Things hold together for a certain amount of time and eventually fall
apart. Sometimes order is disrupted abruptly. Criticality, in the language
of complexity theory, is the point at which a system's equilibrium is
lost, whether it's the moment before an earthquake, a volcano, a market
crash or a sneeze. As a teenager I once returned home to find my best
friend's house across the street burnt down. It was upsetting to see
those familiar rooms, now open to the sky, snow piled on a chaos of
charred furniture and household stuff. I was stunned by the TV, which
had become a horrifying cartoon of its once cozy banality, its warm
flicker torched into a snow-capped drool. Ian Dawson makes artworks
that could have been pulled from such a conflagration. He applies intense
heat to mass-produced plastic objects to induce many moments of criticality,
including cognitive ones. Dawson avoids the sentimental or tragic overtones
of a staged trauma aftermath with festively baroque compositions and
buoyant off-the-shelf color. His sculptures are evidence of collisions
between objects and forces, between stories told at different speeds.
The design and original purpose of store-bought manufactured objects
is made to intersect with the force of Dawson's florid aspirations.
encyclopedia describes thermoplastic as a polymer in which molecules
are held together by 'weak secondary bonding forces' that soften when
exposed to heat and return to a solid condition when cooled. This is
what gives plastic its plasticity, its capacity to be molded into any
shape. Dawson uses a blowtorch to melt and bond plastic bowls, chairs,
wastebaskets, hangers and milk cartons. The objects slur together to
make artworks alive with arrested movement. The blowtorch is a surrogate
for the artist's hand; its scorching touch reshapes material according
to the artist's spontaneous and chance-embracing intentions.
Dawson's creative destructions subtly elaborate the various industrial
and geological back-stories of plastic. In the beginning dead plants
and animals became crude oil under profound terrestrial pressure and
geothermal heat. Later, companies made toys and plastic hangers from
the processed remains of those organisms so that the artist could restore
some nature to them in the form of accelerated entropy. Dawson efficiently
converts his new plastic goods into scrap in an extravagant production
of waste. He adds, however, a rich genealogy and wealth of offbeat references
to artists like John Chamberlain, Robert Smithson, Yves Klein and Salvador
Dali. Refined materials become raw material for elaborated refinements.
Safety orange, industrial blue, and tutti-frutti rainbows of cheap color,
selected by the manufacturers to signal fanciness or functionality,
are re-used by Dawson for painterly effect and compositional brio.
will also make for Grand Arts a sculpture made of crumpled paper. This
work, like the melted sculptures, is constructed from destroyed machine-made
products. The papers begin with various geometric patterns and diagrams
printed on them, which are then crumpled into balls and assembled into
piles. The works make a reference to topology by enacting processes
best described by that science. What are the rules governing the crumpling
of paper? How can the various break points and angled edges of a crumpled
sheet be predicted or described? Topology is interested in the relation
of math to objects. Dawson's paper sculptures solicit those considerations
by making volumes constructed from a single plane. He converts an image
into a thing by crunching its two dimensions into three. It would require
a brain-stretching act of imagination to picture the original pattern
from our always partial view of each crumpled sheet. The regular pattern
printed on the paper both highlights and camouflages the chaotic geometry
of the crumple as it rises into a pile. Action is layered upon abstraction
layered onto actual things; behavior collides with thought and organized
matter. If Dawson's plastic pieces gesture toward the floor his paper
sculptures seem to rise toward the ceiling. Together they fill the gallery's
architecture with highly artificial stalactites and stalagmites.
So much depends on the laws of physics. Dawson is a process artist in
the way he applies initial operations to the materials and then lets
nature do the rest; he rolls the dice. In a set of drawings using conventional
marbleizing techniques the vagaries of chemical circumstance become
a snapshot of fluid dynamics; chemistry generates the image. Dawson's
magic is familiar but can still astonish with lurid and nuanced effects.
The images look like celestial or microbiological objects seen under
enhanced magnification. The surface plane of the paper intersects with
the irregularity of the marbleizing brew to make plasmic images ready
for publication in a science publication.
Dawson's sculptures encourage analogies; they can be seen as tiny islands
or giant blossoms. They are like Chinese scholar rocks, gongshis, in
the way they evoke a sense of landscape in microcosm. The clefts, precipices,
holes and hollows of Dawson's sculptures resemble science-fiction geological
formations and can be considered according to the elaborate gongshi
taxonomy of sources and attributes. His objects are suggestive the way
a mottled and stained wall was for Leonardo: a chaotically dispersed
perceptual field that one can project into or imaginatively enter. The
allover field solicits our brain's habit of projecting coherence. The
unintegrated becomes integrated according to cognitive-perceptual habits,
like when we recognize figures in the clouds. Dawson's willed incoherence
performs what Robert Smithson would call in a different context "entropy
bootlegging". Both artists repackage the effects of dissolution
for our delectation and their own emphatic assertions.
Chairs, 2000, was a brightly colored stack of inexpensive children's
chairs before it got the Dawson heat treatment: three shades of blue,
smiley-face yellow, and a fluorescent orange. Seven becomes one as Dawson's
new math reduces the chairs to a single congested mass. The colors reveal
and conceal each other with all the dynamic sluicing and improvisational
panache of an action painting. Industrial standards of repetition are
burlesqued by Dawson's non-reversible operations. Molecules are unfastened
and sensitized to pokes, prods and the pull of gravity. The softened
plastic obtains a beautiful fluency of surface with subtle modulations
and the elimination of detail. It obtains what Medardo Rosso wanted
from his wax sculptures an "explosive release of latent energy".
Ian Dawson's works are an efflorescence of catastrophe. His melted sculptures
are gooey graveyards of heat violence. They are terminaly relaxed, halted
on their way to total dissolution. It is as though the energy required
to sustain upright solidity has succumbed to a potent lethargy. If the
heat were to continue these pieces would eventually become puddles.
Like water, the sculptures display what Francis Ponge called "an
hysterical urge to submit to gravity". The objects are having a
For Grand Arts Ian Dawson will work with plastic tilt-trucks and multi-colored
free flier dispensers. Both objects are designed to transport goods
from one place to another but Dawson will interrupt their missions to
purvey his own more ephemeral cargo. MOD, the company that manufactures
the tilt trucks, promises in its literature to "shape your ideas
in plastic". Their trucks are "ruggedly built, for moving
any kind of bulk material and long service under the toughest kind of
punishment". MOD wasn't anticipating Ian Dawson, who will press
these humble instruments into service both catastrophically grand and
not considered by their expert designers.
purchases his material new. Paper and plastic are taken out of circulation
to be recycled into altered art-states. The energy that held the plastic
in the form of a wastebasket or the paper in the form of a flat sheet
is undone for a moment to suspend the objects between two states. The
originals are sometimes transformed beyond recognition, their identities
unfastened along with their molecular structure. Dawson lays speedbumps
in the way of recognition. He queries the stability of things the way
a Dutch master might use the image of a snuffed candle or overturned
goblet in a still-life painting.
Objects become more conspicuous when they cease to function. Broken
things flare into consciousness to interrupt the smooth flow of our
routine. Dysfunctional objects lose the happy invisibility they had
when they worked properly. Artworks, likewise, help us to trip on overlooked
objects. But art also encourages us to see through things, to their
history, cultural context, or to the artist. We are led, hopefully,
to re-look at the objects around us with skewed vision. Those things,
as a consequence, might be felt to look back at us.
"I want to say just one word to you, just one word. Are you listening?
Plastics." This is the secret to a brilliantly successful future
emphatically given to Ben, Dustin Hoffman's disoriented character in
The Graduate by a well-meaning friend of his parents. Ben wants no part
of that future but his incipient counter-cultural values have, in the
years since the movie, come, gone, and returned to a world more dramatically
polymerized than anything those characters in1967 ever imagined. Ian
Dawson, though, takes the older man's advice seriously in a deviant
way. He transforms a post-war consumer utopianism into a high-art anarchism.
Dawson's work both protests and celebrates the state of things. He produces
metaphors that help us to imagine a world more extravagantly mutable
than we thought.
New York, NY