Late Nights at the Whitney
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Sam Lewitt’s practice often examines communications systems and technologies, both obsolete and cutting edge, that are central to contemporary life. For the 2012 Biennial, his subject is ferrofluid, a mixture of magnetic particles suspended in liquid that is used in a wide variety of technological applications, including computer hard drives, audio speakers, educational tools, and military aircraft. In the presence of a magnet, ferrofluid coagulates to resemble a solid mass, its contours conforming to the magnetic field yet retaining the plasticity of a liquid.
Lewitt has described his work in part as an effort to “put constellations of graphic and plastic material into motion around subjects that resist representation.” With Fluid Employment, he has formulated an elegant, internally coherent system for displaying a material that refuses confinement to a single fixed form. The magnets attract and hold the particles in place, creating the illusion of solidity, while the fans circulating air over the work hasten the material’s evaporation and put its liquidity on display. Every other Sunday, the artist pours new fluid over what remains, the repeated pouring and evaporation allowing layers of “solid” and “liquid” to separate and gradually accumulate sediment. Lewitt highlights the “neitherness” of the medium as it constantly straddles the definitions of solid and liquid; in demonstrating its properties, he subverts and inverts ideas of formality and informality, adaptability, and overdetermination.
Sam Lewitt's work is on view in the Museum's third floor galleries.