David Adamo

David Adamo in his studio. Photo © Claudia Klein

A sculptor beavering away on the materiality of wood

David Adamo wants us to know that there isn’t much he can tell us about his work: “How I work has an emotional aspect, so I suppose you can’t talk about it because it’s something you feel. I don’t want to preach. I want my opinions to be taken with a pinch of salt.”  

A fairly recent arrival to Berlin as well as to the international art scene, Adamo is best known for his sculptures – particularly those in carved wood, though when Sleek visits, his studio is filled with waist-high models of termite mounds in earthy hues, back from a recent show in his previous hometown of New York. The artist remembers his life there as “a lot of nothing” – partying, working as an art installer, then as a chef, and finally collaborating with a choreographer as a dancer. 

It was this final experience in performing that led him back to his previous work with art, but with a renewed focus on the body: “When I went back to sculpture I had a much more physical relationship with it.” The physicality has served him well for the past five years, in which the young artist has been busy exhibiting. His sculptures of chipped away wood – mainly tools such as walking canes and axes – have made appearances in galleries from Brazil to London, as well as the 2010 Whitney Biennial. He has several projects on the go when Sleek visits, including pieces for a show in Düsseldorf and a casting of humansized radiator for Art Basel, Miami Beach – he assures us that he tends to work right up to the last minute. 

One of the most striking things about Adamo’s work when viewed in an exhibition space is the addition of the shavings that cause the creation of the depleted object. Partly, this decision is due to his love for the materiality of wood and respect for the rarity and expense of trees: an acknowledgment of their value in society. As his work progressed he began to use larger and larger wood to carve, leaving greater and greater piles of negative material: “It wasn’t connected with objects any more – rather with architecture and an extension of my whole body rather than just my hand.” Adamo saves all the chippings he creates from his work, keeping them in archives, claiming that he will use them in later work. 

Adamo also enjoys using the remains to create narratives that speak to the visitor like a crime scene – trails of evidence that reveal what has happened and how: “I always felt like the gallery was a stage.” For example, a recent show at Ibid Projects in London showed ceramic trompe l’oeil broken biscuits with a trail of crumbs around them. A similarly random collection of S-shaped, mint-green, packing peanuts are scattered in a corner of the space – a motif he is also working with. 

In these pieces, Adamo creates more than one “trick of the eye”, showing us something invisible turning into a narrative in the space. This is how the work with radiators came about: “I was thinking about an empty room of a house, which would still include a radiator.” 

These sculptures are another side of Adamo’s interests, alongside his focus on materiality and that of wood in particular: literally beavering away. The artist calls this “the big joke about my work.” It was addressing this joke that led to thinking about another destroyer of wood – termites – and recreations of their iconic mounds in miniature. 

However, Adamo refuses to acknowledge the poetics of creating mini-homes for animals which, according to the joke at least, represent him. He shrugs: “It’s just where my work has led me.” We’ll have to take that with a pinch of salt



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