Tim Hawkinson’s constructions, often kinetic, have layered associations that go backward in time, and this could be one reason why his exhibition — through April 23 at Pace, 537 West 24th Street– is called “Counterclockwise.” The fourteen sculptures and two large drawings employ animation, electronics, and quotidian materials to explore humorous notions about time and the universe. To me, going counterclockwise implies going left rather than right and taking the intuitive rather than the logical approach to problem-solving. My Chinese mentor, Dr. Nelson Wu, used to tell a story in which the counterclockwise path was part of a spiritual journey. Even more than Slow Food and Slow Hands, Counterclockwise here suggests going back to understanding how the world works.
Six sculptures in a middle gallery caught my attention immediately, starting with Laocoön, 2004, a swirling white blown-out tire 13 feet tall constructed from paper, wire, string, foam, and rubber. The tire tread pattern is original, possibly symbolic. The title refers to the marble Hellenistic sculpture of a Trojan priest and his two sons battling attacking serpents – a religious war pitting Trojan against “pagan” myths and belief systems. Hawkinson’s tire captures some of the spiraling lines of the marble serpent and figures as it deftly alludes to America’s preoccupation with speed (instead of safety) and perhaps to power struggles similar to Laocoön’s. This sculpture is simultaneously abstract and figurative, an outcry about clashing belief systems.
Nearby, Skinned Knee, 2009, a 74” high “disembodied” skinned knee suggests childhood accidents that seem more serious than they are or, conversely, that even small human injuries may have larger consequences.
The third oversized work in the room, Koruru, 2009, is a self-inflating mask 10’ tall that “breathes” softly as it imitates a Maori mask coming to life. It also replicates a pair of the latest car taillights. The artist told me that the original inspiration was a New Zealand coin with the Maori mask that he found on a Los Angeles playground. The Pace installers were discussing the way the double taillights had LED-like lights on top for eyes as I admired the artist’s use of small silver cups and tin foil to complete the nose area of the mask. This head is grand and important whereas in real life, the Maori culture and roots have been, to a degree, marginalized and commercialized, much like indigenous cultures worldwide.
Two smaller works in this gallery complete a circuit of double meanings. Hose, 2013, is a ribbed white object that resembles a short hose under the sink in my kitchen. Yet it is fragile, made from reconstituted eggshells ground with a diamond grinder. I am unsure whether the slightly curving hose 4 ½” long is also a metaphor for a part of the male anatomy that is not often considered fragile. Board Clock, 2012, is a 72” tall wooden plank with a cut knothole area. The outer and inner rings are motorized to read time in hours and minutes. The final witticism in this room is a skeleton in a closet; its bones are made from rawhide dog chews. Hawkinson’s range and craft skills throughout the exhibition are top notch. He manages to turn ordinary materials into wondrous sculpture.
In the entrance gallery, World Clock, 2012 is a rusty medicine cabinet in which each object is motorized to tell hours and minutes in Los Angeles, London, Paris, Moscow, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Sydney. For example, a roll on deodorant represents Moscow with a hair on the roller ball showing time in hours and the seam of the ball showing minutes. Viewers can extrude for themselves the allegories and metaphors in these time pieces. This is one example of why it’s fun to see the humor in Hawkinson’s work in person. Also, scale is important, and smaller works like this one and giant works including Koruru are more engaging in real life.
Seeing the kinetic moves of Hawkinson’s sculpture is also a treat. Ranting Mop Head, 1995 and the signature School Desk, 1993, are complex (many parts) yet elementary (nails, wires, tiny batteries & conductors, etc.) animated works. Switches and notches built into an old pulpit in another room control the mophead’s outbursts. Even more primitive engineering allows the school desk apparatus to “write” Hawkinson’s signature.
Orrery, 2010, a 93” high seated lady at a spinning wheel, turns many ways at once. The title refers to the universe, its rotating planets, and time. Lady Time’s lumpy and misshapen body seems slightly in overdrive with her head, ears, eyes, and fingers all spinning, along with her wheel made of plastic bottle parts. The rug beneath her feet has twelve, variously-timed concentric moving circles; the rag rug pattern for the solar system is actually bicycle tire tracks in the sand. Orrery asks us to play, to question how things are made, what we see, and how we “spend” our time.
This exhibition highlights some Hawkinson sculpture over the past twenty years. Hawkinson has participated in numerous exhibitions in the United States and abroad, including the Venice Biennale (1999), the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, (2000), and the 2003 Corcoran Biennial in Washington, D.C.
Links to his work include: