Los Angeles

Roger Hiorns

Marc Foxx Gallery

Often perplexing, and pointed in the titling of his works, Roger Hiorns has made various pieces in strikingly different media—from one deploying dark steel plates sprayed, at crotch level, with the tony scent of Jean Patou’s Joy to another with fire tongueing through a metal grating—all dubbed Vauxhall, 2003. As writer Siobhan McDevitt points out in the brochure accompanying Hiorns’s UCLA Hammer Projects show, “If the word Vauxhall can mean, among other things, a London tube stop, the seventeenth-century pleasure garden for which the tube stop is named, a car company, a Morrissey record . . . why can’t Vauxhall (now the title) mean discrete works of art?”

The works Hiorns showed here are all untitled, and all but one are from 2007. On the floor near a back corner of the gallery, a scattering of contact lenses, gray, blue, blue-gray, lilac, and jade, looking like fish scales or sequins, glittered gently, awaiting eyes. Winnowed of everything except the readymade lenses that give it presence, Hiorns’s point may be to put as much pressure as possible on optics, focusing literally on how and in what way things are now seen. In lensing contact (between people and things, sign and signified), the whatever that provides the spark of connectivity may be memorial, which is to say, as ephemeral, immaterial—yet as crucial as sight itself.

In an unpublished statement, Hiorns comments that his show was “a group of stains from one compulsion or another.” Above a sculpture made up of a car engine covered in blue crystals (a product of the artist’s now recurrent copper sulphate process) and nestled in two cubbies of a steel column—an assemblage recalling another of his crystallized engine sculptures, The Architect’s Mother, 2003—glowed a lightbulb encrusted with semen. Nearby, a silver sheet attached flat to a gallery wall showed a drippy smear of amyl nitrate, recalling an earlier piece titled Young Offender, 2004.

In the largest sculpture, two giant, overlapping contact-lens-shaped steel discs were supported by a metal apparatus ballasted by steel blocks. The back of the upper disc had been doused with Dettol, a strong, all-purpose British disinfectant. Next, placed on a matter-of-fact white cubical base, two steel cylinders, scuffed and marked, seem to have somehow oozed a salt residue. Two small, dark gelatin silver prints, one of the interior of Notre-Dame, the other of the London Central Mosque, at once elucidated and complicated the goings-on. Hanging by steel cable, a sculpture made of two clear, triangular lithium glass cylinders contained doses of steroids.

With the stated aim “not to succumb to a kind of recognizable belief system” as he looks “for a way in anatomizing [his] time,” Hiorns has summoned signifiers of reckless potency, pleasure, and cleansing associated with masculinity—pumped up (steroids), partied-out (amyl nitrate), spent (sperm), and occupied with attempting to dispose of the traces of its actions (Dettol). These furtive substances, especially when observed alongside his scattered lenses suggesting other bodily secretions (tears, sweat), formulate an industrial shadow portrait of man, spurred and spurned by modernist concerns (questions of originality, individuality, presence, and belief) that stain contemporary consciousness. Hiorns creates an atmosphere of something harsh yet somber and irrevocably lost, in work that remains not only more compelling than that of many artists (Banks Violette, Aaron Young, Terence Koh) guilty of churning out tired, neo-gothic claptrap with which his project should in no way be confused, but also able to convince the attuned that the contemporary can still, in the dusk of the real, annex the primordial. While pressing on the meanings of entitlement, the artist questions how to sustain this situation without distain.

Bruce Hainley