July 18, 2007

The Mad Scientist

I try to be objective about the art and the artists that I cover in this blog. When it comes to Tim Hawkinson though, I cannot hide my excitement. It's because his work really helped me make sense of contemporary art when I first viewed his retrospective at the Whitney a couple of years ago. Since then, I had been craving to see his newer work. Last may in New York, I got the chance.

His latest exhibit, How Man is Knit, was shown at the Pace Wildenstein Gallery in Chelsea. Tim Hawkinson is like a mad scientist. He tinkers with materials and objects to create either banal objects or complex structures that are automated and mechanized. He will motorize a string of hair on a brush to tell time, create a musical instrument out of found objects, weave an extension cord into a pair of shorts, and so on. He is also obsessed with his body. He will photograph his body from different angles, and collage them into octopus-like figures; he will create a miniature skeleton of a bird out of his nail clippings.

This exhibit, with a very fitting name, extends his obsessions and painstakingly labor-intensive work into great display.

First work that greets visitors is Foot Print. According to the catalog, Hawkinson put white pigment powder on the bottom of his foot and scanned it. He then projected the scanned image onto a very large piece of silver polyester material with a cotton lining, and traced the network of ridges, crests and folds on the image of his sole. He then used a quilter's sewing machine to sew on the tracing to create this map of his own foot on a large scale.

You can make out his foot from afar, and as you get close (as below), you get to appreciate the long and detailed manual work that went into it.

Hawkinson is a great conceptual thinker; he is not afraid of working with any material to execute his vision. And the method by which he executes his vision inspires awe in the viewer. He does not repeat himself; he keeps exploring new materials and processes to realize his vision.

In Deposition, as I captured in the video below, he motorized a large tree branch with a beaded chain moving up and down, setting off a whistle. The beads look like an army of ants crawling up and down the branch in unison.

In Gimbled Klein Basket, below, Tim Hawkinson weaves bamboo into a three-dimensional basket that rotates. It is conceived after German mathematician Felix Klein's model exploring the fourth dimension as he described it in 1882. This form has an outside that turns back on the inside and back out again, exploring infinity. Here the artist surprises the viewer with a metaphysical model conceived with a most natural material, bamboo.

This piece follows a set of photographs (not pictured) that were hanging in the room next door. They were images of his nostrils and ear canals that were collaged together to form entirely different images. The depths of the ear canal may have led him to Klein's bottle to conceive this piece.

Experiencing art, math, physics, photography, sewing, all in one exhibit? Now that's a good show!

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