Louis Nixon’s “Dropped”
By Paul Serfaty
In “Dropped,” presented by Hong Kong’s Osage Art Foundation across three rooms and two alcoves, Louis Nixon extended the tactility, drama, and interactivity of a range of his works dealing with matter, gravity, space, and uncertainty.
In the largest room, viewers were immersed in the Table Series (2021), an installation of 24 tables onto which the artist had dropped large rocks from as high as he could lift them. Audiences walked between the tables, laid out in a grid in the space, examining each from different angles. The uniform, machine-made quality of the metal surfaces and table legs were vitiated, transformed into twisted and splayed forms or transpierced planes. There is a visual tension between order and random destruction: physics defines the falling object’s motion, but the specific fates of each table are unpredictable. The artist’s actions—lift, drop, walk away—played out in slow motion on a wall of small video screens. One recalls Falling Rock (2020), an earlier video by Nixon of a boulder tumbling onto a road during an earthquake in Taiwan, just missing a car, its trajectory determined as much by gravity and the landscape as serendipity.
A smaller, pitch-black room was dedicated to the video Off-Earth (2015–21), which features varied floating objects—a torque wrench, wet wipes, a golf ball—that were left behind or lost in space orbit and during expeditions to the moon. Tracks from the Voyager Golden Records (1977), two discs of sounds and musical masterpieces from various human tribes and cultures, sent into the cosmos by NASA, accompanied the video. 3D-printed models of space debris lay scattered in the third, semi-darkened room, where a large screen displayed Drifting (2021), a video of moon landings and spacewalks evincing that, despite humanity’s attempts at control, the interactions between humans, machines, and the cosmos are unpredictable, as when a camera unfastens itself from an astronaut’s brace and floats into space.
Objects were added at semi-random intervals to the room with Drifting, each 3D printed in the first alcove as part of Rematerialiser (2021), which also includes a real-time program mapping the trajectory of all satellites and the lost or discarded space objects with which they might collide. In the second alcove, an interactive screen presented the objects’ descriptions. Contrasting the uncertainty alluded to in the three rooms, these works harness science and order—the nature-ordained, mathematically determinable satellite orbits, the computed matrices that brace the printed object.
Altogether, the show threw up a wide range of reflections. For the author, the act of dropping rocks onto the tables, producing a new two-part object, seems nearer to sacrifice than to pure destruction, despite Nixon’s interest in the art of John Latham or Gustav Metzger, specialists in auto-destructive art. The repetitive, ritual aspect of the “table sacrifice” melds the modern idea that elements of production—by analogy people in factories or sent to war—can be expended for the greater good, with Aztec beliefs that the energy (tonalli) of those sacrificed is recovered by society. Other viewers were unsure whether the stones “sculpt” the tables or vice versa; some felt the Table Series evokes a mortuary. Conversely, the Voyager Golden Records, a marker of humanity’s expanding presence in space and featured in Drifting, reminded one of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)—an acknowledged influence on Nixon—and its adventure story of the advance of civilization, in contrast to earth-bound humanity’s drive to de-risk living in an uncertain world.
Despite the artist’s fascination with random events that could end our individual existences, these works taken together project a positive sense that even random loss or sacrifice form part of a destructive-creative cycle, opening up new opportunities.
Louis Nixon's "Dropped" was on view at Osage Gallery, Hong Kong, from September 30 to December 7, 2021.