To catalogue Frank Hyder as an artist who simply focuses on the ecological is to shed little light on the obsessions and concerns that make a body of work that is so effectively contemporary. Fernando Savater’s enlightened reading sees ecologists as fundamentalists because of their constant fight to leave behind modern utopia, thus hoping to move towards a future –or return to a past- that is closer to nature and its inexorable laws, laws that despite modernity still bind us. Although it is true that his wood carvings –gesturally intervened and reproducing altars, sheds, or boxes, objects with a clear ritualistic content- clearly manifest his concern for the highly precarious relation between man and nature, his approach to the ancestral does not occur as an insurgence vis á vis technology or globality, but rather ventures a dialogue with the multicultural.
There is a lot of common sense in his concerns, if we remember that Jeffereson criticized cities on behalf of democracy and of a certain political empiricism; that Emerson did likewise, on behalf of a metaphysics of nature and that Thoreau in Walden or Life in the Woods (1854) proposed the return to a sort of rural condition that we assume may be compatible with the economic development of an industrial society and that itself allows freedom, the blooming of personality and even true sociability; ideas that almost a century later the hippie movement would make their own and use as basis for developing their communal experiments.
Smithson, a North American land artist, wrote in 1966 an article titled The Entropy and the New Monuments, where he presented, under an entropic vision of the future of the Universe, the Earth as a closed system that only has a finite number of resources. Aware of this geological entropy through which materials develop and are used up, Smithson was concerned with another sort of entropy: cultural entropy.
Based on the thesis of Levi-Strauss that proposes the existence of warm cultures that generate a great deal of entropy as a result of being structurally complex and cold cultures that being primitive of basic hardly generate entropy at all ; faced with the eat and tear of our culture as a result of being highly developed, he proposed to fight cultural entropy, leaving nostalgic or romantic solutions aside, with things such as simplifying the structures of our culture, returning to our primitive origins, to a time and an economy that no longer point to the future and that instead stop in cyclic states, as all fundamentalists basically suggest. He proposed to fight Western entropy from within the system and through art; in that we find a common point with Hyder, one that goes beyond generational proximity.
In the same way that we should not consider Hyder’s interests as simply ecological, the meeting of the multicultural neither shows a mere ethnographic emphasis: there is nothing farther from his obsession than the search for the Good Savage. Centering the dialogue on the ancestral, his work devotes itself to recovering the memory of a gaze: that which shows the relation between man and the natural order, in a time overflown with information and contingencies, for the more we know the more we forget. Already in the catalogue for his exhibit at MACCSI, in 1996, we remarked that his work remits us to those basic principles of communion that ancestrally exist between art and cosmos, in a sort of universal call to preserve creation, With him, we are facing an artist whose passion for saving the planet from potential extinction surpasses the propagandistic and transfigured itself into a language of profound visual quality. His work and his spirit, close to the conceptual and physical space of Latin America, brought him to our country in 1991, with some works in which he highlighted the conjunction between the force of the craftsmanship and the mastery of technique with the experimental character of his treatment of the material. His discourse was enriched by the dimension he gave to reflecting on the danger of the imminent disappearance of culture and ecological communities in a planet forced by the excess of a badly formulated technological and political progress. Wood and paint transmute into pure energy and convey their own cry against the abuses that hinder a dignified living in harmony with the environment, making his art open to dialogue with sensitivity and with the awareness of an existence that we ourselves question.
But if we must acknowledge him for something more that for his work as an artist concerned with the future of the species, this would only be for bringing his obsessions to his calling as a teacher. For Hyder is without a doubt a maestro, in all the meanings of the word, revealing himself as one who is always trying to find ways of teaching what must be learned. Quite a number of generations art artists that have passes through his many courses and workshops have benefited from his research, his interpretations of the crossing points between cultures and natural environment and the way in which he has materialized them in materials and concepts, thus contributing to develop an awareness and a sensitivity that is closer, but at the same time more universal, to the world as habitat for the human being.
This exhibit is a homage to his double condition of artist and teacher, offering to him the multiplying capacity of the museum. Let this be a warning in view of the reality of our precarious human ecology and a call to look for solutions that may revert its manifest damage.
Former Director, Museum of Contemporary Art, Caracas