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Contemporary Sculptors Analysis: Tim Hawkinson vs. Rachel Harrison Essay

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Updated: Sep 28th, 2021

Tim Hawkinson is among those of few sculptors whose work is being recognized and reckoned as “labor intensive” and “repeated” which involves a combination of low-tech aesthetics with high-tech concepts. His sculptural work that is created between 1986 and 2004 is placed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and is mostly composed in the form of interconnected pieces manifested by the trains of wires and extension cords that ran along with the ceiling of the museum’s galleries (Zellen, 2005). The one I have selected for comparative analysis is his magnum opus the “Uberorgan”, which is placed in the IBM building, New York. On the other hand, Rachel Harrison’s work is more cultural oriented and focuses on using canned goods, celebrity magazines, fake fruit, wigs, mannequins, soft drinks, and taxidermy animals placed on forms of often monolithic scale (Whitney Biennial, 2008). Her work that I have selected for comparison is “Two-faced: Harrison’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder” kept in the Greene Naftali Gallery, New York City.

Harrison unlike Hawkinson portrays and carves sculptures of famous men from history. Rachel Harrison’s work is different from Hawkinson’s in the sense that it draws from a wide range of influences, through combining modern and historical art and pop culture presenting through a variety of materials. What I have noticed personally in her masterpieces is that her work is a combination of “man’s psychological existence”.

The Uberorgan

Hawkinson’s “Giant self-playing reed organ” which is 300 feet in length depicts his way of utilizing economic concerns by constructing cheap, disposable, and recyclable materials composed of nylon net, cardboard, and plastic bottles. Uberorgan is an artistic and massive musical instrument installed within several rooms. The visual impact enables this masterwork to imitate a living organism’s chest cavity and internal organs which at first glance resembles a large living being. The huge room-to-room structures are enough to mesmerize the viewer, who when they pass through its inflated structures, feel that ‘Uberorgan’ has more or less piano-like working mechanisms. Often it feels that ‘Uberorgan’ presents various switches from a nervous system, which response to stimuli, after giving commands to the organs of a human being or living being. Many artists consider ‘Uberorgan’ as a console or ‘brain’ that works in collaboration with a long roll of mylar which is painted with dabs and dashes and has winds over twelve photoelectric sensors resembling piano keys.

Working Mechanism

Whenever a mark on the mylar roll is passed over a photocell, a particular valve is opened in a reed assembly that corresponds to it. Therefore a pressurized blow of air is released, resulting in a huge blast of sound. Individual notes quality is altered by Hawkinson by managing switches. The uniqueness arises when the movements of gallery visitors are captured by motion sensors by triggering the switches. The visitors are surprised to hear the sounds which are created when switches respond by shifting tonal combinations played through the organ pipes (Lovejoy, 2004, p. 204).

Two-faced: Harrison’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Harrison is good at making dual-faced sculptures of men and among her main statues and heads; there is particular politeness that circumnavigates her style and individuality. Her restraint in rendering the human generally reveals more intelligence than sensitivity. According to Saltz (2007) “Certain smaller sculptures, however, such as that of Two-faced: Harrison’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder suggest that somewhere between the romanticism of her major works and the classical style in which she also continued to work, there might have been someplace for that greater stylistic freedom which seems briefly to have tempted him” (Saltz, 2007). The glasses that have been put on in the “Two-faced” tell us the extent to which Harrison believes wisdom exists in human nature. Whether man or woman, humans are blessed to think and act wisely in their everyday matters.

However, the notion that ‘behind every woman, there is a male think tank’ enables us to appreciate Harrison’s creative nature and her sensitivity to analyze humans. The two-faced artwork of Harrison reveals her attitude towards human male characters and the nature of humanity that later blurs those characters. Other artists believe that the main reason behind sculpting such a creative human figure is the passion for studying human personality that drives her enjoys dealing with many characters in her art. As a result, her work is a composition of only mild surprise, looks cruddy, or comes off like a sight gag (Saltz, 2007).

Comparison and Analysis

If we compare Hawkinson’s sculptors with that of Harrison, we would analyze that Hawkinson’s work is more systematic, organized to be placed by cheap means, and has been made by using inexpensive local materials commonly found, whereas Harrison’s artwork is mostly composed of monochrome monoliths or sculptural clumps.

Hawkinson’s “Uberorgan” elaborates his creativity in different contexts. Based purely upon artist-machine interaction, “Uberorgan” perfectly impresses the visitor at once by its decision-making power and the computerized mechanism that enables its working to determine human steps and then respond through sounds. However, the basic flaw that persists in Uberorgan I think is the dearth of any alternate mechanism that must be in working condition in case “Uberorgan” fails mechanically. At this level, Hawkinson must think artistically as well as critically to make “Uberorgan” work in contingencies.

On the other hand, Harrison’s Two-faced: Harrison’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder is an example of evaluating humanity on the basis of various psychological theories. This is evident from the sculptor which truly presents a two-faced female figure, having either face as male. This also reveals that psychologically every woman possesses a ‘male’ symptom in her.

It seems that Harrison’s work serves as incomplete proof copies of Harrison’s overcrowded sculptures in the museum and as her work is actually about “men”, as we can analyze that in “Two-faced” she has creatively given a female figure, a male face. It allows the observer to participate in the artist’s progress as a sculpture and make comments on her creative side. Producing several versions of a single sculpture is the main feature of Harrison, which instead of presenting her artistic attitude of visualizing exploits the ability to produce multiple personality characters. At least that is what I believe of her creativity that she has a deeper interest in human nature and is influenced by the presence of ‘sexuality’. This key feature is not present in Hawkinson’s work. Unlike Harrison, his masterpiece does not depict any human creative aspect; however, the creative mechanical side that Hawkinson upholds, Harrison lacks and believes in only the psychological side of human existence. Therefore we can say that Harrison’s work is psychological to the new world and presents all the characteristics of today’s man. Both contemporary American sculptors are artistic and creative enough to reshape historical versions of ancient arts in the current modern trends, however, there is still a need to contemplate some more on the critical aspect of their magnum opus.


Lovejoy Margot, (2004) Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age: Routledge: New York.

Saltz Jerry, 2007. Web.

SaatchiGallery, 2008. Web.

Whitney Biennial, 2008. Web.

Zellen Jody, (2005) “Electronic Wizardry” In: Afterimage. Volume: 33. Issue: 2.

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