Ron Mueck and being human

wild man sculpture by ron mueck

What is it about the human body that we find so fascinating? I mean, we’ve all got one, haven’t we? But yet we are drawn to write about it and paint it and sculpt it, exploring it in all the ways we can find. Is there anything new, other than the continued unlocking of why it works, and why some times it doesn’t?

I was pondering this fascination when I caught the Ron Mueck exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria — managed to get in there on the final weekend — and there were all these people, across all ages, milling around both massive and miniature likenesses of other people. These are the ones I remember:

On the small side, there was a dead man laid out in repose; a lad (the only black character in the exhibition) examining a cut to his torso; two old ladies side-eyeing something unseen — maybe us!; a naked man peering curiously ahead from his seat at the front of a full-size rowboat; a man on an inflatable bed in a body of water (he was hanging on a blue wall); and a naked woman carrying a huge bundle of sticks; an old woman curled foetally in bed.

On the large size, there was a naked, hirsute man sitting on a wooden table; a woman lying in bed with the covers drawn up; and a truly spooky baby, blood-smeared and umbilical still attached, one eye a half-slit. Brrrr.

And then there was the ginormous plucked chicken, hanging by its feet, neck opened but as yet ungutted.

The details in all these figures was amazing, from eyes and toes and nails, right down to the texture of skin and veins, pimples and blemishes and wrinkles. And hair. I can’t imagine the time required to implant all that hair, one strand at a time.

Each of these, some more than others, had tales to tell. What were the old women looking at? Does the old woman want to crawl out from under the covers or is she happy to meet the Reaper? Why is the woman still in bed? Why is the wild man naked on the table and why does he look a bit nervous (as if being naked on a table in a room full of strangers isn’t enough)?

Is it these unspoken and unknowable stories that attracts us to these figures? Or is it the simple cleverness of this Australian artist in reproducing our form so accurately? Or is there a lingering suspicion that, that guy there, he could be me…?