Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Herminio: Sculpture, Physics and Motion

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Herminio: Sculpture, Physics and Motion

Article excerpt

This article sets out to demonstrate that the sculpture of Herminio Álvarez (b. 1945) presents in an immediate way major philosophical problems.1 In the first place, it takes on the discussion regarding the minimal, essential components in sculpture, and the relationship between sculpture and other arts. Secondly, it touches on the undeniable challenge of representing motion in abstract and stationary sculpture. Finally, it ineluctably finds itself face to face with the role physics plays therein.

With their centre of gravity manipulated by counterweights, some of Herminio's sculptures stand in an apparently unstable and surely unexpected equilibrium. Examples of these large, geometric bodies include F25 installed in the lobby of the Prince Felipe Auditorium in Oviedo, F26 in the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias, and the 1.75 m, 300 kg Leaning Wheel in the Dove collection, New York (figs. 1-3). Such pieces oblige any observer to wonder about the mechanism responsible for keeping these large solids in this strange balance. Others make use of powerful neodymium magnets, as displayed in the piece in El Rinconín Park, Gijón (fig. 4). Still others combine magnets and heavy counterweights, such as the large, balanced parallel pipes, I30 and I64 (figs. 5 and 6), and some of Herminio's most recent works displayed in 2012 at the Niemeyer Center in Avilés (fig. 7)

Anticipating possible antipathy to a philosophical approach to analysing these works, it must be stressed that they raise many questions of a philosophical nature. They elicit questioning as to whether they should be considered 'substantial' or 'pure' sculpture? And when does a sculpture become an 'artifact'? Further questions abound: What role do magnetic fields play in Herminio's work? How does it relate to motion? What is the relationship between Herminio's sculpture and physics? Could they be understood as 'self-referential', as 'absolute', 'independent' or 'sovereign'?

Wittgenstein's famous aphorism 'Don't think, but look!' is often taken as the most mature, elaborate insight on the topic.2 I criticize such a stance, basing my critique on two aspects: first, Wittgenstein posits a sort of fideism against rationalism or idealism; secondly and more importantly, he advocates a highly questionable, dualistic structure by formulating an exclusive disjunction. His antagonism between 'looking' and 'thinking' parallels other current ideological dualisms such as that of feeling versus reason or 'understanding'. When each of the terms in this dualism is defined as an independently existing substance, then these schemes frequently adopt a metaphysical format. Humans, however, are incapable of 'looking' and 'thinking' independently: looking cannot be removed from any given language and its lexical categories. For while we are looking we are also joining and separating parts, and thus using and developing concepts. Accordingly, the intelligible world cannot be separated from the sensible world, since the intelligible world participates in the language-mediated process of connecting and disconnecting parts of the sensible world. With this in mind, there is no 'seeing' without 'thinking', without categorization and conceptualization.

If this is the case, how is it even possible to have access to the artwork in a direct, pure way, untainted by concepts or ideas? The view taken here rejects such a clean, direct and unprejudiced stance as just as invalid as a purely conceptualized one. In my view, the true opposition occurs between, on the one hand, a mythological way of looking organized around primary structures and confused concepts and, on the other, a looking that reflects the scientific, technological and philosophical ideas relevant to each case. Hence, the decision to analyse Herminio's sculpture (or any other part of reality, for that matter) based on scientific and technological concepts, and on relevant philosophical ideas is not a direct, spontaneous, non-conceptualized looking (which is impossible), but rather a pre-scientific, pre-philosophical, mythological, magical looking, irrespective of the fact that some may take this mythological stance to be sufficient for their needs or purposes. …

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