Michelle Harder

Exuvie, 2021
Space installation
Topsoil, clay, branches
800 x 620 cm
Courtesy the artist

Michelle Harder’s work emerges at the intersection of sculpture, installation and performance. Here, clay is her central material. In a long search process, she chose six tonnes of excavated earth from the region around Limburg and had it brought to the premises of the Frankfurter Kunstverein. The loamy composition was a prerequisite for carrying out her sculptural work. In a concentrated physical process, Harder mixes the clay with water, compacing and moulding it again and again into a plastic and elastic mass, which she fits into hollow moulds.

Harder works with plaster casts of her own body. In a previous process, she bandaged parts of her own body with plaster-soaked gauze, awaiting the hardening of the material, and then releasing herself from it. From the resulting shells, she creates two-part hollow bodies as negative moulds for her sculptures. She presses rolled-out clay mass into these and allows it to dry before carefully removing it. Sometimes the fragile form breaks in the process.

In the exhibition space, Harder has created a landscape of mounds of earth from which she lets the created body fragments grow. From the clay soil, which the artist calls topsoil – in German, Mutterboden, the moulds of her own body emerge like a seed. The artist rearranges the fragmentary body sculptures, forming constellations of recognisable parts and skin envelopes that become one with the natural soil.

In its moulding, the artist’s own body gives form to a hardened surface, a hollow and fragile form that remains after the artistic creative process. It is the relic of a vital process, like an insect or reptile’s shed skin. The shape remains and bears witness to a body that has left behind the exterior and begun a new life cycle. The exuvia of a being, the plastic memory of what it was before and out of which it has grown. A transformation has taken place and a new phase begins. The cycle of life and matter starts anew, temporarily taking on a form and passing away again.

The fragility of the clay forms is an essential component of Harder’s artistic work. She exposes the sculptures to external influences and knows that the forms might break at any time. The installation itself was created for the duration of the exhibition. Temporarily removed from the natural cycle of life, the soil will be returned to it after the exhibition.

Michelle Harder (*1995, Stuttgart, DE) lives and works in Offenbach am Main (DE). Before she started her studies at the University of Art and Design in Offenbach (DE) with Prof. Heiner Blum and Prof. Heike Schuppelius in 2015, she completed a state approved ballet dancer training in 2009. Her sculptural works deal with questions of corporeality and identity. In 2020 she was a one-year scholarship holder of the Künstlerhilfe Frankfurt (DE). The artist has exhibited with the following institutions (selection): Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main (DE), Zollamt Galerie, Offenbach am Main (DE), Hafenhallen, Offenbach am Main (DE), Kappus Seifenfabrik, Offenbach am Main (DE).