But other works strike an eerier note, evoking sections of the anatomy — like windpipes or knee joints — or its supports, like prostheses and dental retainers. (The references could also be to buildings and their scaffolding, or infrastructure like heating ducts.) She does not hide the metal hooks, joints, pins or fasteners that connect the sections of a sculpture; they are part of the work, drawing attention to the fragility of the composition — or its resilience. Often the pieces seem to embrace each other.
By shifting attention, through the mechanics of the sculptures, to the mechanics of bodies or systems, Baghramian diverges from the pursuit, in much of abstraction, of form for its own sake. “Rather than defying use per se, Baghramian’s works ultimately defy us,” the critic Kerstin Stakemeier wrote in Artforum.
Or as Paulina Pobocha, associate curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA, put it, Baghramian’s human and social metaphors were “expanding the Modernist tradition of sculpture by allowing conceptual considerations in through the back door.”
Lately Baghramian has been working with cast aluminum. “It’s very different from bronze,” she told me. “It melts faster, it’s friendlier for producers.” She has honed a process that roughens the finished surfaces and makes them mottled or wrinkled.
She explained the method: First she cuts shapes out in polystyrene foam. Then she slices, scrapes and burns the foam — a vigorous, almost violent process — to produce an uneven surface. These shapes are then cast by packing them in sand; molten aluminum is poured on, which vaporized the foam and assumes its shape. The technique is hard to control, which she welcomes. “It’s rough, and I like that,” she said. “It’s as if the material still has a say.”
If she could, Baghramian added, she would challenge the idea of dimensionality itself. “A vertical swimming pool doesn’t exist, but I would like to swim in it,” she said. “There’s no such thing as a horizontal staircase — but I would like to imagine it.”