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Roger Hiorns in Conversation

London-based artist Roger Hiorns’s (English, born 1975) sculptural objects, installations, and performances exploit specific materials to disquieting ends, often addressing the symbolic power of culturally “dominant” objects, including engines that he extracts from automobiles or airplanes. Previous engine-based sculptures have involved the atomization of a passenger jet to fine dust; the insertion of brain matter into the engine of a Toyota people carrier; and the coating of automobile engines in translucent blue copper sulphate crystals. Engines are a symbolic and physical manifestation of power and, for Hiorns, a metaphor for organic and global networks—both inert and potentially, threateningly alive.

This commissioned, site-specific project on the Bluhm Family Terrace of the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, on view until September 19, 2010, comprises two Pratt & Whitney TF33 P9 engines, which were once mounted on Boeing EC-135 Looking Glass long-range surveillance planes. Here United States Air Force engine apparatuses—tools of security and preventative action—become subject to a further material alteration through the mysterious and ultimately inaccessible introduction of pharmaceutical substances—Effexor, Citalopram, and Mannitol—associated with the treatment of trauma and depression. This provocative gesture suggests a discomfiting conceptual alignment between issues of global security and individual emotional wellbeing, between anxiety and its alleviation.

Take a look here at the installation of Untitled (Alliance) against a brilliant blue Chicago sky and listen as Hiorns and James Rondeau, the Frances & Thomas Dittmer Chair of the Department of Contemporary Art, discuss the project.