'Blindness: Iain Hetherington and Lynn Hynd'
talkSPORT recently provided a peculiar insight into regional variations on the ever-expanding stylistic culture of the UK's underclass youth, as seen through the lens of various folk devils, scapegoats or Volksteufels. As a self-proclaimed Manchester boy, fashionable on late night TV in the early to mid-1990s, Terry Christian is now found plying his trade on 'Final Whistle', the station's Saturday afternoon programme. At around 5.30pm on 14 July 2007, during football's closed season and a temporary dearth of news, Christian referred to his co-presenter Jason Cundy's use of the word 'chav': 'That's a down south word. Up here we call them "scallies".' A discussion subsequently ensued on the subject of scangers, howias, scobes, norries, spides, and steekes...
Flashback five years to 10 September 2002. A derby football match between Watford and Luton Town at Vicarage Road - a first round Worthington Cup tie. A fellow curator and myself stand in the Luton end of the ground, and look on in disbelief as a massive pitch invasion takes place before the start of the match. One Luton youngster wearing a familiarly patterned baseball cap holds a corner flag aloft in his right hand. As he chases a rival fan and attempts to spear his adversary, the crowd roars. Later in the evening, I listen to BBC Radio Five Live (in comparison to talkSPORT, Five Live's presenters lack their competitor's visceral devil-may-care attitude, and instead adopt the approach of speech-trained office-workers), while a caller from Watford describes the Luton fans as 'the vermin in Burberry'. Although this is a very local example, the tendency for a catagorisation of this culture is spreading far and wide. In Poland the chav is a dres, in Portugal a chunga or mitra, in Italy a coatto, in Russia a gopnik or luber, in Germany and Austria a prolo or proll. Maybe I'm wrong, but perhaps this is the art of anti-social behaviour, of unplanned spontaneous mass action evolving through a reaction to the increasing restrictions and the all pervading 'erosion of civil liberties' that are transforming everyday life in the UK and beyond.
Everywhere I look I see a blind man
I see a blind man
Everywhere I look
I see a...
Two days after Terry Christian's remark, I receive an email from the young Glasgow-based artist Iain Hetherington about his latest work, which takes the DJ's comments further: 'The new things are straight paintings i.e. acrylic on canvas. The image Grainne [Rice] will send you is 'a portrait'. The head/body is just mixed hues of paint, resembling the marks one would end up with on a palette used to make a painting. This is against, and fades into, a dark background, rendering it somewhat illusionistic and 3D when adorned by the painting of a Burberry skip cap (associated with neds or chavs at the moment).'
Here we have another variation of the term 'chav', this time the Scottish deviation. 'Ned', which could refer to the phrase 'non-educated delinquent', or have been taken from a nickname for Teds in the 1950s, who were also known by the same name ('Ned' is short for Edward, Edwardian dress was the stylistic genre that Teds loved) and who were equally demonised by the press and feared by the general public at the time.
Hetherington is working on an exhibition at the art school with another Glasgow based practitioner Lynn Hynd. I'm shown pictures of their work, and it soon becomes clear that both artists' are taking the theme of dysfunctionality in an unusual direction. Previously Hetherington has dealt with a practice that blurs the line between the figurative and the abstract, the two-dimensional and the sculptural, together with text and image. The languages of making art are regurgitated and questioned in his practice to form unusual composite 'figural' elements. Similarly, Hynd is interested in the structural dialogue between sculpture and painting, movement and stasis, flatness and depth, two and three dimensions, solid and void: essentially her works have a fragmentary object-ness to them, without becoming exclusively identifiable as objects in their own right. Neither artist could typically be described as an ASBO seeking individual, yet their formal interests essentially hold a grey area of discordance and indeterminacy, and trying to grasp what this is, or hold it for more than a few seconds is a little like trying to touch a holographic image; it's there for a moment, and then gone, immaterial and liquid, yet still suggestive of very firm reference points.
Hetherington's portrait from 2007 is an obvious case in point. As he indicated in his message, his painting - essentially a work in progress at the point I saw it - shows a number of baseball-capped protagonists whose features are obscured by palette-like smears of paint. One could say that these traditionally demonised characters embody radical forms of subjectivity; at once they provide a clear signifier of contemporary culture, yet present various abstract de-facialised heads. The fact that these areas represent formless random palettes, also suggests a politics of representation in line with late conceptual practices. One of a number of texts written on a shield reads 'Hello! Please may I misrepresent you?', while another figure waves a flag with a huge and monstrous diversity logo created by Hetherington. While this indicates a critique of cultural policy and target audiences, it does so by forming an affirmative twist on the fact that art is meant to be good for us. Here we have examples of the very people that the authorities think need educating, mostly through bad quality government-sanctioned socially-engaged projects, who are pictured attempting to throw the gesture back at the viewer.
The important thing here, is that if this work signifies the blindness of the 'ned' - perhaps through the drug induced fug of each scrambled portrait - then this is a myopia that we ought to take notice of, and look to for guidance; it's a case of the blind being able to lead the blind, or help those of us who are mistakenly convinced that we can see clearly. Again, this is a portrait of a radical subject, who aims to tell the truth of a new world, and in the process skews existing regimes of identification. In a perspectival shift then, as art insiders, we are the unenlightened ones, looking to be helped by a deviant avant-garde underclass that exists in another infinitely more strange and powerful dimension.
I can't get my eyes checked
My blues eyes can't get checked
I'm only one leg
I said to poster, 'When's the curfew over?'
I said, 'Blind man, have mercy on me.'
I said, 'Blind man, have mercy on me.'
Hynd's recent work shows a similarly deliberate form of evasive imagery. Her work takes a formal concern that goes beyond representation, and her use of collage, for example, references a multitude of art historical precursors without any focus on negativity. The fragments in her work don't point towards the actual process of fragmentation, or the latter category's connection with anxiety, instead her recent constructions concentrate on the quality of each element's ability to unite, link or connect disparate elements to form something new.
She quotes Richard Tuttle in her correspondence 'Liberate the eye and mind to roam in tandem from sensation to disinterested, even disembodied thought, and back again to sensation.' And also Hans Arp 'A cut that separates humankind from the goal it longs for oneness.' Hynd's work aims at a collage homage of painted and sculpted elements that belong to Brancusi, Arp, Tuttle, Matisse and Picasso, but where the elements that once held a key position in the creative process are now missing, subtracted from the compositional structure. This is where space is presented in terms of a solid, and solid in terms of a void, while the possible elevation of the fragment or trace of something becomes the key element of the work in its own right.
Hynd is also interested in the idea of the shadow existing as an extension of a form, and in her previous work The Art of Assembalance (2006) this showed itself in the wooden elements that resembled darkness and shade in a way that represented scattered fragments. This interest in shadows lead her also to work with the Man Ray photograph Kiki with African Mask (1926) and it's these traces that she has become interested in separating and making her own, so that they can exist in their own right. Again, any blind spot in this work exists in Hynd's opening up of previously inaccessible spaces through compositional structure, where void and solid operate through the ambiguity of both elements.
Blind man have mercy on me
Oh Great One I am a mere receptacle
The egg tester for your sandlewood and over asserted roots
One could say that both artists hold a similar irreverent fascination for art historical models, and if Hynd utilizes the Modernist reference points mentioned above, then Hetherington's interest ranges accordingly, from the hooded portraits of Philip Guston, through the history painting of Stephen Campbell, to Terry Atkinson Goya-inspired portraits. Even Campbell and Atkinson's penchant for long titles is taken up by Hetherington, whose own texts are suggestive of bizarre events unfolding (one work by the artist is called Privileged mis-representer subconsciously attempts a quasi-corporeal merger with the market research project worked upon, resulting in the flattening of difference.).
If we are dealing with new forms of subjectivity or a new psychology, then perhaps we are starting to see a trend that is informed by an unusual constellation of disparate elements, as much by affirmative art practices, as by literature such as J.G. Ballard's dystopian ruminations on unexpected revolutions, and a formal concern for art history and history painting. By turns, if Iain Hetherington and Lynn Hynd are both artists that skew existing visual languages in similar ways, then perhaps this exhibition will prove to be an important one, as it represents modest but important transformations in art practice at this present moment in time.
Andrew Hunt (2007)
The Fall Blindness (2004)