In Conversation with Zac Hacmon: Dispositif at SLAG Gallery

We spoke with artist Zac Hacmon to mark the occasion of his solo show, Dispositif, at SLAG Gallery in Chelsea during the Fall of 2020. Our discussion ranged from discourse around boundaries – their formation and documentation – and the use of scale to elicit responses from the visitor. As we toured the show we naturally discussed the non-neutrality of architecture and industrial design, and how abstracted forms can still recall the lingering effects of these intentions. The interaction of these works with one another, their industrial appearance contrasted with the aesthetic approach of the artist to the materials at hand, and the expectation and denial of utility in these works composed of ceramic tile all call to mind the readymade and found object in art-making. We plunged into the show and questioned Hacmon on some of the perspectives he has adopted over the course of his practice, inquiring as to how these viewpoints have impacted his work and, particularly, this suite of sculptures on view at SLAG through Oct 18, 2020.

Apsis  (2019) Zac Hacmon. Ceramic tiles, wood, stainless steel, 5” x 40” x 12”

ANTE Mag. Thanks, Zac, for walking us through your exhibition. We discussed the concept of “profanation” as it relates to your work; could you elaborate a bit on that concept and how it informs your practice?

Zac Hacmon. The concept of “profanation” is based on my recent research which follows the structureof religion and its apparatus. If we talk about the “profane” we must define the sacred first, for something to be sacred it means it was removed from free use of men and from the sphere of human law. Therefore to profane means to return things to their free use and to their pure state. Following this hypothesis, in my work I wish to profane our socio-political structures and the way they form in our built environment.

ANTE Mag. I see. During our conversation I was also struck by your remark “to play is almost a political act”: would you elaborate on that and how it affects your approach to your work?

ZH. It is based on a recent text I started to work with by Georgio Agamben. The text describes the act of play as a political task and it continues the discussion we had before, about the “profane” and sacred. If play breaks up the unity of the myth and rite of which the sacred is powered by then the myth disappears but the rite stays. Same can be addressed with my sculptures in this “Dispositif” show at the Slag Gallery. There is an element of failure in the sculptures, they lost their original function as an architectural structure but they also got a playful element to them that can be activated by touch and movement almost like a toy.

ANTE Mag. I would like to hear your views on the formal qualities of your sculpture as relates to space for inclusion and exclusion – could you provide some context for how sculptures on view at SLAG Gallery relates to boundaries or thresholds?

ZH. The industrial materials I use for my work range from private spaces, domestic and home to the public realm and institutions, by doing that I try to create a hybrid of one over the other and question their coexistence. I use the grab bars in my work in order to create potential for individual access and also to call attention to aspects of regulation mediated through contemporary architecture. The sculptures can be conceived as ruins all together but the ruin is being commoditized and repurposed.

ANTE Mag. Elaborating on the above question, can you provide some context for how your ideas around public versus private space is reflected in your practice?

ZH. Privacy is the higher form of intelligence as we wish to cultivate the self and the being. In contemporary society privacy is long gone, as we live in such a technologically advanced system that we are not even aware of our privacy being gone and violated. In relation to my work, I try to employ this conflict and the duality that I see in our structures, conflicts between function and dysfunction, between public and private.

 Dispositif (2020) Zac Hacmon. Ceramic tiles, wood, stainless steel, grout 
(Installation View)

ZH. The use of readymade is very critical to our time even more than it was 100 years ago when it was presented by Marcel Duchamp. These days, we’ve already crossed the line of no return in terms of the global effects of pollution. Before my Fine Art studies I attended a product design and industrial design degree but in my fourth year I decided to quit when they asked me to design a remote control for air conditioner or a cellular phone, as I didn’t want to be part of the waste industry. I think that through my use and manipulationof the readymade I create an antithesis approach which profanes our acceptance of consumption.

ANTE Mag. Can you discuss the role of the readymade and your work? Is the use of industrial materials in any way political, and why or why not?

ANTE Mag. Finally, can you share some of your upcoming projects with us?

ZH. I am currently working on building Capsule no 4 and Capsule no 5 at my LMCC studio. The “Capsules” are part of an ongoing project of creating alternate, autonomous and inaccessible spaces that invade and penetrate the white cube. The “Capsules” will be part of a group show at the Cathouse Proper Gallery which will take place in November 2020. This work will be site-specific installation for the entrance of the gallery; you will encounter these portals right before you enter the exhibition space. For 2021, I am working on a collaboration with the RDJ Refugee Shelter, in West Harlem (which is a shelter for refugees experiencing homelessness in NYC.) For this project I plan to work together with the shelter residents to create an installation at the shelter space for Fall of 2021.

Positivity (2020) Zac Hacmon. Aluminum, Ceramic tiles, stainless steel, concrete, epoxy, 54 x 27 x 49 Inches

Beyond the Pale: Zac Hacmon at the Border Project Space

by Mariel Tepper

Artist Zac Hacmon uses form, space and sound in Beyond the Pale: an immersive and unflinching look at the U.S.-Mexico border crisis located at The Border Project Space. Curated by Eva Mayhabal Davis, this site-specific sculpture installation reflects on the material and conceptual barriers humans create and the devastating, far-reaching consequences of these obstructions.

Artist Zac Hacmon exploring the US/Mexico border (photo credit: Dana Levy)

The installation is centered around two abstract sculptures, Hedgehog 1 and 2. Their militaristic design inspired by Czech hedgehogs, barrier fortifications used for the Czech-German border in World War II. The imposing sculptures create a sense of tension and claustrophobia through hard-edged geometry, while the white ceramic tile surfaces of the sculptures evoke the sterility and asepsis of domestic and interior spaces; bathrooms, kitchens and hospital walls. The sounds of voices and ambient sounds can be heard from vents in the sculptures, creating a collective murmur that recedes and fluctuates in volume, enveloping the listener. With audio consisting of on-site interviews conducted by Hacmon at the Arizona border, the dialogues convey the hardships and human rights atrocities experienced by migrants, Native Americans, asylum seekers and undocumented workers through poems, stories and firsthand accounts. 

A devastating and visceral poem on the death of a newborn baby on the Arizona roadside, NO ANSWERS–NOW OR EVER by Marie Vogl Gery, is read by Gali Kocourek, a member of Tucson Samaritans. In another interview, Sarah M. Reed, Program Coordinator at Casa Alitas Program – Aid for Migrant Families, describes the trauma experienced by asylum seekers coming from Central America and southern Mexico to the U.S. to flee gang and drug related violence. If captured by border patrol, migrants face inhumane conditions in detention centers, where they are cramped in tight cells, deprived of sleep and adequate food, all their possessions forcibly taken. 

Interspersed with the interview snippets are the sounds of field recordings, rustles of footsteps on migrant trails in the Sonoran Desert during a water run. The crisp, caustic sounds remind the listener of the long, harrowing journeys migrants take, trudging through miles of unforgiving desert heat on rough ground, all in the hopes of achieving a better life. 

“Beyond the Pale” in situ at the Border Project Space (photo credit: Etienne Frossard)

Making the connection between borders and environmental devastation, Jose Rivera, Director of Tohono O’odham Culture Center and Museum, describes how the U.S. border wall physically disrupts local wildlife by preventing animals from moving freely between nesting and feeding areas. It’s clear that imposing arbitrary physical barriers on land disrupts not only the flow of people, but the flows and processes of the natural world. In an age of climate refugees and ecological collapse, the negative implications of border walls and the bigoted, non holistic ideologies (nationalism, xenophobia) fueling them are even more apparent. Zac Hacmon’s prescient and thought-provoking Beyond the Pale installation confronts the divisive and brutal reality of man-made borders. Hacmon shines a light on the cycles of pain, fear, violence and devastation that occur when we deny the humanity of others.