Surreal Clay Sculptures Live Fast, Die Young

Fossil-like characters by Adrián Villar Rojas, referencing everything from Michelangelo’s David to Nirvana’s Kurt, are designed for destruction.

A mummified Kurt Cobain, an angel kissing a rabbit, and a mouse hugging a hiking boot: These are a few subjects of Today We Reboot the Planet, an exhibition of large-scale clay sculptures by Adrián Villar Rojas, on view September 28 at London’s new Serpentine Sackler Gallery.


Upon entering the exhibition–the young Argentine artist’s first in the U.K.–visitors are mooned by a massive clay elephant in downward-dog pose. There’s also a howling monkey with intestinal problems, a collection of shark eggs, various cephelopods, and kissing kittens, modeled after a kitschy knickknack from Rojas’s Buenos Aires apartment. The scene resembles ancient ruins or a post-apocalyptic saga. To make these pieces, Rojas collaborated with a close-knit, nomadic team of builders, sculptors, and engineers in a vast London workshop.

His fossil-like characters are intentionally doomed to deterioration–the clay is never fired in a kiln, and surface cracks are forming already. Soon, they’ll crumble and return to dust. Referencing legends both ancient and modern, from Michelangelo’s David to Nirvana’s Kurt, Rojas’s work comments on the nature of time, the apocalypse, and humanity’s role in the future of our planet. Along with inspirations such as science fiction, quantum mechanics, and comic books, he cites Kurt Cobain as a huge personal influence, and couldn’t imagine excluding him from his attempt to fossilize human culture. Empty water bottles adorn the surreal beige-gray rendition of the rock star’s corpse.

Rojas’s past works include My Dead Family, a 28-meter long sculpture of a whale stranded in a forest, and Before My Birth, eight sculptures installed on the plaza of the World Financial Center, in which apples were embedded in clay and degraded over the exhibit’s duration.

The imaginative and imposing pieces in Today We Reboot the Planet test the limits of the ancient medium of clay. Living fast and dying young, the fact that they’ll soon crumble somehow makes them seem all the more vital.

Today We Reboot the Planet is on view at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until November 10, 2013.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.