Extraordinary Symmetry

Kay Hwang's mesmerizing drawings are both obsessively repetitive and imaginative

December 21, 2006|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Wait, wait, don't tell me! Isn't that a thingamabob? No, I mean a whatchamacallit? A gizmo?

Kay Hwang's obsessively controlled drawings of what look like rows of mechanical gadgets or electronics parts, on view at Goya Girl Contemporary, leave you with the strange feeling that somewhere - though, come to think of it, you can't quite remember where - you've seen these things before, whatever they are.

They have the deeply familiar look of ordinary things - the car's fuse box, the plates inside your waffle iron, those funny little computer plugs - that every once in a while you pay attention to just long enough to realize you really haven't a clue what they are or how they work.

In other words, all you know for sure is that if one breaks, it's probably going to cost you.

A couple of years ago I wrote that every time I see Hwang's drawings, I'm amazed by the sheer ingenuity that goes into making them. They're all individually drawn in oil pencil on a semi-transparent material called Dendril, which looks something like a sheet of wax paper, and despite their patently obsessive character, they evoke a spirit of meditative serenity that is really quite restful.

"The drawings seek psychological balance between two worlds," Hwang has written, "one based on logical and rhythmic mechanics, and another on the effervescence of freedom."

These pieces manage to straddle a boundary between technical drawing and technological fantasy that most of us usually aren't even aware is there.

They could just as easily be precise diagrams for a waste water treatment plant as engineering designs for Luke Skywalker's starship. And they're completely convincing in both cases.

There are many forms in nature that have similarly repetitive symmetries - thistles, honeycombs, coral reefs, for instance - but what is distinctive about Hwang's forms is that they are actually so unnatural, so obviously not from the earth but rather a product of human mathematical and scientific ingenuity.

And so one leaves this intriguing exhibition convinced that however familiar or commonplace Hwang's repetitive shapes may appear, ultimately they are imaginative ideal types, strangely soothing mental fantasies that invite us to engage them as objects of pure contemplation, not as representations of the world.

"Kay Hwang, Schematics: New Works on Paper" runs through Jan. 30 at Goya Contemporary, 3000 Chestnut Ave. Call 410-366-2001 or go to goyacontemporary.com.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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