Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / New York sculptor Lisa Hoke has a singular knack for finding lasting significance in ephemera. In that pursuit, she has enjoyed uncommon success with large site-specific installations. Her innovative sculpture The Gravity of Color, New Britain composed of thousands of plastic cups graced the landing of the LeWitt Staircase at the New Britain Museum or American Art for six years. Her magnificently discursive Dolce Croma at the Torino headquarters of Lavazza, the Italian coffee company, made in 2018 out of packaging materials, is permanent by design and may be there forever. But lockdown moved Hoke to change her aesthetic perspective as well as her art practice. Restricted to her studio and for the time being cut off from large spaces in which to create work for imminent display, she felt the need to fashion pieces that were more portable and more presumptively permanent. What resulted is a scintillating revelation.
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Hoke has vaulted beyond her usual floor installations to wall-mounted pieces. On shaped cardboard backing she composes layers of pattern and abstract shape, often starting with collages made from commercial labels for soda, coffee, beer, whatever proceeding to build on that base with acrylic paint, felt, and occasionally tape and wire, and then mounting the cardboard on plywood panels for hanging. The verbiage of the labels is evident but obscured, denying the viewer any explicit point of reference while registering almost subliminally, indeed like an ad the thrum of commerce and the bustle and vitality that it engenders. This is in line with her previous work, which above all imparted the fulsomeness of the visual information that lubricates the desire for products and, for better or worse, sustains the human marketplace. By purposefully grouping individual panels, larger shaped pieces with discrete components emerge visual essays made of visual sentences, as it were.
The tangible depth, irregular shapes, and cheerful ebullience of the larger pieces inescapably bring to mind Elizabeth Murrays work. Murray consistently straddled painting and sculpture, and Hoke does so now. But if Murray sought liberation from the sensory privations of domestic life, Hoke embraces the sensory excess of the external world. Thus, they are complementary, with Hoke thematically closer to, say, Albert Oehlen. While the confinement of lockdown may have afforded her a constraint that simplified her aesthetic choices, she hardly forgot what it was like out there. Indeed, she has remembered with a vengeance what some psychologists confirm: that, as marketers know full well, information overload induces purchases if for no other reason than to make it stop. Hoke anticipates, no doubt correctly, that when practical normality returns, perceptual impulses starved for material will be turbocharged and accommodated accordingly.
In combining very different panels into unitary groups, Hoke shows how freighted each act of external consumption is with multiple sensations, assumptions, and encapsulations. But theres more. She also demonstrates the fleeting and subjective nature of a persons apprehension of the world. The modularly composed larger works are provisional in the sense that they can be readily rearranged: some viewers would make different panel-to-panel associations and, therefore, prefer alternative configurations. There is also an overarching directionality to each of the larger pieces, implying perpetual motion and a kind of elusiveness; one seems pointed laterally, another to be rotating on an axis. Finally, she embraces the natural strategy of selection and compartmentalization for filtering high-volume, high-tempo sensory input. Each small panel can be examined as a discrete entity, to the exclusion or not it is a matter of personal choice and capacity of all or some of the others.
For all the verve and bright color in Hokes work, it is hardly pollyannaish or utopian. Neither is it a knowing indictment or a naive celebration of capitalist seduction. It is rather a serious, if also playful, Woolfean depiction of the intellectual and psychological density of everyday life. In the current socio-political context, it might stand as well as a paean to the comparatively benign norms of the more stable, less dreadful, and still hectic world that existed only a decade ago but now seems wistfully out of reach. There is a graphic hint of this sensibility in an incongruously rectangular piece, Fences, the one closest among the new group to a conventional painting. Though not at all iconoclastic in structure, its visual content is palpably more variegated than that of the other pieces. A colorful and exciting but unstably frenetic and suggestive foreground opens to reveal subdued and regimented arrays, like aircraft on a carrier, soldiers in a picket line, or products on pallets in a global supply chain: at rest if soon to be on the move, with risk and threat present but presumptively manageable. In its holistic yet immediate embrace, Hokes deeply engaging work considers past, present, and future while staying uncannily in the moment. Notwithstanding lockdown, her vision is anything but confined.
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