Sculptor gives his toys an edge
By Michael O’Sullivan
Friday, August 29, 2014
Sculptor Adam Robert Hager’s solo exhibition at Flashpoint Gallery looks a bit like a demented toy workshop.
One piece evokes an old--fashioned Erector set, another brings to mind a vintage whirligig. Among the found objects that the artist ---- a 2012 MFA graduate of American University ---- uses as his material, you’ll find baseballs and bats, music--box mechanisms and plastic--foam airplanes. Four of the nine sculptures are interactive; visitors are encouraged to play with them by manipulating hand cranks and pedals, a joystick or a sledgehammer.
But it’s not exactly Funland.
Beneath the superficial whimsy of Hager’s show, “Between Fact and Fiction,” there lies a sense of latent menace, even violence. One of Hager’s sculptures, “Labor Day,” is an ordinary baseball and bat that have been transformed into a spiky, lethal--looking flail by the addition of sharp drill bits and a heavy chain. Elsewhere in the show is a work made from a hatchet. (It’s called “Recess,” in an evocation of schoolyard mayhem.) Another features a pair of hedge loppers, made grimmer by a title it shares with a famous song about lynching, “Strange Fruit.”
The longer and the deeper you look, the less innocent Hager’s art looks.
Even the objects that are meant to be touched ---- a mechanical spine, for example, whose vertebrae have been fashioned from 13 tiny music boxes, and a carousel of toy airplanes spinning overhead ---- hint at darker themes. Decorated with military insignia, those airplanes go round and round in a vicious circle, each one hunting another in endless, even pointless, pursuit. As for that mechanical spine, it protrudes from the back of a dressmaker’s mannequin, the fabric skin of which has been laid bare, as if by an orthopedic surgeon.
Even the tunes that the music boxes play ---- “You Are My Sunshine,” “Over the Rainbow” and other ditties ---- sound discordant when altered by the fuzz and reverb pedals that visitors are invited to step on, distorting those cheerful melodies into a cacophonous sonic assault.
One at a time, Hager’s works evoke delight and wonder. Taken together, they call to mind a kind of Frankenstein’s laboratory. But whether their purpose is to amuse, annoy or frighten isn’t clear.
I would argue that “Between Fact and Fiction” is meant to do a little of all three. Or, rather, to engender a feeling that lies somewhere within those extremes. Hager’s work seduces us into entering a space where we aren’t expected to have fun, but rather to have a conversation about such themes as war, mortality and the human condition.
By Michael O’Sullivan
Friday, August 8, 2014
In 2011, as a first--year MFA candidate at American University, Adam Hager created a floor installation made from a sea of thousands of plastic shot glasses filled to the brim with sapphire--blue water. A hapless visitor to the opening stumbled into it, spilling the liquid. His thesis exhibition a year later included sculptures fashioned from found objects, disassembled by the artist and transformed to resemble machines, the purpose of which was meant to be wondered at from afar.
The sculptor’s new solo exhibition, which opens Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Flashpoint Gallery, boasts several interactive found--object constructions, only this time, any interactivity is purely intentional. “Between Fact and Fiction” offers viewers “Plastic Smile,” a spinal column made from functional music boxes and a hand--cranked carousel featuring spinning overhead airplanes.