West Space, Melbourne, Australia
Unfolding over the five exhibition spaces that constitute the non-profit gallery West Space, ‘Dead Still Standing’ is a carefully choreographed set of interlocking installations. Steeped in enigma and play, comicality and unease, the various works reprise Lou Hubbard’s signature strategies: provocative encounters between everyday objects, such as vernacular furniture, plastic toys and kitsch ornaments; the anthropomorphizing of inanimate forms; and the structural tension produced through the spurring of these objects into precarious yet tautly balanced compositions. Soccer balls, gym balls, fake eyeballs, umbrellas, items of clothing, towel racks, coat racks and various forms of metal armature that break up the space, create sculptural microcosms that reveal the unconventional aspects of banal objects and bring more unsettling meanings into play.
Animal motifs recur, especially horses. Hubbard has deployed a life-size latex cast of a horse in previous exhibitions, each time subjecting it to forms of spatial coercion, so that the implication of unbridled vitality (the horse is cast in the motion of a gallop) is arrested by the discomfort of its structural constraints. Discomfort is key: squashed beneath sheets of glass or inverted on a sofa with legs akimbo, the animal is manipulated into postures of distress. In the titular work Dead Still Standing (2014), the horse reappears, this time placed behind glass in front of a window. The title of the exhibition pivots on this horse, referring to its inanimate or lifeless status, its previous subjugations and ongoing resilience: in spite of all, the horse still stands. In Horse Pool with Dog Puddle (2014), another horse is not so lucky. Carefully placed on plywood chairs, two rubber masks of horses heads enact a scene of violence. The back of one horse’s mane is gripped in the teeth of the other; the fugitive horse’s head is savagely injured, with torn skin revealing the red tissue of stretched muscles below, its bloodshot eyeballs savagely inverted to form a cavity accentuating the scene’s implied trauma.
As a child, Hubbard took up dressage – a decision she now considers somewhat perverse, given that she had little skill in the activity. Her former hobby might account for the recurring equine imagery in her work. More fundamentally, the dynamic of discipline and performance that characterizes the sport has become the undercurrent of Hubbard’s practice, structured as it is by an incontrovertible logic of domination and submission. The tension at the core of her work is the push and pull between the object’s acquiescence to the artist’s fashioning and its internal forces of material resistance.
The suspended motion that this often entails brings forth an attendant layer of Hubbard’s work – its latent dialogue with both photography and cinema. ‘Dead Still Standing’, for instance, has a connection to the chronophotography of Étienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge; the visual syncopations of the curvilinear glass window creating a sense of arrested movement akin to a time-slice of the photographic capture of animals in motion. Start Fall Start (2014) echoes this technique of immobilized animation. Encased in a glass vitrine, three Coalbrookdale chairs are each tilted at discrete angles, as if articulating an arc of motion. Hubbard’s attraction to the interplay of propulsion and arrest – a poised equilibrium of contrary forces – is most pithily realized in this sculptural work.
It is not only the sense of the object in motion that suggests the cinematic in Hubbard’s practice, but the artist’s assimilation of auteur cinema. At times, she evokes the uncanny worlds of David Lynch and Roman Polanski, and even Matthew Barney’s weird cosmos, only shorn of its Baroque theatrics. The lurid green curtain in Curtain with Cat-Suit (2014), covering the length of West Space’s windows, conjures the mysterious red velvet curtains in the ‘Red Room’ of the Black Lodge, the epicentre of horror in Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990–91), while the disturbingly exaggerated facial movements of the vocalist in the four-channel video Danny Boy Canon (2014), who whispers the lyrics of the Irish ballad, suggest the kind of warped expressions that Polanski captured in films such as The Tenant (1976). The lyrics are barely audible amidst the singing of the adjacent videos, the meaning of the words lost in a maelstrom of cacophonous sound.
Apart from the urge to make things perform, Hubbard betrays a love of dissonance and enigma. If her installations turn on irrepressible forms of symbolic violence, they are simultaneously undercut with a mantle of humour. Curtain with Cat-Suit, after all, features not just a mysterious curtain but an absurd leopard-printed ‘onesie’. Cartoonish figures and kitsch bibelots curtail the various scenarios of cruelty, imbuing them with an unexpected levity, another statement of the works’ discordant tensions.
First published in Issue 171