Shotgun pellets, iron filings, magnets: The unconventional industrial materials Alice Hope uses to create installations and objects explore scientific concepts such as polarity, evaporation and corrosion. In works such as her pangaea or stockpiling, luminous pellets cover a wall or an entire room, whereas in pieces such as her labyrinths, tightly packed iron filings resemble nothing so much as human organs - a brain perhaps, or intestines. Hope’s work references both human and industrial systems of transport, from arteries to wheelbarrows, from osmosis to aircraft. According to a recent artist’s statement, consistent throughout all of her work is an interest in the “natural properties that found materials already possess—their magnetism, weight, reactivity, reflectivity and capacity to dissolve and mutate.”
Alice sat down with curator Merrill Falkenberg to reflect on these ideas
a little further:
MERRILL FALKENBERG: Your work seems to have a cellular quality to it, as if the material multiplied by its own volition. Can you discuss how the work mimics organic forms?
ALICE HOPE: I have several aims in my work, and one of them is to make art that seems itself to grow, or to possess the power to regenerate, and accordingly to seem alive. With some projects, such as in Class of 2009, the work literally grows, transforms, or at least parts of it do, and I see my job as farming and editing the growth. The installations with buckshot and BBs are so additive that at times the material seems to be taking over the space, and by extension, my will. These installations are almost like biological colonizations.
MF: While the work may appear at first self-generating, it is the result of hours of meticulous labor. Tell us about your work’s repetitive and physical nature. Is there a meditative aspect to it for you?
AH: It can be meditative when I’m working with the magnets’ inclination, but I experience the opposite when I’m working against their force. Magnets have a set will, which can be excruciating if my intention counters their pull. If I’m placing particularly strong magnets or using caustic substances, my battle with the material prevents my getting lost in the process. But when the materials and I are working in the same direction, the work is extremely satisfying and I often lose any sense of time.
MF: Does your choice of material relate to Minimalism and the use of industrial, everyday materials?
AH: Yes, Minimalism is definitely an influence. My preference for industrial materials continues to engage me, not least because of their manifold conceptual references. The materials that excite me the most have both cultural relevancy in their intended use and extensive possibility for transformation. My recent iron filing work uses crack detection powder, a material intended to detect cracks in oil pipelines. While the colors and texture happen to be surprisingly sumptuous and velveteen, the material's inherent function contributes relevance and signifiers that continue to evolve. They certainly have expanded their frame of reference in the wake of the recent travesty in the Gulf, for instance.
MF: Needless to say, ammunition has a violent connotation. Were you making some kind of a statement in turning that material into something of beauty?
AH: Yes, I've used many different sizes of shot, as opposed to ball bearings which have no violent connotation, because I’m interested in the layers of meaning associated with ammunition. The material holds a lot of cultural currency – from the ready availability of guns in our inner cities, to ideas about the Second Amendment, to the defense industry’s stockpiling armaments, to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not an explicit goal, to make statements about violence, but certainly an integral part of my process.
MF: The repetition in your work and its unusual use of materials reminds me of Tara Donovan. Was she an influence? The obsessive quality also reminds me of Yayoi Kusama. Who are some other artists whose work has been influential to you?
AH: I love those artists, and Tom Friedman, Olafur Eliason, and Maya Linn as well. I think the compulsion of conspicuous consumption is present in both Tara Donovan's work and in mine, though I envy her material cost, accessibility, and lightness. She repeats everyday materials – straws, plastic cups, toothpicks etc. I would say my materials are not for the everyday consumer, they are more industrial and more difficult to source, and this in turn affects both the experience and the work’s cultural orbits. I have also noticed that while Tara Donovan's work is built from repetition, she can stop! She leaves negative space. My work has more of a hoarding or obsessive quality, like that of Yayoi Kusama.
MF: What are some of the other associations magnetism implies in your work? Certainly there is the magnetism between the work and viewer, is this part of your thinking? Are there other meanings as well?
AH: I view magnetism as the central element in my work, the idea that unites my work’s diverse aspects. I’m particularly interested in magnetism’s force, its ability to attract and repel, but I find other references compelling too. Animal magnetism, for instance. I rely on the magnets’ presence to provide multiple meanings, from the physical to the metaphorical, with a hope of crossing domains. The magnetism between the work and the viewer is seemingly as 'out of my control' as the material. While everyone knows art’s 'no touch' rule, my work inevitably gets touched and manipulated by viewers. It's as if the work magnetizes or seduces its audience into confidently breaking the rule. I do want the work to evoke the desire to touch and interact, though I don’t intend or necessarily want people acing on that desire. The desire to touch is itself magnetic: it pulls people in, and as such I think shows that human or animal magnetism isn’t so distant from magnetism’s effect on shot or filings.
MF: By inviting viewers to touch, the work is always somewhat in flux. Furthermore, some of these works, like pangaea, function as site-specific installations. Can you talk about the element of impermanence in your work?
AH: I actually do not invite the viewers to touch the work. Instead, I invite viewers to become simultaneously aware of their wanting to touch it, and of their power to interact with and change the work. I purposely don’t fix or fence off the work from the viewer, because that would affect this experience. Most vulnerable are my iron filings pieces, while the installations with BBs and shot are able to absorb more change and still function as I intended. Also, when I move a piece or reinstall an installation, the patterns and placement are undoubtedly altered. This impermanence and shift ability are at the heart of what interests me. I want to make work that has structural integrity and presence, and that when left alone can withstand time, gravity, humidity, temperature, change—while making physically evident change’s inevitability.
Merrill Falkenberg is an independent curator and art advisor. Most recently, she has been curator at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, CT and at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, NY.