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The Material of Art - Stages of a Development Monika Pessler
The Material of Art - Stages of a Development

Monika Pessler

Tomas Hoke?s artistic work, from the very beginning, at the end of the 70ies, has been characterized both by graphics and plastic design. These two fields have remained a significant focus of creative reflection in the following years as well. For the basis of Mr. Hoke?s sculptural work is to be found in graphic lines changing into signs that are continued in and/or translated into three-dimensional structures.

The mental ? and eventually actual ? root of form development is provided by the human body. Influenced by models like the painter Francis Bacon, as a young artist Tomas Hoke explores the variety of expression of human physiognomy by means of drawing (see picture 1); the next step is to approach the body as a background for plastic jewellery projections. At first, these objects are materializations of an organic form repertoire, in the next stage, however, the conceptions are oriented towards the plasticity of the given module, i.e. the body. Materialized, they paraphrase its properties. The protective function of vulnerable skin, articulations providing a fine mechanical apparatus and a complex motor element, is artistically reflected in products made of thin tissues, like Japan paper, and in creations with indicative titles like ?Pulsschutz? (?Puls Protection?), ?Bruststück? (?Breast Piece?), ?Nackenstütze? (?Neck Support?, see pictures 2-5) etc. In the artist?s view his jewellery works are ?studies made for, with and on the human body?, aiming not only at underlining and revealing its function but also at visualizing its properties. The vulnerability and delicateness of the jewellery correspond to the nature of the ?wearing apparatus?.

In the same way these works, as they are used, fit in with body functions performed, and thus take part in body mechanisms. Correspondingly, in the early 90ies Tomas Hoke creates objects made of beeswax, copper and silver sheet. The ?olfactory element? wax exudes a smell whose intensity depends on the body temperature, the copper tube provides heat conduction. The sensory quality of the smell exuded represents the natural process of transpiration (see picture 6).

The works created are of a frugal, linear design, their exterior construction fitting in with the body and emphasizing its form, adorning and protecting it. This differentiating but still traditional appreciation of jewellery is symbolically complemented by a new, additional meaning: it is a sign which, not least by its functionality, shows the relation of humans to the world of things. The interrelation between subject and object culminates in the simulation of bodily processes and properties and in the alleged need of artificial substitutes or supporting devices like ?jewellery prostheses?.
In the beginning of the 80ies the step is made from wearable design products to equipment of ecclesiastical buildings, to art for public institutions.

In 1984 Mr. Hoke creates his first special steel work for the Romanesque chapel of Rein convent, Styria: an altar cross and a tabernacle (see picture 18). In 1987 he designs the interior of Bruder Klaus church in Graz-Ragnitz, built by the architects Szyszkowitz & Kowalski (see pictures 20, 21).
In 1988 the artist is commissioned to design the main portal and the altar of Gurk cathedral, Carinthia. Mr. Hoke?s intervention in the historical environment creates a statement of contemporary art integrated into this time-honoured art store.

The Romanesque entrance hall, which had originally been open, was closed in 1340 by a windowed wall built in. ? The new portal is integrated into the Gothic façade structure. The vertical mullions of the tracery are continued in the stainless steel profiles of the portal. Both the optical prolongation achieved in this way and the low position of the door handle gives an impression of the original proportions of the façade, which were shortened by approx. 40 centimetres because of an earth bank built in front of the church at a later stage, and thus grossly disturbed (see pictures 33, 35). The pearwood door panel presents itself, on the exterior side, covered by bronze sheets, whereas on the interior side the waxed wooden core and the mechanical construction of the hinges and the lock mechanisms are exposed. While the untreated copper sheeting makes all traces of use visible ? each time the metal is touched an oxidation process takes place ? the functionality of the work is made visible on the interior side. According to the specific requirements of different occasions all four wings of the door may be opened, or two wings may remain closed. ? Mechanical use corresponds to the aesthetical form developed.

The altar, a cube of 110 centimetre side lengths, is the liturgical centre of the nave. Though its dimensions have been adapted to the building proportions of the spatial structure, the strict geometry of the altar clearly contrasts with its baroque environment. Neither do the ?paradise rivers? of the fresco of ?Bischofskapelle? (bishop?s chapel)1, cited fragmentarily in the woven antependium, immediately reveal the integrative approach of the work. Still, in this way the significance of the place is augmented in accordance with the artistic intention: In Mr. Hoke?s view, contemporary ecclesiastical art should include confrontation with the unfamiliar without abandoning known parameters. Topoi like the door, flowing water, which according to Christian iconography announces to the faithful the advent of the Holy Spirit, and the square cube with the balanced form of a monument of statics and thus of persistence, are sculptural forms familiar to collective understanding. The ritual acts closely related to these symbols come to mind as one perceives them, thus the ?tool-like? character of the objects is established.
In the mid 80ies, parallel to developing ecclesiastical utility interior Tomas Hoke starts a concept of plastic depiction of form development. ? His ?Kalkwerk? (?Lime Works?) has its premiere in 1989, in the private environment of the garden of Saager. ?What I was interested in was the transformation process which precedes form, i.e. the development of a form may occur on its own accord during the preparation stage.?2 The aggregation process of chemical substances is scenically staged and visualized in a ritual act.

Between the church and the castle of Saager, in a semi-public area, in the ?white area? between the buildings manifesting secular and celestial powers, the ?reactor? is situated (see picture 60), it is a steel receptacle forming a cross, placed along the north-south axis. In addition, there are a rectangular earth pit beside the ?reactor?, and two water tanks sitting on an elevated wooden roof, connected by hoses. The assistants of this tripartite apparatus (Ulrike and Tomas Hoke) 3 begin to fill the metal tubs with burnt lime and ice lumps. Then water is conducted from the tanks into the receptacle, for the viewers the mystical spectacle of disintegration and dissolution of the substances begins. ? In the course of the slackening process the ?carrier element? lime and the ?motion element?4 water turn into a boiling, bursting mass. This event shows changeability, growth and decline, formation and deformation. To the corresponding, wildly gesticulating substances milk, blood, vinegar and salt are added. Those organic and mineral substances, symbols of life and survival, are included in this chemical process and eventually completely absorbed by it, becoming equivalent components of the homogeneous final product. The mass, after it has come to a rest, is filled into the earth pit. An animal heart is lying there, covered by a head-like limestone; when the milky fluid, limestone and the heart meet a new reaction is triggered, resulting in a short red accent which immediately afterwards disappears in white uniformity. It is filled to the brim, closed with a bronze tub, which is also filled, covered with wood and earth (a grave!). ? So the dead rock, the remains of a reaction triggered, is stored in a hidden place.
As a contrast to this, in those years Tomas Hoke also creates kinetic objects, played or moved by wind or water, visualizing perpetual dynamics.

?Der Wächter? (?The Guard?, see picture 79) of 1986 ? its sophisticated mechanics and the varied form canon of the matched steel and bronze parts create a sign permanently on its guard. It does not focus on the drama of natural processes set loose but what prevails is a playful staging of the artificial. Besides, the process of form development does not end when the aggregation process stops, for the formation process of ?Kalkwerk? ? the form resulting from the reactivity of different substances ? only depicts one aspect of art production, i.e. the significance for form of the material used is to be shown, which is in conformity with the traditional understanding of plastic design. As a next step these fixed conditions ? knowledge about the structures and properties of a material ? are integrated into the artistic plan and developed further. The conclusions drawn with respect to the overall conception lead to a work of art. So a designed object like ?Wächter? does not confront one with a ?transitional result? (see ?Kalkwerk?) but with the final product of Mr. Hoke?s creative potential. The correspondence of geometrical form repertoire with the sensual properties of the metals steel, bronze and aluminium visualize the interrelation of content and form.
Revealing the value and meaning of materials, forms and functions also includes turning concepts upside down and inverting them. The sculpture ?Das Schiff? (?The Ship?, see picture 90) of 1989 literally submerges the concepts of ?house? and ?ship?. These topoi are illustrated by a simple reversal of their usual, familiar functional environment. ? The ship is placed on dry land, it harbours a house which ?overflows its banks?, filling the ship with water. This narrative representation corresponds to the artist?s intention described above to focus the reflection of content on the artistic illustration of signs ? the signs of graphic characters as well as object signs. Hand in hand with the need to set a sign the process of form development is realized.
Depending on their usability artistic signs of mobility and dynamics may also take over the functions of articles for daily use. Forming a shop interior, they are part of a profane environment, where they provide the functional and aesthetical basis for the presentation of ?other exhibits?. ? In 1990, in order to create an adequate environment for contemporary works of art and at the same time present the meaning and function of this environment, Mr. Hoke undertakes to design the interior of the Viennese jewellery gallery Slavik.5 The company?s logo in the entrance area (see picture 95), a bronze disk on a steel rail leading through the length of the gallery, is an element of jewellery and thus refers to the products offered. On the other hand, it is the rolling, engine-driven end of the steel construction illustrating the important role of flexibility for the shop owners. This statement of the shop sign is confirmed by the interior design of the gallery: suspended glass cases may be moved through the room along a metal rail if necessary, a metal pull-out table, like a steel cramp, links two open room units ? this is a sign of mobility in the handling of the merchandise and of the intention to use the shop, besides its main function as a selling gallery, as a multi-functional exhibition room as well.

The chair ?Sessel ∆T1?, designed in the same year, must also be regarded in relation to the concepts of furniture design and body jewellery. It is constructed as an instrument to support different sitting positions in an optimal way, the body may relax when sitting. ? ?This is achieved by the seat?s slightly tilting backwards if its rear part is weighted (upright sitting position), in this case the felt roll supports the sacral region. If the sitter slides towards the front part of the seat (half-reposing, casual sitting position) the seat moves back to its initial horizontal position, thus providing an angle suitable for such a sitting position; the felt roll supports the back below the shoulder blades6. The chair is a simple steel construction, the parts exposed to the human body are covered with wood, leather and felt. Again the character of the materials used and their history influences function and aesthetical design.

Metal tubes connected by welding, the adequate way of treating this material, form the basic functional structure; a plywood board reinforces the seat; leather and felt, elements of a traditional interior style, are turned to significant details of applied art. The frugal smooth-surfaced character of the leather elements covering the seat and the arm-rests give the impression of wear resistance, whereas soft felt marks the place designed for the sensitive spine, in addition, the form of the rolled felt provides the possibility of free movement. This seating is mainly meant for museum visitors, but it may also be a design element in private rooms and may be used in work environments.
In this development from adaptation to bodies towards interiors and then turning to the exterior of public places and to the creation of large-scale sculptures, Tomas Hoke remains within the context of architecture. Just as the immediate environment influences the works already described and determines their design (see jewellery creations), object signs made for public institutions can only manifest themselves in correspondence with their specific surroundings to reveal the intended meaning.

In Mr. Hoke?s view ?art designed for buildings? may not just supplement an architectural structure fixed before but plastic creation reveals new approaches to content and form or gives a concentrated illustration of the function of a building.

The project ?Leukein?,7 carried out in 1991/92 on the premises of the ophtalmic clinic and the anaesthesia and neurosurgery departments of the provincial hospital of Klagenfurt, links both exterior and interior designs (see picture 102). Interrelated parameters of content and aesthetics produce a complex structure which can only be deciphered in the course of perception of this series of sculptural metaphors. Accordingly, Mr. Hoke describes the basic idea of this work in the following way: ?The three departments and their relation to each other are joined by artistic means. The design structure is based on the existing spatial situation (?) and on the interconnection of the sense organs and their anatomical structure.?8

This series of ?art stations? begins with the large sculpture ?Der wandernde Blick trifft auf den blinden Fleck? (?The Wandering Look Meets the Blind Spot?), situated in front of the clinic entrance. An arch of stainless steel, diagonally fixed to the ground, stretches over the lawn in front of the building. This ellipsoidal element represents the retina of the eye which receives light stimuli. In the ?eye fundus?, made of steel, two special spots are marked: the spot where the visual acuity is highest, i.e. the yellow spot, is illustrated from below by the tip of a copper tube a prolongation of which would lead to the centre of the lense on the other side of the visual apparatus. The blind spot is characterized by a sculpture on wheels mounted on top of the arch. This element, apparently mobile, carries two vertically oriented funnels whose narrow ends meet in the centre of the ?carriage?. From the lower, smaller funnel a cone of rays made of steel cables lead to the ground. Imaginary prolongation of the cables leads to the cone base, marking the diameter of the eye lense.

Whereas the density of cones is highest in the yellow spot, there are no visual cells in the blind spot: it is insensitive to light ? from this spot the optic nerve leads to the brain.
Inside the institution the theme of ?sense line? is a mental interrelation line linking the messages of the individual ?stations?.

In the entrance hall Mr. Hoke presents ?Quelle der fünf Sinne? (?Source of the Five Senses?, see picture 110). ? The wall exhibits five funnels made of spirals of copper tubes; these flat cochleiform elements develope into simple rods which, like fingers, show the way to the next ?station?. The spiral form is a symbol of the circular process of perceiving noises and sounds. Corresponding to this regular receptive mechanism the background of this sculpture, which is attached to the wall, is segmented into stripes formally depicting opposing rhythms, alternating the colours of red and green. ?Funktionelle Systeme, Doppelorgane? (?Functional Systems, Double Organs?, see picture 107-109) show examples of the functions of individual organs. The senses of balance, touch and taste are expressed by delicate copper constructions suspended from the horizontal cables extending below the ceiling. The slits between the wooden background panels, painted blue, are filled with beeswax. Warming, this substance exuded its sensual smell ? a symbol of the smell sense is established in the act of perception.

The next ?station? is in a connecting passage which, passed through by a wire construction, houses two further elements. ?Spindel? (?Spindle?), an object of cembra wood with a thickened centre, represents (muscle) tension, and the object ?Der tiefe Schlaf ? Anästhesie? (?The Deep Sleep ? Anaesthesia?, see picture 113) describes the complete relaxedness inherent in narcotization. The two halves of a tableau, one painted with black graphite, one golden, and steel cables leading into and out of the object via funnels, illustrate the state between being asleep and being awake, or possibly between life and death.
The colour shades of the environment of ?Kopfstation ? Speicher? (?Head Station ? Memory?) are getting more and more intensive, eventually resulting in ultramarine blue, which creates an atmospheric mood in the room. Here the end of the five sense lines made of steel is marked by double funnels which open to the control panel, the brain. The horizontal alternation of copper, graphite and gold coated planks visualizes, like in a modified electronic microchip, its communicative and storage capacity (see picture 117).

In Mr. Hoke?s view, ?Leukein? means ?seeing into and through things, listening to them and smelling them?, this is why he tries to describe the effects of the world of things to our sensory system. Related to clinical treatment, healing of illness, the process of perceiving pain and alleviation, according to the artist, is a transitional situation where humans gain experience and knowledge of their own situation.9 So this work has been conceived as a line of stations that can be walked along from a beginning to an end. Without resorting to a transcendental view of life Tomas Hoke refers to the simple biological processes in our sense organs and the human experience potential related to them.
At the end of the 80ies and the beginning of the 90ies Mr. Hoke begins to focus more strongly on autonomous sculpture. In a number of steel and copper objects our potential of perceiving new forms of ?experience spaces? is tested. These works are placed in the museum environment as autonomous spatial units ? typical properties of three-dimensional constructions, like weight-bearing, providing insights and outlooks, metrically perceivable dimensions and the character of the materials used are still the main issues of artistic investigation. Mr. Hoke builds ?Barriers? (?Sperre?, see picture 118) which are mobile architectural elements reestablishing the existing spatial environment. Placed in a passage, a massive steel object controls both the view and the movement of the viewer. As one by-passes this ?obstacle? its surface conveys movement ? light is reflected in the curved polish traces, simulating crystal materiality, the object presents itself in continuously changing light and colour shades. In addition, the actual weight of the installation is optically manipulated by artistic intervention.

Another barrier-like construction (see picture 119) pointedly contrasts the forms of parallelepipeds and cones. While one side of the sculpture is characterized by a series of steel parallelepipeds the other side is dominated by the thickening ends of copper cones protruding from the steel objects. To maintain the unstable balance exact static calculations had to be made. ? I.e. the widening of the cones corresponds to the distance between and the thickness of the steel parallelepipeds arranged one after the other, the centre of gravity lies in the centre of the installation.
Two further works of the series ?Daseinssperre ? Leere Masse? (?Existence Barrier, Empty Mass?) are based on mirror phenomena. The highly polished steel walls of one of them are assembled to form a sculptural circular object (see pictures 120-122). Narrow openings make it possible to look into this object, where its circular structure is reflected again and again, thus producing the formal structure of a ?Labyrinth?. Standing in the centre of the installation, you see your own mirror image covering the whole steel surface ? the reflections of the viewers dissolve in the monumental distortion of their images.
?Narc Headroom? (see pictures 123, 124), as the artist calls it, is an installation of four semicircular apsides around a square ground plan, it is hermetically closed and excludes the viewers. Looking at the exterior wall of untreated steel one hardly expects the richness of form showing in the interior mirrors, where the repertoire of crystalline-looking signs seems to be expanding infinitely.
For Tomas Hoke the physical laws of optics and ?weighting? of masses of different forms are indispensable tools of artistic manipulation. Visual paradoxes form metaphors of our restricted faculty of imagination. They reveal the mathematical possibility of the fourth dimension and at the same time show that it cannot be visualized.

The discourse intentionally provoked between the apparatus and the recipient is continued in efforts not confined to one sphere of activity. Tomas Hoke makes use of different media like sculpture, architecture, drawing and film in order to visualize his artistic message, besides, in the beginning of the 90ies he starts to organize art projects. His early jewellery works ? ?scenic events? of the body ? and the staging of ?Kalkwerk? already aim at participation of others, the call for activity is inherent in them. The participation intended in the realization of art projects does take place. As a ?coordinator? Mr. Hoke tries to subsume the different fields of activity necessary for such a production on the basis of an integrative comprehensive ideal. ? In 1990 a model for the ?Rescue of the World? and the ?Image of the New INTART10 is conceived to focus on new challenges relevant for cultural, and thus also social, policy. As a broader community of interest of (art) producers and (art) consumers is formed, (art) product management becomes more and more important. Active participation, assistance, communication or marketing activities provided by the artists strengthen their positions as competent allrounders who do not reduce their intents to producing ?meaningful? works. What is also aimed at is responsibility to society when administrating artistic potential, and also taking into account the social necessity to convey it, which includes budgeting of funds. What is crucial in this respect is that the artist develops from a ?curator?, in accordance with the traditional understanding still maintained, to a ?representative? of the intentions to be conveyed and which form the basis of his or her work. As a rule, selfmade persons, when acting as experts, do not follow economic principles, neither for themselves nor for the general public, in this respect they are rather advocates of the content parameters of a conception. ? They are operative media of their artistic ideas. The conception of Mr. Hoke?s artistic programme successively develops from manifestations in the form of small sculptures to object architecture that both takes up and creates space and finally to actionist expressions of a self-reflexive quality.

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