(Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, 1992)
Rubber has a lot of give. It is resiliently flexible, yet constricting. The perfect industrial product, it makes for a fetish with bounce. David Liebendorfer stretches, carves and inflates this material with edgy and titillating “mastery” in his body-scaled rubber sculptures currently at The Lab.
Why B’other is an installation of luxuriously, practically lickable finish, and infinite metaphoric possibility. The body’s relationship to fantasy rests precisely on the kind of presences and absences this artist conjures in an imagined tactile rush. For everything visible in Liebendorfer’s sculptures, there is a blatantly seductive lack. This ambiguously yearning and emptied center becomes the space of the pornographic “other” within. Like sculpted wrap-around corset shapes (into which it’s hard to resist projecting your own imagined body), or Japanese-style graphic designs that highlight negative space (springing inside out from his carvings into the wall), these highly subjective yet distancing pieces bristle and ooze throughout the gallery.
Liebendorfer’s thick-cut rubber functions as expensive costume jewelry for the mind. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” for instance, looks like inverted valentines or vampire-orchid/fleur-de-lis. This impossible performance-ware kind of garment is tightly clinched by the knobs of a telephone receiver and suggestively dangling cords in front. “Four Men Playing Together” at first glance appears to be a sumptuous chunk of club-shaped card-game outlines constellated around an orange traffic safety cone protruding through the center of the piece and out from the wall. But then heart-shaped butts rearing toward the stiff bright center beckons and calibrates. Engorged with sex-magic red and black, the piece mirrors “Benwah Rosary” across the room, amplifying the potential players and their prayers.
Open flaps, mostly of heart shapes, carve portals into the skin of most of the work. These compartments draw the viewer inside the sculptures while unfurling drooped and sagging reverse apparitions of flaccid tits, asses and testicles. Here, even happy balloons look eerie. Buoying up pajamas of quilted dream texts written on dental dams, these enormous membranes filled with helium are more weather instruments than party toys. Some of the shadowbox innards contain giant chocolate kisses, as in “Fruit of My Womb,” or slathered and gooey snuggle bears, as in “Honey Bunch.” Cloyingly sweet confections are thus converted into a more efficient type of fuel: dreams become keys which unlock the depths of a sadomasochistic, albeit, cursory glance.