Ariel Hassan works with great care and precise control to make objects that explore uncontrolled chaos. His use of hard-edged geometry as well as fluid amorphousness (often combined in the same work) may seem contradictory, but in fact he offers an accurate representation of the nature of things.
Contained within the immense complexity of a living body, a society, a planet or a universe, are individually functioning but connected systems and processes that are themselves highly complex. Each is subject to precise laws and principles (laws of nature, laws of physics, council by-laws, rules of the game). With infinitely proliferating variables, each of them potentially able to affect the others, the scope for unpredictability is endless. Life as we know it is both strictly governed and essentially out of control.
This is the paradox that motivates Hassan’s work as an artist. Everyone has a personal response to the conundrum of infinity, and knows the queasy sensation of confronting the idea that space is infinitely expanding and there is no end to it all. Some cry, some laugh, most are silent. Many turn to religion. Hassan makes art.
He breaks things down to individual components, with the implicit understanding that they could be put back together again differently, recombined into an ever-expanding, evolving and mutating continuum. One link in the chain implies an infinite proliferation. It is beyond the physical resources of an artist to capture the full ramifications of endless expansion, so Hassan tends to go back the other way, exploring smaller and smaller divisions and subdivisions. In either direction, it’s an open-ended process.
His imagery and his approach to making art seem reminiscent of medical science. Crystalline structures and organic processes in nature can be clearly recognised among his points of reference. While there is a definite similarity between his studio methods and experimental studies in a laboratory, he expresses no particular interest in medical research. It is the underlying principle of ebb and flow that gives meaning to his work, not the specific scientific facts.
The HFV project looks and sounds as though it might be based on studies in pathology. In fact the term HVF (Hypothetical Future Value) comes from the vocabulary of financial investment and the stock market. In these works, recognisable portraits are overlaid with free-flowing swirls in a shared black and white tonal scale that allows coherent and incoherent form to blend ambiguously. This occurs more thoroughly in the loop projection of the portraits, when afterimages start to confuse the retina. The possibility of fixed identity is undermined, and certainty is replaced by the prospect of an infinite potential, on which a philosopher, like a share trader, might speculate.
Hassan doesn’t regard what he makes as self-contained objects and images. Instead he discusses them as captured phases of an ongoing progression. Many artists talk this way when describing the relationship between their individual works and the development of their oeuvre as a whole, but Hassan isn’t talking about the steps that comprise his own path. He observes the continuously changing and developing forces of nature and attempts to isolate individual moments for closer study. ‘I can’t make new paintings,’ he says, ‘ I can only find them within chaotic primal exercises and try to emulate them in different technical stages; I can’t formulate sculptures but only try to decipher the system involved and rearrange the pieces.’ He temporarily and artificially suspends perpetual motion and presents a fixed image of flux. All artists do that too, but Hassan is not so much concerned with the thing that’s constantly changing; instead he makes art about the process of change itself.
Two of the works in this exhibition, The Geometry Of Resistance and Last Love Scene, resemble frozen explosions. The structural basis of both of them is derived from blood crystallisation, so the gradual systematic structuring essential to life is presented in such a way that it could also be read as abrupt fragmentation. Hassan’s macrocosmic/microcosmic vision of the universe combines the big bang with the orgasm.
The smallest component of the exhibition A void has been created, a void has to be closed is a fat worm. This automatically brings to mind the concept of worm holes, the shortest direct links within and between universes, travelling through space via time. This idea, so simple as an analogy, so difficult to grasp in reality, is invoked then left for the viewer to worry about. Hassan openly acknowledges the commonplace fact that the more we know, the more we realise we know very little.
His worm is curiously different from the other works. It is a distinct being rather than a configuration of parts, and in a perverse way it’s quite cute. It personifies the abstract process represented in Hassan’s work and gives it a face. Two in fact. Something unknowably and indefinably vast is brought down to a completely accessible level as a kind of logo. It stands for something much greater than itself. The two-faced, double-ended worm could be read as a symbol of endless circularity or a creature that could gobble itself into oblivion. Aside from what it might actually mean, this small sculpture reveals that within the disconcerting portentousness of Hassan’s work there is sometimes a playfully mischievous sense of humour.
Despair may be the most logical response to profound uncertainty, but it is absolutely not Hassan’s response. His anxious awareness of chaos accommodates the competing fragments of structural logic within it, and enthusiastically engages with them. Works of art are able to propose perfect, hypothetical resolutions of unresolved problems. Hassan labours long and hard to achieve this, with impeccable, crystalline models of random progression, and paint surfaces that are slowly and meticulously rendered like a painting-by-numbers version of an abstract expressionist canvas. His painstaking technique as an artist leaves no room for accidents, yet it is used for expressing a belief that the identity of everything depends on its potential not to go according to plan.