Holding sticks and other inventions

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I’ve been thinking about Tim Hawkinson‘s wonderful Whitney exhibit. And while Libby told you all about Hawkinson in her great, comprehensive post I do want to throw these thoughts out there. First, there is a quality of child-like wonderment that sits on just about every object in the show; and second, the materials, the straight-forward object-making and the obsessive dwelling on self in the world reminds me of outsider artists like Eugene Von Bruenchenhein who famously used chicken bones to make small sculptures or Martin Ramirez who drew with an obsessive line quality. (image is detail of Hawkinson‘s ink drawing, “Bathtub-Generated Contour Lace,” 1995 )
hawkinson, tim

When my son Max was in pre-school at a place called PIC (Parent Infant Center) it was the school’s custom to take the children on daily walks to the park a few blocks away from the school. In order to keep the children together, the teachers had them hold hands and walk two by two in a line. One day, after playing in the park, several children refused to hold hands for the walk back. The teachers were unable to broker the hand-holding in any way, shape or form. But Max, who I believe was one whose hand nobody wanted to hold, invented a solution. He picked up a stick and said that somebody could hold the other end. It worked of course (what kid doesn’t want to hold a stick). And they walked back to school, in pairs, side by side, holding sticks instead of holding hands. (image is Ramirez‘s “Super Chief,” 1954, crayon & pencil on paper)
ramirez, martin

I mention this story because it reminded me somehow of Hawkinson and his inventions, all of which have to do with his body, but really have to do with distancing his body from every other body by means of a stick (or drop of water or tin foil or motor or other gizmo). Little children, who are not able to articulate what’s on their minds although there is often much in there, will come up with visual, tactile ways of expressing themselves. Often, as in the case of holding sticks (or carrying a blanket or obsessively wearing the same favorite hat) the expression has to do with defining themselves and separating themselves from the pack.

I guess artists like Hawkinson — and Tom Friedman for that matter and Michael Grothusen, a Philly sculptor who had a phase of measuring his body weight and translating that into a tower of wodden cubes — are making place-holders for themselves in the world by transmogrifying their spirits into meta-objects (sticks, balloons, a machine that writes your signature) that allow human interaction without the touch factor. (image is Hawkinson‘s “Signature” 1993, School desk, paper, wood, and metal; motorized)

All art that can’t be touched is doing the same thing, holding a place for the artist. And all artists are outsiders, renegades, children. It’s where you sit on the bell curve that’s interesting.

Max, by the way, is now 21, studying philosophy, and working obsessively on his online comic which chronicles quasi-autobiographical characters in a post-death environment.

Read more about Hawkinson at the Whitney’s website.

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