For the attention of: Freya Stannard
Collections British Art
London, SW1P 4RG
Cc Dr Penelope Curtis, Chris Dercon, Frances Morris, Nicholas Serota
We, the undersigned, are absolutely thrilled to hear that Hamad Butt’s Family have proposed that the Tate British Art Collection acquire as a gift to the nation and future generations the artist’s set of three sculptures, Familiars (Hypostasis, Substance Sublimation Unit and Cradle). It is now seventeen years since we were able to see this exceptional body of work, and we unreservedly support the Tate in this acquisition.
Those amongst us who were staff, students and visitors to Goldsmiths’ College’s fine art degree show in 1990 cannot have been less than astonished by Hamad’s installation, Transmission, which consisted of a wall-mounted vitrine comprising a substratum saturated in sugar solution and impregnated with maggots that would go through their metamorphic life cycle to flies and ultimately death; and the circle of glass books engraved with the Triffid figure, but whose illumination by strips of ultraviolet light meant that the work could only be safely viewed through special spectacles. As we were to realise, Hamad’s sculptures were elegant metaphors for his innovative investigations into the dialogue between art and science, for which there is no precedent in British art.
The exhibitions that followed the degree show quickly established Hamad as an accomplished artist of international quality. In 1995 Familiars participated in the acclaimed Rights of Passage, Art For The End Of The Century exhibition at the Tate, alongside the work of Miroslaw Balka, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, John Coplans, Pepe Espaliu, Robert Gober, Mona Hatoum, Susan Hiller, Jana Sterbak, and Bill Viola.
In 1992, a solo exhibition of Familiars was held at the John Hansard Gallery. In 1996, in collaboration with Iniva, the gallery published a book, which included Hamad’s writings on the innovative aesthetic and scientific ideas that informed Familiars. To realise Familiars, Hamad had spent over a year understanding the behaviour of the halogen gases with the engineer Dr Garry Rumbles at Imperial College. As a result, Hamad was able to determine how the precise point at which iodine sublimates between solid and gas could be visually demonstrated and realised in the artwork Substance Sublimation Unit. This unique demonstration is now recognised in the scientific canon.
Hamad’s work opened up an entirely original avenue of aesthetic research that has yet to be explored, and to which end the proposed Tate acquisition of Familiars will provide a uniquely valuable resource. Hamad, with a Leonardo-‐esque eclectic curiosity, rigour of thought and attention to detail, was in the process of exploring ways to critique, reconcile and enhance several interlocking philosophical knowledge systems informing art and science, the sensuous and the abstract – an inexhaustible list of concerns that included, amongst others, ‘apprehension’ of the known and the unknowable, which, prompted by the hysteria over Aids, extended to the politics of representation as it is distorted (or ‘distracted’) by irrationality, myth, fear and desire; and the affinities and dissonances in the evolution of Islamic alchemy to European chemistry, where an excess of rationalist ‘enlightenment’ began to risk blinding us to other truths. Hamad explored all these controversial issues under his neologism ‘metachemics’, which he intended to complement metaphysics. (See the essay by Clement Page, ‘Hamad Butt: The Art of Metachemics’ in Third Text, no 32, 1995.)
Hamad’s premature death in 1994 deprived us all of an exceptional thinker, an outstanding artist and a generous soul, always willing to share his thoughts. We can only imagine regretfully the contribution to British artistic and scientific practice he would have made; but we do have the opportunity to share Hamad’s legacy with the next generation of artists and researchers. It is in this spirit that we fully support the generous offer by Hamad Butt’s Family to gift his work to the Tate permanent collection.