Industrial revolution

Schematics reveals Kay Hwang's ambiguous inventions

For such simple renderings, Kay Hwang's elegant, spare drawings on view at Kiang Gallery in Buckhead invite all manner of associations. With their curvilinear graphic shapes, Hwang's neatly sketched objects could be the retro, chunky typeface on a '70s movie poster. At other moments Hwang's objects bring to mind the austere mechanics of Fritz Lang's robot futurism in Metropolis or a particularly elegant arrangement of widgets in a European hardware store window.

The repeated shapes arranged in clusters or pyramids have a just-shy-of-wacky element. Suggesting expressions of some personal, eccentric system, Schematics, as Hwang calls this collection, could be the work of a mad scientist meticulously sketching his vague inventions. But Hwang's craft is filtered through a very polite Donald Judd-brand minimalism more typical of an orderly artist's point of view. Schematics, after all, are as planned and orderly and systematic as the title implies.

The drawings done with acrylic pencil are executed on waxy, translucent Denril paper, a vellum used in both art and drafting which also gives the works the look of product sketches or blueprints. The title of the show, Schematics, also underscores this association, as if the artist is presenting an outline for a brilliant new product or operating system. The stacked spool-like objects and angular shapes resemble some implement for industrial seamstresses or the crisp metal stamps of a typewriter's keys before they whack clean white paper.

Smudges of acrylic pencil appear at the perimeter of these drawings to give a sense of things more in-process than finished product. Like production stills for an as-yet unreleased movie, Hwang's drawings refer more to the act of creation than to the completed film. Tension is generated from this feeling that these works are merely sketches for something unseen.

The drawings in which Hwang has created a vast "forest" of tubular forms, like clusters of cross-sectioned veins, are the most intriguing of the lot, perhaps because they are so delightfully contradictory. Such works give a sense of proliferation, of a spreading, wild growth that still retains Hwang's characteristic cool and controlled order.

Such drawings show the trompe l'oeil hocus-pocus of the artist's craft, and his/her ability to create feelings and emotions while still retaining the controlling upper hand. The tension in the work between calm and an assembly-line mania is probably the most interesting dichotomy in Schematics.

But there are other interesting juxtapositions as well, such as the way the strange objects Hwang draws can resemble natural forms — spores, veins, plants — and at other times seem definitely man-made and mechanical, like detailed views of industrial machinery or electrical cable.

But the novelty of the work lies in its resistance to any real representation. And that ambiguity seems intentional, as if the artist wanted to just barely nudge us toward crafting the objects into some known and understandable forms before pulling the rug out from under us and denying any complete visual understanding.

Hwang's artist statement confirms that impression. More than specific things, her drawings "are to be viewed as abstracted forms existing without reference to specific emotional states of being," she says.

Hwang's drawings remain defiantly invented and personal systems that underscore art-making as a similar process of creating unique inventions to place in the more rarefied marketplace of the gallery. But while consumer culture churns out products in a world whose closets are already overflowing with stuff, Hwang creates thinking products for thinking people as an alternative to reflex consumption.

Hwang's work is paired at Kiang with Alex White's similarly representationally aloof forms — serene white objects that most immediately suggest squares of Swiss cheese, but can also resemble icicles, cell cultures, moonscapes and skin. White's works seem to emerge more from accident than the careful planning exhibited in Hwang's drawings. But with their eerie sci-fi calm, the objects feel well-matched to Hwang's rigorous, cool mechanics.