Active Measures – Jamie Hamilton

Hannah Hughes reviews Jamie Hamilton's Torrance Art Museum exhibition, Active Measures.

on February 21, 2019

Active Measures, Jamie Hamilton’s exhibition of recent sculpture on view from March 31 through May 18  at Torrance Art Museum draws on raw surplus materials such as magnets, aluminum from the aerospace industry and dichroic glass from optical laboratories that have been machined into highly recursive and reflective biological-mechanical objects. Hamilton work expands upon the witty erotics of Duchamp’s bachelor machine and complicates the radical Constructivist project of unifying art, science and revolution. Seemingly solid systematic forms are undone by dazzling visual, tactile and intellectual discrepancies while meticulous engineering articulates extreme contrasts of scale and polarities of strength and delicacy.  This formal complexity dazzles and disorients the viewer, pulling them into an enchanted baroque aporia that has much to do with digitality beyond mere electronics.  

Active measures is a Russian term for subversive tactical operations that attempt to influence world events, confusing and trashing the information space so that the public doubts any truth. Hamilton’s work certainly revels in ambiguity and resonates with current efforts to re-think “human” and even further “anthropos” as supreme species. His sculpture, and the postanthropocentric turn generally is in dialogue with life sciences and information technologies, bringing the technologically mediated human-non-human continuum to the fore. 

The serpentine duo of Compound Growthnestles together like mother and child, lizard and severed tail, or strands of DNA. The primordial mythological snake associated with creation here has a potential for both monstrous expansion and diminution into the nanoverse, suggested by a scale relationship of segments that is analogous to exponential growth models. This contemporary leviathan takes Hobbes image of the state into the present moment of algo-trading and crypto currencies that rely on unfathomable computational speed and connectivity. The metallic fractal ouroborosprofoundly recalls the totality of existence and cyclic ( or is this too re-assuring? should we now say ever-mutating? ) nature of the cosmos which inspires awe and fear, remaining always beyond cognitive grasp. Hamilton is naturally aesthetically allied with the speculative realist embrace of horror and shock felt as the object begins to return our gaze, displacing human centrality. 

Echo Chamber produces an uncanny porous infinite space while also functioning as a reliquary for obscure remnants.  Inside the vitrine, under taut semi-transparent nylon hints of abandoned aluminum/glass sculptures emerge like an archaeological ruin from sand.  Is this a burial, a return to dust, for the culture built on combustion of fossil carbon compounds dug from the earth’s crust? The chamber compresses time by looking simultaneously back beyond the buried machine age to the arche-fossil and forward into the virtual frontier.  Here as in other works by Hamilton the issue of scale, temporal and spatial, is expanded beyond human history, into a planetary time-frame that encompasses the idea of human extinction. 

The Active Measures works are elegant arced contradictions, built upon muscular universal joints that allow for maximum rotation and force except that the attached glass lenses might shatter if freely moved. Machined eyeballs gaze into deep space, receiving distant starlight that is internally reflected and transmitted back to the stars and incidentally to human eyes. In fact, machine vision, the fabrication and analysis of “invisible” images by computers for computers already far exceeds those made for human consumption.  While embedded in scientific and technological language, these sculptures are also akin to ritual objects, allusive like the Tibetan dorje, that is simultaneously weapon, thunderbolt, scepter and diamond, symbol of enlightenment.  As with dorjes, the Active Measurescontain the brilliance of refracted illumination, and the solidity of the hub, power point, or axis mundi, around which all else turns. Again, Hamilton’s work meshes mythological and anthropocene intuitions. 

In wall mounted Dipole aand Dipole bthe violence of potential explosion co-exists with the suggestion of slow growing plant-life. Curving metal tendrils and glass petals are temporarily held via magnetic attraction that is subject to change. These precarious assemblages seem to have penetrated or branched out from a glass plane so that space is simultaneously bifurcated, kaleidoscopically expanded and folded to implicate the viewer.  As from the vantage of post-humanist ecology, there is no neutral theoretical ground from which to make ecological claims ( or experience the artwork ). Rather, all beings are always already within the ecological and therefore within ongoing ecological catastrophe. The Dipole works allow us to see how magnetic force holds us within the same field, the same shifting ecology ripe with disaster, always falling apart and always connected.

Part of the fascination of Hamilton’s speculative objects lies in the condensation of ancient memory with contemporary tropes in genetics, neuroscience, finance and informatics. In addition to playing with these themes, the palpable density of valuable materials and extravagance of skilled labor exhibited in these subtle, self-endangering machines actually embodies a risky question about how our culture establishes value. What endures? In a sense Hamilton’s sculptures go against the grain of the increasingly immaterial surplus of cognitive capitalism while responding to its dilemmas. They are high stakes gambles, unfolding along the line of beauty and catastrophe, like human life itself. It comes of little surprise that the sculptor is also a high-wire artist.



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