Sculptor and sometime-aerialist Jamie Hamilton (pictured right) tackles visual paradoxes in his latest body of work on view at Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art through Oct. 10. Using two-way glass to create false perspectives and illusory space, and magnets to hold the pieces together, Hamilton makes beguiling conceptual sculptures inspired by the theorems of Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel (1906-1978). On the cover is Hamilton’s steel and glass sculpture Up Is Down; photo Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing, 2015.
theorems,” Austrian mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) showed that even in mathematical systems, all truths cannot be proven and are therefore inconsistent and contradictory. Gödel may have applied his theorems to mathematics, but they have implications for the real world. Artist Jamie Hamilton applies Gödel’s theorems to his latest body of work on view in Incompleteness Theorem, a solo exhibition at Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art. “Gödel came along and mathematically proved that our powers of description are limited,” Hamilton told Pasatiempo. “The fundamental issue is one of paradox. There’s a reality, a world that exists that we intuit as absolute.”
The implications of Gödel’s theorems are that nothing is assured and absolutes cannot be known. This is some pretty dense stuff, but the gallery’s exhibit labels contain QR codes you can scan to view two-minute videos in which Hamilton discusses the ideas behind each work. In addition to being an artist, Hamilton is an aerialist and an avid mountain climber. He first applied Gödel’s thinking to his large-scale aerial structures, exhibited at the Center for Contemporary Arts in 2012. “The connection that took me into this new sculptural work was this idea of facing uncertainty and amor fati, this love of fate. On the high wire, as one balances on it, you’re surrounded by a void on each side. Given Gödel’s theory that there is no certainty and the absolute is unknowable, I do my best to be certain the aerial structures are safe; I don’t have the resources to hire an engineer.” The structures combine his interests in art, athleticism, and engineering with performance, and he employs them in his high-wire acts. His new works, which are small-scale mixed media sculptures made with steel and high strength neodymium magnets, developed from out of his larger body of work. “The aerial structures were a way of trying to unite three separate roles I’ve had in life. I wanted to find a project that incorporated these three passions that I felt,” he said.
One can see how Gödel’s theorems apply to the sculptures at Chiaroscuro, which incorporate twoway mirrors to create perceptual illusions, calling into question the notion of a sculpture as fixed object. For instance, in his As the Stomach Bleeds, a twisting, intestinal form made from cylindrical bars of steel held together by magnets, panes of mirrored glass are set at various points, angled to give the sense that the sculpture extends into the space surrounding it.
The sculpture thus appears to twist and turn in ways in which it actually doesn’t. Hamilton is calling attention to the uncertainty with which we perceive the world around us.
Field Study, also on view, uses mirrors that face each other, forming two sides of an incomplete box. A horizontal steel bar, bisected at its midpoint, where an eruption of magnetic ink is weirdly fixed in space, rests between the panes of glass and appears to extend infinitely in either direction. Hamilton is capitalizing on the fact that two facing mirrors will reflect one another immeasurably. It’s a simple but effective trick, and one he also employs for a sculpture called Up Is Down. Hamilton constructed a scaffold for Up Is Down that extends from floor to ceiling with a mirror set above it and another mirror below. Again, the structure appears to keep going in both directions. “As structures go higher they usually also go deeper, if they’re going to be durable,” he said.
The facing mirrors in Up Is Down, Field Study, and other works in the show present the viewer with an interesting problem: In theory, the two mirrors reflect each other interminably, but your head gets in the way, preventing a full observation of this phenomenon. As an observer standing off to one side of a given sculpture rather than between its two reflective surfaces, however, you glimpse enough of the endless iterations of the space it occupies to get a sense of its vast — but phantom — scale. “You’re this outside observer of this space that exists in light and exists in sense but physically doesn’t exist,” Hamilton said. Inspired, perhaps, by Gödel’s contention that the limits of knowledge prevent us from grasping the absolute, you can see the sculpture’s determinate end depending on the angle from which you view it, but never directly observe the extent of the illusory space created by the mirrors. If you could be inside and outside of the mirrored space simultaneously (and if you could get your own head out of the way of the reflections), the piece would appear finite and infinite at the same time.
Whether he’s constructing aerial structures using cables and pulleys, or employing neodymium magnets to keep parts together, Hamilton is economic with his materials. His high-wire constructs are primarily held together by tension. Some of the works in Incompleteness Theorem are potentially interchangeable, because there are no welded or riveted parts. The sculptures’ components can be taken apart easily and rearranged. The artworks maintain their overall shapes because of the magnets. “There are certain positions where the magnets repel each other and other positions where they attract each other,” he said. “What actually emerges depends to a great degree on these magnetic fields and the way these materials are responding. When I brought them into town, I had to look at the image of one piece on the invitation and put it back together they way it looked on the invitation because, in the car ride, it reorganized itself.”
The magnets also create an illusion: The outward appearance of each sculpture is one of a cohesive whole, but the reality is that each is composed of unconnected parts, arranged into structures whose frameworks are determined by an invisible force. Hamilton is attempting to recreate the paradoxes implied by Gödel’s theorems. “In theory, you shouldn’t be actually be able to create a paradox,” he said. “A paradox exists more in the liminal space of language or as an idea and yet, often in my life I feel faced with paradox in terms of decisions and in terms of gain and loss. I was trying to embody that mental space as I worked with these materials.”
on the high wire, as one balances on it, you’re surrounded by a void on each side. ... i do my best to be certain the aerial structures are safe; i don’t have the resources to hire an engineer. — jamie hamilton
Left, Jamie Hamilton:
Chirality, 2015, steel, glass, and rubber; above, Divide
by Zero (detail), glass and light fixture; opposite page, Loving That Which Is Made
to Vanish, 2015, glass and light fixture
Chalkboard, 2015, steel and neodymium