anakin’s extended family structure as the paternal figure preaching unrestricted application of the son’s abundant youthful power and prowess. As Anakin grows older, structures are changing rapidly as ObiWan becomes the rival brother whom Anakin tries to overcome. Chancellor Palpatine, now known as the dark Sith Lord Darth Sidious, reveals himself as Darth Maul’s father and vies to become Anakin's true and only patron, whilst Anakin loses his family ties to both the brother and the rather disappointed father Master Yoda. He is now ready to be reborn as Darth Vader, reinstituted as half-man-half-machine by Darth Sidious, and then goes on to kill his own son's, i.e. Luke Skywalker’s, father figure on the sand planet Hoth: Owen Lars gets killed by Stormtroopers under the command of Darth Vader, then Darth Vader finally gets to have his revenge on his brother/rival Obi-Wan by swiping through him with his lightsaber. Obi-Wan then becomes the ghostly father figure to Luke Skywalker, sending him off to a swamp planet to meet another of Anakin's former figures of authority: Master Yoda. After Yoda dies of age on his lonely swamp planet, Luke is then sent to confront his father, Anakin. Rather than killing him, Luke convinces his father that he still is a good person, despite committing genocide on a planetary scale, so instead of throwing his own son into a bottomless pit, he turns to his ersatz-father, Darth Sidious, the most powerful of father figures, who is the current ruler of the Star Wars Galaxy, and throws him down the pit – finally closing the oedipal story arch, and fulf illing the 'prophecy', i.e. bringing balance to the force. Thomas Schütte shows us exactly those same abundance of father figures – figures of actual authority (Darth Sidious/Father State and his clone army – the Innocenti; Master Yoda/Father State and his Jedi Council – the Innocenti) and figures striving for authority (Anakin and Luke Skywalker/ Wichte – Jerks), their faces in agony or distorted by sadness, or at least in some kind of motion, unlike Schütte's depection of women, who all seem to wear the same expressionless mask of dutiful obedience, not too dissimilar to Princess Leia, herself a Jedi, yet not worthy of Master Yoda's training – the

stand-in in case Luke fails on his mission to turn their father back to the light side (which, of course, he succeeds in, meaning that Leia never gets to know Darth Vader is her actual father). Before his death, Darth Vader asks Luke Skywalker to assist him in removing his iconic helmet so he would be able to see his son with his own eyes just once, implying that this would actually shorten Anakin's life, but that the sight of his son with his actual eyes would make this worth it – reinforcing the idea that it is the male face that is worth depicting. Anakin wants to show Luke his true face, not even considering that preserving his life for a bit longer might enable him to see his daughter as well. The female reaction is not worth the wait, as in the end its only expression is of dull dutiful obedience. It comes to no surprise that in one of his architectural models from the 1980s, Thomas Schütte has used two Princess Leia toys and a Spock figure as human stand-ins. Spock, a Vulcan, trained to not feel emotions, and two Leia faces, emotionless as they have no interface with the world. Asked by James Lingwood in 1995 about these figures that started to appear in his sculptures, Thomas Schütte, the naïve sculptor simply replied: “I used figures from Star Wars, because they had the right scale and they were flexible. I just had a man and a woman, nothing else.” (Schütte. 1998) 17 years later, Thomas Schütte sits on a bench with Adrian Searle (2012), stating that he is not into art that works like advertisement, such as products made to spin one’s head with ideology. The viewer is thus supposed to regard Schütte’s faces and figures as material merely made into art pieces without the artist's viewpoint in it, built simply by a bored man with too much time on his weekends: Midi-Chlorians manifesting themselves through a convergence of the force, without judgement or ideology, but still brought into existence somehow, magically maybe, by a Master of the force, whose position in the world is self-evident and safe-guarded from the entertainment junk everyone else seems to have fallen for. And how did he save himself? Through boredom alone. This might explain why, when Thomas Schütte portrays female figures, these women seem dull and detached – wry smiles in

the presence of an artist pushing any bit of contemporary life aside, when all they really want is to watch a Star Wars movie. Instead, he forces them to read Thomas Mann for the 30th time whilst their children are left to play with just two Leia figures and one Spock.

Thomas Schütte <3 Star Wars  

Thomas Schütte's 'Faces and Figures' exhibition in 2012 cement the fact that all of Schütte's work is based on Star Wars.