Review of Anne Hardy: FIELD at Modern Art Oxford

Entering FIELD, the visitor is first greeted with an example of Anne Hardy’s work for which she is known, a large photograph mounted on to a wooden frame, featuring one of the artist’s dream-like scenes. Multi-coloured scraps of paper are stapled to a teal wall, creating the impression of a modern ruin. The photograph is surrounded by various concrete objects, which hold vigil. There is a similar theme running through most of the artist’s work, for which she sites works of literature including The Outsider by Albert Camus and America by Franz Kafka as influences. Modernist giants such as these, whose works are renowned for capturing the modern malaise and alienation, are appropriate accompaniments to this exhibition, but the reason is purposefully unclear.

Entering a second space, which is concealed from the first through the means of an enormous length of blue carpet, contains a wooden sculpture, supported by concrete blocks of various shapes and sizes and which has had a reinforced concrete bar broken through it. The shape is pleasingly other-worldly, especially contained within this swoop of artificial blue and can be entered, the concrete slab doubling as a bench inside. It is clear that lighting is integral to this installation, without which the basic wooden cabin against the ultramarine carpet would appear dull and barren, and the darkness of the interior of the structure would not be quite so dramatic nor would it produce the feeling of claustrophobia, which can only come from actually being inside an artwork. Inside, the noises that can be heard rustling and tinkling from the outside become louder and more pronounced, interspersed with the artist’s voice, reciting words in the same low, dispassionate tones, robbing them of all meaning.

After the cabin, the viewer is greeted with more photographic works, a traditional hanging of a traditional art form, a collection of photograms. More lost and found objects have been assembled to create these, the result is once again of a fiction, of captured nothings. Once again, light is everything to this show, although artificial, the dependence on it is oddly nostalgic.

The final room, which the viewer must enter shoeless, reinforces the somewhat outdated principle of the temple-like house of art. More tinkling noises accompany a journey into a room covered in floor to ceiling golden carpet, between fringes of VHS tape hung from the ceiling. The discomfort felt is oddly familiar, especially following the realisation that your own body is participating in a paradox for the second time in this exhibition; you are simultaneously within and without the art. Glass orbs in various colours are arranged on the floor amongst other objects of varying thingliness. It becomes clear after further exploration of the room, reminiscent of a padded cell or indeed, the interior of the mind of a lunatic, that contemporary art has lost some of the ambiguity of which it is so often accused. A fixed interpretation is demanded by audiences unwilling, or unable, to experience art viscerally anymore.

Anne Hardy’s ambivalent fields, whilst pertaining to be pleasing alternative environments, providing respite from the chaos of contemporary life, provide a difficult challenge to many viewers about the nature of art produced today. With so many dramatically different artists active today, each with their own motivations and influences, Hardy’s lost and found objects are likely to provoke annoyance in those who consider them a nonsense. However, it is interesting that art which leaves its meaning open to interpretation is often reacted to with greater prejudice than a truly controversial work. The only greater crime would be to produce art for its own sake.

Laura Catsellis

Anne Hardy: FIELD, until 10 January 2016, Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP.

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1. Installation view of Anne Hardy: FIELD, 2015. Courtesy of Modern Art Oxford.