polyurethane, synthetic polymer paint, fiberglass, acrylic hair and eyes
2 parts: 175 × 50 × 25cm; 45 × 30 × 10cm
Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of the Estate of Stephen Birch, 2008
Stephen Birch’s installation Untitled depicts an unusual confrontation between a life-size model of the superhero Spiderman and a worm-like, bearded figure whose atrophied head sits atop an arm-like neck protruding from the gallery wall. It suggests a type of mirroring or inversion, in which a full-bodied superhero – whose potency is exaggerated by his bulging crotch – balances and reflects the portrait of his ‘defective’ and repulsive opposite.
Birch’s Spiderman is a misshapen figure: the costume and role that he now inhabits barely accommodates his imperfections. The encounter between superhero and the aged, bearded mortal raises questions about the similarities between the two – they are constructed opposites inhabiting the same fictional world. In this installation the tension between the superhero and his nemesis is made palpable. The viewer is left to witness a jarring recognition – a scene in which one character is forced to confront himself within the other.
Born 1961, Melbourne. Lived and worked Sydney. Died 2007, Sydney.
Stephen Birch primarily worked in sculpture. He was concerned with developing sculptural language, drawing inspiration from the natural world and figurative tradition to work against the prevailing aesthetic of abstraction. Birch’s sculptures and installations employ everyday forms in an attempt to unsettle our sense of the comfortable or familiar. Playing with scale and context and using a range of materials that draw attention to the production process, his works draw audiences into eerie yet humorous parallel worlds, where linear readings become frustrated and the borders between reality and illusion are blurred.
Towards the end of his life, Birch began to investigate the human form in works that ranged from heads cast from artist colleagues to the figure of Spiderman. The artist distorted the figure, so that it slipped out of direct representation or portraiture and entered into a psychological realm, tapping into repressed fears, desires or anxieties. In the process Birch explored aspects of contemporary life, drawing on popular culture and mass media as well as art and literature. The figure of Spiderman, for example, confronts viewers with a character from our collective imagination which is superhuman yet ordinary, as invented as it is real.
Birch’s work was the subject of a survey exhibition and publication, Looking Out My Back Door, at the MCA, Sydney in 2007. He had solo exhibitions in Sydney, Auckland, Wellington and Melbourne throughout his career.Learn more