CITY OF CONSTRUCTION Timea Tihanyis mental Constructs series at Linda Hodges Gallery.
  • JG
  • CITY OF CONSTRUCTION Timea Tihanyi's mental Constructs series at Linda Hodges Gallery.

Even works of art that are hard, cold objects are ephemeral in that they're maps of thoughts and actions past, present, and future. They're both physical and mental, but you're supposed to use them mentally rather than physically: You can turn them over in your eyes and mind forever, but if you touched them as often as you thought of them, you might ruin or break them.

Timea Tihanyi is a lecturer at the University of Washington, and one of the strongest artist/teachers they've got. She's also a trained medical doctor, though she no longer practices. Her art has to do with the human body. The first piece I ever saw by her was soft and gooey; it was a historical photograph of the first instance when ether was used on a patient, and Tihanyi suspended the photograph, still legible, in a solidified pool of bubbly latex. In the 1990s, my college newspaper assigned me a story about scientists having discovered how anesthesia works. Did we not know how anesthesia worked until the 1990s? Medicine is a soft science. It's not a reassuring thought, but it's a fascinating one, especially because we have to place so much concrete faith in its legitimacy.

In a recent interview with Ariana Page Russell about her continual return to themes of skin and thresholds in general, Tihanyi compared a body to a black box. Another threshold that shaped her early life, in Hungary, was the divide between eastern and western Europe.

  • JG
Her new sculptures are made of liquid porcelain that hardens into slabs, is formed, then fired and glazed. She doesn't make prep drawings, just cuts a slab for each piece and builds the sculpture spontaneously until every bit of the slab has been used, taking care to make sure it doesn't collapse under its own weight. The process is like a game, then she throws them into a kiln at an extra-high temperature that makes strange and unexpected things happen, like slumps and bumps. So to recap: She starts with soft bodies, cooks them into a state that's solid, but they're still fragile as hell. On a good day at the doctor, like during a checkup rather than a flu, I might describe myself as feeling solid but still fragile as hell.

At six or eight inches high, the little structures will remind you of every last thing: foreclosed houses, something your cousin half-built in the yard, the Olympic stadium in Beijing, Bauhaus ideals, the Colosseum, the crumbling ruins next door to the Colosseum. Each building maps a path through Tihanyi's mind, and yours. You visit every teeny room you want to, climb every ladder.

Then you return to your big self, looking down on layers of sheen and pale color emanating from the surfaces, as if layers of translucent skin have been laid on top of flesh. How could you not love these?