In 1987, the British illustrator Martin Handford published a book called Where’s Wally? It became an overnight success, mostly because of its upbeat cartoonish but richly detailed drawings of frantic large crowds. Finding Wally, a boy dressed in a red-and-white shirt, was just an excuse to take in the recognizable stories and picturesque little scenes that were there among the crowd.
In much the same way, Where is Rolly? by Messgewand and Robuche is not about finding one ultimate artwork or aesthetic feature among the richly detailed multiplicity and inventive multitude of sculptural objects, paintings, plastic banners, collages and other things scattered throughout the gallery. It is not about Rolly. It is not about finding aesthetic unity. Instead, it is about immersing oneself in the unique multiplicity of an artistic universe that was carefully crafted through an intense collaboration between two artistic duo’s that pleasantly disregard the boundaries between different disciplines.
Strolling through the exhibition, the visitor can ferret through fragments of the creative world of Robuche and Messgewand. The room is filled with works that move between pop cultural quips and subtle surrealist sleights at lightning speed. And with seeming ease, the sculptural objects and sculptural paintings combine wildly diverging production methods like laser cutting, brightly colored plexiglass, and enamel clay. Each painting in Where is Rolly? has its own surreal twist; many of the sculptural collages featured in the exhibition are based around functional objects that have led an entire life before they were discarded, thrown out with the garbage or sold on an actual flea market, and salvaged by Messgewand and Robuche to figure prominently in their work.
Because of the way different works are connected and refer back to each other, the entire gallery becomes like a hall of mirrors. A close-up from a sculptural collage re-appears in a painting, which in turn is taken as the basis for another sculpture. But unlike a hall of mirrors, the artistic universe of Robuche and Messgewand does not function like a closed system. Quite the contrary. Thanks to the found objects that they work with, the outside world and everyday lived reality take on center stage in their work and production method.
These objects are found on the streets, in charity shops or in abandoned spaces. They are disassembled, reworked and recombined with parts from objects that embody a completely different style or era. Playfully pimped with paint, held together through layers of foam, plastic, and vintage stickers, the sculptural collage that thus emerges tells not one but many tales. Combined with paintings in which these sculptural collage reappear, the universe that Robuche and Messgewand create opens onto a myriad of other universes and experiences, all taken from the objects and their former life. And in that sense, rather than being salvaged objects from a distant past, these sculptural collages and painterly sculptures are a vision of the future; a future that the artistic universe of Messgewand and Robuche prefigures with effortless joy.
Text by Bram Ieven