‘And pull yesterday into today’: Heide Bucher exhibition at MCAD Manila


IN HER writings, Swiss artist Heidi Bucher would talk about looking at the interiors of a room, touching the items and observing them and wrapping them in gauze, all an act of “listening carefully.”

Human interiority as seen in fabric, clothing, and physical space is the crux of “And pull yesterday into today,” a selection of Ms. Bucher’s oeuvre on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) in Manila. In collaboration with the Estate of Heidi Bucher, her textiles, “skinnings,” sketches, and wearable body sculptures were either flown in or reproduced by MCAD for the exhibition.

“She was trained as a dressmaker and went to an arts and crafts school in Zurich that was much like Benilde, where she learned textile design and fashion. She worked with fabric and the human body at a point when minimalism and conceptualism were at their height, so she was a late discovery because her work was so female and so outside of what was happening at that moment that she was never looked at properly,” said Joselina Cruz, director and curator of MCAD.

Ms. Bucher’s practice, spanning the 1960s to the ’80s, encompassed drawings, sculptures, installations, architecture, and collaborative performances, resisting the categorization of artistic disciplines. “It’s a perfect anchor for the Benilde Open Design and Art (grants exhibit), which thematically explores the curious mindset in celebration of the college’s 35th anniversary,” Ms. Cruz said.

“There’s liquid latex, silk collages, repurposing of her own clothes. It’s astonishing for Heidi to have this body of work for that time and important for students of an arts school to see,” she added.

INTERPLAY OF ART, CLOTHING, PERFORMANCEHeidi Bucher’s many artistic intersections range from textiles used as architecture, to interiors displayed in the air, to sculptures be coming performances — all now in Manila for the last stop of the Asian tour of her oeuvre before going back to Zurich.

One of the most notable are the genderless body sculptures Bodyshells and Bodywrappings, which emerged in California in the early 1970s.

Both on display and free to touch — and even wear — by the public, they come to life thanks to students from the Benilde Dance Program, who occasionally put on the peculiar objects in a performance. As pale as the moon and as overwhelming to wear as they are to look at, they appear like bells or even vases, with the people inside tentatively and slowly stepping to balance and express themselves through movement.

Indigo and Mayo Bucher, Heidi Bucher’s sons who were in Manila to give a talk on their mother’s work, explained that her experience and experimentation with textiles and art naturally led her to these designs.

“People ask us how she must have thought of these things. She didn’t think of it; she just did it,” Indigo Bucher told BusinessWorld. “These figures she designed came about because she was a tailor [who was] also passionate about art, so it was a natural development for her.”

Perhaps the most fascinating example of Ms. Bucher’s exploration of the human body’s tension with its surrounding space are her “skinnings,” made from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. The ceiling of MCAD’s spacious gallery is now home to one such cast of a room’s interior, namely the office of Dr. Binswanger at the Bellevue Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, “skinned” in 1988.

Ms. Cruz explained Ms. Bucher’s elaborate process: “She put gauze on the walls, applied liquid latex, then pulled them out, which would then be documented on video. It’s fantastic to think of how she achieved materiality, performance, and video documentation in one fell swoop.”

The result, now hanging from the museum’s ceiling like a decayed ghost, is a display of how fleeting physical architecture can be, while also preserving the architecture of the memory of the space. The video projected on the wall shows how Ms. Bucher struggled to figure out the great fabric skinned from the room, akin to her own struggle against the artistic movements of the time.

“It’s an interesting piece because it’s the room where the first psychotherapy session happened, a space hidden from the public. Often her ‘skinnings’ are of domestic rooms, prisons, her father’s ‘gentleman’s study’ where women were not allowed. It’s a body of work emblematic of the human interiority Heidi sought to capture,” Ms. Cruz said.

She added that bringing the work to a school of art and design is a great way to show how one can experiment and cut across disciplines. Indigo Bucher said the same thing, of how the estate bringing the works all over the world is an act of “passing information and giving opportunities to students of today.”

The title of Ms. Bucher’s exhibition says it all, taken from her writings about how looking at the surface of rooms and covering them, coating them, can reveal so much: “What has been lived, what has passed, gets caught in the cloth and remains hanging. We slowly loosen the layers of rubber, the skin, and pull yesterday into today.”

“And pull yesterday into today” is on view at MCAD Manila, at the ground floor of the Benilde Design + Arts Campus, until Aug. 18. It is free and available to the public. — Brontë H. Lacsamana