Thicket II, an installation piece by Tom Joyce, is arguably the most dynamic of more than 30 works in the exhibit Everything at Hand, opening Friday, July 28, at the Center for Contemporary Arts. At first glance, Thicket II resembles a giant three-dimensional asterisk or a frozen moment in an explosion, and the reality of the work’s materials and intention are as intriguing as its appearance. There are 23 “nucleus” clusters, each one a tightly grouped cast-iron assemblage of modeled hammer heads with long stainless-steel rods sprouting from their “handle” orifices. The softly gleaming silver rods contrast with the dark gray nuclei, and when multiple clusters are combined, the result is a fascinating and impenetrable tangle.
“I took the hammer that I use the most in the shop and made a CT scan of it at the hospital [Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center], then I imported it into a program to align it in such a way that the rods would pass by one another without conflict,” Joyce said. Many of the hammer-head castings were scaled up or down from the size of the original, but the central idea of the work is a potent one for him. “I kind of owe my life to a hammer. When that tool was handed to me at a critical age, it opened the doors to a world much wider than I could have imagined. The hammer is emblematic of a process that leads me toward processes that have nothing to do with hammers but it opens this dialogue, and the sort of hand knowledge of how to work with these tools expands to an understanding of how to work with any material.”
The basis of the Thicket II project is “a simple gesture,” he said. “It’s made up of 23 components, the number of chromosome pairs in the human genome.” The artist divided the hammer-head nuclei among six constellations up to 18 feet tall and composed asymmetrically along both sides of the Tank Garage Gallery entrance and also climbing the wall of the building. This is a much larger version of his first Thicket installation, a 2015 commission for the Mint Museum in Charlotte. Asked about the computer modeling that was required for this piece, Joyce said, “It’s a little bit like any inventor: There are certain things that one can intuit without actually going through the steps and you take leaps from one point to another. The goal was to fall off the cliff, to let go of my usual method of manufacture where I have everything laid out and I know precisely where I’m going. This required a construction method that was a leap of faith.”