Los Angeles

Roger Hiorns, Untitled, 2008–, atomized passenger aircraft engine, dimensions variable

Roger Hiorns, Untitled, 2008–, atomized passenger aircraft engine, dimensions variable

Roger Hiorns

Marc Foxx Gallery

Roger Hiorns, Untitled, 2008–, atomized passenger aircraft engine, dimensions variable

Previously shown in London and New York, Roger Hiorns’s atomized jet engine, Untitled, 2008–, arrived at Marc Foxx in Los Angeles after a significant delay. To be preceded by its reputation was, however, perfectly appropriate for a sculpture that began as a hypothetical proposition—one of several ritualistic activities described but not performed in the monologue Benign, which Hiorns debuted at the Serpentine Gallery in 2006. In fact, the work’s very effect hinges on this gap between the seductiveness of its material presence (a small sea of swelling particulate matter filling the gallery floor) and the viewer’s knowledge of this unlikely powder’s prior life (as a functional industrial-grade machine). No longer recognizable as its former self but its raw materials not yet repurposed in a new construction, the substance of Hiorn’s sculpture holds objecthood in a state of suspension.

The artist has said that this work, which he habitually refers to as a “dust piece,” was made out of a desire to absent himself from his art. Knowledge of this fact serves to add an eerie layer of meaning to the outsourced industrial process (in which liquefied metal is granulated into an aerosol) that was used to produce this piece. Given the varied composition of a jet engine, Untitled boasts a density of tone that, once poured in stratified layers on the gallery floor, evoke the rocky crags of a barren desert island viewed from above. Each iteration of this sculpture, although always formless, is displayed (without Hiorns’s involvement) in the same manner—and understandably so. The shift in scale and attendant slip from the material to the metaphorical in this work—the connotation of the island reinforcing a state of limbo—reflect back on and expand Untitled’s central conceit. With the artist out of the picture, all of these elements appear to have just fallen into place.

As this work moves through the world, it continues to unfold. Past installations of the piece have ranged from showstopping (at the 2009 Turner Prize) to elegiac (in Peter Eleey’s “September 11” exhibition at MoMA PS1 in 2011). “Disquieting” could be used to describe the piece as it appeared this summer at Marc Foxx, framed by Hiorns in the exhibition materials with a particularly ponderous line: “To what degree are we alive.” The London-based artist might have done well to just call it one of life’s mysteries. Nevertheless, the piece, given space to breathe, here continued to hover at that limit between corporeality and nonexistence.

If Hiorns complicates the notion of dematerialization inherited from an older generation of Conceptualists, he also proposes that materials possess a radical truth much stranger and more versatile than we normally allow. Against any endowment of matter with some essential core or unifying quality, Hiorns pushes his materials (as diverse as antidepressants, brain matter, and copper sulphates) to the edge of recognition. The pulverized engine highlights the way in which all of Hiorns’s work has quivered between presence and absence, transmutation and erasure. The artist’s long-standing interest in the rituals of Catholicism and their wider social ramifications seems apropos here. With his atomized jet engine, Hiorns suggests that the truth of materials lies in their very contingency.

Ben Carlson