David Medalla

Sand Machine Bahag - Hari Trance #1

1963–2015

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Not on display

Artist
David Medalla 1942 – 2020
Medium
Wood, brass, sand, bamboo, acrylic sheet, glass beads and other materials
Dimensions
Object: 685 × 600 × 600 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2019
Reference
T15371

Summary

Sand Machine Bahag – Hari Trance #1 is a kinetic sculpture originally conceived by David Medalla in 1963 and refabricated under his authority in 2015. Presented on a white plinth, the artwork takes the form of a shallow metal tray of sand, from the centre of which a small section of silver birch tree protrudes vertically. Atop this is a square pane of glass, from the corners of which are suspended two lengths of bamboo cane. The ends of the bamboo are connected by a length of copper wire threaded with brightly coloured, ornate glass beads. A rotating mechanism concealed in the length of birch creates a slowly turning motion by which the beads create a circular ‘calligraphic’ impression in the sand; a trace which is continuously renewed in each thirty-second rotation. The apparent precariousness of the work’s construction is in keeping with the artist’s ongoing questioning of the generalisation that sculpture must be monumental, static and timeless.

The use of organic matter, prevalent across much of Medalla’s work, distinguishes his practice from that of his artistic contemporaries Takis (born 1925) and Jean Tinguely (1925–1991), whose kinetic sculptures were constructed primarily from synthetic and non-organic materials including metal and magnets. Guy Brett – who exhibited Medalla and Takis at his short-lived yet ground-breaking gallery Signals London (1964–6) – coined the term ‘biokinetics’ to describe Medalla’s practice, which draws upon the scientific disciplines of biology and physics, which the artist then additionally inflects with cosmic or fantastical elements through his titles and descriptions. Medalla has made a number of ‘sand machines’, works which are most closely associated with the Signals period of his career. He has described them specifically as ‘a metaphor for the future, when technology will be able to use solar power to help irrigate the world’s deserts’ (David Medalla, quoted in Brett 1995, p.56).

Sand Machine Bahag – Hari Trance #1 is thematically aligned with other related works by the artist, being informed by his experiences of migration as he has explained:

the initial inspiration for my first sand machine came from my memories of the rice terraces of the mountain provinces of the Philippines, where I spent one year of my boyhood as a student at St. Mary’s School in Sagada. I also witnessed a sandstorm in the Sahara desert on my way to Europe in the spring of 1960 … The other sand machines I made, for the exhibition ‘Force Fields’ curated by Guy Brett at MACBA in Barcelona, and at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1999, were of a more festive nature and reminded me of the happy times I spent on the beaches in the Philippine Islands, like the island of Cebu where my mother came from.
(Quoted in Nankervis 2011, accessed 1 August 2018.)

The title combines both English and Filipino words – whilst the ‘sand machine’ aspect is mainly descriptive, the word ‘bahaghari’ is broken up by a hyphen. ‘Bahag’ alone refers to the bahag loincloth, a form of indigenous, pre-colonial Filipino dress. When the title is read aloud in its entirety, however, the word bahaghari translates as ‘rainbow’, conjuring up ideas of hope and optimism, specifically in its universal symbolism for LGBT movements across the world.

This poetic description exemplifies Medalla’s expanded perception of time and space – abstract concepts that he conflates in his art to create a sense of shared humanity. These characteristics are also central to his series of ‘bubble machines’, such as Cloud Canyons No. 3: An Ensemble of Bubble Machines (Auto Creative Sculptures) 1961, remade 2004 (Tate T12201).

Further reading
‘New Projects’, Signals Newsbulletin, vol.1, no.1, August 1964, unpaginated.
Guy Brett, Exploding Galaxies: The Art of David Medalla, London 1995.
Adam Nankervis, ‘A Stitch in Time: David Medalla’ (interview with the artist), Mousse, no.29, Summer 2011, http://moussemagazine.it/david-medalla-adam-nankervis-2011/, accessed 1 August 2018.

Katy Wan
July 2018

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