Vancouver – Or Gallery, Who That Happens

73
Vancouver

Hadley+Maxwell, Who That Happens
Or Gallery, Vancouver, April 2–May 28, 2011

The most interesting point is in the middle, Deleuze would say, and grows outward, like grass, in multiple directions at once. His observation is a fitting preface to an art practice that clearly avoids beginnings and endings, for the work of Hadley+Maxwell always starts in the middle.

Their recent exhibition, Who That Happens, comprises a number of free-standing assemblages, or sculptural grotesques, using found objects and materials that have been altered, stacked, and reconfigured along an axis that forms a sharp diagonal line through the gallery space. Figurines of hunters and shepherds, animals and beasts — all wooden and distinctly kitsch — are posed in surreal juxtapositions atop makeshift props and pedestals. Each of the figurines has been cut in half to produce oddly severed forms, distorted figures, and amputees, recombinant creatures, and chimeras. At the entrance stands the figure of a man propped on an oversized crutch; his hand triumphantly holds a severed head, yet with his face, arm, and torso shaved off, his trophy now appears to be his own missing mug.

The cut reads in multiple ways: as an unveiling, as a violent disfiguring, but also as a second life for an object suddenly freed to resignify. This collection builds on a growing body of work the artists call improperties, describing a material shift in sensibility where objects are unhinged from their original meaning or “proper” place.

The vertical assemblages recall classical grotesquery, its origins dating back to the wall frescoes of ancient Rome, with fantastical imagery of humans, animals, and flora interlaced in ornamental arrangements within an illusory architectural framework. Grotesques represented a kind of extreme senselessness, where a human could hold an elephant overhead while standing on a bird perched on a leafy bough. Grotesquery brought together the hyperbolic and the real, the beautiful and the ugly, the verisimilar and the caricatured in weightless contiguity.

The cut that runs through the centre of the space is not so much a division as it is an occasion; the circumstance whereby a farrago of surfaces and figures, unexpected frictions, and trickery fortuitously collide. For example, the face of a woodsman is later discovered on the head of a bull, a tall plinth covered in cowhide is shaved on one side, folds of fabric photocopied from a Magritte painting are doubled against a mirror, and a fake antique table with delicately painted chinoiserie scenarios all reference the surrounding figurines like a coded index to the exhibition.

The severity of the cut running through the gallery suggests that despite the promiscuity of the artists’ references across time, histories and disciplines, there is a through-line in their practice. If so, it is their collaboration itself, in which the idea of negotiation is at the heart of each decision and every cut.

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