Lapse Grasp, a solo exhibition containing six recent works from artist Jason Hackett, opens up a richly allusive space to consider the spiritual output of human hands–the grounded piety baked into the act of making along a full spectrum of labors. Hackett’s sculptural assemblages attest to this reality with understated power. Literally, the room is quiet; a low, meditative, mechanical hum unites three pieces with hidden motors. Visually, the work has few colors and little surface decoration. The brand of beautiful at play is not pretty; no attention, let alone affection, is demanded. Instead, it is humble in presentation, well-made without ostentation, allowing the implications to unfold over time to anyone willing to sit and share in the artist’s curiosity.
An initial glance establishes a set of works with range in scale and varying relations to the wall: from a modest sized ceramic bas-relief to a sprawling armature of steel stacked with objects in the round. Some of these sculptures have kinetic features, objects rotating on hooks and rods. Closer inspection reveals a consistent craftsmanship befitting each material and its physical junction to the whole. I hinted above at the relative “nakedness” of the surfaces at play; they have been treated carefully to amplify rather than simply utilize their properties. Hackett is, after all, a ceramicist–one trained through a love affair with mud. (Indeed, one installation includes an unfired circle of clay presumably salvaged from the bottom of a bucket.)
However, not all of the earthstuff fashioned into objects for this work have dirtied Hackett’s hands in the same way. Other materials at play include found factory-produced ceramic, 3D printed clay, electrical motors, industrial felt, and lasercut mdf board. One effect is the evocation of multiple types of labor: fine art, craft, and construction–overlapping such verbs as making, finding, playing, building, programming, seeing, thinking.
Another relevant verb for this list must be ‘praying.’ Hackett used those very technologies that distance the hand from the material to multiply images of hands around the room. Crucially, many of these mimic the shape of Albrecht Durer’s Praying Hands1 This image, for the modern person, has been flattened, sentimentalized, and reproduced ad nauseum–however, drawing it into a conversation with unprettified craftsmanship yields the opportunity for reinvested sincerity. Other figurative references bear spiritual significance as well: memento mori skulls, a Buddha head and, by extension, the artist’s self-portrait. Other objects reference the body more obliquely: wooden tree limbs cast into ceramic (I am the vine; you are the branches)2; ceramic vessels (but we have this treasure in jars of clay)3; clay itself (for dust you are and to dust you will return)4. Even newer technologies play into this theme. The mechanical devices animating the sculptures initially suggest a departure from the human, but electricity itself is only (over)usable by us because it has already existed in nature, in the atmosphere, in our very bodies, entwined in our neurology such that no one may mark where our materiality begins and ends.
Man is homo faber, he makes in the dirt, labors to fill his belly, and plays with pixels. But our fundamental other-orientation is not just that of man-to-man or man-to-earth: one finitude to another of greater magnitude. We make in light of eternities, infinities, divinity. We make in light of tradition and an interminable future. For better or worse, we make this way in the studio, the factory, and every digital platform.
Jason Hackett’s sculpture, with its particular unity-in-variety, does wise work to reconnect our full-orbed, enchanted personhood with those technologies that appear to be overtaking our agency and dulling our spiritual sensitivity. If we are dull, it is indeed to our own discredit, because there is much redeeming work to be done and all the more tools to re-tool for labor in love.
- 1. Durer, Albrecht. Praying Hands. 1508, Albertina, Vienna. Image URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Praying_Hands_-_Albrecht_Durer.png
- 2. John 15:5 ESV
- 3. 1 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV
- 4. Genesis 3:19 NIV