Throwback: Humans at the Hayward

Throwback to the Hayward's Exhibition 'the human factor' in july 2014... 

Despite wanting to stay home and eat ice cream all day, my mum managed to drag me to the Hayward Gallery for their new exhibition: The Human Factor. 
Me at the Human Factor 
I was reluctant at first, due to the fact that I do not normally relate well to sculptures that do not resemble what they claim to be. I guess I think art is more powerful when it really looks like its subject... but then again, for that I could just go to Madame Tussauds. Another reason that ice cream seemed more tempting was the fact that the exhibition promised to be both “unsettling” and “thought-provoking”.  Seeing as one of the most publicised images from the exhibition is a policeman and a large bear, I was not convinced.
So, with a very critical eye, -and part of my mind on my Ben & Jerry’s at home-, I entered the gallery. Although the first room did not really capture my interest, I was intrigued by the second collection of pieces. There was a large cut-out of Lee Harvey Oswald –the man charged with the murder of President Kennedy- who was shot to death by Jack Ruby, in front of the world’s press and eyes. The large cut out is Oozewald (1989) by Cady Noland. Although Oswald was in fact only shot once, Noland punctured eight large holes in the metal image. The explanation given by the Hayward Gallery, is that the holes also depict how the cameras were shooting through him too, and every public eye with them. To finish off the spectacle, Noland gagged her subject with an American flag. So, this is the first piece that captured my attention, not only due to its interesting appearance, but also due to the explanation behind it.

Oozewald (1989), Cady Noland

Relating to this topic is the life-like sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan, which he entitled ‘Now’. This displays the corpse of John F Kennedy, laid out in his coffin. This would clearly give many Americans the farewell that they needed. Amongst some grotesquely disfigured sculptures, I enjoyed observing Cattelan’s work, which looked so much like the former President, but with such a peaceful look on his face. My favourite thing about this, however, was (again) not the piece, but the information given with it. The Hayward states that JFK has bare feet in the piece, as Cattelan simply did not feel people should wear shoes or socks when they are sleeping. It is an interesting sentiment, which I think captures the entire piece: Cattelan has put JFK to a calm sleep, giving him the goodbye that the President never received. I also like this idea that not every part of an artwork has to make sense to the beholder, as long as it seems right to the artist. 

Now, (2004) Maurizio Cattelan 
 Another work of Cattelan’s also stuck in my mind. It is in fact the piece that finally convinced me this exhibition could truly be “unsettling” and “thought provoking”. Walking into a small room in the gallery, I instantly felt apprehensive. I am claustrophobic and I suddenly found myself in an empty room, alone if not for a small boy kneeling on the floor. It took me a few seconds to realise the boy was a sculpture, but I was still nervous somehow. Something about the boy’s clothes made me instantly think ‘Holocaust’, and –as a Jew myself- a fierce desire to protect him crept in with my general feeling of anxiousness. I was sure that I would find a crying boy, with a huge yellow star on his lapel, and some kind of horrible back-story. Starting forwards a few more paces, I slowly began to make out the shape and detail of the head. And then... could it be... is it... It is. This is no kneeling boy. This is Adolf Hitler. There is a plaque on the wall, with some kind of explanation, but I don’t think Cattelan’s ‘Him’ needs any explanation. It is simply powerful, and yes: “unsettling” and “thought provoking”.

Him, (2001), Maurizio Cattelan

 Moving on to a very different kind of sculpture, this is ‘Monika and Pawel’, by Pawel Althamer. This depicts the artist and his first wife, fully immersed in operating their electrical gadgets. Their bodies are made with animal intestines and straw, which is instantly both repulsive and incredibly intriguing. Of course, over time this couple will slowly decay, and their gadgets –which they were so involved with- have already stopped working. I think this is such an interesting concept, and so very brave of Althamer to have done it using Monika and himself as the subjects. I don’t think I could stand to see my own work degrade and crumble away, let alone one that resembles me. I am glad that Althamer could though, as this is such a powerful comment on life, and modern obsessions with technology.

Monika and Pawel, (2002), Pawel Althamer. 

 However, not every piece in the Hayward gallery appealed to me as much as the ones I have mentioned. This is always going to happen in every exhibition, but these next two pieces went as far as to really frustrate me: they are so close to being amazing pieces, but in my eyes there are fundamental problems with them. Throughout the gallery, there are signs warning us that there are live bees in one of the pieces. I was intrigued and excited to discover how they would be incorporated into an artwork. In my mind’s eye, I was seeing huge installations covered with bees, paired with an interesting explanation. So, I was in fact disappointed walking out onto a balcony to be met with Pierre Huyghe’s Untitled. It is simply a reclining woman with a beehive on her head. Creative, yes, but creative enough?... well, no. Perhaps the main problem was the anticlimax of being warned about the bees throughout the visit, only to see a very small beehive with no real significance.

Untitled, (2012) Pierre Huyghe

 My second bone that needs picking, is with Paul McCarthy’s Life Cast displaying a naked woman in three different positions. I was immediately angered by the sight of these sculptures. The female subject is beautiful, petite, and completely hairless below her eyelashes. I found myself wondering about the point of this sculpture. There is nothing unusual about seeing this depiction of women. To see this kind of woman, anyone can open up a men’s magazine, and I would not call that art. The thing is that the technique used on these figures is amazing at creating such resemblance to living people. McCarthy has taken care to include the veins on the woman’s legs, which instantly adds another element of life. So, clearly, McCarthy is interested in detail, but there is little else to add to this woman: she has smooth skin all over her entire body. I was instantly thinking how much more powerful the pieces would have been if they were middle-aged, larger women, with imperfections that are completely normal, much like McCarthy’s ‘Dreaming’, which is a cast of himself. This piece- which was not part of The Human Factor- displays a middle aged man, covered in hair. He does not have a perfect body, and that just makes the artwork that much more interesting. So, perhaps I am angry that the Hayward picked three naked women over a far more intriguing piece.

Dreaming, (2008-12) Paul McCarthy, 

That Girl, (2008-12) Paul McCarthy

 So, moving back to artworks that did not miss the mark: I keep thinking about Ryan Gander’s little bronze pieces. With insanely long names, these tiny ballerinas have abandoned their plinths elsewhere in the gallery, to live their own lives. One presses her face to a window, and the other hides behind her stand to have a cigarette break. As there was no rope around the piece, I could stand really close to the ballerina whose face was against the window. I love the curiosity, youth and freedom displayed there. Even though the girl is just as stationary as the other sculptures, it made me think of movement and living life. The ballerina taking a drag from a cigarette has less youth in her appearance, and more tiredness. She has spent her life being stared at, and just wishes to have some privacy. I almost felt guilty for finding her hiding place behind her plinth. These pieces made me think about another element of galleries, and sculptures, which is a very powerful thing for me.

I Don't Blame You, (2008) Ryan Gander 
 A third Gander piece also portrayed innocence, youth and freedom.  He modelled ‘Tell My Mother Not To Worry’ on his child pretending to be a ghost, using a bed sheet. It does not really need any more explanation than that, but I found myself observing it for longer than I thought I would. The movement created in the ‘sheet’ really does make you feel you can lift it up and find a laughing toddler underneath.
Tell My Mother Not to Worry, (2012) Ryan Gander 

 The final artist that also made me think about another element to sculptures was Martin Honert, who creates sculptures that resemble photographs. When I initially saw ‘Hamburger Bahnhof’, I began to walk away. It had a weird appearance, that I didn’t like at first. It was not until my audio guide mentioned it had been based on a photograph that it all made sense. That was the ‘weird’ thing about the model. It really does look like it has walked out of an old photograph. Honert painstakingly recreated the dappled effect people have in old photos, and the different colours caused by light intensities. This first one is based on Honert’s old school teacher, whilst the second is of Honert as a child. When I took off my glasses, I could almost believe these sculptures were 2D. They are a really interesting and creative way of manipulating photographs and sculptures,  that I had never thought of before, and I would love to see more of his work.
Hamburger Bahnhof, Martin Honert 

Hamburger Bahnhof, Martin Honert 
So, these few pieces surprised me, being both “thought-provoking” and “unsettling”. Definitely worth giving up an ice cream for!

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