Graham Hudson

After realizing that it was impossible to take complete written notes of the innumerable details in Graham Hudson’s installation—including a jumble of wooden boxes filled with lit bare lightbulbs, handsaws, two-by-fours, and other debris; multilevel crate flooring; rolls of striped packing tape dangling from the ceiling; a broken swivel chair transformed into a functioning electric lamp topped with a white paperbag “lampshade”—I then discovered that every careless photograph I took of the work came out looking ravishing. In photographs, the whole gallery-size installation, This sculpture is 18 m long, 2007, was perfectly lit and ideally framed, like some impeccable stage set, contradicting the impression of randomness and garbage that prevailed at first sight.

The immediate references, of course, are the junk installations of Thomas Hirschhorn or Tomoko Takahashi, but Graham Hudson’s range of sources runs well past recent history. The four blimplike, floating black garbage bags attached to electric fans look like a cross between smog-filled versions of Warhol’s Silver Clouds, 1996, and the Hindenburg. Accumulations of nails and paint recall Günther Uecker; thick drips of paint pouring through many layers of boxes suggest many episodes in the post–action painting history of painting. Two turntables loudly playing skipping records (it’s Bach, but you’d never recognize it) with bare bulbs dangling and spinning above, knocking the needles out of their grooves, recall the musical experiments of Fluxus or Christian Marclay. In the past, Hudson has incorporated into his own work discarded materials from other artists’ installations—he reused the red timber from a Liam Gillick work in reference to relational aesthetics; more fortuitously, he once recycled shelving from Martha Rosler’s 2005 remake at the Institute for Contemporary Art, London, of her 1973 “Garage Sale” exhibition—making his complicated art-historical genealogy at once even more literal and more difficult to disentangle.

Hudson effectively replaces the postapocalyptic chaos cultivated by Hirschhorn and Takahashi with an orderly sequence of slapstick tableaux: a hammer smashed into a box top and left balancing in midair, or a precisely cutout entranceway reminiscent of the outlines left in doors when cartoon characters run through them. Hudson’s work has a tree-house aesthetic; handmade benches and ladders hint at hospitality and human occupation but, made of hard wood or leading nowhere, don’t really invite us to linger. As it was for the previous generation of junk-based artists, the world is still collapsing under the weight of its own garbage, but while earlier junk installations tended to spread to the very limits of the gallery space, Hudson includes a sort of empty frame along the edges: the almost vacant unused entrance and a semihidden back room as well. Even in these peripheral gallery spaces, however, random bits of clutter creep in as if unstoppable; we are reminded that constructive reuse of waste is, in fact, a fiction, mostly confined to isolated, labor-intensive works of art like this one.

“You just can’t beat a wobbly sculpture,” Hudson once told an interviewer. In fact, his virtuoso constructions don’t really wobble. The overall impression here, partially due to the work’s tunnel-shaped symmetry, was of equilibrium. Like the teetering hammer perfectly wedged into a hole, the work is positioned in balance—between the now vast history of contemporary art behind it and some newer, unprecedented art that dips liberally into architecture, theater, sound, comedy, carpentry, and politics.

Gilda Williams