MATTERS OF THE ART
From burning rubber to fallen fig leaves — Gibson’s David reforms to reveal Davina
A former F1 chief mechanic’s radical reinterpretation of the famous sculpture is making waves.
A new replica of Michelangelo’s David arrived on the art scene on Friday, 3 November. The statue was unveiled at Britain’s Silverstone Circuit F1 racetrack that evening, with public viewing on Saturday. It has already had some art purists frothing at the mouth, though there have been plaudits galore for a replica that uses space-age material to marry cutting-edge technology and engineering with art, along with a commentary on gender and attitudes to nudity.
It is the latest project of Alastair Gibson, a boykie from Gauteng’s Edenvale who became the chief mechanic for Formula 1 teams Benetton and BAR Honda before, about 20 years ago, leaving to combine his engineering expertise with art.
Carbon fibre and discarded F1 parts, combined with an interest in marine biology, launched this unique project. By 2011, Gibson’s work was being exhibited alongside that of artists such as Damien Hirst at the prestigious London Art Fair.
Marine life such as sharks, rays and piranhas were his first inspiration. He established the now internationally acclaimed Carbon Art studio, which has more than 2,500 artwork sales to its credit. At the same studio, Gibson has a collection of vintage motorcycles, including a 1938 BMW on which, two years ago, on the Bonneville salt flats in the US, he tried to break the world speed record for such modified vintage bikes.
He was inspired to “have a go” after his 2010 redesign and build of the historic 1927 Brough Superior motorcycle for the American Brough company’s speed attempt on the salt flats.
David was a mammoth project made possible with the encouragement of a German art dealer fan who was prepared to stump up more than R7.5-million to cover the cost of the material alone. It comprises 15 individual pieces of shaped carbon fibre, starting with a single foot and ankle, fused together in a seamless finish. The final result was hailed by one commentator as “a triumph of manufacturing innovation”.
It is certainly unlike any of several replicas of the iconic statue (completed in 1504) that have been produced over the years. All were made of plaster and, down to the white, marble-like colour, have been true to the original. The latest is not only true to the original, it is glistening black, and can be revealed as either masculine, feminine (as Davina) or Barbie doll gender neutral, using separate and seamlessly interchangeable magnetised parts.
David can, in fact, become Davina in about two minutes.
“In ancient times there were women warriors too,” says Gibson. “Michelangelo had no idea what this fighter against Goliath looked like. He made him up, so I have shown that David could just as easily have been Davina.”
When Gibson first started on the project more than two years ago, he considered only creating a chest cavity that could be exposed to reveal a purple — “brave” — heart. Then, drawing from his engineered emotive series of works, he introduced two more interchangeable hearts, gold (for purity) and red (for passion).
Sexual identity came to the forefront because of the hypocritical Victorian obsession with nudity and genitalia related specifically to Michelangelo’s David. Hence a green fig leaf that can be attached to the genital area in the three gender transformations. This is because, in 1857, when Queen Victoria viewed the plaster replica in London, she was apparently shocked at the nudity, and so a plaster fig leaf was ordered and attached. It apparently stayed in place until 1953 and is now separately on display in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, alongside the now fully nude plaster replica.
There are no details yet, but it seems that several art galleries in Europe and the US have expressed an interest in displaying the gender-bending replica.
“David and Davina will certainly go on tour,” says Gibson, who carved his first model shark out of balsawood during a holiday in Muizenberg more than 20 years ago. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.