“[Each thing], though it is at variance with itself, it agrees with itself. It is a harmony of opposed tensions, as in the bow and the lyre.” “The hidden harmony is stronger than the apparent.” —Heraclitus (fragments 51 and 54)
Foreword to the Exhibit catalog
With ever-growing appreciation, I have been privileged to follow Mike Hager’s development as an artist since his days as an art student at Washburn University. Over the years it has become apparent to me that his works are snapshots of an evolving thought process taking place not only in the production of each work, but also in between such productions. At play in this process are ideas taken from sources as diverse as the human figure; plane and solid geometry; particle physics and cloud chambers; architecture and engineering; and philosophy and psychology. Also at play are two- and three-dimensional ways of embodying the ideas in question. The goal throughout is to harmonize in novel ways the tension between contrasting ideas, themes, media, or elements.
In the four sculptures constituting the current exhibit, some of the key components are themselves individual works of art—monoprints on both wood and Plexiglas panels. There is thus a visible tension between each sculpture as whole or volume and each of the monoprints as a part or plane. Other key components of the sculptures are strips of mild steel and lengths of aviation wire. For example, in three of the pieces—Arc, Balance, and Basin—monoprints mounted on square panels rest on steel supports curved into geometric shapes by cables under tension. But the strips and cables have another crucial function: they introduce invisible tensions produced by forces of nature.
The philosopher Heraclitus (540–480 b.c.e.) praised invisible tensions but disparaged visible ones. Hager has a better idea. His goal is to harmonize not only visible and invisible tensions, but also visible tensions with invisible ones. In the end, the two- and three-dimensional aspects of his works serve and enhance each other’s individual novelty. In the end also, the hidden tensions between the steel strips and the cables that bend them are harmonized with each other and with gravity. In the end, finally, the visible harmonies involve and signify the invisible ones. Thus, in Flow—which seems to serve as a counterpoint to the other three pieces—gravity has clearly asserted itself in the pattern of panels cascading from wall to floor. In Arc, Balance, and Basin, the dynamic tension between the strips and cables help to make these large sculptures light of foot. Arc gives the impression that a strong wind could lift it into flight. Balance seems poised to teeter-totter under the slightest of forces. Basin appears to levitate as a result of the interaction of two sets of gridlines—one formed by the monoprint panels, the other by the steel wires.
How Hager achieves these and other harmonies is the stuff art is made of and hence not to be captured in words. His sculptures must be witnessed, not described. In their sheer physical presence they command attention; in their subtlety they invite analysis; and in their integral unity they each provoke a profound and sustained aesthetic experience. Were Heraclitus able to witness them, he would, I believe, give his approval and stand corrected.
Jorge L. Nobo, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus Washburn University