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From Our Collection: Hawkward’s “Sokka the Parrotlet”

by Maxwell Cohen

From Our Collection is a monthly essay series featuring analysis of the pieces in the Museum of Crypto Art’s Genesis Collection. All essays were originally published on the MOCA Forum, where we invite you in to read, explore, and comment on these 240+ crypto art analyses.

“Sokka the Parrotlet” (2021), by Hawkward. In Museum of Crypto Art Genesis Collection

Date Minted: July 16, 2021

Artist’s Description: :Analog glitch photograph manually blended with digi-
tal oil painting. For my KnownOrigin debut, I selected this photo of my beloved Pacific Parrotlet, Sokka, who just turned 7 years old.”

You have to dig a bit into Hawkward’s works on KnownOrigin in order to find the artist’s self-professed reason for creation. While the artist’s bio details how she “[enjoys] experimenting with different media including watercolor, ink, oil, digital painting, photography, collage, and poetry,” and that her “pieces are very personal and each finished work I release is connected to a memory I experienced,” it’s the followingtidbit from her description of the series “ERROR: Unusual Output” that I find most revealing:

“Additionally, as someone with several chronic conditions, I find noise to be inevitable in many of my senses. I aim to portray my experience with these stimuli through my photographic work. Conveying emotion and indescribable experiences is the driving force of my creativity.”

And just like that, the central ordering device of Hawkward’s compositional style becomes clear. Throughout these glitchy, hyper-energetic and visually-crammed pieces, the noise of the artist’s daily headspace is conferred with impressive specificity. And what may initially seem to be a visual detriment in any given individual piece (as I’ll explain in a moment) instead becomes a brilliant example of the impressionism that Hawkward elsewhere mentions her express admiration of.

When I first came upon Sokka the Parrotlet, my very first thought was “Well, where’s the parrotlet?” In her Artist Description, Hawkward says that, “For my KnownOrigin debut, I selected this photo of my beloved Pacific Parrotlet, Sokka, who just turned 7 years old,” so while I knew the bird was in there somewhere, the composition confounded me. It’s no great revelation to claim that awareness of a piece’s context can completely change our relationship to it, and now, in light of the information I’ve learned, I actually feel so much closer to the artist as a result of Sokka the Parrotlet’s messiness. Because it’s such a powerful distillation of her specific mind. And it’s such a unique blend of abstraction with impressionism, both movements upgraded to 21st-century standard with glitch and digitization.

There are only a few things overtly recognizable about this piece, but the color scheme oh-so-certainly is. It’s classic glitch styling, all these candy wrapper purples and blues and pinks. Almost Vaporwave inspired. One almost gets the impression of movement from the composition, like because the colors should be flickering, pixel-like, one to another, blue to pink to purple and back again. I don’t doubt that those colors — which in places wrap around the length of the frame, interspeckled as they are with confetti flecks of turquoise and yellow, with crazed static lines jotting jagged hither and thither— do at a certain point converge to create an image of the eponymous parrotlet; perhaps Sokka is there in the direct middle of the piece, where two abstract circles, placed a short distance apart, do seem to possess the frenetic emptiness of a bird’s eyes. Thick lines, like fingerpaint trails, denote where those “eyes” are, but they also suggest other squiggling abstractions too.

Following these fingerpaint trails around the piece, that’s the best avenue Hawkward offers us for finding recognizable imagery within the otherwise abstract explosion. Within these lines, we find a slot of bright turquoise in the upper-middle section of the image, flanked on its edges by two thin streamers of equally bright-blue coloring that fall in squiggly tentacles down to the bottom edge. This jellyfish-like blue section frames the area where Sokka’s “eyes” are, and where, depending on our angle, we might espy his beak as well. Ultimately, we’re playing a dizzying game of Where’s Waldo with a piece like Sokka. In truth, the details are too fuzzy to get a real sense of subject, the composition too noisy and eclectic, the subject itself hidden beneath the overwhelming composition.

“Enough is Enough” (2021), by Hawkward from “ERROR: Unsual Output” series. In collection of 0xaf46

But that’s the rub right there.

That’s the life experience Hawkward claims to be impressionistically channeling when she talks about noise as an inevitable part of her existence. Some obfuscating force that doesn’t altogether destroy experience, but transmutes it in crucial ways, until the sensation itself becomes the experience, becomes the subject, becomes everything.

Hawkward’s work is my first exposure to the practice of circuit-bending, which a little bit of internet digging tells me is “the creative, chance-based customization of the circuits within electronic devices such as low-voltage, battery-powered guitar effects, children’s toys and digital synthesizers to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators…Emphasizing spontaneity and randomness.” In Sokka the Parrotlet’s very compositional strategy itself is an echo of that same impressionistic unpredictability, the kind of always-expecting-something mentality that, in my experience with loved ones who battle chronic illnesses, adds a quality of chaos to even mundane moments. Someone I love very much has a condition where histamine cells in her stomach and throat will suddenly go haywire as if she’s having an allergic reaction, and for no discernible reason, creating devastating stomachaches and debilitating nausea with little to no forewarning. And it colors every step she takes outside, every trip to the store, every meal; life becomes unpredictable, and hitherto familiar experiences or objects become imbued with a very real and very present danger. That’s such a huge experience to be able to capture with a visual style, and yet here we have Sokka the Parrotlet doing so.

Yet, if we look at the entire “ERROR: Unusual Output” series, we find that
Sokka is at the far end of the recognizability spectrum herein. Other pieces contain equal noise, but the subject isn’t as totally obscured, things are still identifiable. The intertextuality between these pieces only enriches the overall reading. It serves to strengthen the impressionism, and in a way that communicates a truly intimidating artistic vision.

(A note from July 2023: I finally see the parrotlet! I can’t believe I missed it
previously, but does that not lend even further emphasis to all the words written above? Does not the noise sometimes reveal just as it obscures? Always unpredictably, might I add.)

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