Stretching the Physical Limitations of Art, Mark Handforth: Rolling Stop, MOCA, North Miami

Text by Heike Wollenweber

Mark Handforth’s (b. 1969) Rolling Stop opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, for Art Basel Miami Beach. Curated by MOCA Executive Director Bonnie Clearwater, the exhibit of 25 works marks a major milestone for Handforth, MOCA and the Miami art landscape, as the Miami based sculptor rarely actually shows his work in Miami. The exhibition stretches the physical boundaries of Art Basel by showing in North Miami as opposed to Miami Beach, relating back nicely to Handforth’s stretching of the physical limitations and space of art in his practice.

Born in Hong Kong, raised in England and schooled in Germany, Handforth chose to relocate to Miami in 1992 and has become part of its dynamic art scene. He understands the intrinsic functions and motions of city life, whether based on the past as in European cities or focused on the future as in the US metropolis. Handforth knows the Miami prior to the glamour that Art Basel brought and his intimate relationship with the original grittiness of the city feeds his work. His large sculptures and light fixtures are designed to be interpreted with a sense of humour as he changes the size and shapes or otherwise distorts everyday objects to make them visible and elevate what we see daily above a state of obscurity. Handforth was the first Miami artist to receive a solo show at the Joan Lehman Building of MOCA in March 1996. Rolling Stop coincides with the museum’s celebration of its 15th anniversary in its current Joan Lehman Building. Since 1996, Handforth has received major international recognition and has emerged as an important role model for Miami artists, his work being exhibited at The Modern Institute (Glasgow), Galerie Almine Rech (Paris), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The grandeur of the metropolis is mirrored in Handforth’s work. The physical aspect is reflected very literally in the often enormous size of the sculptures but Rolling Stop also continues Handforth’ urban discourse. He engages the viewer into a conversation with every day objects by making them larger than life, altering them to create something new rather than a depiction of something that already was. Handforth adds another dimension by placing these huge street signs, lamp posts or a gigantic wire hanger next to sculptures of stars, moons and light fixtures reminiscent of the cosmos.

Upon entering the exhibit one is first struck by its enormity and a feeling of having walked into a chapter of Gulliver‘s Travels. The second sensation is of being surrounded by light, fluorescent light and candle light, illuminating the exhibit in an almost surreal manner. After a few moments the eyes adjust and the shadows change the look of every sculpture in the room as the light makes the darkness visible. The main source of the light is Eclipse (2003), a light fixture of 100 fluorescent bulbs, practically exploding across 100ft of MOCA’s walls. Inspired by William Blake as well as Miami’s ubiquitous neon signs, it is an example of how Handforth combines personal experiences and influences of various geographical spaces into one work of art that is then no longer limited by any geographical or cultural boundary.

The Eclipse illuminates especially the Silver Wishbone (2010), a very prominent sculpture reminiscent of an ancient archaeological relic. Other light sources are Syd Barrett (2006), a trash can with tree branches and fluorescent tubes, as well as Vespa (2001), which occupies a niche by itself. The blue old-school scooter is covered in candle wax of every colour of the rainbow. The burning candles cover the piece in dripping lines of green, purple, yellow, blue and red and thereby alter the art continuously. Handforth himself sees his art as a never-finished process, open to change, ever moving and evolving. Ironically, the Vespa cannot move in its intended way as the wheels are immobile casts. The flickering of the candle light and the dripping wax is what keeps the art in continuous flux just like Rome, the city hat inspired Vespa.

Handforth takes his art beyond the expected and literally, beyond the intended space. He wants to see his work outdoors and part of the public space. For Rolling Stop the artist goes beyond the museum walls of MOCA with Herbal Hill (1998) in the museum courtyard, Electric Tree (1998-2011), a giant banyan tree in North Miami’s Griffing Park and the pink neon Weeping Moon (2010), a pink neon sign billboard in the Wynwood Arts District. Handforth’s choice of utilizing public space adds an additional layer of realism as well as an organic quality. The art becomes part of the ever changing environment and is shaped by its surroundings as much as it alters the space it inhabits. The art becomes part of a public domain and is no longer reserved to any elite. Without the limitations the art is no longer confined to being art.

Rolling Stop is an innovative exhibition of Mark Handforth’s works between 1996 and 2011. It brings his work to a rolling stop in the city that shapes his vision while he participates in the shaping of the city and its extraordinarily vibrant art scene.

Mark Handforth Rolling Stop, 11/29/2011 – 02/19/2012, MOCA, North Miami.

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1. Foreground: LampostSnake, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
Midground left: Blue Hanger, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
Midground right: Slow, 2005. Collection of the Dallas Museum of Art, Promised gift of Gayle and Paul Stoffel.
Background: Eclipse, 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.
2. Foreground: Silver Wishbone, 2010. Collection of the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY.
Background: Eclipse, 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.