Interview with Midpoint Artist Kevin HirdPosted: May 3, 2016
This is the first installment of the Midpoint 2016 artist interview series.
Walking into the Stamp Gallery, one cannot miss the pillars of blond lumber being displayed at the end of the room. The long planks are either covered with screws and the holes made by them, or cut into small slices that together make up curved forms. As the work occupies almost half of the entire gallery, one may wonder about the messages that the wood conveys to visitors. I asked the artist, Kevin Hird, for more details about his work in Midpoint 2016.
Could you please tell me about your work that’s currently on exhibit at the Gallery?
All of the works on exhibit in the gallery are 2′ x 6′ boards, which have been extensively altered through a repetitive action—either cutting or putting screws through them. I work with found objects, so I approached the boards from that direction rather than regarding them as a material one would use to make something, but reacting to the ‘identity’ of the object. The properties of the material such as the grain and knots, and the mental associations the board carries—the concept of work and blue collar labor, the manufactured versus the natural, organic material, and looking at the interactions you would expect to take place with the boards in their typical environment, of which to me the most prominent are the two I’ve employed, cutting and screwing. Both of these actions are misinterpreted, I’ve intentionally gotten the expected relationship of the action and the material wrong and repeated to a compulsive, total, absurd degree.
While I was cutting the slices of one of the Three eight foot boards cut exactly in half, someone came up and asked what I was up to and I told him I was cutting a board in half; he was confused for a couple seconds before it clicked.
I’m not sure how clear it is, but the Eight foot boards cut in half are cut into slices of wood that are the same thickness as the saw blade, so with each cut an equal amount of board is cut into a slice and consumed by the saw. After another pause he asked me ‘…why? That looks really tedious.’ And it really, really is. But in addition to the other ideas inherent in this work and the material, this process retains the grain pattern of the full length of the board, but compressed into half the space. Essentially, it’s pixelating a real object. I’ve seen images of people making pixelated renditions of classical marble busts—more so what you might think of when you imagine ‘sculpture’—but it’s all process and digital technology. So this is just using a board and saw, but relating to the language and visual output of digital 3d work.
How did you decide to use wood and nails, and is there a metaphorical meaning?
I actually don’t remember what got me started on the first board. I think it was just an exploratory piece, answering for myself, ‘how many screws can you actually put into a single board? What does that look like?’ But it incorporates ideas of work and the value we place on it, the tradition of construction and blue collar jobs within my own family, so seeing this work as a little bit of a self portrait; out of this blue collar background as a building material it gets reworked and winds up in a formal art setting.
These also bring up repeatedly this tension of the materials being simultaneously a processed industrial material and a grown organic natural thing. The Better give it the old spit polish series is displayed in a format intended to reference a forest and emphasize the organic nature of the wood, while the two components of Pucker are presented horizontally on saw horses, reinforcing the other side of this and referencing the industrial/construction material side of it.
But there’s more still—the force of the screws putting pressure on the wood resulted in some areas where the wood cracked apart pretty impressively, which is particularly interesting where knots are coming out of the side of the wood. This expansion reveals sections of the knots that had been grown over, buried within the wood but now visible because of the forces they were subjected to. The circles of screws and patterning of holes left behind where they were removed have some reference both to an insect boring into the material and clusters of moss or other growths on the surface of trees. And there’s definitely a sexual component, which shows up in possible interpretations of the titles, the vertical boards (anything long and upright, somebody is going to read as phallic), and the repetitive penetrative action of screwing in and out of the surface.
How long did it take you to create and install all of the pieces?
Installation seemed like it went really quickly, but actually took something like eight hours. I’m not entirely sure where the time went, but I know part of it was discussing placement issues with Gallery Coordinator Cecilia Wichmann and the other artists. As far as creation, it varied from within a day to make each of the three 8’ boards cut exactly in half, up to most of a month to complete one of the vertical boards.
Have you always been working with three-dimensional pieces? What do you like about them and what do you dislike about them?
Yes, since I started making art I knew three dimensional was the way for me to go. I get much more satisfaction and sense of having physically made something when its 3D. I know, painting or drawing are also ‘physical processes’ but they don’t carry that same feel of physicality that I get in sculptural works. So that’s definitely what I like about them, as well as being able to go out and find a physical object that starts the process and carries its own back story and implications that I feel obligated to respond to and incorporate in the work. There’s really one big thing to dislike about three dimensional work: It’s big. Sculptures take up a whole lot of space and don’t really store very efficiently. Smaller tabletop or handheld sculptures aren’t too bad individually, but they start to add up, and once you reach a certain scale your options quickly dwindle to either: sell the work, or take a lot of good pictures and destroy it.
What is your favorite material to work with and why?
I don’t think I really have a favorite material. Working in sculpture, and especially with a tendency toward found objects, I wind up working with new materials pretty regularly.
Is there a common theme for all of your work? Where do you get your inspiration from and how has your practice changed over time?
There does seem to be a common thread going through much of my work of dealing with the identity of objects, altering things in small but fundamental ways, and a sense of absurdity or humor. I think part of the inspiration is definitely in the materials themselves; I think that I look at things a little bit differently than most people and through this artwork I try to show everyone these other possibilities within the things around us. That’s the other big part of my inspiration—I want to show people something new and hopefully give them a sense of wonder.
I’ve always been working sculpturally, but the work definitely changed when I started here with a little bit of a rough transition period at first when I was figuring out how exactly I wanted to work and what I wanted to work with. Before grad school I tended to have the entire piece figured out beforehand and then sit down and make it. Lately it’s been a lot more exploratory and responsive to the material
Why did you decide to attend the MFA program here at Maryland? Where did you study as an undergrad?
I got my undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University in Ohio, where I’m from. I actually started there in another major and jumped ship to art because I was really bored with what I had started in. Fortunately that school actually had a really great art program, and equally good teachers. One of the teachers was a close mentor to me and when I told him about my MFA choices, he knew one of the faculty here and said I’d enjoy working with him, so that influenced my choice a little. Other things that helped me make my choice were UMD has a bit of a reputation as being a sculpturally-focused program, which I liked, the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant which is really valuable if you want to teach after graduation (and I definitely do), and possibly the most important factor is location. As an artist the close proximity to both all of the art museums and galleries in DC as well as Baltimore, which has a really thriving art scene, is a pretty big deal. It means that you can expose yourself to a lot more artworks and culture, which can expand your own practice, as well as there being much more options and chances of having your work shown and seen.
Where do you see your work in the future, and what does art mean to you?
To me art is an outlet, a way to show other people something new or get them thinking about things differently. I think it also gives a unique look into someone else’s thoughts and personality. Looking at the artwork in this show, I think you can extrapolate from the artwork and learn quite a bit about the artists from the work. I think for the foreseeable future the work is going to continue being centered around the found object and the identity of things. In the future I’d like to see my work at MoMA, but I think you have to work your way up.
By Yvette Yu
Kevin Hird presents a series of investigations into the results obtainable through an expected interaction being repeated to unreasonable lengths on a common construction material.
Learn more about Hird’s work: kevinhird.tumblr.com.
Questions or comments? Please reach out at Kevin.Hird@yahoo.com