harry hummerston artwork

harry hummerston

Harry Hummerston's work threatens the viewer's experience of the world with a new relation to the familiar and the everyday.

He does this through a systematic process of opposition. He opposes our sense of ease with images and in doing so destabilizes our condition of wellbeing, as his work unsettles and rattles our sense of comfort and familiarity. With the frenetic energy of a bird his eye settles upon and traces a relation between disparate and unwieldy images. These works lure us into a space where we think we know what we are looking at only to have our certainty displaced by a remarkable and irreverent imagination forged in a spirit of disobedience.

There are familiar images here juxtaposed with others that seem to struggle and resist their new association. The images already known to us as shapes easily reconciled to our memory and use, seem here coerced through a creative process of rendition into a new captive relation. As a result a sense of disquiet permeates these images and they are threaded through with a careful, if dark humour, a darkness not at the edge of town, but as a presence operating perpetually just at the edge of our optical frame. These images speak to a sense of foreboding within our capacity to combine visual forms into binary relations with the world. Hummerston's work seems to oppose our unconscious acceptance of the speed of images, as an increasingly histrionic force field of streaming bits of information, where Art is reduced to a mean communication and our polluted perception is returned to us as a mixed, mashed and digested reality.

In opposition to this hysteria these artworks resist our mania for predicted action, they dart about, deflecting the control of our attention away from the drone and hum of the familiar and towards the incessant cry of the unsettled. They remain paused at the edge of an apprehension that returns memory to perception and raises the possibility of transfer. The transference of sufficient memory from one object to another was an ancient ambition of Marcel Duchamp, canonized in his studio notes but left unrealised in his practice. Hummerston tracks this passage in thought from one thing to another. His approach towards both his materials and the iconographic images he appropriates and uses make for a type of resistance towards our enforced expectations.

In these works we find Hello Kitty lost in the red grass of the imagination and jumping with the jellybeans of our accelerated material ambitions. Origami games come to envelope the anthracite silhouettes of suicidal gunmen, metallic floor panels and galvanised iron swim with lace doilies to meet our visual scrutiny. These objects are rendered beyond the conventions of familiarity and stereotyping, for Harry Hummerston is also a collector of cultural detritus and these objects constitute a known and lovingly observed reservoir of images from which his imagination draws. These works don't seek to reconcile difference to our engagement but to acknowledge its perpetuation within the giant thought machine of our contemporary culture. Brash collisions of images occur seemingly at random within fields of magnetic opposition in these works, producing flips back and forth between the analogue and the digital, the saturated hue of colour and the stark black of the silhouette, the antique and the newly found, the lost and the barely remembered.

As works of Art they are constructed in such a way that they elude easy definition. They remind us in their complexity that we are in the presence of a mature and experienced artist, a master printmaker, amongst many other attributes, and they remind us that the inscription of the undecided is an essential part of the artist's operational strategy. Printmaking as a discipline is a significant sign here because as a creative practice it is by definition procedural and strategic.

As a practice it demands a sense of commitment to a particularity of process, to an imaginative field of possibility, that will stubbornly only reveal itself through the stratagem of making. The rhythm of a creative process here produces an imaginative leap of its own construction, an engagement with what already exists acting as one of its own extensions. This sense of the actions of a creative forcing of an imaginative act to occur pervades all these images. At work here is a type of intelligence impossible to predetermine, an active perception that can only be arrived at by way of memory and exchange.

Harry Hummerston's thinking, like thought itself, is unbounded by obligations to space and matter. We can think faster than the speed of light, we can ordinarily demand the impossible and leap the improbable with impunity. Hummerston's creative thinking is founded on a refusal, a refusal to constrain his imagination to convention and in particular a hostility to the operation of any kind of visual stasis. His images remain virulent and active within a field of possibility and like the determinations of a dancer he refuses all material constraint in order to set new forms to flight. Like Nietzsche's Zarathustra he identifies the great enemy as gravity and in opposing such a seemingly universal imposition creates an aspirational metaphor for thought as a form of mobility unproscribed. The terrible obedience that such an absolute as gravity represents is challenged in these works through the reclaiming of the unrealised potential of a childlike innocence capable of forgetting limitations. (1)

At times in his creative struggle with the seeking of a truth fixed within an opposition to mere knowledge, Hummerston subtracts a new form of iconic resonance from the always already made. The suspended animal, a prone horse hanging in front of the Apollo lunar vehicle, slices into the imagination as a profound image, an icon for desperate times in an age of decline. Laminated within an airless vacuum, one silhouette pressed into another, slices of time compressed like scientific slides prepared for a microscope, they destroy any human sense of scale and proportion and practice a mode of perception that functions as a form of erasure. They disappear in their appearing and can only elaborate to our mind an impossible character like that of the museum, a process of repetition removed from capture and our grasp. (2)

In an important sense the physical presence of these works acts upon the viewer as a visual trap and our wandering perusal is brought into an abrupt and confrontational closure. As the magnetic poles of meaning are displaced in these works Hummerston uses colour as one of his oppositional polarities. Deeply saturated hues are made to crash against dark silhouettes of a space occupying and occupied by matter. A multilayered space of great compression squeezing the light out of the intensities of images caught within its apparatus. If clichés are linguistic analogies for black holes then a type of super density ensues here rendering the familiar into a terrain where even meaning is incapable of escape from the overwhelming immensity of functionality. These works attempt the impossible, of transitioning our familiarity outside and away from our conventional associations and into a new and dangerous relation.

Dr Donal Fitzpatrick
Perth 2011.

Badiou, Alain. Handbook of Inaesthetics, Stanford University Press, 2005, pp 57-58.
2. Meillassoux, Quentin. 'Subtraction and Contraction: Deleuze, Immanence, and Matter and Memory', Collapse 3, (ed.), R. Mackay, Urbanomic, Falmouth, November 2007, pp 72-75.