New York

James Hegge

Paul Rodgers / 9W

James Hegge's first solo show in New York comprised three sculptures, two series of drawings, and a video, all related to real or imagined performative actions. Megaphone for Speaking to the Wall, 1999 is a forty-inch-long fiberglass-and-resin cone with an opening at its vertex, a foam gasket around its base, and two rough handles halfway between. The object at first seems absurdly whimsical, then turns darkly cartoonish when one imagines it in use, since the wall fancier's words would only be trapped in the vacuum and thrown back into his or her face. Similarly, Conversation Tool, 2000, which resembles a large, incandescent potato, initially appears benign. Bright white light leaks out of two oval openings in its underside, into which a pair of conversants would stick their heads. But when one considers the overlit conversation (or dual interrogation) they would have in the object's claustrophobic and disorienting interior the piece takes on a slightly diabolical aspect. The mottled surfaces of Megaphone and Conversation Tool make them look like fleshy extensions or prostheses, but the objects' effects are antithetical: preventing or at least disrupting the actions they purport to enhance. As tools, they twist utility to their own ends. In the concretization of speech acts, the communicative potential is transferred to the objects themselves.

Isolation Chamber for the Upper Half of One's Body, 2000, is more mundane in appearance, resembling a large circular bathtub with a waist-sized hole in the bottom. In this case, the communicative potential of the piece passes to a remarkably effective video in which the artist “wore” this heavy receptacle and walked briskly (or staggered) around a field. For the first half of the tape a camera inside the contraption pointed down at Hegge's rhythmically pumping, overburdened legs; for the second it filmed the sky, visible over the white crescent rim of the chamber, accompanied only by the sounds of the artist's Sisyphean exertions. Played on a loop, the tape is funny at first, then viscerally unsettling, and finally poignant. With all the huffing and puffing as background, the serene image of white clouds in a blue sky moving inexorably over this ridiculous self-imposed horizon is curiously moving.

The drawings are all process works. For the “Abrasions” series, 2001, five large sheets of plywood were given alternating coats of creamy white and velvety black paint. The artist then strapped emery cloth onto parts of his body (knees,elbows, stomach) and performed strenuous, repetitive swimming and crawling motions on the panels, removing the paint in streaks to produce a negative image. The resulting panels are reminiscent of Bruce Conner's “Angel” photograms from the mid-'70s and are a kind of “photography by other means.” Like photographs, the works record the traces of objects and actions on sensitive surfaces. But by simulating photography's intricate chemical transformations through low-tech, high-impact mechanical means, Hegge effectively reverses the history of imagemaking, recorporealizing the image and bringing physical labor back into the process. Another series of drawings, in which the artist's attempts to balance atop ball bearings and a bowling ball are tracked through carbon onto white drawing paper, is less compelling both visually and conceptually.

At their best, Hegge's works vibrate on the transformative border between time-based performance (and image)and three-dimensional sculpture, extending post-Minimalist practice into this hybrid form with a single-minded purposefulness that is positively Keatonian.

David Levi Strauss