Project 1628 presents GENERATIONS, an exhibition of furniture and sculpture constructed by the father-son artist pair David and Eli Hess. Generated through their collaborative process, this body of work is a product of their changing relationship and layered histories, which reveal their shared and disparate work practices and aesthetics. The work itself emerges from an amalgamation of weathered objects – pieces once discarded, later rescued, and then stored, only to be rebirthed and incorporated in a new form. These artifacts are part of an obsessive and ever-growing collection of memorabilia. From the depths of the Hesses’ nostalgic trove, this exhibition represents the catharsis of excavating and revisiting forgotten treasures.
Both process and materiality are central to this body of work. Their sentimentality to material is inherited from their fathers, grandfathers and mentors. This work is the outcome of a specific “spontaneous moment” as the recent graduate, Eli Hess, reconsiders his position shifting from working “for” to working “with” his father. David Hess’s artistic practice utilizes a vocabulary of antiquated objects. Invested in the physical and social existence of the human body, David continually produces works that are activated within the parameters of human scale. In turn, his negotiations with materials uncover their past lives and implicit memories. As Eli has been working alongside his father in the studio since age 5, this methodology and aesthetic has been coded into his artistic inclinations. However, as an architect Eli holds onto practicality and utility.
The shifting considerations of functionality and historiography inform the construction of these pieces. The tall vertical stratigraphy of STACK is the result of a playful procedure. Built continuously alongside all other works in this exhibition, STACK is an accumulation of 182 layers of found materials which Eli and David took turns collecting, cutting, drilling and attaching. Their additive process rejects revision and relies on intuitive progression to complete the composition. Their methodology of accumulation varies from procedural to sentimental. Whetstone Boogie is a meticulously composed collection of old whetstones and their wooden boxes. These salvaged sharpening tools contain a history of craftsmanship and manual labor. Additionally, they also resonate a remembrance of the artists’ mentor, the late Dave Klein, from whom they were acquired. The whetstones dance and shift along a horizontal axis; their movement is unpredictable and improvisational; the work accepts variation and encourages permutations.
The Hesses’ two-piece installation Lancaster, PA is Downwind from Duxbury, MA; Captain George “Mike” Butler and J. Richard “George” Gaintner explores distance, history, and memory. As one is hung on the wall and the other on the floor, the viewer is invited to enter their spatial dialogue. A fan rests on a wooden post from David Hess’s barn and is anchored by a buoy from Eli’s maternal great grandfather’s lobster traps in Massachusetts. The wind from the fan blows across the viewer’s face but has no effect on the rocking chair, which is framed and frozen in time. The Pennsylvania Dutch rocking chair, which recalls the heritage of Eli’s other maternal great grandfather, is a treasure that came into the Hesses’ possession through a classic, but circuitous route. Found on the road by Eli, it was brought home only to be discarded once again when it appeared to be broken. The chair reappeared in the Hesses’ studio, after David had salvaged it from their trash. This process of revision allows for the revival of objects and their historical resonance. These artifacts reemerge and continually influence our contemporary social spaces.
While many of the works activate the historical memory of their materials, Neuro-Cartography Lesson is a schematic of ideation and dialogue. The classic infrastructure of a rigid, rusty, and rudimentary steel grid is disrupted by interweaving tendrils of green patinated copper. The organic movements escape the confines of the calculated steel lines. Woven through, these tendrils plot their own pathways – constantly intersecting and diverging to fill the space. These spontaneous, somewhat chaotic gestures compose the learning space of the blackboard structure. Progression and growth are a product of accumulated movements that are constantly in flux. This form of modularity informs the large wall installation, Inheritance. A conglomeration of unearthed trunks, drawers, and boxes create niches filled with tools of instruction and investigation. These pieces playfully tease out complex social and psychological phenomenon. Free linguistic and cognitive associations are scrawled on the blackboard background, questioning the development of our knowledge making systems – those that we have inherited and those we continue to create.
GENERATIONS encapsulates themes of history, memory, and progression, to investigate inheritance both nostalgically and scientifically. The Hesses’ practices and aesthetics engage and reactivate the social and physical memory of materials. As the first truly collaborative collection of work, this exhibition reflects on their inherited ideologies – those that have endured and those that have evolved – and ultimately establishes a new era for the father-son pair as colleagues and partners.
- Sreyashi Tinni Bhattacharyya