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Indepth Arts News:

"Tim Hawkinson"
2000-06-17 until 2000-09-04
Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery
Toronto, ON, CA

Unlikely waste materials are used in constructions that mimic the workings of various machines and instruments or the appearance of diverse natural systems. But as intriguing and whimsical at times his works might be, as intellectually seductive as they present themselves, they are more than elaborate mimicries - jokes we quickly get but which then exhaust themselves through the perpetual motion of the sculptures' machinic absurdity. Hawkinson describes a world whose poetic, for want of a better word, links each sculpture to another in an elaborate and continually unfolding cosmography.

Take Pentecost (1999). Its title refers to the incident recorded in the New Testament of the Holy Spirit descending on a gathering of apostles, speaking in tongues and communicating the Word to people speaking different languages. Something of this incident has been translated in Hawkinson's sculpture. The artist made a tree from paper, cardboard and Sonotubes, very much like a scenic tree in a stage set. Twelve humanoid figures sit on the branches, as if they inhabited the tree, or they hang from it like fruit and seem to display an easy symbiotic relationship with it. An appendage from each of these bodies - a nose here, an elbow there, a big toe or a penis - tap out rhythms on the truncated branches which function like drums. These percussive rhythms, generated from Christmas carols on a computer program, resonate through the hollow Sonotubes. Over the time that we experience this piece, they create rhythms of differing complexity.

What is being communicated here, without words, if not communication itselfNULL Communication may take various forms and circuits in Hawkinson's works. The messages are not language-based; his work plays with signals from the genetic realm to the cultural domain. We might follow these different pathways through the works in the exhibition, as if along the branches or roots of a tree. Here we will discover the intersecting themes: the tree, with its branches metaphorically linked to networks and circuits, the blood and nerves of the body, or to other electronic systems; sound, percussively or pneumatically produced without human intervention, as a model of messaging; new topographical models of representation using the body (always the artist's own) as the measure but radically transformed in the process; and silent measures of time that might be calibrated according to different spans, from the genetic level to the cultural contructs of history. Though it might not be readily apparent, Hawkinson's works exteriorize the silent communication and the invisible codes that give form and structure to our being.

This is not to set up the tree of Pentecost as the central or originating metaphor in Hawkinson's work. There is no centre, only linkages established in every direction, as in the transversal weave of fabric. In Hawkinson's works, we do not seek out analogies but homologies. The image of nerves and blood vessels is mapped onto the tree because they share similar communication circuits. The tree of Pentecost and its human fruit share in manifold principles. For instance, the figures in Pentecost have their prototype in the mock-up Drain and Plug (1996). Described by Hawkinson as a bath-generated contour self-portrait, the reconstruction of Drain and Plug plots the body in two-dimensional increments over time. The body is measured and represented in a process that joins the spatial to the temporal; the topographic levels tell time much like the rings of a tree.

The transformations we find in his work are really about messages that are engendered between levels of information and structures of existence. The translation from three dimensions to two is a constant subject in Hawkinson's work, especially when he maps his own body, for example, in Graph (1999). Although Hawkinson always uses his own body as the basis for these topographical representations, the human is not necessarily the measure of all things in his cybernetic world.

Inasmuch as time has always been an issue for Hawkinson, he has devised various ways of measuring it. Some of his works plot time in its traditional sense, although obliquely; others employ odd recording devices, such as the tree, to document differing spans of time. Stamtraumld, Shatter (1998) is a fake shattered tempered-glass window, which is actually meticulously contructed from mirrored ribbons set in polyester resin. In this transcription, we see the record of a blow delivered to the centre of the 'glass.' However instantaneous in real life such a happening might seem, cracks record the invisible radiating pattern of shock-waves which actually grow over time. Is there a logic guiding even such arbitrary eventsNULL Is its rationale any different from Hawkinson's seemingly absurdist charting of the rise and fall of empires modeled on the digestive system of the body in Wall Chart of World History from Earliest Times to the Present (1997)? The horrors of history perhaps are pointed to by the supplemental work, the bloody finger of Index (1997), whose innards are composed of the red pens and pencils Hawkinson used in the drawing.

No part of the body is wasted in Hawkinson's examination, or unconsidered as a material for visualization. If the anatomical model of Organ (1999) reveals the 'vein' and 'neuro' systems of the inner guts of a Hammond organ, its internal probing is countered by the flayed skin of the artist depicted in Graph . This self-portrait is made from the imprint derived from latex pulled from his body and made into paint-rollers. There is no dichotomy of inner and outer in Hawkinson's work; the dimensions of the mind and the dimensions of the body are just different aspects of each other. This work is corporeally inspired and imaginatively conceived.

- P. M.


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