mardi 12 février 2008
Rewind 2007: Jochem Hendricks (Haunch of Venison, London)
German artist Jochem Hendricks’ practice explores the social codes and boundaries that we live by, as well as questioning received ideas surrounding beauty and value. His projects often involve investigative processes more normally associated with scientific enquiry, questioning the boundaries of legality and using materials that raise complex moral and ethical issues.
A series of works see organic matter - birds, a human leg and a human ear, which the artist acquired in the former Eastern Block - transmuted into diamonds, including Cold Birds (2002-5), Left Defender Right Leg (2002-5) and Oleg’s Ear (2004-6). The original processes were carried out in two former Soviet research establishments; the subjects were first converted into pure carbon which was then used to produce synthetic diamonds. For Hendricks an ‘official’ collaboration with the institutes was impossible, resulting in a series of complex and sometimes dangerous negotiations and transactions to realise the works. For the ongoing work Grains of Sand (1999-2007), the artist paid assistants, often illegal immigrants in Germany, to count precise numbers of grains of sand, up to several million. The quantities of sand are presented in beautiful hand-made glass vessels, making it impossible to verify whether or not the numbers given are accurate or not. Such works raise questions about the value and meaning of labour, as well as notions of truth and imagination. Are there really 5,279,063 grains of sand in a given vessel, as the artist suggests, the result of hundreds of hours of work, or is this in fact an elaborate fiction? Hendricks will also show a new installation, Pack (2003-6). On the top floor of the gallery the visitor is confronted by a threatening pack of fighting dogs. Having procured a number of the dogs and had them ‘prepared’ under his direction, Hendricks presents us with a tableaux which offers a very direct confrontation; we are made to feel the object of the dogs’ malevolent attention and therefore question our attitude towards them.
German artist Jochem Hendricks mixes processes with material things and ends up with new, much odder objects; a kind of conceptual alchemy that is both romantic and rational, and works for as long as you buy the story you’re being spun. This, his first solo show in Britain, presents a selection of work from the last 15 years, yet it seems oddly fresh, which perhaps says much about the current fashion for object-friendly concept art with a political twist. Ideas of work, art, human purpose and economic value abound here: so in the various ‘Grains of Sand’ sculptures – sand-filled glass bubbles – we’re told that assistants, often illegal immigrants, were paid to count the sand, grain by grain, sealed inside. Two large teardrop-shaped glass urns are apparently filled with the tears of the artist. More ambitiously, human and animal life are literally condensed to their purest forms in a display of yellowish diamonds set in velvet-lined display cases; a human ear, an amputated human leg and various birds were reduced to their weight in pure carbon, these were then further refined to produce synthetic diamonds – all done through dodgy dealings with ex-Soviet scientific research establishments. Tall tales? Hendricks’s skill is in how his unseen back-stories meld with the actual presence of the work – it’s hard not to imagine the essence of living matter concentrated in these tiny jewels, not to consider the troubling transition from suspiciously acquired body parts to luxurious art trinket. Hendricks has a sly, sarcastic humour filled with restrained empathy – often toying with art-world etiquette and the artist’s complicity with it, yet looking for the moment in which material objects reveal their identity as the products of human intentions, their social constraints and potentials. JJ Charlesworth , Fri Aug 31