“Tucumcari Iron Pour: Hot Iron” at Harwood Art Center


“ American Icon Woman,” 2012 Dana Chodzko
Cast iron, 21″ X 7″
Photo: courtesy of the artist

Every autumn since 1999, metalworkers, sculptors and artists of all stripes gather like nomads or geese, returning to their aboriginal lands in order to enact a ritual that is nearly as old as so-called civilization. The sacrament is metal, iron ore specifically, that is carefully heated in a crucible then suspended upon a long mechanical arm, allowing the bright orange liquid to be poured like lava into sculptural forms. Sponsored by the Tucumcari, NM Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of other local businesses and organizations, (including the tasty Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory) the Annual Tucumcari Iron Pour, held in the foundry of Mesalands Community College, is on the map of sculptors and ironworkers in the region and on both coasts, but not necessarily known to the wider art community. That ought to change this year, with an excellent exhibition of a small portion of the production at the Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque, curated by local artist Candy Nartonis. “Hot Iron” lives up to its name through cool artworks that evidence a remarkably wide variety of sculptural and conceptual approaches to this ancient medium.

Joel Kiser presents variations on a skillet, five iron pans cast to hold small bizarre tableaux of highly realistic animal figures, such as a miniature monkey about to be grabbed from behind by an over-size raptor’s claw. Does this represent the obliviousness of primates to the natural world we have unbalanced? None of the signifiers popping out of these frying pans is easily resolved, though all have a sense of vague foreboding, as if the next stop is surely the fire. Topaz Jones presented a series of large, beautifully patinaed, tears or raindrops rolling down the wall. Jones is Native American, and this piece resonates generally with a history crisscrossed by “trails of tears” as well as specifically with the “Water is Life” message of the current NoDAPL movement. With the new Grabber-in-Chief comparing himself to “Indian Killer” Andrew Jackson, and proclaiming that he will pursue the pipeline, there is plenty good reason to cry. Dana Chodzko’s totemic “he” and “she” figures are composed of various mundane objects stacked to metaphorically represent the sexuality, heart, and mind of each gendered tower. Cast-master Chris Collins presents a delicate mandala of flat metal geometry, as the list of equally “hot” works overflows the boundaries of this text.