PACE GALLERY (24TH STREET) | FEBRUARY 26 – APRIL 23, 2016
What strikes first upon entry to Pace Gallery on West 24th Street is the persistent thrum of muted noise: the creaking of shaky machinery, a droning waaah, an intermittent snippet of what sounds like a vacuum cleaner’s motor. Listening to the disparate sounds comingle, it’s not hard to imagine them coming from the laboratory of a renegade inventor. And indeed, many of the works that comprise Tim Hawkinson: Counterclockwise, the premiere exhibition at Pace’s newest location, have a makeshift quality that invokes a do-it-yourself spirit. The din of both dodgy motors and intentional moaning activates the rooms, and the jittery kineticism of Tim Hawkinson’s sculpture is immediate and palpable.
The works in the show span over twenty years of Hawkinson’s career, and reflect his sustained interest in the body—the ways with which it moves through the world and its passage through time. Speaking of his objects in a 2013 interview, Hawkinson said, “I like to see things rotating in my own work; I like to set things into motion.” Though visually dissimilar, his works then are like spiritual descendants of Alexander Calder’s sculpture. Calder’s mobiles asked the viewer to consider the space occupied by their own bodies in a completely different way than that required by an immobile sculpture. He also spurned his own mechanical expertise in favor of a more intuitive approach to sculpture, and had a knack for using materials close at hand to make his work; Hawkinson also readily acknowledges this of his own working method. It’s recognizable in the first work on display, H.M.S.O (1995). The circular object, over seven feet in diameter, hangs from a line flush to the wall. Made only from fabric pieces, wood, and string, it evokes a large wheel with spokes comprised of the masts of model ships, and is indicative of Hawkinson’s embrace of untidiness and imperfection. But consideration of H.M.S.O also unlocks a deeper meaning. The annular form resembles a clock and its denotation of the circular, endless passage of time. This motif is repeated throughout the show and summons a dialogue between the works that were made at disparate points in Hawkinson’s career. One can’t help but think of H.M.S.O when considering World Clock and Board Clock (both 2012), working timepieces made from toiletries—a tube of lotion, toothbrushes standing in a cup, an Ace bandage—placed in a medicine cabinet (which indicates time in different cities across the world) and a humble 2 × 4 plank of wood, respectively.
Even more significant is its connection to Orrery (2010), the most imposing work on display. Here, the oversize figure of an elderly woman in an old-fashioned dress sits at a spinning wheel. The woman is patched together in what look like papier-mâché bags over a wire skeletal form; her spinning wheel is comprised of empty plastic water bottles. Her head slowly spins on the axis of her neck as the wheel of her spinning machine simultaneously rotates. Finally, the entire structure itself also rests upon a platform of slowly revolving concentric rings. The machinery that provides motion emits a continual groan, suggesting its demise is possible at any given moment. Yet it carries on. The work’s title refers to a mechanical model of the solar system. The viewer is asked to confront their personal march through time, upon which old age and death will eventually encroach.
Not all of the works here succeed in this, and Hawkinson at times tends to verge towards the gimmicky. Penitent (1994), a motorized human skeleton constructed from rawhide dog chews, has been installed in a small closet. The door is propped open by the bronze Doorstop (2007), fashioned into the shape of a big toe. Beyond the initial “ha-ha” the works provoke, the substance is thin. Koruru (2009), a massive fetish mask composed of detritus like egg cartons and pill and soda bottles, bleats a noise like a vacuum’s motor when someone walks by. The sculpture is muscular and impressive, and its surprising emission startles—but why? The most successful works are those where his commune with the metaphysical is evident. In Signature (1993), crafted upon an old school desk, a working mechanical apparatus is programmed to repeatedly write out Hawkinson’s signature on a spool of calculator tape. After the completion of each autograph, the machine slices the paper and sends it floating down into a useless pile of other discarded signatures at the foot of the desk. There is a sardonic humor to the work that shades into poignancy as, like us, Hawkinson considers his place in the firmament; also like us, he comes up short, his own name forming an ever-growing pile of futility on the floor.
JESSICA HOLMES is a New York-based writer and critic who is the ArTonic Section Editor, and contributes regularly to the Brooklyn Rail, Artcritical, Hyperallergic, and other publications.