Los Angeles

Tim Hawkinson

ACE Gallery

Tim Hawkinson seems like the kind of guy who builds robots in his basement out of whatever’s lying around—aluminum foil, mannequin limbs, pencils and pens, an old motor, wiring, whistles—and who works out names and even biographies for his mechanical beings. A guy who treats his creations like pets. Hawkinson’s obviously drawn to mutants, diagrams, and models. His historico-futuristic sensibility makes me think I wouldn’t mind seeing a sci-fi movie he directed, or playing a CD-ROM game he designed. Hawkinson also seems to have an attraction to narrative, highlighted in the paragraphs of explication accompanying most entries on the show’s checklist. But it’s not clear who wrote these notes, as they referred to the artist in the third person (e.g., “Tim originally saw this drawing as a scroll”).

Enigma Wrapped in Mystery, 1996, is a life-size suit of armor made out of aluminum foil. Gross goo like flesh-colored meringue has bubbled through the chinks and hardened, as if the knight had melted or exploded inside his metal outfit like some unlucky character in an alien movie. Rather than stand at attention, fixed upright like a museum piece, he levitates, floating on his back at waist-level on a sort of metal tripod. The viewer’s mind begins to grind out fantastic stories to explain what happened to this poor guy.

A combination mandala and genealogical diagram, Stamtråd (Family Tree), 1997, is constructed out of Popsicle sticks. “Mother” and “father” designations (in Swedish) arc penciled on the sticks in pretty cursive. There’s something lilting and graceful about the piece, owing largely to the choice of material. The sticks evoke pleasant childhood-summer memories, and they suggest the ribs of a parasol or paper fan. The checklist notes refer to the connection between a family “tree” and the concentric rings visible when a trunk is cross-sectioned.

Wall Chart of World History from Earliest Times to the Present, 1997, is a pen-and-pencil drawing in many shades of red and pink. Extending along two gallery walls, the drawing hangs from strings, a strategy that approximates the display of long Asian scrolls in museums. The circuitous, decidedly intestinal forms that fill the paper call to mind a form of particularly obsessive doodling. The checklist notes (all in emphatic capital letters) on Wall Chart have a breathless, overheated, nerdy-kid quality the piece itself shares: “In this drawing the image could be read as world powers or empires swallowing up diminishing ones and then taking their place. This drawing is sort of like a timeline with no beginning or end; it can also be read as the mapping of the body’s internal structures.”

Each work here asserted itself as the physical embodiment of intriguing, sometimes tangled skeins of idiosyncratic thinking. Hawkinson’s commitment to intensively imagined and realized objects aligns with William Carlos Williams’ principle of “no ideas but in things.” The artist seems to go a step further, proposing as well no stories but in things.

Amy Gerstler