There is beauty and power in motion, which a kinetic artist seeks to capture and present to the audience. For over thirty years, Toronto artist Marla Hlady has been presenting her moving sculptures to reflect on the society they were born from. Hlady works mainly in sculpture and complex machinery, and her pieces are made from everyday materials. They are meant to represent everyday occurrences, like the spinning of a fan, or the toasting of a glass. But these ordinary objects and actions are altered and made beautiful. “I rarely make a piece and not feel unbelievably excited to do the next piece,” she comments.
Hlady attended the University of Victoria, earning her BFA in 1987. She next went to York University, earning her MFA in sculpture in 1990. One of the works that brought Hlady into the mainstream was her installation “neutralized feelings of apprehension” at Gallery 76 in 1991.
Though Hlady started with kinetic art, she quickly began to incorporate sound into her performance pieces. She seems to give the sound a visual representation, and she is keenly aware of the sounds around her, and how she can give them life in her artwork. Her work Hum(2003) features six lazily spinning fans that produce an eerie droning based on Hlady’s own hummed melody. The fans all begin the melody at different times, meaning that the melody will never quite synchronize. The music changes over the course of hours, so the work remains interesting, playing a slightly different version of itself over and over.
For the Contemporary Art Forum, Kitchener + Area (CAFKA), Hlady modified an original wooden self-playing piano, so that the audience can see the mechanics of what is happening inside. The piece called Playing Piano (2007) is a variety of complex machines slowly strumming the strings within the piano. The piano hauntingly plays itself almost absentmindedly, but with devices that look so complex that the audience is forced to not try to understand what is happening, but just accept it for its beauty. The inside of the piano is so over the top and visually appealing that it is meant to remind the viewer of a circus.
In all of Hlady’s works, there is a sense of the sounds being just out of control, even though the objects she works with are manmade. They never quite make the sounds you would expect them to. In a recent residency at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland, Hlady and Christof Migone developed Swan Song and Sampler (2019). The two artists collected a variety of sounds made through the distillery, and they play echoed through two retired copper stills. Switching mechanisms cause a clinking sound that reverberates through the stills, representative of the toasting of glasses against each other. The vibrations continue after the “toast”, changing unpredictably as the piece continues.
Hlady was shortlisted for a Sobey Art Award in 2002. She is the Associate Professor, Associate Chair, and Program Director at the University of Toronto’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Media.