Summer 2007, WM Issue #4: Tim Hawkinson's Zoopsia @ the Getty
A Fantastic Morbid Medley
Tim Hawkinson’s “Zoopsia”
(March 6 – September 9, 2007)
By Juliette Frette'
Exclusively commissioned by the J. Paul Getty Museum, a rather unusual exhibit a' la Tim Hawkinson called “Zoopsia” (which literally means “the visual hallucination of animals”) beckons from its one room spectacle. Upon close examination of the display room, you will begin to understand the appropriate title. There are four works of art: each looking extremely different from the next. All pretty random actually – or so one might think initially. Being sort of nearsighted and often afflicted with tunnel vision, I actually did not notice anything particularly odd at first. “Okay there’s a bat, a dragon, an octopus, and a dinosaur skeleton…”. And then I got closer.
I was surprised to find that these were no ordinary attempts at depicting familiar creatures. I squinted. The supposed dinosaur skeleton by the endearing name of “Leviathon” (2007) – created with sculpey, crayola model magic, and steel – was actually composed of a number of pasty white nude bodies seemingly strung together, sort of spooning each other, thereby forming the backbone of the animal. In conjunction with the creature’s ribs, all of the human forms appeared to be rowing, while the head of the animal was yet another humanoid naked figure, only crouched in a fetal position holding its head. The nude figure’s rear end was actually the nose of the skeletal creation.
I was taken aback: I was essentially being mooned by this magical animal! But once I got over that, and upon some analytical conversation with the 19-year old security guard / aspiring writer, I began to comprehend the profundity of this work.
It was more than just a clever construction of a prehistoric animal using human figures, which in and of itself is special by virtue of its subtle illustration of life’s sacred interconnectedness. It also suggests the wonderful spiritual potential of humanity, especially encapsulated by the apparent harmonious cooperation of the synchronized rowing rib bones. Moreover, this art work reminded me of Greek mythology, as the smaller seated figures just sort of grow out of the larger crown of the crouching human – just like Zeus had androgenically given birth to the goddess Athena from his divine godhead. What a perfect personification for the powers of manifestation if I’ve ever seen one! How thought has indeed become form for Tim Hawkinson, growing boldly before our eyes into solid reality
Sufficiently charmed by the cleverness of “Leviathon”, I then looked closer at the other artwork, all of which shared a similar element in that Hawkinson primarily used recycled and / or household and industrial materials. Of the remaining three in the exhibit, “Octopus” (2006) captured my attention the most – and apparently the morbid curiosity of other observers as well.
“EW!” one lady said in apparent disgust. Overhearing many remarks expressing revulsion and fascination, I stepped closer to the photographic collage. From afar this did not look that special. But standing right next to it, one immediately notices the various photographs of human skin and lips, puckered in diverse ways, many times against a seemingly transparent surface, representing the suckers on the tentacles of the octopus. To be quite honest, it reminded me of someone’s rear end – just like “Leviathon”! An even more morbid human quality about the piece are the little toe-ring style clippings of photograph (more pictures of skin to be sure) scattered around the dark photo paper background. Yes, this was definitely clever. And definitely a little gross. Could it be a metaphor for human beings sucking the life out of our oceans? Perhaps.
And then there’s “Dragon” (2007) and “Bat” (2007), works that are not particularly grotesque but are thought provoking nonetheless in their artistic distinctness from the other pieces. A swirling emotional smoky rendering of a mythological creature, “Dragon” is beautiful but sort of messy. Created from ink, paper, and other mixed media, the body itself is like a ferocious and yet foggy billow of smoke, with ink dribbling down the enormous page from almost every scale and coil. Inversely, “Bat” is an extremely detailed lifelike model of (surprise!) a bat. Constructed of plastic bags, twist ties, and other mixed media, it hangs eerily from the ceiling swinging two and fro to the rhythm of the air conditioning. What does one make of these two divergent art pieces in the same exhibit? We can only be sure of one thing with regard to the aforementioned anomalies: they are without a doubt revelatory of Hawkinson’s extreme range as an artist – who mysteriously represents everything from the nebulous to the finite, from the human to the animal, from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
But of course these are my own interpretations. And metaphorical potential is part of the beauty of artwork like that of Tim Hawkinson: the possibilities are endless. And who knows what his original intentions really were in creating such a unique exhibit.
And I recommend that you make a point to see it, especially if you are in the neighborhood. If you don’t, countless Tim Hawkinson advertisements posted strategically around LA will eventually torment you into submission.
Lastly, don’t forget to treat yourself to a haunting five minute concert by Hawkinson’s massive musical instrument constructed of balloons and horns called “ Überorgan” which is prominently featured in the Getty’s main entrance hall. The 250-foot-long scroll of black dots and dashes churn every hour on the hour, creating what could be the perfect soundtrack to an offbeat psychological thriller. You can’t possibly miss the light but forboding “Überorgan,” as it hangs suspended over everyone’s heads in a manner intriguingly similar to that of the dangling bat. But don’t be scared.
It’s only art – in action!
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief