A 10-year survey of Peter Hennessey’s work is on show at The University of Queensland Art Museum.
Australian architect and artist Peter Hennessey creates large-scale sculptures replicating objects that testify to humanity’s technological advances. They communicate the artist’s concern with issues of social justice and the political systems that dominate our lives.
The University of Queensland Art Museum is holding “Peter Hennessey: Making it Real” (14 March – 12 July 2015), a major survey reflecting on the past decade of the artist’s career, and featuring a number of his large-scale sculptures that replicate technological objects and machines.
With training in architecture and a background in new media, Peter Hennessey (b. 1968, Sydney) is interested in and inspired by the science of space exploration and comparable technological advances. His imposing sculptures allow viewers to encounter first hand what they would otherwise only see in reproductions or on the internet. Hennessey’s oeuvre is part of his effort to reverse the digitisation of the world by creating material, physical reproductions.
The artist’s practice goes beyond creating mere life-size, detailed replicas; it also addresses a number of key issues that revolve around social justice and dominating political systems. As curator Samantha Littley writes in the accompanying catalogue essay, there are four key themes in Hennessey’s work:
[…] our quest for knowledge and the limits we face in pursuing it; the gulf between things we ‘see’ virtually and those that we are able to experience; and the part that communication systems play in enabling geopolitical powers and creating new corporate empires.
From space exploration to mapping the world
The themes in the exhibition are each reflected through four bodies of work:
- objects that consider the social, political and conceptual implications of the Space Race in historical and contemporary terms
- artworks that emphasise technology’s fallibility and bring us face to face with mortality
- works that capture the choreography of explosions and uncover their role in constructing our world
- recent sculptures that examine the reach of the Global Positioning System (GPS)
The ‘space race’ works include sculptures such as My Voyager (2004), a model of the Voyager 2 probe launched by the United States government into space in 1977, still in orbit today. In an interview with Art Collector, Hennessey explains that the work looks at notions of
idealism versus pragmatism, as well as using the idea of communications with aliens to question our current treatment of the aliens in our own communities.
Part of this body of work is also My Lunar Rover (You Had to Be There) (2005), a plywood and steel replica of the moon buggy that carried the NASA astronauts around the moon during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
During his reflections on technology’s fallibility and its relationship to ideas of mortality, Hennessey created one of his most important – and one of his favourite – works, My Humvee (Inversion Therapy) (2008). It is a recreation, a parody, of the US military carrier – the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle – which inspired its civilian spinoff, the Hummer, a huge consumer of oil which is the resource that the Humvee was sent to war zones to protect.
Historically and politically charged incidents provide food for thought for the artist, who has produced works inspired by “explosion events” by re-enacting them. My Burnt Frost (Explosion Event III) (2008) references the US Navy’s destruction of a damaged spy satellite, USA-193 (NROL-21), said to be carrying 450 kilograms of toxic hydrazine, on 21 February 2008. In My Hell’s Gate (North of The River IV) (2010), Hennessey re-staged a miniature replica of the 1885 demolition of submerged rock in an area of the East River, New York City, known as Hells Gate.
Recently, Hennessey has also turned to exploring the technology of GPS and its effects on people and society. With his recent series “Here Be Dragons / Hic Sunt Dracones” (2014), he comments on the pervasive reach of satellites.
The explanation (Cockpit Voice Recorder) (2014) and The Wait (Flight Data Recorder) (2014) continue with notions of mortality, technology’s reliability, as well as its ability to allow us to locate ourselves. The sculptures were created while the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 unfolded in March 2014.
Talking to The Sydney Morning Herald, the artist said:
The black box is almost like a talisman. It was interesting how important finding that object became – there are still people searching for it. They are potent objects. This box suggests both our feeling that we can know everything – but how that breaks down. We have these satellites, we have this imaging of streets down to the postbox level, yet we couldn’t find this thing. It’s gone into that spot of ‘here be dragons’. It reveals to me just how much we don’t know. It is just an illusion of omniscience.
Between images and experience
Through his sculptures, Hennessey explores “the space between images and experience” – our relationship with images and the resulting connection to issues of our modern times. In the article on Art Collector, the artist says about his work and the objects it relates to:
These are objects which are familiar but which we cannot have a physical relationship with. We cannot stand next to them – we must experience them virtually via the media, TV, print and so on – and what is lost in such a relationship? Also, each of these objects has a particular symbolism or political resonance. […] I choose objects not just because of their pure mediated and physically inaccessible existence. I choose [them] based on a perceived symbolic value that resonate to larger issues.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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- From uranium glass to salt: Ken + Julia Yonetani address environmental issues through art – interview – January 2015 – Australia-based collaborative couple contemplates environmental and societal issues using challenging media, such as uranium glass and salt
- Video artist Daniel Crooks awarded AUD100,000 commission – November 2014 – video artist receives AUD100,000 from The Ian Potter Cultural Trust as well as specialised curatorial, production and presentation expertise from ACMI
- 30 years of Australian artist Lindy Lee – in pictures – October 2014 – The University of Queensland Art Museum presents a 3-decade survey of Australian artist Lindy Lee’s practice
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