Space age sculptures in Peter Hennessey survey in Australia – in pictures

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'Where we are now (Navstar Block II-F satellite, USA)', 2014, plywood, ABS plastic and wax, overall 138 x 197 x 130 cm. Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2014. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘Where We Are Now (Navstar Block II-F Satellite, USA)’, 2014, plywood, ABS plastic and wax, overall 138 x 197 x 130 cm. Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2014. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'Parallel cartography (Glonass-K, RUS)', 2014, aluminium composite panel, 250 x 100 x 90 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘Parallel Cartography (Glonass-K, RUS)’, 2014, aluminium composite panel, 250 x 100 x 90 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'My ejector seat (Upside down changes everything)', 2006, plywood, steel, calico, LD45FR foam, webbing, plastic and aluminium sculptural element, 240 x 120 x 170 cm. Private collection, Hobart. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘My Ejector Seat (Upside Down Changes Everything)’, 2006, plywood, steel, calico, LD45FR foam, webbing, plastic and aluminium, sculptural element, 240 x 120 x 170 cm. Private collection, Hobart. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'My Lunar Rover (You had to be there)', 2005, plywood, steel, canvas and Velcro, 298 x 206 x 396 cm. Private collection, Melbourne. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘My Lunar Rover (You Had to Be There)’, 2005, plywood, steel, canvas and Velcro, 298 x 206 x 396 cm. Private collection, Melbourne. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, 'My NICU', 2006, plywood, wax, silicone, plastic, dimensions variable. Installation view at University of Queensland Art Museum. Collection of the artist. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist and UQ Art Museum.

Peter Hennessey, ‘My NICU’, 2006, plywood, wax, silicone, plastic, dimensions variable. Installation view at University of Queensland Art Museum, “Peter Hennessey: Making it Real”, 2015. Collection of the artist. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist and UQ Art Museum.

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)
Peter Hennessey, 'My Mission Control', 2005, plywood with two-channel video. Installation view at UQ Art Museum, "Peter Hennessey: Making it real", 2015. Image courtesy the artist and UQ Art Museum.

Peter Hennessey, ‘My Mission Control (The act of observation changes the object observed)’, 2005, plywood, steel and two-channel video, silent, 120.0 x 180.0 x 110.0 cm; video 5 min 24 sec. Installation view at University of Queensland Art Museum, “Peter Hennessey: Making it Real”, 2015. Private collection, Adelaide. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist and UQ Art Museum.

Peter Hennessey, 'My Voyager', 2004, plywood and steel, height 650 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Mim Stirling. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘My Voyager’, 2004, plywood and steel, height 650 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Mim Stirling. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'My Humvee (Inversion therapy)', 2008, plywood, automotive enamel paint, aluminium and steel, 500 x 210 x 180 cm. Collection of The University of Queensland. Gift of the Melbourne Art Fair Foundation, 2008. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘My Humvee (Inversion Therapy)’, 2008, plywood, automotive enamel paint, aluminium and steel, 500 x 210 x 180 cm. Collection of The University of Queensland. Gift of the Melbourne Art Fair Foundation, 2008. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'My Burnt Frost (Explosion event III)', 2008, C-type photograph, 80 x 100 cm. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘My Burnt Frost (Explosion Event III)’, 2008, C-type photograph, 80 x 100 cm. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'My Hell's Gate (North of the river IV)', 2010, C-type photograph, 100 x 100 cm. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘My Hell’s Gate (North of The River IV)’, 2010, C-type photograph, 100 x 100 cm. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, 'Overlooked (Street View capture apparatus)', 2014, plywood and ABS plastic, 190 x 145 x 145 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘Overlooked (Street View Capture Apparatus)’, 2014, plywood and ABS plastic, 190 x 145 x 145 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'The explanation (Cockpit voice recorder)', 2014, plywood, ABS plastic and wax, 17 x 34 x 20 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘The Explanation (Cockpit Voice Recorder)’, 2014, plywood, ABS plastic and wax, 17 x 34 x 20 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

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.

Peter Hennessey, 'Where we are now (Navstar Block II-F satellite, USA)', 2014, plywood, ABS plastic and wax, overall 138 x 197 x 130 cm. Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2014. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, ‘Where We Are Now (Navstar Block II-F Satellite, USA)’, 2014, plywood, ABS plastic and wax, overall 138 x 197 x 130 cm. Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2014. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and GAGPROJECTS/ Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide.

Peter Hennessey, 'Celestial Kingdom (BeiDou-1A Satellite, CHN)', 2014, aluminium composite panel, 152 x 111 x 6 cm. Installation view at UQ Art Museum, "Peter Hennessey: Making it real", 2015. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist and UQ Art Museum.

Peter Hennessey, ‘Celestial Kingdom (BeiDou-1A Satellite, CHN)’, 2014, aluminium composite panel, 152 x 111 x 6 cm. Installation view at University of Queensland Art Museum, “Peter Hennessey: Making it Real”, 2015. Collection of the artist. Photo: Carl Warner. Image courtesy the artist and UQ Art Museum.

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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