Flesh and wood

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Har­mony Ham­mond and Fran­cis Cape’s An­gle of Re­pose

IN her paint­ing Flesh Fold #1, pi­o­neer fem­i­nist artist Har­mony Ham­mond con­tin­ues her min­i­mal­ist ex­plo­ration of sur­face ma­te­rial and con­cep­tu­al­ism, which have been hall­marks of her re­cent work. But what lies be­low the sur­face of the paint­ing be­comes para­mount, lead­ing to all kinds of as­so­ci­a­tions for the viewer. One con­sid­er­a­tion pro­posed by Ham­mond is that the paint­ing, ren­dered thickly in near-monochrome color, is an ex­ten­sion of the body, if not the body it­self. “For me, the ma­te­rial stuff, the paint, is like flesh,” Ham­mond told Pasatiempo. “The word in the ti­tle sug­gests the ma­te­rial body. That’s how the body is pres­enced.” Ham­mond pairs Flesh Fold #1 with a sculp­tural work by artist Fran­cis Cape called Fore­clo­sure, com­posed of re­made Shaker fur­ni­ture. To­gether, the in­di­vid­ual art­works form An­gle of Re­pose, an in­stal­la­tion in SITE Santa Fe’s ex­hibit SITE 20 Years/20 Shows: Sum­mer.

Ham­mond met Cape in 2008, at the Skowhegan School of Paint­ing and Sculp­ture, a nine-week res­i­dency pro­gram in Maine. The two artists were on the fac­ulty. “There wasn’t an ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion be­tween my work and his work, but I kept com­ing back to it,” said Ham­mond, who was in­vited by SITE to work with another artist on an orig­i­nal piece for the show. “I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in his work. It func­tions as sculp­tures and fur­ni­ture si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Like my­self, he felt there was some con­nec­tion, some­thing that could be teased out, even if that wasn’t easy to iden­tify. In this process of col­lab­o­ra­tion we’ve learned a lit­tle bit about shared con­cerns.”

Ham­mond was nearly fin­ished mak­ing Flesh Fold #1 when she ap­proached Cape to work with her, but dis­tance was an is­sue; Cape lives in New York and Ham­mond lives in Gal­is­teo. The de­ci­sion was made to jux­ta­pose in­di­vid­ual works rather than cre­at­ing a sin­gle piece to­gether. “We weren’t so in­ter­ested in hav­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion; we were more in­ter­ested in set­ting up a con­ver­sa­tion,” she said. “When you have one piece and one piece, it be­comes a con­ver­sa­tion. Our col­lab­o­ra­tion was by email, phone, and we met once in New York. It was Fran­cis who first used the term ‘an­gle of re­pose.’ It seemed like such a loaded, sat­u­rated term. I felt that it re­flected the way I deal with con­tent in my work.” The phrase “an­gle of re­pose” refers to the steep­est an­gle rel­a­tive to a hor­i­zon­tal sur­face upon which ma­te­rial can be piled be­fore it be­gins to col­lapse or slump. In the works of Ham­mond and Cape, the term takes on other con­no­ta­tions. “‘An­gle of re­pose’ be­came a metaphor for the pre­car­i­ous­ness of our lives and all the stuff that piles up that we have to per­son­ally deal with, whether it’s fi­nan­cial, en­vi­ron­men­tal, po­lit­i­cal, and so forth,” she said. “It brings up this ques­tion of How much can we take? What’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back in some­body’s life be­fore they have a men­tal break­down?”

“We both have very strong ide­o­log­i­cal po­si­tions,” Cape told Pasatiempo. “As you let the work sink in, you get the con­nec­tions. For about 10 years now I’ve been mak­ing work that tries to ad­dress the so­ci­ety out­side the art world, a so­ci­ety that seems, to me, very di­vided.”

The artists work ab­stractly and share a con­cern for the ma­te­rial sub­stance of their art. For Ham­mond, it’s the rich pos­si­bil­i­ties of paint, built up in lay­ers and af­fixed with grom­mets that act as port­holes to the lay­ers hid­den be­low the sur­face. A part of Flesh Fold #1 is peeled back, giv­ing another glimpse to an in­te­rior realm, like skin re­veal­ing the raw flesh be­neath. “I al­ways work with ma­te­rial ma­nip­u­la­tion, and I feel like my job is to pull mean­ing out of that some­how,” said Ham­mond. “Lay­er­ing is im­por­tant. I think you can see it in Fran­cis’ work, too, be­cause he has many pieces of fur­ni­ture that are stacked or lay­ing on each other. This idea of lay­er­ing, of build­ing up, is like the piling-on of the an­gle of re­pose.”

Cape’s frame of ref­er­ence is no less con­cep­tual but per­haps more ex­plicit. Mean­ing is con­veyed through the re­man­u­fac­tur­ing of ev­ery­day ob­jects, par­tic­u­larly fur­ni­ture. “I grew up in the late ’60s, early ’70s where we dreamed of mak­ing another world, and that is now seen as kind of fa­nat­i­cal,” he said. “My re­mak­ing of fur­ni­ture is a level of use­less­ness, if you like, that points up the no­tion of value in hand craft.”

Cape ap­pren­ticed as a wood carver in the north of Eng­land be­fore turn­ing to sculp­ture, and he de­vel­oped an abid­ing re­spect for hand­crafted fur­ni­ture. “I have craft in my blood. It’s a de­funct way of liv­ing in the world now. If you con­trast a hand­made me­dieval oak bench with some­thing from Ikea, you’d get the point. Fur­ni­ture is now a con­sum­able; it’s not a durable, whereas the me­dieval oak bench out­lasted its maker by sev­eral gen­er­a­tions. It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent no­tion of value. We are in a po­si­tion now where we’re all con­sum­ables. Work­ers are con­sum­ables. Even CEOs are con­sum­ables. The only things that per­sist are the fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions.”

Fore­clo­sure was partly inspired by a true story about a man whose home was fore­closed upon and who ended up sur­viv­ing by selling off his fur­ni­ture on the street. “The broader thought for me is the pos­si­bil­ity of think­ing about another so­cial struc­ture,” Cape said. “The use of Shaker ide­al­ist fur­ni­ture rep­re­sents that for me.”

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