5 Questions with Alice Hope

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees. The exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Alice Hope
Nominating committee: Greater New York Committee / Consulting curator: Shannon Stratton, Museum of Arts and Design

Alice Hope with her untitled work in Heavy Metal; Photo: Sarah Baker

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

What I love most about working with metal is the material’s reflectivity. Because I use thousands of metal parts to make my work, there are thousands of points for light to potentially bounce. Consequently, the works notably change, as the light changes.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

I like my work to appear as if it grew itself, as if the materials reproduced and multiplied. This illusion is suggested in some of my installations; the materials seeming to colonize and take over space. The works in Heavy Metal attempt to suggest this colonizing, within the object or grid.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

I’m informed by the layers and levels of seeing. These days my most essential tool is my magnifying glasses, but research and dialogue also intensify my seeing.

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Alice Hope, Untitled, 2017; Steel ball chain, used fishing tackle, and found net, 36 x 30 x 30 in.; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

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Alice Hope, Untitled, 2016; Used Budweiser tabs, 6 ft. diameter; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

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Alice Hope, Untitled (detail), 2016; Used Budweiser tabs, 6 ft. diameter; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

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Alice Hope, Untitled, 2012; Aluminum ball chain and perforated metal, 6 x 6 ft.; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

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Alice Hope, Untitled (detail), 2012; Aluminum ball chain and perforated metal, 6 x 6 ft.; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

Unquantifiable quantities inspire me. I’m deeply moved when looking into a Gaylord box filled with used can tabs, when seeing schools of fish or swarms of insects, or when I’m part of mid-day pedestrian traffic. Perceiving overwhelming numbers of things likens to experiences of the infinite.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

Laurie Anderson’s show at Guild Hall literally had me questioning the ground I stand on. Her work makes me rethink spatial awareness like no other.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

Casting, Construction, and Catharsis: Metalwork Processes

Metalwork has been considered a masculine practice due to the laborious, physical processes involved in manipulating metal. Despite this stereotype, women have long been artists and manufacturers in this dynamic medium. NMWA’s fifth Women to Watch exhibition, Heavy Metal, spotlights contemporary women artists who work with metal. These artists employ fascinating, diverse processes in the creation of their works.

Beverly Penn, Maelstrom, 2011; Bronze, 108 x 108 x 6 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Lisa Sette Gallery, and William Campbell Contemporary Art; Photo by Christopher Zaleski

While many of the featured artists manipulate scrap and recycled metal to make their works, others cast with liquid metal to create new objects. Beverly Penn’s intriguing, detailed bronze sculptures of invasive plants, such as Maelstrom (2011), are cast directly from the plants themselves. Penn calls this method “lost plant casting,” a play on the ancient metalworking method of lost wax casting. It also references the fact that plants burn away in the casting process. In this sense, the resulting sculpture is like a memorial to the plant, immortalized in metal.

Leila Khoury, Summer House, 2015; Steel and concrete, 12 x 48 x 1 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Other Heavy Metal artists find the process of creation to be a deeply personal or cathartic one. Leila Khoury’s steel and concrete works respond to the horrors of the ongoing Syrian civil war, which began during her time in art school. Khoury, of Syrian descent, created Palmyra (2015) in the aftermath of the destruction of the ancient city, attempting to create an image of the place from her own memories.

Khoury’s sculpture Summer House (2015) references her childhood memories of visiting her grandparents’ home in Syria. The structure recalls a row of windows, which Khoury filled with cement to symbolize that she may never return there. She describes the process of making as a way of grieving.

Holly Laws, Three Eastern Bluebirds, 2017; Copper, steel, mahogany, found ironing board, and plywood pedestal, 50 1/2 x 60 x 28 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Holly Laws’s Three Eastern Bluebirds (2017), made from cast bronze, a found ironing board, and plywood pedestal, is a response to the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For Laws, this work served as her own “personal art therapy.” She meticulously cast 144 bird feathers for Three Eastern Bluebirds. Artists such as Laws reclaim meticulous handwork and other craft techniques, which have traditionally not been considered high art.

Alice Hope also used repetitive handwork to create her untitled 2016 sculpture. Hope patiently strung together thousands of crimson Budweiser beer can tabs—which the artist refers to as “found color”—into a massive spiral form.

The variance and vibrancy of the works in Heavy Metal testifies to the intriguing and often innovative methods that these women artists apply to metal.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

—Nana Gongadze is the summer 2018 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Meddling with Metal: “Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018”

As a medium for artistic production, metal goes back to early human history. Some of the oldest surviving pieces of art include functional and decorative metal objects from cultures around the world. The use of metal has even defined eras of history (such as the Bronze Age and the Iron Age). The 20 artists featured in NMWA’s exhibition Heavy MetalWomen to Watch 2018 employ metal in a myriad of ways to highlight the material’s brilliance, texture, and color.

Cheryl Eve Acosta, Ericius, 2012; Cuff with copper, enamel, and glass, 5 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 1 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Gene Starr

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch series, Heavy Metal showcases the ways that women artists have creatively carried this medium into the contemporary era, and how their works belie the traditionally masculine reputation of metalwork. Presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees, the exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms.

Metals can be strong enough to hold up a bridge or a skyscraper, while at the same time intricate enough for fine jewelry. Some catch the eye with gilt and polish, while others are heavy and weathered, speaking to their source—the earth. Featured works by Heavy Metal artists showcase these qualities. Cheryl Eve Acosta’s lightweight cuff bracelets echo the organic shapes of barnacles and coral, but they are made from copper, a malleable metal. In contrast, Summer House (2015) by Leila Khoury contains steel and concrete, traditional metals used in heavy construction. These different uses of metal speak to the innovative methods of artists today.

Alice Hope, Untitled, 2016; Used Budweiser tabs, 6 ft. diameter; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

Although the word “metal” often conjures images of gray or bronze-colored works, some artists in Heavy Metal use striking colors in their sculptures. Blanca Muñoz’s Bujía (2013) is an iridescent stainless steel work that incorporates jewel-toned metal mesh planes. An intricate untitled work from 2016 by Alice Hope appears made out of a metal rope, but is actually made of thousands of used beer can tabs, and shines in a vivid vermillion. Lola Brooks’s sacredheartknot (2015) combines steel and gold with bright, smooth Mediterranean coral in a striking textural and color contrast.

Each work in the exhibition  explores the transformable, tactile, and expressive qualities of metal. The largest Women to Watch show to date, Heavy Metal proves the continuing dynamism of this age-old material, and the surprising ways that today’s women artists give it life.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from some of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

—Nana Gongadze is the 2018 summer publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.