Dark Noise: An Interview with Chris Hammes

August 5, 2012 | Published Articles, Writing

At the end of August, Chris Hammes has an exhibition, Twenty-One Motorcycles, at the Hills Esthetic Center. One of my favorite things about the show was probably the sound it created. I walked into a pitch black exhibition space and instantly zoned in on three different kinetic sculptures; flickering lights defined the bounds of each. In the first instance, I saw a stack of recognizable VHS tape player screens — recognizable only because of the disembodied digital numbers. The players themselves were subsumed in darkness and the numbers seemed to hang, like little electronic ghosts. To the right of the door, I saw a dizzy of red — the spinning of a digital clock face. And then, in the far corner, a spinning circle of colored light that looked almost like string. Each machine whirred, cranked and croaked in the darkness. It was white noise in darkness. Lights and sound in tandem created a mesmerizing affect. Every piece was engaged in its own, personal orbit, exhibiting a repeated, kinetic energy that was somehow calming rather than frenetic. It made the darkness full — as a house during the summer in the middle of the night. Fans I could not see, spun lights and pushed air. The various motions of these objects created an complex oral texture. In the following interview, I had a chance to ask how Hammes’ came to create a dark exhibit, where his interest in hypnotism has come from, and why he’s compelled by motorcycles.

Caroline Picard: What is it like to make work for the dark? How do you anticipate what you will see and what you are building (in the light, presumably)?

Chris Hammes: I didn’t actually consider these works to be made for total darkness, it was a decision we made when the show was installed.  I made the work in the light and had intended to have some low-wattage spot lights on the pieces, but when we looked at the works in the space we realized that each piece has a pretty bright luminescence, and viewing in darkness just made it more intense. (read more)