Lisa Hoke, Equilibrium, 1988, cast iron, scrap steel, wire, 10 x 5 x 13 inches. All photos © 1990 by Erik Landsberg.
Lisa Hoke’s sculptures are suspended in a tension prolonged by weight and gravity. They are perfectly balanced, at peace in a tenuous space.
Betsy Sussler Your sculptures are haiku, strong and fragile at the same time—balanced so perfectly in their being. Tender hearts: the slightest touch and they could fall apart …
Lisa Hoke Structurally, nothing’s welded, everything’s balanced. Some pieces are more stable in that if they fall apart, less will happen. Some pieces, as they fall apart, disintegrate.
BS So every element is dependent upon the other to sustain the shape?
LH Yes. These pieces began as a response to the weight of the form. I had accompanied a friend to an iron foundry. I myself had no intention of ever working with iron. But I was so struck by the smell of the metal, the scale of the environment and the gray color. It lurched me back to being a child, on an aircraft carrier with my father in the hanger. It was so familiar. More than a memory, it was the life I’d grown up in, with a navy pilot.
BS All about flying and balance and …
LH Exactly. Days later, I found a coconut and took it out to the foundry to be cast. They all laughed. But there was something about the size of it, the anonymous, beautiful, almost minimal quality of this form, this egg shape. When I got the cast home I had this idea of suspending it. Almost unconsciously, I hung it on the wall with this long wire gesture—the slightest movement, and the coconut would flip out of the nest. It was like learning how to walk, I started to discover this whole body of work I’d never seen any sign of before. I’d had the same feeling as a child when I first saw the pendulum at the Smithsonian, having a sense of a physical reality in the universe. It was a combination of that, and the fascination with my father being a test pilot—and the stories he tells me now.
BS His life was always in tenuous balance. With the machine … you must have been cognizant of that as a child, even though it wasn’t discussed.
LH Every day, when we were in school, he’d be up in the air. He did the first test flights in jets when the fuel systems were out of balance. They didn’t know how much fuel to put in, the jet would flop and spin through the air. I wanted to experience that in some way—what it was like to land a jet on a quarter-mile strip of air craft carrier in the middle of the night in the ocean.
BS This piece is embraced by a circle of steel?
LH: Circuit is so simple, just the notion of pulling something together. That simplicity almost kept me from doing it: it’s so obvious. It still is alive, there’s an energy, a way that I can experience the laws of gravity, laws of balance.
BS The shapes you’re attracted to are very primal.
LH I went to it with the intention of bringing those metaphors to life. My first response after the coconut was this incredible delight in looking at vegetable stands, at the beauty and simplicity of a gourd or a squash. This is a banana blossom.
BS It’s huge! It’s this giant bud. You have them cast directly from life?
LH Now I make the forms. But when I first started, there was an urgency. I would buy heads of lettuce and UPS them to the foundry as fast as possible. (Laughter) There was one elderly mold maker who was a secret gardener and he would slip in special vegetables of his own. So I’d get these boxes back with things I’d never seen before.
BS That’s so sweet.
LH I reached the point where it was very important that the viewer didn’t get, or that I didn’t get, locked into the titillation of the vegetable.
BS That realistic transplant.
LH Right. Often one wouldn’t be aware of what they were. But once there was awareness, I wanted it to be more casual, not so specific so that someone couldn’t go and laugh about it being a squash.
BS The idea is more as a container?
LH It is, in fact, weight. Now, they’re made in a very primitive way with plaster gauze and wire. They’re part of the only physical labor that goes into the work. I don’t realty draw the ideas out. A huge amount happens in the middle of the room where I’m pushing and pulling and contorting and I don’t know how things are going to respond.
BS They seem to draw themselves: hanging with lilies of wire and the force of gravity.
LH When they’re hanging, I have to get them going. Fifty percent happens in sitting and looking and thinking about it and 50 percent happens with pushing and pulling and seeing what the resulting action can be.