BY James Scarborough in Reviews | 10 SEP 97
Featured in
Issue 36

Tim Hawkinson

BY James Scarborough in Reviews | 10 SEP 97

Tim Hawkinson's work is nostalgic. Untainted by irony, it yearns for a time when an artist, once a staunch ontological entity, dispensed meaning, bore the flame of genius and toed the line with eternity. In this show the artist feeds into a manic desire for unmediated experience ­ unfragmented, fresh and direct. In other words, he starts from the same impetus with which Byron begins Don Juan: 'I seek a hero'.

To do so, Hawkinson must first create a believable Self. He's on solid ground here. Strategically, he takes a page from the book of other sauvage philosophes, such as Gauguin or Basquiat, and goes faux-native by purporting to tap into some fathomless fount of what Pablo Neruda calls 'the jasmine of our untainted human spring'. It's a good vantage point to survey ­ and pillage from ­ the aesthetic and social landscape. Instead of seeing desolation and despair in whatever passes for Angeleno culture, Hawkinson sees spontaneity and wit. Accordingly, he first lays out existential parameters based on empirical evidence. This he does both with the materials he uses ­ quotidian, pedestrian, ephemeral ­ as well as the tropes he employs ­ humour, wit, techno-biology. In Humongolous (1995), he describes everything he can see of himself, skewed perspective, distortion and all. In Blindspots (1991) he presents everything he cannot see of himself. In Alter (1993) he has faked an X-ray of his body by applying pastel to cloth and then fixing the cloth to his body with tape. These three works define his existential co-ordinates: John Locke with a Polaroid. Then this urban-primitive litters the show with the fruit of his rejuvenation of the world as a post-industrial Eden. Each work posits a trace of the artist's thought-gesture, of his preening intelligence. He weaves a set of shorts and a pair of socks from an extension cord (Shorts and Gold Toe Sock, 1993); he reformats masts of model ships so that they resemble the steering wheel of the very ships they are deconstructing (H.M.S.O., 1995). He updates the hobby of building a ship in a bottle by inserting a series of antique toy cars into a sequence of connected plastic containers (Trajectory, 1995). He creates shimmering nacreous effects using plain old strapping tape (Pearl Vision, 1994).

Having thus concretely defined himself as a shaman in the warehouse ­ and it is this persona to which most people unproblematically and favourably respond ­ he almost simultaneously commits aesthetic suicide. If the construction of this grungemeister Self embodies values of centredness, ego and genius, then its material articulation, expressed thematically as variations on conceptions of time and duration, undermines its integrity. The significance of his use of materials is not so much in the cleverness of their status as found objects as in their rapid-fire obsolescence. The ancient Greeks did not build the Parthenon with the equivalent of latex, bubble wrap, and strapping tape. The product of his scavenging, moreover, is as ludicrous as his conception of the Self purports to be solid. Hawkinson may present a dial that revolves once every ten thousand years (Slug, 1992) or a perpetual motion machine that writes the artist's name (Signature, 1993), but so what?

Hawkinson runs into trouble because he cross-references past and future without quite coming to rest in the immediate present. Everything in the show is caught at a moment of involuntary pause, forced to pose unwillingly, unwittingly, for the camera of the present. This attempt to resurrect (reinvent, update, postmodernise) a prelapsarian age of innocence is as convincing as a pyramid scheme. Hawkinson is just too sophisticated to be innocent; too imbued with wit and word-play. He seems to confuse precociousness with innocence. Hawkinson cannot stand outside time and assume a credible cosmological stance because he is muddled in a miasma of ephemeral materials that nonetheless exude an odd, almost organic appeal of their own.

Indeed, the real eye-opener of this show is that it can elicit any genuine interest at all. To be seduced by unseductive materials and to be enchanted by a decidedly unenchanting artistic persona is to acknowledge, with reluctance, the banality of one's own life. The work raises expectations of salvation and then thwarts them. The show does not exponentially multiply experiential outcomes, inflating one towards a wide range of possibilities; rather, it narrows, it deflates, it comes to resemble, as his Balloon Self-Portrait (1993), floats the day after Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.