Electronic Wizardry

By Zellen, Jody | Afterimage, September-October 2005 | Go to article overview

Electronic Wizardry


Zellen, Jody, Afterimage


TIM HAWKINSON

WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

FEBRUARY 11-MAY 29, 2005

LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

JUNE 23-AUGUST 28, 2005

Tim Hawkinson's work combines low-tech aesthetics with high-tech concepts. The interconnectedness of the pieces (created between 1986 and 2004) in the retrospective of his work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) were literally manifest in the trains of wires and extension cords that ran along the ceiling of the museum's galleries. They changed color and thickness, even becoming artworks themselves (Knot [1991], Shorts [1993] and Vessel [1994]), as they linked the mechanized works together throughout the space.

The connections between body and object, method and materials and making and explaining are at the root of Hawkinson's production. After the references to Edward Kienholz, Charles Ray (with whom Hawkinson studied at UCLA) and Jean Tinguely have faded from memory, one is left with an output of extreme complexity and depth that fuses observing with tinkering to create works that sing, dance and write their own name.

Organized by Howard Fox for LACMA (presented first at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City), this retrospective exhibition culled 65 of Hawkinson's works. Included were not necessarily the biggest and the loudest but the pieces that have come to define Hawkinson. What makes Hawkinson's oeuvre stand apart from the works of so many contemporary artists is his commitment to labor-intensive processes and the use of ordinary materials to produce extraordinary results. When asked to talk about his works, he usually shies away from discussing their meaning or symbolism, instead elaborating on how the work was put together. This is how be describes the creation of Bridge, (1999), included in the show:

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

   A waffle-patterned foam mattress pad, bumpy side covered with black
   tempera, was laid on the floor paint-side down over a section of
   white photo backdrop paper. Using a system of ropes and pulleys. I
   repeatedly lowered myself onto this surface, leaving half-tone body
   prints that duplicate the figures in an Eadweard Muybridge motion
   study. (1)

Hawkinson thus transformed a small-scale reproduction of a Muybridge photograph into a wall-sized work, of 108 X 612 inches, with a figure hurdling across the frame. While Muybridge invented strobe photography to create his motion studies, Hawkinson employs a complicated yet baroque system of pulleys and ropes to lower himself into the frame that becomes the work--a process that is both labor intensive and physically demanding.

How the body is transformed, how it occupies space and how it can be made robotic is the subject of many of Hawkinson's most successful works. He manipulates conventional ways of representing the body, such as drawing, painting, sculpture and photography, by adding a technological twist. One work also often morphs into another. For example, the ink on paper drawing Bath-Tub Generated Contour Lace (1995) later becomes a photographic work, Drain and Plug (1996), and then more spectacularly the three-dimensional room-sized musical sculpture Pentecost (1999). To create Bath-Tub Generated Contour Lace, Hawkinson (who is often the model for his works) "lay in a bathtub that was slowly being filled with black paint. A photograph was taken every few minutes as the liquid crept up and over diminishing islands of skin. Superimposing these images, a contoured pattern emerged that [was] then rendered as a drawing of lace." (2) The finished drawing is an intricate map of Hawkinson's body where the fine details of the texture of skin appear as if made out of a delicate fabric.

Hawkinson later created Drain and Plug, a small two-part photographic work that functions as the documentation of the process of making the contours. …

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