Art + Practice
The idea of consciousness-altering plays a central role in Maren Hassinger’s thinking. Her practice transcends the formal demands of sculpture, the ABCs of it, amplifying the idea of making an object in such a way as to recast it as performance. At their most basic, her objects deal with the tangibility of materials and their existence in the manifested world, evoking what it is to move through this world as an embodied presence. This elegant and forthright work, which stands at the intersection of multiple axes of history and culture, precipitates an intense contemplation of everything from nature and industry to gender and race. The extraordinary balance that Hassinger strikes between poetry and topicality is, by its nature, complex and multidisciplinary, demanding an intense level of focus and control.
Hassinger has referred to her work as a “hybrid”—the consequence of a collaboration between movement and object, between the body’s response to the space around it and the object’s relationship and sensitivity to that same space. She has been involved with collaborative fabrication, dance, and performance throughout her 40-year career. The works on view in “The Spirit of Things,” a sort of mini-retrospective, attested to those intersecting arenas. Given her awareness of the institutional rejection of women artists and artists of color, her work is very much a performance of outsiderness and otherness.
Video, photography, an installation, and numerous objects formed a compendium of movements and forces—weaving, stacking, twisting, bending, tying—as told through a range of materials—wire rope, newspapers, pink plastic bags, steel. Looked at from another angle, such elements could be considered junk and refuse, but Hassinger assembles them into something unrecognizable. Her use of abstraction is double-edged. Though it offers dimensions beyond social, racial, and aesthetic issues, it also, and at the same time, deals with the realities of life. Hassinger’s identity as an African American woman in a racist and misogynistic society has a consistent presence in her work, yet her aim is not so much to assert racial or sexual identity as it is to undermine those very concepts.
Crucial present-day issues echoed throughout the show, even in older works: natural versus artificial/industrial, static gesture as opposed to the human body in motion, the imprint of race and gender all reverberate, particularly in the wire rope pieces from the ’70s. Whirling, a dimensionally variable piece from 1978, and related works are clearly based in an Eva Hesse-type Post-Minimalism but take on a performative excess of meaning from the ferocious process of unwinding strands of heavy wire, binding them together, and standing them upright on their frayed ends.
In the window installation Love (2008/2018), Hassinger stuffed hundreds of inflated, shocking-pink plastic bags into a narrow corridor. The pillow-like forms press on the viewer from all sides, creating a womb-like, claustrophobic atmosphere—a triumph, like much of her work, of feminist, collaborational aesthetics.