New York

Elias Hansen


Do you want in?; I used to come here all the time; I could talk to you all night. The titles of Elias Hansen’s sculptures, most of which combine colored glass vessels with a variety of battered found objects in arrangements that evoke an abandoned home laboratory, suggest lines from an intimate dialogue that is at once highly personal and entirely generic. “This is the last place I could hide,” Hansen’s recent New York solo debut, saw the Tacoma, Washington–based artist attempt to fuse a rough-and-ready aesthetic with a refined technical skill (he makes all the glassware himself) in the service of an impressionistic narrative that strives to parlay its partially improvised formalism into a new breed of psychosocial commentary.

Juxtaposing multipart tabletop setups such as I’ve made a lot of love from this one and I always wanted to do this with you (all works 2010) with smaller, wall-mounted assemblages such as I’m in and It’s a good thing we’re here, Hansen packed one of Maccarone’s capacious rooms with twelve works while devoting a second area of similar size to just three. He made use of the gallery’s large street-facing window, but only to show a single dark print mounted on a grungy slab of wood. And he walled off an area, creating an entirely new room with its own title (We can work this out), which he filled with four further works. A final contrarian touch was provided by a relief in the entrance that looked, in its black-on-black minimal austerity, like the product of an entirely different hand.

Mostly, however, the work in “This is the last place” followed the prescription embodied by I know you, but not from where I thought I did. Here, a globular clear-glass flask half-filled with concrete is attached to the wall with a messily welded steel bracket. An unidentifiable chunk of detritus wrapped in black electrical tape has been stuffed into its neck, and a plastic tube links it to another flask, also wall-mounted but empty and shorter-necked. The suggestion is of a distillation process interrupted or gone awry, a kind of tweaked alchemy in which ordinary materials are subjected to a quasi-Beuysian metaphoric transformation. Hansen speaks of an art in which components are “visible and visceral” but connect in ambiguous ways.

Though such works seem to have gone through their own process of purification, their material language pared down to a few signature parts adapted for endless recombination, those secreted inside We can work this out point to a slightly more open vocabulary. From the outside, the enclosure is distinguished only by a spherical lens embedded in its side. The interior is lined with black tar paper and on this occasion housed I’ve got such a thing for you, a tabletop reliquary on which the expected flasks (green-tinted this time) are matched with a set of metal tubes and funnels, a large model tooth, and two clear crystals. Mounted on the wall nearby were three other works, a murky glazed print and two cigar boxes labeled rubber and electronics, respectively.

But even as he seems to look beyond his chemistry-set shenanigans to other developing, experimental, and even occult technologies, it is the perennially half-understood mechanism of instinct that remains Hansen’s true subject. His broken beakers, jerry-rigged conduits, and salvaged flotsam and jetsam embody a process of creative trial and error, and a realization that the predictability of formulas—“scientific” or otherwise—necessarily gives way to the chaos of the visual and the visceral.

Michael Wilson