10m Text work sited at Coed Hills, Near Cowbridge, South Wales, UK
except of texts on PROP
G39 Prop Show Richard Higlett’s photograph of his sculpture Prop spells out 2004AD, an elegy to the Countdown font, a typeface designed in 1966 by Colin Brignall. In its day this typeface was aspirational, designed to reflect a futuristic utopia in a decade where space exploration was embryonic. The clumsy typeface embodies the optimism that would ultimately never be realised. The future of then didn’t happen as the Cold War played out and the space race became grounded. Now seemingly misplaced in a timeless wood, Prop operates between the boundaries of Nature and Artifice. The metallic structure signifies the presence of man, yet the piece becomes ultimately lost in the surrounding environment: the mirrored surface doesn’t reflect the shiny new age of the 21st century, only the trees that surround it. ‘In a recent essay Richard wrote: In Mel Brookes’ classic comedy western ‘Blazing Saddles'(1974), Bart played by Cleavon Little rides through a wild west town. As the scene extends we see the timber backs of the Salons and Livery Stores, two-dimensional props. Riding on further, the joke is embellished as we see an orchestra in the desert creating the dramatic musical score. The etiquette of the flat screen theatre of Cinema is broken and briefly we are transported out of the film’s illusionary environment. It is this transition of experience that interests me and the moment of realisation that something it not as it appears.’ It is perhaps this that unites these three artists; nothing is as it seems. Art as the act of folly A returning theme in my work is the idea of the value of folly, whether working through processes and actions that contradict the purpose of a piece of equipment or using material for the purpose of concept over its primary practical function. This is easier to explain by example, one such activity involves producing near exact recreations of existing notice boards but with all the information blurred out by computer, using technology to not represent, convey or communicate. (See an example on gallery page as In a Big Country (Dedicated to the memory of Stuart Adamson) 2003.) These objects are created to function in the space like a theatrical prop in reality and temporarily dislocate the viewer from their relationship with the written word and printed image.
complicit acceptance of the nature of things in the world. For example; a scarecrow, a decoy duck or, as used in the second world war, an inflatable tank used to fool reconnaissance aircraft into recording inflated figures for enemy troop movement and numbers. All these examples are impersonations of something else. Direct physical ocular engagement quickly realigns the object as itself, but my interest is the period before contact when it exists as assumed and not eager to aspire the gaze. What you see in today’s society is rarely what you get, as perception is influenced by value and the meaning and value of objects is shifted by factors such as design, style, and consumerism to a point where the condition of people, in relation to objects, is one of compliance. Our movement within urban society is monitored subconsciously by our relationship with our surroundings. In Mel Brookes classic comedy western Blazing Saddles (1974), Bart, played by Cleavon Little, rides through a stereotypical Wild West town. As the scene extends, and the camera moves out, we see the scaffolding and timber props supporting the facades of salons and livery stores. Riding on further, the joke on the myth of film is embellished as we see an orchestra in the desert musically underpinning a scene we feel we are familiar with from hundreds of iconic westerns. The etiquette is broken and briefly we are transported out of the film’s illusionary environment. It is this transition of experience that interests me coupled with the moment of realisation that something is not as it blindly appears. This transition reoccurs in my work to a greater or lesser extent. Anna Powell interview Prop AP Making your artworks hidden/not easy to see could be seen to suggest a hide-and-seek type game, where a moment of discovery either happens spontaneously by chance or as a result of actively searching for the artwork. Can you say something about how your work might be a component in a hide and seek-type scenario, or how else you might consider its hiddenness to be a playful element of the work? RH If I looked at it deeply I’d say artists fundamentally make work that is a reflection of themselves. Their psyche and personality, their art is another way they physically manifest in the world in an alternative form. Maybe reflection is too simplistic maybe the work is an expression of the type of person the artist really is (unknown to them) or aspires to be. If it is hide and seek then its me personally playing hide and seek through the work. As a child I used to hide a lot or more often play dead, expecting shock on my discovery and this may have something to do with the idea I am presence in a space. The discovery could indicate the work is alive and dead when hidden. Like the theory the ancient Greeks had on the nature of light and the eye where everything was in darkness until the gaze of the eye fell upon it and it was illuminated. I recall a wonderful diagram where a figure appears like a light house as beams of light flow from their eyes. Pity this has been disproved. This is interesting in terms of how the work is durational but of an unfixed duration as each ‘viewer’ (in the way hide and seek involves looking for a variable time) negotiates the space the object resides. In terms of playful I would say it is maybe more sinister or darker relating to the moment of discovery while there is a period in the dark, the time before. AP Do you think a game of hide and seek in this context will always require ‘clues’ as to the existence or even whereabouts of the work, and did you purposely incorporate such clues (examples would be great) into the exhibiting of your work? RH Clues are concessions to the way of looking that already informs the viewer. In work like ‘before’ the projection was as thin/vague as possible on the wall nearly white onto white. Here there was a clue, the projector a device for transmitting ‘an artwork’. In the way a guitar leant against a wall with strings facing outwards may still provoke the viewer to imagine a tune in their head. I like this example even if it’s not accurate as the projector is on and transmitting light as opposed to being ready to be played where creativity is latent or residual rather than the more mute relationship a projector has with showing work. In the print version of a text piece I’m working on at this point in time; “the ultimate art is unseen unheard untasted but understood”, the paper may appear blank but it is also the perimeter and so within its area the gaze is cast. The edge of the paper is a type of clue but it can be equally misleading. For clue you could also say boundary. I’m working on a series of images at night and a recent film that uses sounds and images recorded at night. During these hours when the city sleeps and people are unconscious (or it could be implied non-visual) an inverse clue is used by advising the viewer when the images were recorded, everyone slept. Revealing of this information creates a layer of mystery. It both informs and redirects the viewer towards something open/ambiguous, this being the night. (The notion of the night being a place where ‘things’ are hidden.)
AP If indeed you do consider the work in question to incorporate elements of play; of searching and discovering, what, in your opinion, is the outcome of this/is it a different sort of encounter that is achieved compared with more conventional sorts of artworks? RH Whether play or not the outcome is the enhanced experience of discovery and ‘victory’ within the viewer. The discovery (or the effort subconsciously) has a pay off, the unexpected impact over the knowing eye of ‘a’ formally conditioned viewer. The encounter is a one to one with the work and my psyche. Taking ideas from Mark Twain, one of the first recorded people to use impersonators of himself to attend book launches, the work is an ambassador for my presence but this is not different to all art maybe its just the way I introduce myself….I don’t know for sure but who really could say they know themselves? This process of a journey of engagement as opposed to being placed in front of you in a frame is an important part of the narrative for the idea. The negotiation but relate to the ideas behind the piece and not hidden or concealed purely for the sake of it, this would be a gimmick while conversely the hiding of works should bring an alternative narrative to the work beyond its original stated intent. For example, if I leant a Constable painting facing towards a gallery wall some one say its now a comment on a disappearing rural landscape but this is applied and implied over the stated meaning for the piece. 2008 published online @Axis Artists database.