Tod Hanson

Experiencing Tod Hanson’s hallucinogenic, room-size Parlour Collider, 2006, with its allover flat, mostly primary colors and black outlines, was like walking into a Patrick Caulfield or Michael Craig-Martin painting—while buzzed on caffeine. In a dizzying combination of installation, architecture, drawing, and decoration, all the surfaces were painted in a bright yellow, gunmetal gray, or electric blue and covered by innumerable handpainted, endlessly billowing strips of ribbon weaving in and out of regularly spaced columns. It was as if the whole surface had been shredded and left to rearrange itself into an elaborate windswept pattern, like a high-tech cartoon version of Art Nouveau’s overgrown vinelike swirls. Yet Parlour Collider did not feel organic but machinelike and futuristic; it was like being trapped inside some unrecognizable, three-dimensional game board.

Parlour Collider, a Jerwood Artists Platform project in collaboration with Cell Project Space, in fact “collided” three spaces. Viewers moved from the all-white front of the gallery space into the grandly decorated installation, and finally into a small yellow back room that the artist called “the barn”; in this even more enclosed and disorienting room, the ribbons looked like straw. The abbreviated sight of the original gallery walls now appeared like a smug before-and-after contrast.

The giddy, unapologetic spirit of Hanson’s work could not be further from the austerely experimental, critical, and theory-heavy ethos of ’70s site-specificity and institutional critique. As if festooned for a comic-book wedding, Parlour Collider breezily sends up the sanctimony of the art gallery, the sociospatial experimentation that arose from modernism, and the reverence for the host space of early site-specificity. Which is not to say that Parlour Collider is naive; the work is as much influenced by recent art history as it is by a Baroque chapel’s dematerialization of space, the claustrophobia of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, the streaming graphics of computer games, the vibrating décor of a nightclub, or the visual punch of public signage. The work’s relentlessness was enhanced by lines of large, evenly spaced circles, jackhammered like rows of rivet holes on a warship or a bridge. This industrial feel was contradicted, however, by the distinctly hand-drawn technique; although regularly covering the space like manufactured wallpaper, it was not mechanically produced, it was never predictable, and it never came to rest—especially not to look backward.

On the back (or “barn” side) of the partition that separated the two rooms of the installation was a delicately rendered white-on-black wall drawing of an unraveling spool of tape curling upward in a large semicircle, looking (as the artist pointed out) rather like an empty globe stand. As Hanson’s work suddenly shifted from wallpaper-like background to isolated mural, we became aware of the very different figure/ground relationship at work in the rest of the installation, in which we—colorless, overserious art viewers—were the slow-moving figures almost vanishing against Hanson’s deliriously high-energy, pulsating ground.

Gilda Williams