Review in Sculpture by Polly Ullrich


Donna Hapac’s sculptures evoke an off-kilter, latticed garden where the organic environment is propped up, hitched together, and suspended to sway gently in the air.  In this trellised world held together with waxed linen thread tied into thousands and thousands of square knots, meticulously snipped ends yield fine, bristly pelts that halo surfaces.   The wire-and-reed structures sag, their slumping shapes eliciting the relentless coming together and falling apart of natural cycles, processes somehow appearing both ludicrous and profoundly fertile to human eyes trained by the look of rigid technology.  Is this nature tamed, or nature gently, indefatigably slipping the boundaries of human control?

Top Image – Switchback ©2010 16” x 34” x 9.5” Reed, wood, waxed linen, wood stain, lead, oil paint

Hapac’s modestly scaled assemblages are not meant to function as art talking about art (a popular aesthetic exercise in the last century), but as speculations on the confrontation between the devices of human culture and the reality of the natural world. Switchback (2010), for example, a folded horn of layered, latticed reeds and wood, takes on a feathery, louche quality that undermines the constructed grid at its heart.  Swarm (2008), suspended high overhead, eerily prompts foreboding until closer scrutiny reveals its incipient insect attach as a lacy mass of acrylic fingernails, enamel and thread.

Contradictions abound in Hapac’s work: light, space and the strictly modular collide within structures of tangibility and transparency.  The shadow, unstable, and open areas around these sculptures are significant.  But because of their handmade, rawly material qualities, Hapac’s sculptures “take a stand in a concrete register” (as the critic Hal Foster used to put it). This work presumes space as a substance – as a perceptual, three-dimensional experience – which  projects it further into the realm of the haptic.

Hapac’s fondness for acts of repetition–the knotting, the modularity, the duplication, the devoted accumulation of small, slightly variable parts–does not call forth the mechanistic.  A better analogy can be found –as Hapac has done–in the biological patterns and organic metaphors of the natural world, in repetitive, yet variable systems such as genetics. The dense rhythms and textures of Colony (2008), for example–a 5.5 foot, twinned string of interlaced acrylic nails and waxed, furry linen knots–call attention to slight variations within sameness.  As in all of Hapac’s work, Colony queasily suggests that the border between the natural and the artificial is ever dissolving.

–Polly Ullrich