Noticed: Hammers, Slow Cookers Create Art

By Natalie Powell.

What do a dental drill, a glue applicator, a slow cooker, and a hammer all have in common?

Incredibly, each of these items was used to create a work of art for Tool at Hand, a Chipstone Foundation traveling exhibition now at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

Then-curator Dr. Ethan Lasser invited 16 American and British artists to participate in a reality show-worthy challenge: creating works of art using just one tool. By placing limitations on the number of tools artists were able to use, Lasser underscored intention and process. The resulting works are visually arresting, investigate artists’ connections with their tools, and explore the meaning of craft.

In the show, each work of art is displayed alongside the tool that brought it to life and a video clip depicting the piece’s creation. We are able to observe, for example, how artist Mark Lindquist stacked Dowels in intricate patterns, using only a glue applicator as a tool, to create the striking bowl pictured below.

Dowel bowl by Mark Lindquist. Courtesy of Lindquist Studios.

Some Tool at Hand artists chose to focus on the cerebral aspects of using a single tool. British silversmith Ndidi Ekubia used hammers of differing shapes and sizes to create intricate patterns on metal plates; in the video clip that accompanies her piece, Ekubia notes the hypnotic effect of the hammering process: “The constant rhythm [of the hammering]… absorbs my emotion… The flow takes over. Adjusting my posture, reassessing the structure… Every hit counts.”

Ndidi Ekubia metalwork. Courtesy of ThirdCoast Digest via Stephen Brayne.

Sculptural installation artist Chad Curtis employed “data” as his tool, using radiation levels from 8 Japanese cities to determine the radii of spheres he created on 3D modeling software. Curtis then used the models to create plaster shapes, tangible representations of the data.

Meanwhile, by using only a saw to create his wood furniture collection In Our Houses, maker David Gate discovered that using a reduced toolkit allows “material and tool have more voice. Tool and the wood became more interactional.”

David Gate wooden furniture. Courtesy of

The esoteric works of furniture designer Hongtao Zhou, twig structures covered in white wax and dotted with burning candles, are the exhibition’s show-stoppers. These chairs resemble whimsical thrones and look as if they’re made of icicles. Designed to melt away as their candles burn, the chairs suggest the ephemeral quality of the hand-made.

Hongtao Zhou chair. Courtesy of Milwaukee Art Museum via the artist.

In his video clip, Zhou melts wax in a slow-cooker and then carefully uses his hands to mold the wax around the chair frames. Were Zhou’s hands his tools? What about his slow-cooker? Zhou offers no answers and leaves the viewer to contemplate what constitutes a tool.

Zhou creating a wax chair. Courtesy of Milwalkee Art Musuem via Jeff Redmon.

Tool in Hand, an exhibition that raises a myriad of philosophical questions (What exactly is a tool? How do tools shape craft?), is an entertaining, surprising tribute to human ingenuity.


Tool at Hand

Philadelphia Art Alliance February 1-April 28, 2013

251 South 18th Street, Philadelphia PA


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