Hello and welcome to the National Gallery of Australia on the unceded lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. I acknowledge the ongoing care for country by Ngunnawal and Ngambri and pay my respects to elders, past and present. I was born on Wiradjuri Country to the west of Canberra and I acknowledge and pay my respects to Wiradjuri elders past and present. My name is Adriane Boag, and I am part of the Learning team at the Gallery. I am a woman in my fifties with shoulder length hair and a side fringe. I am wearing a grey top with white sleeves and a simple silver brooch to pay homage the spare elegance of the work of art I will talk about. My lipstick is red, my skin is white tan and I am happy to be here.
Revolving construction by artist Margel Hinder is on display in part two of Know My Name: Australian women artists 1900 to now. Revolving construction is a sculpture in transit. Like the dome of a telescope communicating with the universe Margel Hinder’s dynamic suspended sculpture moves through space on a mysterious mission. A thin wire connects the delicate work to a small ceiling mounted motor and a rotating mechanism. The work is a series of irregular ellipses, ovals and curves that sweep through 360 degrees, like a succession of ripples spiralling and subsiding in a whirlpool.
The first time I saw Margel Hinder’s Revolving construction at the National Gallery of Australia I felt a spark of recognition. I connect with it on any number of levels, it makes me smile. As a kid at Canowindra Central School, I remember watching the first steps made by man in space. As the moon rose over the horizon it was the Parkes telescope that relayed those quintessential 20th-century images and voices of the astronauts back to earth. A few years later the spirograph provided hours of fascinating creative play, as the plastic gears produced perfect open geometric forms. These early experiences draw me towards Revolving construction, the optimism of new technologies and the exploration of space.
Revolving construction is made from wire. The three-dimensional figure is closed, meaning there are no loose ends of wire not connected back into the overall form. A nucleus of tighter curves are spanned by thinner straight wires. These delicate fine lines fan between the larger wires, provide contrast, structural support and create a density at the centre. Multiple visual effects occur simultaneously. As the sculpture revolves the outlying irregular curves of wire sweep wide on their orbits and then return safely while at the centre, the overlapping fine wires create changing patterns of cross hatching and where they coincide parabolical arcs. The sculpture revolves around a central axis, balanced yet asymmetrical, contained and open, positive and negative space evolving and dissolving.
There is no wobble, no quiver in the wire as the sculpture moves which is amazing considering the delicacy of the work overall and the fact that it turns on itself every few seconds. The process of soldering fuse wire into geometric drawings in three dimensions became the artist Margel Hinder’s creative process in the 1950s and often began, in her own words, as a feeling. Ideas were worked and reworked in maquettes until they were ready to be scaled up. She created her first revolve in 1953, however many remained as experiments. The scale of the work is surprising, it is unassuming, domestic even, just 60.5 cm high by 83 cm wide and 77 cm deep. Nothing like the scale of her later monumental public works created during the 1960s for public spaces. Conceptually however it is grand in its universal exploration of geometry and light.
Margel Hinder always wanted to be an artist and after arriving in Sydney from the US in 1934 with Australian born husband Frank, they became part of a small circle of artists with experience and knowledge of international trends. Both Margel and Frank had studied art in the US. And at this time the Australian art scene was mostly preoccupied with ideas around national identity and depicting the landscape. Regular contact with a group of like-minded colleagues provided the context and support in which to develop a modernist approach to making art.
The connection to international modernism in the midpoint of the 20th-century helps place Revolving construction within art history. Margel Hinder recounts in an interview with Hazel de Berg in the 1960s, her interest at this time in a constructivist approach to art making through artists Naum Gabo and Laszlo Maholy-Nagy. The Constructivist approach using technology and new materials were expressed by Margel in the formal considerations of movement, space and light. Lighting her work was a critical part of their display and Margel Hinder prepared precise instructions for curators and exhibition teams. In the Gallery visitors often discover the sculpture through the shadow cast on the wall below it, drawing the eye upwards to the work. In fact, visitors sometimes ask – ‘which is the work?’. As a shadow cannot exist without light and an object to cast it, Revolving construction and its shadow are the twins of one creative mind, related yet not identical.