Mechanical Sculpture at the Whitney

A recent stop-off at the Whitney re-introduced me to the uncannily organic mechanical contraptions of sculptor Tim Hawkinson. 072

From the Whitney website:

Hawkinson has created numerous sculptures that function as machines, many of which have characteristics of robots or automatons. Other pieces serve to record time or create sounds. He has produced an astonishing variety of time-telling sculptures, often using unconventional materials, such as strands of hair caught in a hairbrush for the hands of one “clock.” Spin Sink (1 Rev./100 Years) (1995) is a 24-foot-long row of interlocking gears, the smallest of which is driven by a whirring toy motor that in turn drives each consecutively larger and more slowly turning gear up to the largest of all, which rotates approximately once every one hundred years. Several of his mechanical works function as eccentric musical instruments, whistling, honking, and clacking to the artist’s own scores or popular songs. From Feather (1997), a tiny feather fashioned from the artist’s own hair, to a football field-sized pipe organ, Überorgan (2000), Hawkinson’s work combines humor and diligence to make the familiar territories of the body, machinery, and time surprising and new.

6570The offsite installation of Tim Hawkinson’s signature construction, Überorgan opens February 11, 2005.  The deeply sonorous piece, too large to be shown at the Whitney itself, is on view in the Sculpture Garden at 590 Madison Avenue (between 56th and 57th Streets), where it remains up through May 29, concurrent with the run of the Whitney exhibition of Hawkinson’s work.  The Sculpture Garden at 590 Madison Avenue is open to the public from 8 am to 10 pm daily.

Überorgan, created from multiple bus-size biomorphic balloons, each with its horns tuned to a different note in an octave, is a gargantuan self-playing organ.  Its musical score consists of a 200-foot-long scroll of dots and dashes encoding old hymns, pop classics, and improvisational ditties.  Tim Hawkinson explains: “The score is deciphered by the organ’s brain—a bank of light-sensitive switches—and then reinterpreted by a series of switches and relays that translate the original patterns into nonrepeating variations of the score.”