“I wanted my work to be an overarching statement about the nature of our lives now.”
“I wanted my work to be an overarching statement about the nature of our lives now,” the artist Maren Hassinger has said. “Our relationship to nature is going to be different than other generations’ relationship to nature because we have damaged everything.”
Trained as a dancer, Hassinger shifted her focus to sculpture and visual art while in college. After finishing her degree, Hassinger returned to her hometown of Los Angeles, where she experimented with sculpture, performance, and installation alongside other L.A. artists, including Senga Nengudi, Ulysses Jenkins, and Houston Conwill. In one instance, Nengudi and Hassinger staged performances that manipulated and probed Nengudi’s pantyhose sculpture R.S.V.P. I (1977). On her collaborative partnership with Nengudi, Hassinger commented, “Then we became the dancers that we always wanted to be, but couldn’t, and it really affected the work that we make still. Her work grew out of her body changing and my work grew out of motion, you know?
During this time, Hassinger made a series of three wire rope installations focusing on movement. In addition to Whirling (1978) and Walking (1978), Leaning (1980) consists of 32 wire rope bundles with frayed ends spaced out on the floor. These bundles tilt in different directions, creating a visual field of motion low to the ground. Hassinger intended the works to approximate feet or legs moving in space and described Leaning as “how we move forward” as if “propelled by the wind.”
Leaning also exemplifies Hassinger’s commitment to the use of nontraditional materials. She made many works using wire rope, a material she first discovered during her MFA program at the University of California, Los Angeles. The artist was drawn to the contradiction between its inherent flexibility and the durability and industrial origin of the steel which forms the rope. Hassinger’s wire rope sculptures often mimicked natural phenomena, meditating on the relationship between industrial and natural forms.
In the mid-1980s, Hassinger relocated to New York after being invited to participate in the Artist-in-Residence program at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She has also worked as an educator, serving for 20 years as the director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Throughout her career, Hassinger’s work has continued to engage with the natural environment and repurpose synthetic materials, including woven newspapers and pink plastic trash bags. More recently, she has begun to overtly consider intersections of the environment with discrimination and race. About her more recent approach to nature in her art, Hassinger said, “Now, I’m using it to talk about equality. Nature is used as form, like a piece of architecture, not ecology.”
Rachel Remick, 12-Month Modern Women’s Fund Intern, Department of Painting and Sculpture
The research for this text was supported by a generous grant from The Modern Women's Fund.