Michael Tolloy

Michael Tolloy lives and works in Pfons / Tyrol ( Austria)

2000- 2003  Akademie für Holz und Gestaltung, München

2009- 2012  Fachschule für Holz und Steinbildhauerei, Wien

2016  Ruth- Leibnitz- Preis, Lichtenstein

2016 Europäischer Gestaltungspreis, Karlsruhe

Figures of Stillness

Text: Christiane Dressler, Essen

Courtesy: Galerie Voss

Michael Tolloy’s sculptures are very special types of hybrid beings. On the one hand, they are bound by the art historical tradition, on the other hand, in terms of the content, form and techniques of the use of a traditional sculpture material they articulate a tentative yet purposeful and consistent orientation towards a contemporary image of humanity.

There is an equally consistent focus on this new aspiration in the chronology of the works of this artist, who was born in Innsbruck, in the exhibition at the Galerie Voss. This has been achieved by presenting sculptures, from the last few years, which have engaging aesthetics as well as clear distancing effects. After all, these days, the bundling of these kinds of ambivalences constitutes a key mediation function of art, too.

Proximity and distance, forcefulness and indifference – these are the ambivalent feelings experienced by a viewer encountering Tolloy’s sculptures for the first time. Eyes look at you and through you, whether they are closed, open, or directed to a point in the distance – disconcerting visual axes open up into a distance that you search for, but even when you approach the object you cannot definitively fix your gaze on its content.

At the heart of Michael Tolloy’s works stands the individual depicted as a full body figure, busts, or just the head; some are life size while others are slightly monumentalised. They all keep the viewer at an appropriate distance, they stand like statues and they look silently. Some of them seem unapproachable, proud and archaically superior. Others maintain an unspoiled child-like or youthful expression.

Young women, slender and delicate with fine facial features look questioningly, some slightly invitingly, but all of them are calmly and mutedly elegant. The size of the bodies likewise points to distance; you want to learn more about the depicted figures, their expressions of inwardness and detached reticence. The age and sex are discernible, yet vaguely defined. Details of a naturalistic representation are hinted at but stay isolated in the artistic context so that gestures and emotional expression remain in an undetermined context, in terms of content, and in a wide sculptural surrounding space where they can develop for an indefinite period of time, something which is characteristic of classical sculpture.

The timelessness aspect, in Tolloy’s case, refers both to his commitment to tradition, especially apparent in the use of wood – a material that is frequently artistically underestimated -, and also to a future vision that is undetermined in terms of content. Wood for him is an “unassuming work material” and the “positive core, the soul of my works”. This Tyrolean artist makes explicit use of stone pine, a wood from his home region, of linden wood, a popular material in the Gothic and Renaissance periods and of cypress, with its variety of grain patterns. Depending on the group of works, Tolloy emphasises the characteristics of the material, he allows time for cracks to work and grow deeper, he shapes surface grain patterns with mountain chalk in order to accentuate natural features, he sands wooden surfaces until they are velvety smooth like marble or, using a mixture of nearnatural materials, constructs craggy surface structures that simulate the natural characteristic features of cast material flows and, by doing so, he advances and elevates the traditional hand crafting process.

The works exhibited here show the reverse process. Notches gape like wounds only in individual works, the surfaces are otherwise closed, smoothed and have been polished to a velvety-soft finish, they conceal the materiality or, at most, hint at it through fine almost graphic-looking lines. The viewer moves closer wanting to be certain of the feel of the works, which lucidly shine like porcelain and, in doing so, seem warm as human bodies thus calling into question the artificiality of the material. Art, artificiality, elements of naturalistic design and abstract form enter into an ambiguous symbiosis.

Is the point of this material estrangement merely to mislead the viewer for the purpose of consciousness-raising reflection on a new image of humanity? Is the function of art, artificiality, or even artificial intelligence open for discussion? Some of the objects seem robotic with their cold aesthetics heightened to perfection, the immaculate proportions of the face, the de-individualised bland expression and the ephemeral delicate physicality.

Jaume Plensa’s art objects use different materials but are similar in expression and established on the art market. They are made of glass, steel, polyester, artificial resin and bronze. As monumental heads or in quiescent gestures of retreat and tranquillity they stand silently and singularly; monumentalised in landscapes and urban spaces they denote islands of inner peace and create places of spiritual contemplation. They stoically urge a temporary withdrawal from the urban hustle and bustle and invite you to pause; they connect unspoilt nature with open space.

These are works that evoke spirituality, beauty and perfection as the human habitus, as a postulate and human potential and, in that respect, they are close to Tolloy’s intention. “In a very noisy world, silence should be produced”, is how Plensa formulates one of his most pressing artistic concerns.

Michael Tolloy’s art likewise invites you to pause, it is reminiscent of quiet dialogue and urges introspection in times of social turbulence. “Perhaps I can contribute something towards harmonious coexistence”, he says laconically.

His art can certainly raise awareness – for a concentrated look inside ourselves in a world where there is an over-abundance of outward appearances.