At first glance, Silvia Hatzl's exhibits appear as ordinary clothes - a blouse here, a negligee there, a child's dress, a long skirt - not surprising as this 46-year-old German artist designs stage costumes in Brussels where she now lives. There's a definite theatricality about the whole exhibition that is displayed across 3,000 square feet of gallery space. Yet as her sculptures, as she calls them, draw you in, you see that these "clothes" have a high degree of transparency and, through sympathetic lighting, translucence. Touch them and they feel almost like paper.
They are worked from delicate materials - rabbit skin, cotton, silk, paper, even animal intestines, an idea she got from cooking. "My works," say the artist, "are born through a series of stages, most of them sensual; touching, smelling, finding, joining, forming impregnating, pigmenting, painting, moulding, scratching, stretching, drying, heating, burning and shaping. In other words, a hell of a lot of work. Together, and singularly, they represent life's brittleness, our fragile existence.
"For me my sculptures are not clothes but a second skin in the sense they are a kind of bond between the interior of our being and the exterior," she tells me. "They contain all the scars of our lives which we all bear to various degrees." The natural creases and lines in the material represent these scars. Most of the exhibits are cream-coloured though others are speckled with rust or pigment.
There are heads and busts on show too - the first time the latter have been exhibited. They too convey this fragility through their grey, threadbare appearance, marks and holes left in them. Gallery owner Ian Rosenfeld remarks, "These heads are made of natural materials that weigh nothing, yet the intensity of work that has gone into them is enormous. Silvia has created an illusion of weight intensity that, like a human being itself, is made up of a lot of work yet remains fragile.
This is an exhibition quite unlike anything I've encountered before. There's a kind of ghostliness about these transparent clothes, as if somehow whoever might have worn them has left; a soul perhaps. As Ian Rosenfeld puts it, "We reflect on our own ultimate fragility in the world, not merely the physical but far more profoundly, the emotional." These works have a fragile beauty.
Silvia Hatzl: A Fragile Existence is showing at the Rosenfeld Porcini Gallery, 37 Rathbone Street, London W1T 1NZ 18 January - 7 March 2013.