Kandinsky: it’s as good a hook as any to snare the reader scanning the current issue for shows worth a visit— better than Leonardo, who is invoked in the CCA text about the installations of Jamie Hamilton. His sketches and large-scale steel and polycarbonate sculptures “[evoke] the many mechanical devices and designs by Leonardo da Vinci.” In doing so, Hamilton “showcases the beauty and complexity of machinery and its connection to natural forms.”
Maybe so, but doesn’t Leonardo already do that? It would be more accurate to submit that Hamilton’s sculptures showcase the beauty and complexity of Leonardo’s machinery and its connection to natural forms. And if Hamilton’s works were weak, that would be a gracious tack to take for the rest of this review. But his work is really quite strong, and it’s not because he has captured the art or design of da Vinci’s devices. If we want to credit any source, I’d give kudos to Kandinsky, with a nod to Duchamp. But more on that later.
The claim for a connection to natural forms fits Hamilton’s work, but it’s better as a bridge to the clay constructs by Alison Keogh. Keogh’s clay installations range from papered walls with sweeping brushstrokes made with site-speci c clay slurry, or slip (Exit 264; Exit 265)—“applied to the wall with my forearm in a dance involving clay, body, and gallery wall”—to cotton and muslin fabric dipped in clay slip and worked over a support (Cloaked Earth) or stacked in sheets to form a layered structure (Stratum 264), to “mandala” pieces like the grid of poured sand piles (Repose) and the clay-wash works on paper created by gestures made in the clay by different parts of Keogh’s body (Clay Drawings). Process art has been around since the mid-1960s, yet it continues to be signi cant when done well, as here. If Keogh’s tantric characterization of her work as “a dialogue with the natural world, passing through my body, expressed through breath, mindful awareness, and repetitive gestures” tends to make some viewers blink rapidly or mentally make the mandarin face of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, that reaction is assuaged by the visual quality and conceptual rigor of the work itself.
In his fine introduction to the exhibition, curator Craig Anderson notes that he “envisioned an artistic pairing based on a compatibility in counterpoint... Their abstract works spring from both cognitive and intuitive sources and trace separate paths of eccentric artistic exploration.” No stranger to arrhythmia myself, I’ve always shied away from the term, in part because I always have to look up the spelling. Here it is used to suggest that Hamilton’s geometric penchant for mechanical design and Keogh’s tangible connection to the earth are seemingly out of sync with each other, yet on re ection can be seen to express an underlying common source in nature.
That’s a sound visual concept here, but what impresses even more is how well both artists work with enduring but outmoded genres, avoiding genre’s high tendency toward academic cliché.
Tracing Keogh’s process-métier to the mid-1960s is trumped when noting that Hamilton’s installation aesthetic rst took visible shap in the 1920s and 1930s with the likes of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass and Calder’s kinetic mobiles. One could even make the case (to mix metaphors) that the engineering of Constructivist sculpture was a seedbed of the later artistic elevation of mechanical devices in installations from the 1970s by artists such as Rebecca Horn. Compared to the Surrealist mediation of Calder’s and Horn’s mobiles, Hamilton’s constructs come across as almost classical, seeming to eschew Horn’s irony for the eloquence of da Vinci’s mechanica. Yet a closer look in the presence of Hamilton’s structures reveals work that only mimics the complexity of applied design, and evokes instead the kind of expressive geometry found in Kandinsky’s kinetic compositions from the mid-1920s.
And that works: God help any viewer caught in the exhibition space if Hamilton’s constructions were made to move. But as fantasy and expressive abstraction, they are delightful visual allegories on love and death and the other stuff of dreams. There’s more Dalí than da Vinci in the dragon y utter of Eros, and the allusion to mortality in the title of Thanatos is tempered by a visual schematic worthy of Saul Steinberg.
If Hamilton’s steel installations and Keogh’s process art deal in tropes—here, investing with fresh meaning visual conventions that can border on or transgress the terrain of cliché—they succeed in engaging viewers by imbuing a poetic approach to their materials with unabashed or understated visual appeal.