1984. That’s when it all began. Andreas Slominski saw in an animal trap a sculpture. Since then, the acclaimed German artist has been exhibiting an enormous variety of traps that he’s designed to capture almost every living creature that can walk or fly, crawl or run. Domestic or wild, no one is safe: a bird, a badger; a deer, a dog; a hyena, a hamster; a monkey, a mouse, or even a gnat.
“To use a Rembrandt as an ironing-board.” That’s the analogy the associate director of New York’s New Museum and recently named curator of the 2013 Venice Biennial, Massimiliano Gioni, used to describe Slominski’s sculpture-traps. “They are works of art pretending to be common objects, only to finally become art again.” But something seems to be amiss; an ironing board has never (at least to my knowledge) killed anyone.
Slominski’s early metal traps-cum-sculptures look, at a glance, like they could have given those stalwart manufacturers of live animal traps a run for their money. In fact his traps were no new competition because in reality they already were the competition; the traps actually came from a hardware store. It seems the sculptor took the concept of ‘found objects’ as an excuse to go shopping. He saw, he purchased, he placed them in art galleries. Other traps of his, however, appear to have ended up in the wrong epoch; they’re more akin to the wooden traps that our forebears (at least here in the U.S.) sat by the fire on winter evenings and hammered together. But apparently as Slominski became more preoccupied with his concept of ‘traps as sculptures’ or ‘sculptures as traps,’ he wanted to ‘build a better mousetrap.’ He sought his own designs, made his own constructions that often look like hybrids of industrial parts, a top of a car with wired mesh for its windows, a vacuum cleaner with a sliding door. Little by little his imagery has blackened, his traps have become far more lethal: nooses, tripwires, and netting; spikes, and snares. The critics gush about their aesthetic appeal, but all I can see is how—his dealers assure us the traps really do work—they maim and murder.
But once in a while Slominski lets a little light through—as in his sculpture of a wooden saxophone with a hole at the base, his trap for a mouse—but not for long. The metal tubes running up the sides of the sax, springs undoubtedly attached, suggest something menacing awaits the small rodent once he’s been lured inside. All very depressing when you think of the sculpture’s name Saxophone for Mice and the lyrical notes it implies. As a piece of art, it’s starting to feel slightly convoluted, stuck back in the dark. The work is now a musical instrument as trap as art as grim narrative. I can almost see brothers Jacob and Wilhem smiling.
(Image by Hanneorla: Saxophon für Mäuse/ Saxophone for Mice by Andreas Slominski, 2002, from “The Roter Sand Lighthouse and a Stroke Luck,” exhibition, 2006-2007, Museum of Modern Art, Frankfurt am Main, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)