paul hinchliffe

“It would be unwise to build a chair without thought for the body that sits in it. Likewise with paintings and the eyes that look at them. I don’t paint paintings, I build them.”

Paul Hinchliffe 2002

Paul Hinchliffe is an eminent and influential West Australian artist. He was one of the co-founders of Gallery Heimatlos, a ‘nomadic’ art space that extends artspheres of influence beyond the confines of traditional art spaces and boundaries. Paul is also a freelance writer, curator and university lecturer.

and then what? (and then what?)
by Robert Cook [essay taken from catch a herring catalogue 2003]

A few years ago Paul Hinchliffe and I sat in a Leederville coffee shop talking about the weather. It was raining. We were clear about that. Which was good, because I was far from clear about a definition of Paul's "art practice". That's what we were really there to discuss, for a newspaper article I was trying to write. Paul told me he'd made sculptures on the beach at Quinns Rock. That he left them there. Didn't even take photos. Maybe people stumbled upon them. Maybe they were puzzled. Maybe they weren't. He told me how he sat down with the international atlas, found a street name and sent a package off to an unknown addressee. It was a gift. He talked about the Hiematlos (homeless) project. Performances in carparks. Subterfuge in art galleries. Conceptualism and hobo-ism uniting. Just like Jack Kerouac and Richard Long said it would.

We shook hands and I ran to my car. I got soaked to the skin. I shivered, went over my notes in the office. The rain got harder as I typed them out, drowning out my keyboard plucking. My editor didn't like the result. There was no hook. He'd as soon can the story, if I didn't mind. And I didn't. Not really. For me, the interview was just another chance to piece together a puzzle I'd been trying to figure out for a decade or so, since experiencing Paul as a lecturer at art school.

To me, dopey and callow to the marrow, Paul was the unexpected incarnate. I'd arrived there, you know, just wanting to make stuff. Paul never made stuff. Or the stuff he made was more like anti-stuff - blank books, verbal images of Pythagorean formulae. Paul was the guy we first heard about Lacan and Derrida from. But, unlike so many of us who later delighted in what riot grrrl band Le Tigre call Fake French [1], he wasn't name-dropping. And he wasn't "applying theory" either. He was inside it, tied up and twisted. To be honest, it was kinda painful to see. Yet, from remote Lacanian lacunae he made us ask ourselves what we were looking to art school for. He made us realise that art is fundamentally about the transference. Art is about the questions we ask of it, the responses we want back from it. So, when identity politics were all the rage, when lines were being drawn in the sand, Paul was ontological man. Yes, it was unsettling. He frustrated us enough to make us think for ourselves.

At the same time he teased us. Thinking for ourselves, properly, was a discursive impossibility. With Paul there were no platitudes to settle upon.

So you'll forgive me if I admit I'm suspicious of his new work. Work in a gallery no less. Work that seems sumptuous, even. I don't trust my reaction, my pleasure. Mostly I don't trust him. I've been burnt enough times to know that any claim to sensory pleasure is deeply rooted in a critique of such phenomena.

Okay, critique is the wrong word. Utopia doesn't await. Desire rules that out. Like Ramsay Street, art is a cul de sac to which we return again and again searching for something, finding that content, context, perception, and plain old longing are bound into the one infuriatingly dumb object - a thing on the wall. Or Harold Bishop.

So, sure, Paul is putting things on the wall these days. And then what?

We can puzzle them out, but will they have stopped functioning, will we be complete when we're done sleuthing? This mirrors Yeats queries in his poem "What Then?": The work is done, grown old he thought, According to my boyish plan; Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught, Something to perfection brought; But louder sang the ghost, "What then?" [2]

Despite our best intentions, nothing will be resolved. The work, (all work), remains fugitive, a series of offerings, openings and refusals, doors slammed in the face, heads turned abruptly.

Like Lacan, Paul refuses to play the good daddy, to be our friend, to console. I find no comfort in this.

And yet, I'm invigorated. Though I want the work to love me back, to let me love it, there's something tragically beautiful about the dilemma. The new work toys with this, makes us think it will, maybe, in the future, when the time is right and the moon is high. It's something old Gatsby would understand, and my guess is Paul and Jay would have been soul mates, knowing that everything is out of reach, even themselves, even as they dream it otherwise.

This too is a projection. Narrative, poetry, all that. Another self-made consolation. It's annoying. Paul reminds me how much I need these things, how weak I am.

Again, I find no comfort in this. And can find no graceful way to exit this text.

There is always another "what then?" And maybe I still don't really get it anyway.

It's raining today. Did I mention that?

Notes [1] Le Tigre. (2001). "Fake French", on Feminist Sweepstakes, Tilt Records: Sydney. They sing: "I've got - the new sincerity. I've got - a secret vocabulary. I've got - dialectical sprecstime. I've got - a conceptual stunt double. I've got - site specificity. I've got - flow disruption. I've got - wildlife metaphors. I've got - post-binary gender chores....My Fake French is hot. You can't make me stop". [2] W.B. Yeats. "What Then?", in Seamus Heaney, (2002). Finder's Keepers: selected prose, 1971-2001. faber and faber: London. p.109.