︎Written by Milly-Alexandra Dery
Arrival / Stranding
I believe there are “forms” to be found within the activity of making as much as within the end products.
- Robert Morris
In 1970, in the pages of the magazine Artforum International, the American artist Robert Morris stated that choosing materials was a crucial step in art making, since the intrinsic properties of the medium dictate the conceptualization, execution and final form of the work. Morris’s ideas concerning the power of the material to guide the actions of the artist and the appearance of the object preceded the current philosophic and political theories refuting the conventional wisdom that matter is lifeless—passive, inert, and purely tractable. Drawn largely from the writings of the American philosopher Jane Bennett, these new, extended and diverse, conceptions of the material world, grouped under the banner of a new materialism, instead posit the vitality and agency of matter, (including its capacity to affect or disrupt often imperceptible events). This revitalized consciousness of the tangible world/ and its phenomena/ informs the artistic investigations of the sculptor Eugene Park, who, in her recent sculptural assemblages, explores the underlying, unseen narratives, particularly the dynamics of their interactions, connecting materials.
Park uses flimsy, natural materials like stone, clay or wax—employed since ancient times—combined with mineral substances like iron powder, steel and concrete. Added to the mix are the tools, such as rulers, levels, sandpaper and compasses, used to build and link the structures of our everyday lives. Through repeated actions imbuing wear, time and movement, the artist probes the invisible relationships between objects. She is especially interested in the interactions between materials and the implements that are capable of adjusting or activating geological, electromagnetic, or chemical properties.
In Eugene Park’s installations, the contact between ordinary objects and materials leads us to anticipate the instability of an assemblage of continuous, subtle transformations. Her work thus reveals generally unknown or unseen phenomena, such as the precarious balance of superimpositions, changes in states of matter, or terrestrial magnetism. The Border of Encounter displays a modular arrangement of wax, needles, magnets and rare earth elements, including iron and neodymium, placed on a slightly uneven structure of concrete tiles. In the centre of the hot wax, melted and then solidified a new, particles of iron powder slowly migrate towards ferromagnetic rings, revealing their paths over an extended period of time. By making the iron react to contact with magnets of various strengths, Park prompts us to note that metal is far from being an inert substance. While non-living according to biotic criteria, metals possess a remarkable vital force within their very microstructures. In the installation Stranding, by defying the laws of gravity on earth, a needle suspended in empty space embodies the strange power of magnetic effects.
The aesthetic experience of Eugene Park’s works engages viewers in attentive, imaginative and sensory observation of the interaction between these various organic, mineral and synthetic components. Similarly, Park’s exploratory approach falls within the realm of metaphor and the imagination. In that respect, some of the titles of her works allude to specific concepts relating to narratives of the human and animal worlds, which in the case of this work are connected with notions of displacement or migration. Stranding, therefore, refers to the natural phenomenon often seen among the Cetacea (whales, porpoises, dolphins) in which exhausted, disoriented marine mammals beach themselves en masse on shorelines for reasons as yet not fully explained, unless it is their extreme sensitivity to anomalies of terrestrial magnetism. In this way, the magnetic field’s many influences on movement are conveyed in two ways—through the title and through the action of the materials. As in a number of her installations, the work unfolds in the form of a poetic moment in which a kind of entropy governs the entire composition.
Eugene Park’s interest in the immaterial powers of objects directs the plastic and philosophic nature of her investigations. Through an intuitively creative process in which her actions are guided by the material itself, the artist finds the hidden narratives of the natural world. In this sense, which harks back to Robert Morris’s idea that physical contact with materials leads the way to the realization of a work, forms emerge at the very moment of creation. What follows is a fascinating dialogue between the artist and the evolving work, art that is open to myriad possibilities varying with the laws of physics, the effects of time, processes and the nature of its elements.
Written by Milly-Alexandra Dery
Assistant Curator / Public development
Fonderie Darling, Montreal, Canada
Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2010.
Morris, Robert. “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making: The Search for the Motivated.” Artforum International, vol. 8, no. 8 (April 1970), pp. 62–66.
Wong, Mandy-Suzanne. “Introductory Editorial: Towards a Vital Materialist Aesthetics.” Evental Aesthetics: Vital Materialism, vol. 3, no. 3 (2015), pp. 4–16.