If androids dream of electric sheep, then what do artworks dream of? Do they dream of their audience, of being popular, of being exposed, of being forgotten? Do they recall their recent pasts, being made in the studio or born in the mind? Or do they process their way through a longer time frame, through the history of art itself, working through that history like an artwork’s genetic memory? As the gallery lights dim and slumber descends, are the dreams of art protective or ghoulish, productive or grim?
These questions haunt some of the greatest works of European art, and none more clearly than Francisco Goya’s 1799 etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. A man (perhaps representing Goya himself) has sunk his head into his arms and his arms onto a desk; behind him, crowding his space as much as his mind, are creatures of the night – owls, bats and cats – threatening this “sleep of reason” with monstrous activity and sleek watchfulness. It’s a remarkable work, one I imagine comes to life only when the guards shut the museum or the collector their archive, and art’s reveries are allowed to take flight, flickering through the darkness that now surrounds it.
It’s this same nocturnal space that fills Andrew Hazewinkel’s latest installation, which, to my mind, bears more than a little resemblance to Goya’s mise-en-scene. An old writing desk that once belonged to Hazewinkel’s father stands burnt and blackened in the shadows. Behind it are not the beasts of Goya’s vision but a swarm of leather hides hanging from the wall, their rich black surfaces bearing the image – front and back in succession across each hide – of a classical female torso, a “female Hercules”, headless. The desk’s writing surface has been cut away and from its hard-edged interior erupts a column of human height, stretching up to what looks like another desk, inverted and hanging from the ceiling, its glass surface the screen onto which a video is projected of two Ancient Greek bronzes, the so-called Riace warriors. In the pulsing light cast by the projection, the female figures seem to move gently back and forth, the folds of the skins accentuating the foregrounding of a knee here, the backward step of a foot there, the thrust of a hand and the arc of a thigh.
Hazewinkel’s room bears a kind of “sleep of reason” of its own. The desk is, after all, the place where histories are written (if rarely made); it’s a site for sanctioning certain perspectives of the past that have come to stand for historical reason. Dormant in the dark, however, what erupts from this site is not the usual recording of history, nor Goya’s sense of monstrosity, but something more ambiguous and restless. Desire is at play here. The female torsos appear revived, as though seeking to eradicate centuries of age with a new expressive life, the marble replaced by skin, stillness replaced by yearning. Yet the history of this figure is complex, for it’s not a classical statue but a nineteenth century forgery. The figure’s desire to come alive is mixed with its claims to Antiquity; its material presence commingles with its inauthentic reality. The subtle pliability of material and image, past and what is present ultimately haunt the rigid column – it’s tempting to consider it more like a phallus of human height – that emerges out of the desk before it. The authority of written history is shadowed by a more complex, if still softly monumental, set of negotiations.
Recent and ancient histories coalesce in Andrew Hazewinkel's materially rich and diverse practice, across which he builds psychologically resonant spaces and objects. ALL IN TIME, his installation for NEW 14, features a 19th century fake, headless, female Hercules, the artist's father's wooden writing desk, and ancient Greek bronzes in physical and psychical dialogue and proximity.
The 2500-year-old Riace bronzes were found lying at the bottom of the sea off the Calabrian coast by a recreational diver in 1972. In recent years, they have again been on their backs for a lengthy period, lying prone on gurneys in a publicly viewable conservation lab in Reggio di Calabria's Palazzo Campanella. Hazewinkel has filmed these warrior bronzes [also known as Warrior A and Warrior B] in situ, locating a curious vulnerability in the stridently masculine figures. In contrast, the figure of Omphale, screen printed life size onto black leather hides in a work titled Suspicious Marble, is imbued with a status she is not usually afforded. As Hercules' lover, she wears his cape and club. Apprehending these figures in the gallery space, we align our own human scale and psychological qualities with these ancient bodies. Also at human scale is A Site for Re-recording History. Here, the artist has burnt a 19th Century cedar writing desk until it is fossilised black and skeletal in form, its drawer and writing surface removed. An equally exposed object penetrates the gap left by the absent top surface, the bare bones of a Greek column, also in burnt wood. Adjacent to this Warrior A, Warrior B floats above us cradled in an inverted, black steel table emerging from the ceiling, accompanied by the distant sounds from the watery grave from which they were exhumed. All is held in a state of eternal suspension, or pause, with each element holding myriad embedded narratives, preserving many secrets.
For the full text please see NEW 14 catalogue published by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.