Review: Anne Hardy at Modern Art Oxford

Despite its small size, Modern Art Oxford is an incredibly versatile gallery. After Fly Me To the Moon, a retrospective on Austrian artist Kiki Kogelnik (22 August – 18 October), the gallery is now hosting Anne Hardy: FIELD (7 November – 10 January). While Fly Me to The Moon simply showcased paintings, drawings, and a few sculptures, the current exhibition has re-shaped the gallery completely. Visitors walk through open spaces, wooden structures, and carpeted rooms, in an exhibition centred on the idea of spatiality.

The first work encountered is Pacific Palisades faded into remote vision (2014/15), which initially appears to be a collage, but is soon revealed to be a photo on vinyl. The print, of large dimensions (335 x 240 x 200 cm), reproduces an assemblage of pieces of papers and staples, gathered and arranged in the artist’s studio. The work introduces us to Hardy’s fascination with creating illusions and constructing ‘new worlds’.

The second section of the exhibition, A scoop with a shelter (2015), is framed by carpet that covers both walls and floor; creating a ‘field’ within which the visitor is contained. A wooden installation dominates the space. From the outside, it looks like a small shed, rather casually executed, with beams roughly joined to form an irregular shape. The whole structure rests upon several small piles of plaster and concrete. On close inspection, we note the impressive balancing act involved in propping up this large construction on such precarious foundations.

After exploring the exterior, which recalls a building site, visitors have the chance to enter the installation, a more intimate space. Inside, an audio record (Pitch Black, a Smooth Echo) mixes sounds from Hardy’s own creative process with poetic phrases in free verse (‘Light bright with loose associations’). The experience is all the more immersive thanks to the play on light and shadow: the artificial illumination provided by two dim light bulbs is complemented by natural light coming in from fissures and holes. The irregular interior of the structure creates a mysterious and magical atmosphere, yet also suggests a protected and meditative space.

After a series of photograms capturing more ‘lost and found’ materials from the sweeping of Hardy’s studio floor, the visitor enters the last – and most fascinating – room of the exhibition, the Piper Gallery. The floor and walls of the gallery are both covered in yellow carpet. The visitors are free to wander around and experience the work, provided they remove their shoes. The concept behind the installation recalls A scoop with a shelter, but with a key difference: here too we have a space to enter, but boundaries leave room to openness.

Scattered across the gallery are scraps of ‘lost’ objects and rough materials, which help to make sense of the installation’s title, Punctuated Remains (2015). The ‘lost’ items include smooth translucent glass, dark plastic bottles, sleek black film, and white thin strings. The variety of materials on show provides a wide spectrum of colours and textures, giving the space a distinctive vivacity. The chromatic variation contrasts with the neutral tones of the previous installation, and raises the status of the scraps to noble pieces of artificiality. The room has its own order, which, as Hardy says, ‘whilst nonsensical has its own logic’.

Once again, the installation is complemented by an audio component (An Abandonment was accountable for the accumulation of acid after dark), coming from directional speakers. The words are also ‘lost’, having been gathered by the artist over the years when searching for titles for her works. The fact that they are played in an open space, however, seems to diminish their importance: visitors only appreciate scraps of them, when they happen to be close enough to one of the speaker. While this may be intentional, as we are invited to move around the space, the content of the room is quite enough to grab one’s attention; the words added little to the experience.

Simple, but executed on a large scale, Anne Hardy: FIELD invites the viewers to reflect on the idea of space and artificiality, on places and the process of their making. It is a fascinating exhibition that, in a few key pieces, constructs concrete fields for the visitor to see, walk through, and even listen to. By physically creating ‘new worlds’ that play with different materials, colours, and textures, Hardy makes us rethink the way we commonly experience space in our daily routine. As one exits Modern Art Oxford, the world looks almost dull and characterless. But that is precisely what art is capable of: offering a spark of magic and new insights into the monotonousness of everyday life.

Anna Zanetti

Anne Hardy: FIELD is currently on at Modern Art Oxford and runs until 10th January. The exhibition is free. For more information, please visit the gallery website.

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