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Artist Focuses on When Work Was Life

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Nathan Hansen is a sculptor whose work is as much a philosophy as it is art.

Take the “bicycle” he’s carving that will fire a printer, complete with paper streaming off a roller. First thought? That it’s a project in sustainability. It isn’t. It’s a piece of art; a combination of shaped wood and cogs that bring a treadmill to mind. And while its prototype makes you think it will be able to print, it won’t.

“It will have all the functions to be able to print but I’m going to deny them that,” Hansen says of those who will one day view his latest sculpture. “I want people to be involved with my art—to play with pieces like they are giant toys. I want them to be so irresistible people will have to come touch them.”

Hansen, who is the woodshop technician for the art department, calls his work craft. It differs from art in that art is something you look at; craft, he says, has been described is something you want to sit down to dinner with you. It is something to be contemplated.

“It’s important not to forget the physical world. That’s my overall objective with all of the pieces I make,” Hansen says. “It’s about interacting with the physical world. It comes down to empowering people.”

The “printer” that he’s working on is one of three pieces that will be part of a solo show he has coming up next year at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tenn.
The other two pieces are a running spinning wheel and a swimming grain grinder. 

Previously he made a stopwatch that represents the average American lifespan today. The “life odometer” marks 80 years in seconds, minutes, hours, weeks and years. It works by a user turning a crank. It took Hansen a month to figure out the math. 

Trained as a furniture maker, Hansen has a bachelor’s degree in sculpture from Texas Tech University and a master’s in fine arts in craft/material studies from Virginia Commonwealth University.

He also competes in triathlons.

“Triathlons and craft ideology have a lot in common,” he says. “Why would someone bike, swim, and then run 26 miles? Why would someone spend a couple of months making something for people to look at? It’s doing something for its own sake.”

The focus of Hansen’s craft is pre-digitalization. He sees himself as being “charged with the collection and restoration of an era when work was life.” 

“Remains of this fading reality are manual tools, survivors of their time.  They suggest a story of purpose and connection, but speak a distant language. I attempt to decipher and describe this language through the fragment, reconstruction, and presentation,” Hansen writes on his website.

“I think that my work (obviously I am biased) and the experience it offers is especially important and increasingly rare in contemporary America,” Hansen says. “But when I make something, I want to let people decide for themselves what it means.”

Hansen's website: www.nathanhansen.net.