Maren Hassinger is one of contemporary art’s most inspired muses. Known best for her works that take industrial materials and transform them into fluttery natural shapes, she can take the rusty, the overused and make it feel like it is joining the world to take its first breath.
Though I had passed her work many days on my way to class or heading to yoga, I had no idea the glass mosaic work at the 110th street subway station was Hassinger’s handiwork. The mosaic, dedicated to Malcolm X includes quotes from the great leader. Descending the stairs, the pieces of glass tile shimmer a brilliant teal, a rare sight to the green, concrete and old gum that usually lines the way. As busy, tired New Yorkers stream in and out of the station, the last of Malcolm’s quotes floats above their heads:
I believe in a society in which people can live like human beings on the basis of equality.
The hope is one that Hassinger shares and seeks to inspire through her work. The Los Angeles native’s work for New York City is one display of her optimism for the future, where she prays, “everyone will be much nicer to everybody” and find a way to live with nature instead of slowly causing it to fade away. She believes that things can work in harmony when we let them be. It is an emphasis on the organic, but it does not apply to every area of her life.
When it comes to her students, Hassinger is a pusher–in the very Tina Fey “Mean Girls” sense of the word. Though she believes that things happen best when nature is left alone, when nurturing the talent of those she teaches, she is unwilling to wait that long.
“I really try to encourage my students to try things that they haven’t tried before, and sometimes the students are interested and sometimes they’re not. My concern is that if you don’t try out what’s coming down the pike you may never get to your proper maturity, and while you’re a student it should be the time when you really get going…I think we come here all programmed for what it is that we’re going to do and that if we’re fortunate enough we can accomplish it.”
Though talent and purpose may be innate, Hassinger knows that the process to draw it out must be uncomfortable if it needs to. It is why even at 64, she still switches the mediums she uses to find new challenges, new extractions.
In one of her most recent pieces, Hassinger departed from the traditional sculpting techniques and instead reverted to something far more simple. Underneath the exhibit was a label with the perfect description, it reads:
MAREN HASSINGER, “Love” (detail), 2011. Pink plastic bags with love notes inside, inflated by human breath. Dimensions variable.
A veteran, Hassinger is still determined to learn something new about her talent everyday. She takes a risk to be vulnerable, be criticized but ultimately to be remembered.
Today, go outside your comfort zone to take a breath in a new space. Do the scary things that allow your talents to grow and become as memorable as you were created to be.