British artist Roger Hiorns (b. 1975), who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2009, has been selected as the next contemporary artist to be featured on the Bluhm Family Terrace of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. His Untitled (Alliance) of 2010 is a commissioned site-specific sculpture consisting of two massive Boeing airplane engines, which have been placed on the terrace in the foreground of the Chicago skyline and Millennium Park. Hiorns’s first collaboration with a major American museum, Untitled (Alliance) will be on view from May 1 through September 19, 2010, and is free and open to the public.
The London-based artist is perhaps best known for his work SEIZURE (2008), in which he filled an abandoned apartment complex in South London with liquid copper sulfate. Over time, the copper sulfate solidified and coated every surface and texture of the space with brilliant blue crystals. SEIZURE garnered Hiorns the prestigious Turner Prize nomination and secured his reputation as an artist who creates arresting sculptural objects, installations, and performances that integrate unusual materials–such as detergent, disinfectant, semen, fire, and chemical compounds–to engineer physical and aesthetic transformations.
Untitled (Alliance) , Hiorns’s work for the Art Institute, combines his interest in machine forms with his preoccupation with the symbolic power of culturally “dominant” objects. His previous engine-based sculptures have involved the atomization of a passenger jet to fine dust; the insertion of brain matter into the engine of a Toyota people carrier; and the coating of automobile engines in translucent aqua-colored copper sulphate crystals. In the most general terms, engines are a symbolic and physical manifestation of power and, for Hiorns, a metaphor for organic and global networks–both inert and, potentially, threateningly alive.
This commissioned, site-specific project on the Bluhm Family Terrace of the Art Institute’s Modern Wing comprises two Pratt & Whitney TF33 P9 engines, which were once mounted on Boeing EC-135 Looking Glass long-range surveillance planes. Here United States Air Force engine apparatuses–tools of security and preventative action–become subject to a further material alteration. The artist has incorporated into the engines Effexor, Citalopram, and Mannitol, three pharmaceuticals used to treat trauma and depression, that will be invisible and inaccessible to the viewer, making the connection between global security and individual well being. This gesture suggests, like the engines themselves, the creation and alleviation of anxiety on both a national and personal level.
Untitled (Alliance) furthers Hiorns’s program of “re-evaluating selected objects.” He has stated that “powerful organizations in the world leave their excess power lying in the street for the citizen or the artist to pick up and reuse, reassert or transgress from the original use.” The Pratt & Whitney engines, now abandoned tools of surveillance missions, represent just this excess literal and figurative power, called into service at the Art Institute to remind visitors of the price of prosperity–as do the pharmaceuticals–and the materials of modern society.