Prob­ing para­dox


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

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