On ViewSlag & RX
May 4–June 10, 2023
David Henderson’s solo exhibition, Disturbances, at Slag & RX features CAD-designed sculptures whose intricate, continuous surfaces challenge the mind with labyrinthine change. Designs that might seem unapproachable on the computer feel warm, intriguing and otherworldly after being fabricated from layers of plywood, foam, or fiberglass. Disturbances recalls ocean waves, flowers with hyperbolic petals, the natural curl of wood shavings, and exploded tire fragments—things that exemplify dramatic change. (Think Jorge Luis Borges in shop class.) Sculptural drawing is highlighted by contrasting the pieces with the plane of the wall and visualizing the flat layers of material that went into making them. Patterned, convoluted, lightweight, and nominally dimensional, the exhibit advocates for a unique synthesis of machine drawing, human fabrication, and carving skills.
The sculptures in Disturbances emerge from designs that relate geometry and physics. Henderson’s wave designs propagate the interference arising from raindrops hitting water. The twist designs rotate triangle or airfoil shapes through space by integrating spiral and elliptical paths. Both groups of designs are oriented to flat surfaces and modified to hang on the wall. Though all of Henderson’s CAD drawings are tweaked to reflect changing fabrication strategies, not all the pieces are constructed. After choosing a mostly flat wave design, he reinforces the form with a smidge of depth, then rotates and sections it at intervals on the bias. Chosen twist designs are backed into a plane and, likewise, given minimal volume before they are regularly sectioned.
The most powerful pieces in Disturbances are the waves and twists made of layers of plywood. Humble and imperfect, they embody the inverse relationship between integration and differentiation in calculus, joining equal sections of radically organic-shaped slices, whose jutting edges are sanded away to allow the pure form to emerge. This sophisticated, emergent composite resembles a sturdy sandwich of equivalent anterior and posterior faces. Since they maximize surface area and minimize the weight and volume of the assembled plywood form, wafer-like waves and ribbon-thin twists express sculpture taken to the very limit of being three-dimensional.
The wooden twist Widening Gyre 6 (2021) describes a helical path whose edges thin down to the thickness of paper before dissolving into nothingness, as if its own rotation has drained it of solidity. Its dazzling woodgrain surface pattern is a function of multiple plywood layers intersecting, both spiraling and curving motion. Inflection points expose light and dark plywood layers at oblique angles to make bending, thickening, and thinning stripes. These striations give the illusion that the surface is distorting under internal pressure though, in fact, straight layers of plywood cut by hyperbolic curves produce surprising, sinuous lines. Since these lines evolved with the form, they embrace the twist, not as if painted on, but organically and from within, the way a plant grows. The striations are predetermined by the intersection of two forces and a shape, but they persist in feeling random, diving and resurfacing about the material, counterbalancing the curves of the composition, and augmenting the piece’s overall complexity. The beauty of the decorated surface combined with elaborate, attenuated form confuses and thus sustains the mystery of the sculptural drawing. Viewers may be baffled by the Möbius-like surface wearing the evidence of its own formation yet visualizing the form arising from flat plywood pieces organizes the dynamic motion.
Widening Gyre 5 (2021) springs from a more relaxed set of preconditions. Its wing-like, right side pales into drum skin transparency. Shaped like both the path of a boomerang and the boomerang itself, this delicate piece calls out to be handled and thrown. Of immense benefit to the form’s overall composition, an x-shaped divot at the intersection of two curves lends extra magic: it’s a beauty mark, a doorway to the piece’s interior, and a figure in a landscape.
As do most of the works in this show, V13 (2023), which describes the rotating path of a chevron, finished in an avian feather pattern, and white Erebus (2023) that suggests striped and pockmarked water, both indicate that Henderson allows surface treatment to dominate his enigmatic sculptural combination of baroque and minimalism. Sectioned planes, though sometimes hard to detect, result in surprising surfaces. Disturbances bridges haptic and rational understanding by molding pathways that confound the body and inspire the mind.