No ordinary saw-horse
Sculptor Glen Hayward provides his viewers with the ultimate challenge – where does his exhibition end and the gallery fittings begin?
Marcel Duchamp and the readymade heritage have gifted art the suspicious viewer,” states sculptor Glen Hayward in his doctoral publication, The best things in life are usually not things. He then postulates that this legacy gives the maker of the simulated readymade – something that looks like a found object but isn’t – the potential to trick the viewer into believing they’re seeing a real thing presented as art.
Confused? Then feel for visitors to the Koru Lounge at Auckland Airport when they read the label below three fire extinguishers mounted on the wall: “These fire extinguishers are imitation only. They cannot be used in an emergency. In the unlikely event of an emergency, please follow the directions of the lounge staff.” On closer examination you can see the labels on these extinguishers were painted in mirror image – and the work, by Hayward, is titled Tsinosra (x3) – all pretty obvious when you think about it. Or not… Hayward recalls when the image went into a publication, the eagle-eyed designer saw it was ‘backwards’ and reversed it so it was ‘right way round’.
Hayward’s fascination with recreating three-dimensional forms goes way back. His parents were both involved in design and manufacture in the garment industry, and he helped his art teacher at Long Bay College, Michael Parekowhai, prepare sculptures for the artist’s first solo show in 1993.
At art school Hayward’s sculptural direction took a strange turn towards the end of his master’s degree and he recalls, “I’d carved a surreal, life-sized head, put it in a box in my studio and carried it to Elam, presenting it to my colleagues and tutors who all viewed it with relative disinterest. But walking down Symonds Street, I’d received quite a few inquisitive looks and glances at the battered box I was carrying – something to do with it being slightly too big to carry comfortably, and something to do with what might be in the box.”
What followed was a growing sense of fascination with overlooked objects – in particular containers, boxes and cartons – and success in several awards with his flattened banana boxes – hand-carved, hand-painted and at a glance impossible to pick from the real thing.
“When I returned to the studio that day, I set aside making art and started making things,” he explains. “I was trying to trigger the same instinctive curiosity with the things I make, and then to tie this in with Duchamp’s ‘gift’ by using the viewer’s suspicion that what they were looking at was the real object.”
Since completing his doctorate in 2004 Hayward has finely honed his pursuit of (re)creating the everyday. When you first see his sculptures – be they recycling bins, polystyrene packing, three-pin plugs, orange peel or soccer balls – the initial reaction is humour; we’re sucked in by the puckish mimicry of the works. So, why does he recreate the readymade? Hayward feels strongly about this: “To me, the Duchampian ‘readymade object’ can’t be an artwork because it isn’t handmade. Sometimes I’d like to use a real object, but it doesn’t feel sincere enough.”
In his most recent exhibition, Live Transmission at Starkwhite in late 2009, the gallery looked like the sorting room of an inorganic rubbish collection. Items were placed haphazardly on an old door, resting on a couple of saw-horses that had definitely seen better days, and other objects were strewn about the room. Old paint tins, a beer can, a brick, a concrete block, a bit of plastic downpipe, a goat’s skull, a box of rubber rings for docking lambs – the gallery visitor could be forgiven for assuming Hayward, now based in the rural Far North, had frantically filled his car boot with junk from his farm shed to meet his exhibition deadline – after a bad case of artist’s block.
Totally wrong?… though Hayward acknowledges that making a mental link between some of the works does require a leap in logic. Though once he starts explaining, it all becomes pretty obvious.
“My idea is that the visual experience of the exhibition parallels an experiential thought process – this after that, that from this, then onto… and followed by… but wait a minute – what about that over there? Is that a connection? Hang on a minute – if that begets this one, where did it start? Is there an entry and exit from the work? And is that fire extinguisher in the hall part of the show?”
That sounds fine in theory, so let’s go into the gallery. The smudged thumb prints on the side of the Dulux paint tin echo the image of the ‘potato man’; the off-white colour used on the old cupboard door on the wall and on the door resting on the trestles; the two basket balls on the floor, which have the same colour and text style as the box of Elastrator docking rings, which is the same size and colour as the brick with two apples on top – both making faces; another face on a bicycle seat (mimicking Munch’s work The Scream), resembling the enlarged rat’s skull; then the goat’s skull with the snail’s shell on one of its horns (whose logarithmic spiral echoes the horn). Then a quick leap to the snail on the frozen milk splash on the wall, which looks like the sun on the flattened Dole banana box; the Bonita box with a face that takes you to the alien head steering wheel; the peru peru ‘potato head’… and so it goes, quite easy to make the links once you start.
However, as Hayward points out, you can start anywhere because there are numerous ways to link the works and find subtle similarities between them. There’s nothing dictatorial and the viewer has a relative freedom to shift between each work.
“And this ordering or grouping can be knocked sideways by the inclusion of a piece that may fit the group, have a reason for inclusion, but that doesn’t necessarily fit the logic of the original cluster,” he says. “There’s a quote (Buddhist I think) that I’ve altered, which describes these works: ‘The last of all that have been and the first that are to come'”.
For the past five years Hayward and his partner have lived in the Hokianga, a stone’s throw from the Waipoua kauri forest. His materials are stacked in and around his studio – old totara fence posts and battens, kauri planks, detritus from abandoned neighbouring farms – all awaiting the bite of the chisel, the touch of the sander. Next door is the derelict ‘pink house’, which provided the stimulus for his previous two Starkwhite shows, The Pink House Primer (2006) and Ghostwriter (2007).
In both exhibitions he presented carved replicas of found objects from this early 1900s farmhouse, weaving an alternate history using false documents; touching on fragile, unstable memories of times past.
Sitting in his studio he talks about his current projects, seeing them as paths diverging from the Live Transmission show. On the floor are two flawlessly crafted kauri saw-horses, which are a far cry from the saw-scarred, nail-holed survivors of a thousand DIY projects seen in Live Transmission. Pointing to the ‘leg action’ of one of the ‘horses’ he explains they are templates for a public sculpture proposal, comprising 30 ‘lifesize’ sawhorses, galloping down a hillside in a sequence reminiscent of 19th-century pioneer photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s multiple image sequence of a galloping horse.
On his workbench perch a dozen or so perky fantails, each hewn from an old fence post. To capture the flitting, jerky movement of the bird using a static material, Hayward moves fast, grinding each one out in half an hour. He’s working towards a series of four, which he will then cast in bronze – his first works in this medium.
In the corner of the studio is the genesis of Hayward’s next gallery project. Rows of objects sit on a series of planks – apples, candles, tiny houses and eggs. In his last exhibition the active ‘spaces’ and links between the works weren’t always obvious to the viewer when he wasn’t there to explain. “Now I’m trying to bridge the objects,” he says.
In this new work (as in Live Transmission) it’s the physical linkages as much as the objects themselves that trigger the viewer’s reaction. The paint-splattered old stool with stuffing spewing from its torn vinyl top; the upturned blue recycling bin and the step ladder with planks resting on it – they’re all normal workshop paraphernalia until you realise they’ve also been carved by Hayward. He sees these objects as ‘mobile signifiers’ in that they can connect or be more fluid than the objects on the planks.
“The idea for this sculpture is that as it expands (like a network or a virus) it becomes a model for language and the production of meaning, in that the subsidiary objects are linked by bigger patterns – in an attempt to summon a kind of mysticism for more mundane everyday objects.”
He says, “I needed a bin, so I made one.” And in a workshop where there’s no shortage of bins, boxes and wooden blocks to rest planks on – that’s pretty sincere.