LARGO – Latex balloon sculptures hover in a gallery room at Creative Pinellas, filling the cavernous space. In another space of the building, large-scale paintings on unstretched canvas overlaid with handwritten text beckon, while smaller, colorful paintings fill the rest of the rooms.
These include “Darkmatter,” a showcase of the work of St. Petersburg-based multidisciplinary artist Jason Hackenwerth. It also includes a retrospective of 50 drawings and photographs from Hackenwerth’s exhibitions over the past 20 years. The large gallery space gave Hackenwerth his first opportunity to show the extent of his artistic practice.
Entitled “Darkmatter,” the same name as the exhibit, the site-specific sculptures made up of 20,000 latex balloons were once joined together and then dramatically separated to become two.
More than just mind-blowing mathematical feats, they have conceptual significance. The sculptures are a commentary on fractured society and people’s tendency to build bubbles around themselves, preventing dialogue from other bubbles. The idea of seeing the sculptures, with their inviting coves and perks within and below, reinforces the concept of people leaving their bubbles to gain new perspectives.
The artist works with a team to inflate and build the sculptures. Drawings of the pieces hang on the gallery wall, along with a time-lapse video of the creation process.
Hackenwerth has been making these balloon sculptures for 20 years and has exhibited them around the world, in prestigious exhibitions at the National Museum of Scotland, for the windows of Bergdorf Goodman in New York and locally at the Tampa Museum of Art. A retrospective of past installations is told through photographs and more than 50 sketches for the sculptures that occupy a room in the gallery.
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The practice became spiritual for Hackenwerth.
“They’re an ephemeral material and they have an inherent message, which is this temporary quality that’s almost Zen Buddhist,” he said. “But on top of that there is this transformative quality. It’s just a harmless little mundane object, but when it’s put together with so many other thousands of these ways, you can make some really straightforward statements… (which are) I think, ubiquitous in everyone’s story. world… people can identify with that notion of transcendence”.
Not that every new sculpture is without challenges, but Hackenwerth sees an opportunity to push the limits.
“Learning this during these years in the sculptures has taught me to accept the weird things that happen beyond your control and to realize that those weird qualities are what make them special.”
He wants people to know that balloons are biodegradable. He plans to compost the “Darkmatter” balloons and document how they decompose. Then he will take the land and plant a garden and wants to have the plants he grows tested to see if there are traces of latex in them.
Hackenwerth will create another site-specific sculpture for Creative Pinellas’ Arts Annual 2022 exhibition, which opens November 10.
Hackenwerth holds an MFA in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2003 he moved to New York and spent the next 10 years working and traveling setting up balloon installations around the world. But after getting married, he and his wife left New York in 2013 and moved to St. Petersburg to start a family and relaunch his career as a painter from his home studio.
The large-scale paintings included in “Darkmatter” are so monumental that Hackenwerth had to create them outside his studio on the floor or use a large scale and a paintbrush on an extension cord.
With “The Only Perfect Place Is in Her Eyes”, Hackenwerth left the canvas outside for the month of February, letting the pollen fall on it and the rain wash it away and the sun fade it, using the weather to make a part of the painting.
Elements of these large paintings are obscured or erased. The idea was to maintain the spontaneity he achieves with smaller works, never over-manipulating them or letting them feel precious.
Hackenwerth wrote a poem to accompany “After the Holiday”, which he says was the origin of the exhibit. The poem is about his grandparents.
“My grandfather, on the one hand, is the physical world,” he said. “It has all the structure that exists in our bodies and all the material realm, and then my grandmother is the spiritual world. She is dark matter. And people hear the word dark matter, and they think it’s something bad, bad, but it’s just a term that scientists coined 100 years ago. But ultimately he’s describing this ethereal space that is this power that holds everything together that we can’t see, but it’s here, it’s everywhere.
Many of Hackenwerth’s paintings and poems are about the women in his life – his wife, daughter, mother and grandmother. “For me, the divine feminine is the gateway to existence,” he said. In his “Love Letters” series, he painted a poem to his grandmother called “She Is Home”. It hangs next to “This Boy”, a love letter to himself as a child who didn’t really know his father, from the perspective of himself as a father. It’s incredibly moving.
Hackenwerth’s small works are by no means tiny. At first glance, with their candy-colored palettes, they are deceptively cheerful. But like the rest of his work, something deeper is going on.
Hackenwerth takes its place in the legacy of humans who mark since the beginning of our time to communicate ideas, creating in a conscious way.
The practice of depositing text and obscuring it is also present in these works. Hackenwerth said some of them came from a place of outrage and aggression, with negative messages written on them. He worked through the feelings, painting the messages to overcome them and find “joy and surrender”.
“It’s just captured moments of uninhibited emotional outbursts, and that’s okay,” he said.
If you are going to
“Black matter.” On view until October 16. Free. 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. The Creative Pinellas Gallery, 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo. 727-582-2172. creativepinellas.org.