They exceed a size of hand, of handheld art like Books of Hours, whose investment in private thought is difficult to surpass.
Yet, the need to protect freedom of thought is as great and urgent as in the 20th C that favoured loud billboard format for painting and memorial sculptures. Even newspapers grew in size. A preference for a domestic scale, so successful for instance in 17th C Dutch paintings, signifies Heron’s quiet confidence in intrinsic values of sincere re-assessment of what and how we consume. Absent is the celebration of riches and plenty.
All Heron’s 27 exhibits are described as “mixed media” – a term elastic to neatly allow different materials in different quantities, hence giving up on the identification of exactly what each is made off. Since Heron makes the material and its manipulation visible, each object confidently carry its individuality through the way it was made, assembled. Like The Willem Kalf’s painting above, Heron’s assemblages are sincerely showing off the materiality of their existence. On my first visit I sensed that the tenor of all of them was delivering sensual and somewhat playful experience.
Awareness of colder warnings about the absence of unanimity of confrontational poses, sharp angles, repeated cuts, dark hues seeped into my consciousness that the layers, outlines, hues are becoming one thing and than another. In the above display the two abstracted figures mime a kind of samurai combat – a quest for dominance. This becomes absent from seeing it from another angle. Nevertheless, the display openly states that the meaning is changeable – something appears sweetly decorative and morphs into a powerful threat in a split of the second. To keep the meaning so fluid is not an easy task.
The Red Wing could easily be a larger, billboard scale – and that’s a sign of strong composition guided by order/ composition (Apollonian principle) rather than sensuality-or scale (Dionysian principle).
Some are sculptures. They have a volume and measurable weight and do not move or fall.
Some hesitate between a collage and an assemblage.
Rauschenberg solve that slippage thus:
“Every time I would show them to people, some would say they’re paintings, others called them sculptures. And then I heard this story about Calder,” he said, referring to the artist Alexander Calder, “that nobody would look at his work because they didn’t know what to call it. As soon as he began calling them mobiles, all of a sudden people would say ‘Oh, so that’s what they are.’ So I invented the term ‘Combine’ to break out of that dead end of something not being a sculpture or a painting. And it seemed to work.” – In Carol Vogel, ” A half-century of Rauschenberg’s ‘junk’ art,” New York Times (December 2005).
Both Modernism and Art Povera of 20th C produced numerous examples of assembling of found and often disparate elements. They established that defects could be a significant aesthetic feature. The shift from found debris to a complexity of aesthetic object is akin a reconciliation of neglected, lesser, quotidian effort with catharsis triggered by recognition.
The found object’s past is seamlessly incorporated by replacing the original values of found material by the values found in intention, imagination and connectivity between knowing and inventing. Sensual impact is akin to a sophisticated play between knowing and dreaming. The success of transformation Herron offers in a non combative manner, signalling preference for sharing. In that sense this exhibition refuses to hide its critique of contemporary society’s prevailing value system that governs economy and ethics both grounded in ruthless exploitation of resources. This art, like the medieval Books of Hours, invites contemplation as critical as you are capable of. It does not preach. Yet, it includes a morality tale.
Images courtesy Peter Richards.