Winter 2008 Fellow
Architect Denise Scott-Brown once said of her partner Robert Venturi’s theoretical writing, “ Bob writes to figure out what he thinks.” From my observation, something very similar happens in the art of Rika Hawes. Hawes, a Winter 2008 Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, is an occasional writer and critic who doesn’t aim to represent specific ideas through her visual work; however, she consistently juxtaposes confrontational dualities. “I’m one of those people who researches and reads a million different things,” she says. “The work isn’t about any of them, but it’s related.” Often it seems to challenge viewers to accept or resolve polarities, a choice introducing another polarity.
Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) has long been considered a pillar of post modernism, but recently Venturi and others have noted that Complexity and Contradiction, like his and Scott-Browns’ architecture, has an enduring message that extends beyond the historical moment. Although Hawes didn’t mention Venturi (or architecture) to me, the phrase “complexity and contradiction” might have been coined to describe her work. In a 2006 gallery installation “Begging the Object,” masses of glass, almost hedonistic richness, are poised on or mounted in stripped down functional black metal. In some ways they are like slices of tissue prepared for examination under a microscope: mysterious, organic samples sequestered in sterile isolation for our examination. Even the installation title is an oxymoron. Begging is intimate, personal, and emotional. But an object does not possess feelings.
There’s unquestionably order in Hawes’ installation, but perhaps it is more like neatness than a communicative structure. The works include vertical panels of glass that was caused to boil up, cooled and cold worked, sometimes preserving razor-edged popped bubbles. “I like to work with flow characteristics that most artists don’t want,” Hawes acknowledges. She courts accidental effects because she’s “interested in the bounce back between control and chance.” To get it, she’s willing to do large amounts of cold working. “I usually work with glass that’s phenomenologically beautiful and a little bit dangerous. If people touch it and get cut, that’s okay.” At WheatonArts, Hawes made a number of related panels, luxuriating in the possibilities of hot casting on such a large scale. She planned to engrave maps and typography on the panels with a Dremel.
Today, the word narrative is frequently applied to static works of visual art (as opposed to video or performance). Hawes found Robert Fulford’s, The Triumph of Narrative (1999), interesting. Fulford discusses several narrative conventions in the light of what he calls “the high density of narrative” in contemporary life. The topic has become a topic of discussion among some visual artists. Hawes says she spent ten years inquiring into “the object as narrative.” She has also been engaged by Roland Barthes’ concept of punctum (for Barthes, the keen, wounding details in photographs that arise without intent from a context). Although Hawes now feels that, “Objects can’t be narrative” and can only represent a point on the line of a story, she clearly remains engaged by narrative and that may be one reason she has integrated performance into her oeuvre. “I’m trying not to be too glass specific,” she says.
She’s considering an installation performance in which video will be projected into a space lined with mirrors and inhabited by people wearing white Tyvek suits. The video will be somewhat decipherable on the human animated Tyvek surfaces but will dissolve into light reflections on the mirrors. This fragmentation of image through temporal distortion is cryptically analogous to the panels with bubbles.
Mirrors are an on-going interest. Mirror mazes date back to the eighteenth century and have long been a feature of the circus or carnival funhouse. Hawes is able to obtain large mirrors for her work by advertising on Craig’s List. At WheatonArts, she planned to mirror coat objects, which could be used in conjunction with the flat standard mirrors.
In Hawes’ work, however neatly things are presented, feelings seem to trump concepts. A Canadian now living in Philadelphia, she once photographed cracks in the Trans-Canada highway, the system that connects all ten provinces of Canada, and the third longest highway in the world. “I’m more interested in beauty as seduction. I like it when people feel wonder when they look at my work.”
Hawes drew upon her performance experience in choreographing the opening “Fire Dancing” for Cirque de Verre” which she and fellow CGCA Resident Fellows Charlotte Potter and Kim Harty staged. After a premier at WheatonArts in April 2008, the artists and their numerous cast members, mainly assistants and staff members of WheatonArts, and went on to repeat it at Urban Glass in New York and other venues.
Hawes’ choreography for “” was an excellent opening act: fun and extravagant. The humorous freak show “Two- Headed Glassblower” in which she and Josh Kerner try to manipulate hot glass with two unrelated arms and a more-or-less single intent, was one of the most demanding of interactions in terms of coordinated skills.
“” daringly spun hot glass from an elevated platform onto the floor of the studio. Kim Harty lifted weights: huge disks of hot glass constructed on the floor.
The technically amazing “,” in which artists gathered and blew glass in unison was especially impressive to those who work in glass. In the comedic “,” Charlotte Potter and Kim Harty represented dueling political emblems covered with red or blue balloons. Their weapons: hot arrowheads of glass on the end of a pontil.