The Eclipse, 2017. Paper, screenprint, bamboo, wire, and cotton, view of work as installed at the Palazzo Flangini, Venice Biennale.
When Jacob Hashimoto entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he planned to become a Minimalist
painter like Robert Ryman, Brice Marden, or Agnes Martin. At one point, he ran out of ideas and just sat
by his easel. His father counseled him to keep going to class until his brain kicked back in and to start doing
something with his hands, like making model airplanes. Hashimoto chose to build kites, and soon he began
to hang tiny kite forms on steel wires in front of his paintings.
He created his first installation in his apartment after completing school in 1996. For about a year, he handcrafted
1,000 small, circular forms in bamboo, vellum, and thread. Well-connected people saw this work
and--long story short--Hashimoto ended up installing a much larger version, Infinite Expanse of Sky (10,000
Kites) (1998), at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. Now grouped with artists such as Maya Lin, Tara
Donovan, and El Anatsui, Hashimoto continues to assemble large, ceiling-hung installations that recall relief
sculpture and wall works that look like three-dimensional paintings. Composed of countless small paper and
wood kites, circles, ellipses, hexagons, or squares strung together with long threads, his works create deep
space (or the illusion of it), with parts seeming to advance or recede. In his installations, he lifts sculpture
from the floor to fill surrounding space, so that viewers cannot see the entire installation from any single vantage
point but must move around and through it to absorb what's there.
Victor M. Cassidy: You started with abstract landscape painting
and used your layered technique to pull painting off the wall and
into the viewer's space. Next you leapt into installation. When you
made your first installation in your apartment, were you experimenting
with ways of shaping space?
Jacob Hashimoto: I was thinking less about space and more
about how viewers tended to interact with the work. Sculptures
reference you physically in a way that painting often does not.
I was interested in shifting the responsibility for establishing a
viewpoint to the audience instead of dictating what people were
seeing. I wanted to give them a more substantial experience than
standing before a painting at a fixed point--telling them that
these are the things the artist wants you to see, how you're supposed
to read them, and that these are things that optimize your
experience. I was trying to get away from the conventions and
restrictions that come with working on canvas to see where the
sculptural environment could take us. It was related to painting,
but not quite painting.
Hugging a Black Hole, Hoping One Day to Forget, 2017. Acrylic, paper, bamboo, wood, and Dacron, 78 x 72 x 8.25 in.
VMC: Cloud forms have been major elements in your work ever
since Infinite Expanse of Sky (10,000 Kites). Did they come from
the mountainous Pacific Northwest where you grew up?
JH: They do. There was a big sky in Washington. When I moved
to Chicago, all I could see of the sky were little flutters of clouds
moving across the windows between buildings. If I looked straight
up in downtown Chicago, I could see clouds scudding past. That
was my relationship with nature. The move to Chicago was really
tough for me in terms of my reaction to the environment. When
I looked up at those little patches, those little rectangles of sky,
there was nothing between the clouds and myself. The clouds
started to follow me. A sense of freedom set them off. Building
cloud-like installations was a meditation on getting out of
the city and back to nature. Ironically, ever since I started making
them, I've been living in cities--first Los Angeles and now New
VMC: After Infinite Expanse of Sky, you outsourced much of the
hand labor in your work and used 3D computer modeling to
design new sculptures. Industrial methods save time and deliver
identical forms, so how does accident enter your work nowadays?
JH: Those changes didn't really decrease the amount of work that
I do. As the pieces got bigger and more complex, my practice
became more complicated. Everything was just more. The work
that I do on each piece is still enormous. Accident is present
throughout my working process because I do all of the assembly
and major drawings that go into each sculpture. I can make a
mistake drawing, have a happy accident, or discover something
about how I do things--that becomes part of the process. Accidents
are constantly happening. It's how each kite, each module,
is assembled. My process has an intuitive, organic character--
the components of human folly.
VMC: Superabundant Atmosphere (2005) made particularly effective
use of its space. From a distance, it looked like a billowing cloud
that filled most of the gallery and vanished into its back end. Close
up, it dissolved into rows of kites with profiles like thin slivers. From
a passageway behind, visitors could see black vertical lines--the
threads that held the kites. How did you design these effects?
JH: I planned very little of it in advance. I had an idea of the shape
and knew that we were going to start in the back corner at the
ceiling. After hiring assistants, I got on a scaffold and hung pieces
up. Since I could not touch every single element, I functioned like
the first violinist in a chamber orchestra. I played my own part
and trusted that my assistants would contribute independently.
A lot of different voices went into the final composition.
Never Comes Tomorrow, 2015. Steel, ABS, wood, vinyl stickers, and Plexiglas, installation view.
VMC: In the spectacular Skyfarm Fortress (2014), colorful, patterned,
cloud-like forms floated up by the ceiling, accompanied
by a large rectangular column and small squares collaged with
grass shapes at floor level. This marked a bold departure from your
white cloud pieces. Do you try out new forms and concepts in your
wall works and then translate the successes to your installations?
JH: At a certain point, I realized that I could continue making huge,
minimal cloud sculptures, but they weren't challenging me
enough. Because the wall works are smaller, they have more adventure
in them. I used them to develop a huge visual vocabulary that I
deployed in Skyfarm Fortress to bring something new to sculptural
installation. Earlier versions of Skyfarm Fortress were a little more
organic, but by the time the piece went up in the gallery, it was
really precise and hard-edged. At that time, I was moving toward a
digital world--nature in XYZ coordinates. I was really excited about
the relationship between the organic language that I'd been working
with for a long time and this new, or newly available, digital
frontier that I was discovering.
VMC: Never Comes Tomorrow (2015), one
of your most wildly imaginative installations
to date, is also very narrative. You call
it a "fetishized space object that spoke,
to me at least, about sci-fi optimism, magic,
idealization, and inexactitude." What the
hell does that mean?
JH: The title comes from Sun Ra, and the
work is a sort of self-portrait built out of all
the stuff that's shaped my aesthetic and
narrative sensibility over the years. Never
Comes Tomorrow is a mashed-up collage
of references to music, bike racing, Minimalism,
conceptualism, fetishism, and armchair
politics. It's built on a cubed, threedimensional
grid that conjures Sol LeWitt,
but at the same time as it references
Minimalist abstraction, it's so much more
wonky--nothing really lines up in any
defined system. The whole structure, which
isn't predicated on a finite conceptual
system, refers to LeWitt and even Judd, but
because it uses their achievements as building blocks rather than
as ends in themselves, it illuminates something about the practice
of growth through disrespect. Two big steel cones or funnels like
wormholes stretch through the piece and bind it end to end.
They're open-celled constructions, with lenses or gels in them that
make them feel like Tiffany lamps or stained glass windows that
have been imploded. The whole thing is stuck together with stickers
and screws, resulting in something like a black hole machine of
memories and ideals--a past vision of a new future.
I was interested in how I got to where I was. I used stickers for
years as a kid. When I was 12 years old, I made a sculpture that had
stickers all over it. The graphics and tiny stickers come directly out
of the wall works. I started sticker-bombing the work and created
a much more complex visual. The trumpet-shaped element on the
front of the piece represents a black hole.
The Near Emptiness
of Space, Perfect Timing, and the Clutch of
Gravity, 2017. Wood, acrylic, bamboo, paper, and
Dacron, 66 x 60 x 7.75 in.
VMC: This is one of your first pieces with a narrative to it.
JH: The cloud pieces have an implied narrative. Never Comes Tomorrow
does the same thing, but it's much more specific in terms of
its reference points. The monochromatic sculptures almost embody
a distilled narrative about landscape. You know the relationship
of image to object, which is something that artists were concerned
with for a large part of the 20th century.
VMC: You have galleries on both U.S. coasts and in Chicago. Since
2002, the Italian dealer Studio la Cittą has shown your work every
other year, published handsome exhibition catalogues, and made
European connections for you. You have responded to this support
and encouragement by doing your most imaginative, challenging
JH: It's true. We started working together in about 1999, and I did
my first show with them in 2000. I've had a show there every two
or three years since. HÉlčne de Franchis, the owner, is an amazing
old-school dealer of the kind that you never see anymore. She
found me when I was very young. When we started out, I was
making very experimental work and living hand to mouth. We
showed all over Europe, but rarely sold work or made money.
I'd come back to the U.S., take a day job, make new work, return
to Europe, and show it there. Madame de Franchis was always very
interested in just how good the projects were, how innovative.
Even if my ideas seemed crazy, she always got behind them. It was
like having a workshop where I could test my ideas.
The audience in Italy is really engaged in watching me fail or succeed.
That makes Studio la Cittą a great place to work. We're doing
a new show in 2019, and I'm trying to figure out how crazy a sculpture
I can make. It's nice to find people who will take risks with you.
I'm hugely thankful.
Victor M. Cassidy is an art critic, journalist, and writer based in