artist can offer us a unique perspective - turn something we take
for granted into something engaging, beautiful, and with that change
the way in which we look at a part of our world. Scott Hocking irrevocably
alters how we look at rust and by extension decay on a larger scale.
(This is true - after seeing his work in a gallery, you can not look
at rusted out metal below an overpass the same way ever again.) This
show featuring rusted metal is perfect for fall - as we are drawn
to the beauty that is the draining of chlorophyll from leaves, there
is a parallel in finding beauty in the oxidation of metal.
has been making a significant mark on the Detroit art landscape, and
the District Arts show is no exception. (For a recent profile on the
artist, click here.)
The opening room of the gallery provides an establishing shot through
photography of where Hocking has been to find what he makes. Two widescreen
shots stitched together from multiple images, immerse the viewer deeper
into the environment he captures. One image depicts the whole of the
sweeping ruins of a former mecca of Detroit's industrial past (the
Studebaker plant). (And by ruins, these aren't simply in a state of
disrepair, but have the look about them as if they served as the ring
for the Godzilla vs. the giant monster of the week smackdown.) These
are captivating images, at once both sad and beautiful in the same
If these pieces provide the overview, the next work encountered provides
more intimacy. Presented in a montage format (which foreshadows the
presentation of the main body of work deeper in the gallery) Hocking
has assembled a number of photographs from his explorations of the
city mounted neatly on a wood backing. There is beauty - a near Kodak
moment of a rainbow arching over the long abandoned train station,
the vivid green of foliage viewed through the archway created by cold
hard metal grain silos, and the iridescent coloring on the neck of
a dead pheasant. Death not just decay plays a role in his photography,
as Hocking displays a powerful shot of two dead dogs on the street,
victims of illegal dog fighting. These images have their beauty, though
in great contrast to the picturesque, upkept nature of Birmingham.
The pictures seem as if they were taken a world away, rather than
a mere 15 miles.
showing the character of the forgotten, Hocking is in some ways a
naturalist of a new era. This is not nature in the pristine, but nature
reclaiming that which was once most built up, most devoid of the natural.
The photos provide an introduction for the salon-like installation
Hocking has created - covering all the walls of a room floor to ceiling
with his finds - rusted metal, paint chipped wood all cropped to fit
into ostentatious, showy frames. The salon presentation prompts viewers,
overwhelmed by the diversity and assortment that they are confronted
with to exclaim, "Oooh, I like that one" before discovering
another beside it which quickly generates a similar reaction. And
then another. (I've narrowed my favorite one down to seven at this
point.) The salon is the candy store - there is an abundance of objects
we want to have.
These are successful - as on one hand they all come from the same
cloth - the disintegration of an industrial town - but on the other
hand this decay has left its imprint in completely unique ways. Hocking
has captured - through his eye and his aesthetic sensibility - a beauty
few might discover left to themselves. The organic patterns of rust
are reminiscent of the shifting forms of clouds, of tranquil ink washes,
of Zen flow drawings. It's enough to have captured it, found it, and
presented it framed - making it art. This is not a trick of semantics
but a unique, hard-earned skill requiring the eye of a photographer
and the compositional sense of a painter. The transformation is complete.
While these are not canvases, not something originally intended to
be viewed, they have not only taken on new life as artworks but are
imbued with that vestige of what they once were and how they reached
their current state before Hocking found them. And rust does make
a record. The patterns, the outward reach of decay, like growth rings
on a tree, preserve in some way the tides of the elements, slowly
but most assuredly dissolving away these metal forms.
So then what are we to make of the select few pieces (outside the
salon, in the hallway space) that Hocking has altered? He has drawn
upon them, almost etching-like, allowing the found objects to act
as surfaces, merging the imagery with the characteristics of the piece
itself. The piece "Sisyphus and the Pyramid of Rejection"
is quite clever and perhaps symbolic of the ruins of civilization
he works in: man builds up, climbing the mountain of development,
only to have it roll down to some other state. This points toward
the cyclical nature of rebirth and decay that is such an inherent
theme in all of Hocking's work.
works definitely garner a different reaction than the unadulterated
objects. That isn't to say that they're not drawn on well, or that
they aren't interesting in their own right - for they are. Only that
in light of the nature of the other work, it is difficult to reconcile
their place. Perhaps that's ok though - for they may satisfy a desire
by Hocking to draw, to exercise that artistic muscle in a way the
other work doesn't allow. In that they offer another dimension and
possibility for exploration to add to his already rich repertoire.
It should also be noted, that on hand are boxes from the fabled "Relics"
show from the DIA exhibition with Clinton Snider. It's good that these
are still able to be seen - for each time offers a new reading, and
they offer an important foundation for accessing Hocking's newer works.
Hocking conflates creation and decay, beauty and disrepair, and by
showing in Birmingham sheds some light on a world that few here get
to see, but doubtful will be ablt to forget after seeing this work.
As always, Hocking offers eye opening, engaging, and important work
that is not to be missed.