James Capper’s Ripper Teeth series, Hydraulic Power Tools for New York, is a curious thing to behold. Inanimate, sitting heavily on pale plaster cubes, they promise a raw and dirty act. Their industrial form and uncannily shaped blades, grinders, diggers and some other tool heads that evade description, are made more intriguing by the lack of power that they so desperately cry to surge through them. Their cables hang impotent and waiting. When I tell one gallery representative that I think they look aggressive and medieval, he points out that they also share a likeness with natural imagery: bird beaks, bunched fruit and, if you look hard enough, some primordial skeletal silhouettes become apparent.
Though functional as cutting and shaping tools, displayed like this they are also nostalgic art pieces. Capper’s work is part of an ongoing investigation into land-marking and mark-making that recently cumulated in a installation performance at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Here he maneuvered a clumsy cabin to crab-walk on its hydraulic, raft-like feet, stamping textured indents into the earth. By developing carnivorous, mark-making machinery, Capper joins a line of land artists, but unlike Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson and Doris Salcedo, he builds the tool to cut the land and affect the change. His focus is on the maker maker as much as the mark itself. Capper’s use of a farm machinery aesthetic harks back to Britain’s traditional relationship with the land and an industry that, despite waning to near-depletion, still symbolizes a formative topography and productive history.
Though there is a generator in the corner of Hannah Barry Gallery‘s stand, where the ‘teeth’ are being shown at this year’s Armory Show, for the majority of the time (the show runs from the 7th to the 10th of March) they will remain as latent mechanical objects. Farming equipment gone awry.