When the carnival leaves town there's usually a muddy, rubbish-strewn lot left in its wake. Similarly, when Sigalit Landau decamped at Thread Waxing Space she left behind a gooey, colourful mess in its cavernous interior.
Multi-layered and obsessive, Landau's installation/performance left no corner of the gallery unmolested. Creating an ambience that was equal parts side-show, factory, dorm room, haunted house and laboratory, the artist inhabited the space for the five weeks of the show - a futon and blankets occupied a nook high up in one of the walls. Constructing a wide spiral ramp from the gallery entrance that circled a three-metre high pit, Landau toiled thigh-deep in three tonnes of granulated sugar. Sometimes nude, sometimes wearing bikini bottoms and a sheer white lab-coat, her blonde hair stood in sugar-coated stalagmites upon her head, and industrial-strength goggles covered her eyes. She hefted scoops of sugar into a large candy-floss maker that was attached to a central pole, and methodically wove a nest of toxic pinks and fluorescent blues around herself. In a Sisyphean dumb-show, huge fans mounted behind the machine blew fine strands of spun sugar into the air, where they collided with the edges of the pit and occasionally wafted over, attacking bystanders who had no choice but to chew their way out. Ever friendly, Landau encouraged others to strip and join her. There was a make-shift shower - a hose on a fire-escape - that they were welcome to use, but few seemed game. Yet, almost everyone carried away souvenirs of their encounter, candy-floss on their shoes or in their hair or in their stomachs, unwittingly bearing Landau's work to various points unknown. Thus, like some otherworldly, parasitic life-form, this covert confection ended up insinuating itself in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people's homes. The fact that Landau's inquiry concerns the very nature of home and territory, transience and borders, made this culmination all the sweeter.
Working from the outside in, Landau sets up activities that are improvisational, unwieldy and irresolute. Driving the mechanisms of capitalism - production, distribution and consumption - to a feverish, sickening pitch, she rejects the tidily-packaged, bite-sized morsels of concept-lite contemporary art found in most galleries and museums. Landau's work is 100% by-product. Pure fluff. Tasty, messy and generally not good for you. Once inside, it rots your teeth and rots your home. Significantly, her installation of fungus-infected mouse-pads at the Israel Museum had to be hermetically sealed for fear of contaminating both other artworks and the Museum itself.
Intent on carving out a niche for herself, Landau gravitates towards rotten constructions and neglected spaces. Border towns, back woods, garages, basements, sheds, squats, cabins, igloos, tents and alleys are the preferred settings for her cast of stowaways, nomads, gypsies, gamins, mercenaries and vagabonds. Most comfortable occupying peripheral, often abject spaces, she makes her bed wherever she finds herself, and her sculptures often take the form of temporary, ramshackle shelters constructed from old furniture, industrial scrap and unstable materials. For Many Scratched Doors (1994) she burrowed through a stack of 14 doors leaving a large gaping hole. One thinks of Kaspar Hauser or the hapless scientist in the various film versions of The Fly, trapped in their respective cellars, attempting to claw their way free. Landau's art is constantly on the move, even if those movements are circular, as in an early work where she formed a large ring out of barbed-wire and hula-hooped with it in the desert south of Tel Aviv.
Anti-authoritarian without being reductive, Landau embraces the abject with a sense of humour and wonder, her subversiveness all the more wicked for its easy-going attitude. Pleasure-filled and sugar-coated, her art consistently builds upon narratives and myths, rewriting fables for post-modernity. In Somnabulin/Bauchaus (2000), for example, Hans Christian Anderson's Match-Stick Girl was the starting point for a sentimental journey in which Landau transformed a cement truck into a huge, mobile music box. Perhaps her most poignant work, Landau has driven the truck around south-west England and in the Mannheim-Heidelberg area of Germany, handing out ice lollies shaped like the dead and frozen body of Anderson's doe-eyed urchin to people on the street. Making accomplices (and cannibals) of us all, in her witty public offering Landau ultimately reflects on the art world's voracious appetite for fresh fare.
First published in Issue 62