The Global Alchemist Elizabeth Finch  January 2000

To create his installations Nic Hess pairs two unlikely materials-Charcoaldrawings and adhesive tape. Sooty, smudgy , and forgiving, charcoal is arguably the most elemental of drawing materials capable or rendering a dramatic range of effects through singular means. Unlike charcoal’s messy character and masterful history, adhesive tape is comparatively precise and utilitarian, an ingenious, expansive tool that seals off and seperates one thing form another. Once deployed it is easiley discarded, leaving few traces. By using tape to tack up drawings, Hess sets the tone for an enviroment that is purposefully provisional. In these instances, tape and charcoal engage in slightly more traditionalroles, one holding up the other onto two-dimensional stage.

Yet Hess also calls the properties of tape into less expected service. Ist capacity to demarcte functions to esatblish a makeshift and malleable structure, a fragmented yet workable graphic syntax. Within this structure tape os freed from ist supportive role, like paper turned to origami. Tape-based images slot themselfes alongside cahrcoal ones forming a jumbled assemblage. Images either flow into each other or jostle for momentary attention. However they are combined, tape and charcoal become mutually irrevent -an unexpecdetly congenial team- one on holiday from the realm of high art, the other from ist workaday existence.

Hess was born in 1968 in Zurich, where he lives today, but he has spent much time traveling in Mexico, China and parts of Europe. Likewise, his work moves freely through different pools of visual information, Hess is partial to widely recognized cultural icons, images that circulate with ease from one place to another. The thematic presence of sports andanimals is prominent among his works, as well as common objects, such as steam irons. These images are loaded with any number of of specific references, geographic and social, and yet many circulate as well in the global arena. This is particularly true of forms of appropriated from the vocabulary of corporate logos, the Nike „swoosh“ and Puma cat, among others. Images such as these have soaked into the publics consciousness to the point of indebility; they offer the comfort of the familiar and are instantly readable. In Hess’s installations, the graphic clarity of the tape in ist array of standardized colors allows the logos to retain a connection to their day-to-day existence, but the drawn elementsrenderd in charcoal and, seen close up, the pieced-together aesthetic of tape itself, provide room for play. The results can be humorous. In Coupe de Monde from 1998 at the Kunsthaus Zurich, Nike „swooshes“ protruded like prankish toungues from the otherwise dignified profiles of a group of bust protraits, perhaps of umpires or judges. In a work drawn in the style of the Japanese ukiyo-e print (literally „pictures of the floeting world“) a female figure lighly grasps a „swoosh“ by both ist ends, comically suggesting that such a slippery aerodynamic form should surely be capable of music. Suddenly given a job to do rather than simply an image to project, the logo of grace and speed emerges with an endearing awkwardness: the styilzed boomerang-like shapes of „toungues“ threaten to double backon their owners.

The Swoosh-as-instrument mutely blends with another set of stylistic codes.

The notion of a corporate identity is based on originality (the Appeal of the unique product) and sameness (the lure of habit and brand recognition). The marketing techniques behin the logos in circulation today date back to the early twentieth century, when designers began to construct ironclad corporate images. Any artist who takes up the practice of appropriation of  toys with similar themes and techniques, mixing the codes of originality and authorship. Along with other easily recognizable forms, Hess brings visual markers of corporate identities into one room, forming a cacophonous convention. Within this environment the history of corporation intersects with the visual lineage of Hess’ workm which is charged with the declarative graphicsof certain movements of the first European avant-garde, particularly Constructivism, aspects of which were quickly, even immediately, absorbed into language of advertising.

Likewise, Hess’s practice can be compared to what the poet Charles Simic has called the dime-store alchemy of Joseph Cornell. Hess’s installations cast a wider net, choosing a worldwide forum over the corner junk shop. The title of Hess’s installation – Together Now – conveys the provisional nature of his practice. Despite their graphic, Stop-motion quality, they concern the inevitably of flux, the contingency of meaning. Hess’s works function as represantations of reciprocal elements of exchange: cultural, economic, and social. They are appropriations for a world increasingely and indisputably linked by global commerce. As such they greet the viewer with a kind of purposeful banality.

This is particularly true of past installations that have been comprised in part of brick-shaped pieces of brown packing tape forming partial walls. As such images suggest, one brick at a time Hess, too, joins the game of visual communications.

Drawing Centers Drawing Papers, january 2000