Born Raleigh, North Carolina, 1986 / BA Bennington College / Lives in Detroit MI
Hamilton Poe’s artist statement is a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation in which he, the patient, a “27-year-old right handed male,” is characterized in modern scientific terms. It details everything from his previous diagnoses of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia to his superior “non-verbal concept formation and reasoning skills.” The statement could be read in many ways: as an observation of one individual’s state of mind; as a comment on the way America addresses mental health; as a critique of an art world that revels in myth-making; or as a subversion of a system he claims “requires written justifications for the inexplicable.”
It can be difficult to touch upon all of the subjects within Poe’s artwork because he reflects on topics from many angles, but acknowledgment of that fact clears the path toward an overarching explanation. The human instinct to filter life through one perspective preoccupies Poe, who seeks to dislodge himself and others from a fixed understanding of reality. The way to get to know his art is to hear him talk about living life, because his approach leads to the ideas and the making. Running, swimming, and biking long distance propels Poe into a suspended state of being, in which he meditates on the transitory nature of art and life.
“I’ve become obsessed with trust, value, and transmutation,” he says. A couple of years ago, on one of his long runs around Detroit, he came across dog skeletons by train tracks near Magnolia Street and Vinewood on the near west side. It led him to conceive of a project that foregrounds the moral conflict of right vs. wrong. He rode his bike to the Humane Society with a dog in a trash bag and inquired about cremation, planning to send the dog’s ashes to an online company that purports to transform remains into diamonds. Because the dog didn’t belong to him, the agency could not give him the ashes, and Doggie-bag (2014) resolved itself as an artwork then and there, a conception of an idea that might be considered morally responsible or reprehensible.
The parameters that define contemporary art are much wider through his lens. He references two men in admiration of their intentionality and authenticity: Terry, a stranger who dances in public space with headphones on, and a man named Tom Bell, who built and occupies a hut for himself out of recycled materials near the riverfront. Poe is one of several artists who have documented Terry’s performances in the Cass Corridor. While many would be dissuaded by the notion of sharing a subject with other artists, Poe has instead gathered images by other observers to produce his own work — proof that he does not equate intellectual proprietorship with originality. This project also exemplifies his interest in “the trinity of arts creation,” in which artist is viewer, viewer is subject, and subject is artist. Similarly, 9/4/2014 Detroit MI (2014) is a photographic composite including pictures of the same rainbow taken by many people. He contacted strangers who had posted photos on social media, arranged for a group meeting, and followed up with a book documenting the project.
Untitled (2013) unifies disparate realities in sculptural form. The floor piece is made of three common household materials: paint cans, duct tape and mirrors. Arranged within a matrix, the paint cans and their reflected images appear as a single continuous circuit that connects distinct yet interrelated perspectives.
His video Bullet (2014) experiments with the concept of dislocated reality. In front of a live audience at Cranbrook Art Museum, Poe reenacted the famous slow-moving bullet-dodging scene in the 1999 feature film, The Matrix — a scene that became so pervasive in action flicks that Warner Bros. trademarked the term “bullet time” in 2005 to describe the special effect. Poe’s two-minute video was a compilation of stills by audience members, who were sharing in the production of a confounding paradigm: a knock-off of an alternate reality that had become the new norm.
Copyright 2015 Essay’d
Rebecca Mazzei, October 2015