Anne Hardy's new show, FIELD, has been developed in partnership with Modern Art Oxford, designed for and in their exhibition space. It follows her recent residency at the centre as well as successful solo exhibitions in London and abroad. Coming from a background in photography, she has often dealt in large-scale photo compositions, created as artworks in her studio and then destroyed. FIELD represents a movement towards a more visceral style, engaging the audience in the landscapes she has created.
FIELD has four main areas. The first installation is a large print of one of Hardy's photographs, elaborately supported by a wooden structure delicately poised with counterweights and concrete blocks. The visitor then walks into a vast scoop of blue carpet. The flat surface flattens people onto it, everything seems two-dimensional and photographic. In the centre of a scoop stands a misshapen, angular wooden box. Inside is playing a loop of sounds Hardy collected and curated during the making of the project: metal dragging on the ground, hard bangs from tools, words she has collected from dictionaries. The next room is peppered with photograms made from objects found on the studio floor during the making of the installations. The images are scattered on the walls like a pinboard, a visualisation of Hardy's imagination and creative mind. The final room is entered without shoes and is completely lined with gold carpet. Arranged around the room are scraps of carpet; old bottles riddled with air rifle bulletholes; long, flowing curtains of audio tape; glass balls created in Hardy's workshop. The show is deliberately quiet and intimate: several of the spaces only allow a few people at once. The final room feels cosy and comfortable, a space that is defined more by mood than the objects within it - very enjoyable to be inside.
My particular highlight lies in the final room, another sound installation called An Abandonment was accountable for the Accumulation of Acid After Dark. Two holosonic speakers are mounted on different walls, projecting highly focused beams of sound across the room. These speakers have been developed so that a listener can stand at any distance from them and hear the sound at the same volume. The effect is an illusion of the noise emanating from a fixed distance from you, hidden behind screens or right beside you, unseen. I found a spot where the two beams intersected, which, depending on the sound projected, created the effect of the tape curtains making noise, or sounds being made by activities and objects hidden by the dangling threads. After standing for twenty minutes, hypnotised by the gentle motion of the hanging, I reached a trance bordering on the euphoric.
Process is the central theme of the show. The emphasis on found materials; the sound installations collected from the noises of the show's construction; the photograms that display objects from the studio floor; even the colour of the carpet that makes up the scoop is named 'process blue'. Artists are becoming increasingly interested in art as process rather than as a work. The recent Frieze Art Fair allowed visitors to view underneath the display tent, peeking at the structure containing the show. MAO is at pains to emphasise their workshops, hives of industrious creativity. Artists are more commonly seen in residence in galleries, as in the O3, creating art in the midst of their own exhibitions. While it's taken a while, the shockwaves of the epistemological upheavals of the '80s are finally becoming apparent to the public. Academia has been transforming the system of thinking from individual works as autonomous products, devoid of societal influence and products of genius, to a poststructuralist interpretation of art as event. The importance of art lies in its position within culture; the process of creation is the most culturally relevant part, with the final product only being a point within the process. FIELD fits into this perspective by immersing the viewer in the process. Everything seems rough and unfinished, all structures are naked and obvious. The narrative of the layout leads the individual towards the final room, which seems more 'finished' than the rest of the exhibition, but still resonates with process. The tape curtains reflect sound design, the offcuts of carpet reminisce on the carpet fitter's enormous project. As poststructuralism becomes even more popular, more art will become concerned with its process, and so Hardy leads the way.
Control is important to Hardy. Because her background lies in photography, her approach to art follows a similar style of composition. At first glance, the two installations in the main gallery appear haphazard and thrown together on the way to creating a final work. But looking closely, counterweights are balanced precariously, the feet of the shelter in the scoop are made up of random piles of found materials, all excruciatingly designed to ensure stability of the structures. Hardy's control extends to the exterior of the show: she has written and designed her own exhibition notes, providing a detailed map of the gallery and photographs of the process of the show's construction. The whole package is composed like a photo, hermetically sealed and incredibly specific. There is a disjuncture here between the traditional, framed work and the exposition of process that Hardy is so keen to transmit. But the nature of staging a solo show causes this tension to arise: art is not yet at the stage when it can completely succumb to its event. An artist cannot yet include the public in the creation of the art and still stage a show. MAO works hard to promote inclusivity, but the wider Institution is still beleaguered by the vestiges of privilege and artistic autonomy and distance.
Hardy has tackled a difficult concept very ably, striking the essential balance between casual, unfinished façade and sheer effort of design. Dwelling on any aspect of the installations reveals intensity and deliberateness of action, while from afar the audience is swept up in the process. Process is vital, and Hardy has done well to recognise its importance.