Wednesday August 18, 2010 | by Lee Brooks

SEEN: Scott Darlington’s glass hammer comes down at the Toledo Museum

FILED UNDER: Exhibition, New Work, Seen

Scott Darlington, Genetically Modified Corn Hammer, 2010.

Taking a first place award at the 92nd Toledo Area Artists Exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art (and on display through August 22nd), Scott Darlington’s Genetically Modified Corn Hammer (2010) may be one of the artist’s most compelling works to date. The hammer’s self-descriptive title and simple premise belie (or perhaps, in an ironic reversal, actually attest to) the inquisitive nature of its content. More than simple juxtaposition, the work plays with the somewhat hazy distinction between natural and man-made, expressing the complex status of the “tool” and its development in human civilization.

As a “tool”, genetic engineering permits us an unprecedented control over the natural environment, just as the hammer, possibly the oldest tool in existence, allowed a somewhat befuddled primitive humans their first chance to shape the world according to their needs (thereby beginning a race to mastery that brings us to a 21st century of cloning, genetic manipulation, mountaintop removal, robots, whatever this thing is...).

Genetically Modified Corn Hammer brings these considerations into a shared space also occupied by the medium of the work itself. In an August 13th article in the Bowling Green Sentinel Tribune, David Dupont writes of Darlington’s relationship to glass: “Though manufactured by man, Darlington noted, it is also created in nature. Volcanos created obsidian. Lightning can form pools of glass. Meteors striking the earth have left glass lakes. Darlington sees his work as being connected to these primal forms of the material.”

The very act of creation with glass becomes, for Darlington, a dialogue between the natural and the man-made, where the natural and the man-made may not be so different. (Similarly, genetic mutation is naturally occurring, just as the force of two objects colliding into each other is natural.) The question, which remains the same for glassmaking as well as for genetic engineering, hammering, or any other human intervention into natural phenomena, is how the tool will be used, whether for good or for bad, destruction or preservation, progress or inertia. In this sense, art is no different than technology.

Darlington’s “how” focuses on a provocation, a space for questioning and wonder, which he prefers to leave open-ended. Genetically Modified Corn Hammer is not meant to answer a question about the human role in nature, but to explore the contours of the question, and even to play with the question a little bit. In the artist statement on Darlington’s website, he describes his art as “a celebration of the known and unknowable, the obvious and mysterious.” It is a celebration in which the artist himself does not take sides. The work is not moral – though it may perhaps incite its viewers, in one direction or another.

Lee Gaizak Brooks


92nd Annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition
Toledo Museum of Art
2445 Monroe Street
Toldeo, Ohio 43620
Tel: 419 255 8000

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