Objects Moved – interview with Georgia Hutchison
by Kirsty Hulm
I first encountered Moved Objects, the new photographic book by Georgia Hutchison and Arini Byng at its launch at Mina No Ne, a spacious, light filled cafe in Collingwood. Everyone was very beautiful and decked out in garb jauntily arranged just-so. Nobody wanted to look like they were trying too hard, yet it all exuded the seemingly effortless charm one butts up aganst at such events. There was masses of greenery and ladies threading Frida Kahlo style headpieces amidst cute waitresses with little cakes on gorgeous ceramic plates. This was my first trip out at night in quite a while, and I got hit with the full Melbourne experience. I felt anxiously insignificant yet compelled to talk about myself as though I was very important. Game face was in full swing.
I couldn’t find the book for quite some time through the hordes of people, but when I finally did, it seemed perfect. A delicate peach pastel framed by a crisp white border holding a strange form on the cover. It could be a sculpture, it could be trash – it could be meaningful, or nothing much – you don’t really know. This play-off between the significance of gesture and the emptiness of arrangement is present in every image of this wordless book, and it offers up page after page of sublime vista, where the you don’t even know what the products function is, but somehow you want it anyway.
The photography is gorgeous, wonderfully lit with intimate framing. The juxtaposition of materials are surprising, and renders each frame somehow delightful. If you buy a coffee table book this year, make it this one.
Launched just a week after the book, was the exhibition Product Placement at Seventh Gallery. A decidedly different flavour permeated the show, curated by the pair, but they felt firmly intertwined. The show felt almost like the afterparty, as the work exuded an anti-glamour that struck against the glitz of the book. Much of the work was made with found objects, crudely pushed together or cut or mis-used. This was the Product graveyard, where objects which once had function become the building blocks of the artist, who strips it of its original use value, to give it … well, I’m not sure exactly. The things never seem to fully recover and seemed to now represent the useleness of much of our ambition, our commodity fetishism and the aesthetic dogmas that go out the window as soon as the next season rolls round. As I walked past the objects in real space I yearned for the false glow of the photographs, their warmth, their validity in becoming immortalised in print.
Aside from the very short essay as part of the Product Placement catalogue written by Hutchison, the duo hasn’t said much by way of explanation of the two projects, so I did a mini interview with Georgia to get more of an insight into the process that went behind both outcomes.
KH: What was the idea behind releasing the book so closely to the associated exhibitions? How do you see them relating to or informing one another?
GH: The recent exhibitions, publication and launches are all a family of our recent body of work, conceived and developed in parallel. There has certainly been a flurry of Hutchison-Byng activity lately which is reflective of this creative progression. Despite attempts to space out the launches, working with Perimeter Editions, Printed Matter NY Art Book Fair, gallery, salon and exchange program schedules has resulted in a busy period for us!
The collaboration was initially enacted within a purely photographic context, with the work created in 2012 and early 2013 in the lead up to the Perimeter Editions publication. The Product Placement exhibitions at Seventh and Dispatch at Current Projects have been an opportunity for us to extend our conceptual terrain though curation and move into three dimensional works — integral for our experimentation into materiality and object culture.
KH: Are you interested in expanding or imploding the distinction between products and art works? Where do you see the lines which have historically been drawn in the sand moving in the future?
GH: Trained and working in industrial design, I have a cynical fascination with material culture and consumerism. While I see a clear and distinct separation between my professional design and contemporary art practice, the two streams feed each other and exhibitions allow for a development of a political stance. Product Placement was intended to occupy a contemporary art domain, with a critical lean into design culture. We intentionally invited a combination of art and design practitioners to explore to our curatorial brief.
The Melbourne contingent (Antuong Nguyen, Jordan Dolheguy and Brigit Ryan) all practice service-oriented design across graphic, art direction and furniture, while the Vienna duo (Jakob Neulinger and Beatrix Curran) are more engaged in contemporary art practice with a conceptual focus on political branding, materiality and consumerism. While all of the works are situated within a gallery and non-commercial domain, the artists’ methodologies and experience are reflective of the level of commerciality and criticism embedded in their practice.
Within my own practice, I embrace multiple creative streams: industrial design and creative strategy allowing a level of real-world implementation, change (and a living!), photography, object making, research and curation enabling a critical and experimental outlet. My ideologies and aesthetic tendencies run across all streams, though I have certainly noticed shifts in my methodologies and tactics whether working on art or design projects. I cherish the rare and indulgent design projects which have capacity to integrate the two modalities, and though the Australian design industry is generally not established to cater for narrative driven or contextual design there are more hybridised approaches filtering through.
KH: You write briefly in the Product Placement catalogue about moments peaking at an ‘unreal and ungraspable beauty’ codified by luxury consumption and engagement. Is this an idea you were playing with in Moved Objects?
GH: The narrative of ‘wilting consumerism’ is something that runs through a lot of my work. Within Product Placement and Moved Objects, it is present in a satirical form, as seen in Nguyen’s Summer Morning and Romance, modelled on perfume advertisements; and through the highly retouched photographs of flora in Moved Objects. I’m fascinated with discourses of perfection and beauty, and the manner in which this transcends to the most absurd articulations of desirable products and lifestyles.
In my broader practice, I am aligned with design for sustainability, working towards a material world where imperfection and senescence is valued, and consumerism is lessened. Anti-obsolescence, blah blah.
An interesting note on Antuong’s work: whilst referencing consumerist imagery, cool scents, and teen femininity, he drew from a article which emerged earlier this year. It described a scenario that emerged in the Western suburbs of Melbourne involving imported sex workers from South East Asia. Some horrible exploitation and incidents occurred but one line in the Herald Sun news item made reference to an expansive collection of cheap perfume which the ‘madame’ would command the young women to wear when working. For Nguyen and I, this is a perfect articulation of the insidiousness of Western consumerism and distortion ideals of youth and commodified beauty.
KH: The photographs in the book look saturated and inviting even though one can see that the featured objects are not special in any substantial way. The light is crisp are sharp and the colours vibrant. They mimic the gloss of advertisements, yet sell nothing, becoming jarring. What do you want the viewer to experience through the book?
GH: When in a cynical mindset, I hope to evoke an insight into the idiocy of consumerism and the constructed commercial image.
At another moment, there is hope and space for finding poetic contemplation in a hollow offer.
KH: Do you think there is an increased pressure on the individual to curate their own aesthetic experience?
GH: Self-design is an interesting and narcissistic phenomena rooted in the early twentieth century Bernays campaigns. I certainly think it has gone too far, though I find myself slipping into the aesthetic Melbourne lifestyle (e.g. launching a niche publication at Mina No Ie).
KH: The exhibition had a very different feel to the book. Much more gritty and industrial; a ‘realness’ that was accessible. What do you think changes for the viewer when they experience these abstracted ‘moments’ in person?
GH: Gritty?! Haha. One curatorial thread in Product Placement was considering the disparity between aesthetic ideal in constructed commercial imagery and lived experience. Perhaps this can be related to the audience experience of Moved Objects vs Product Placement?
I think the ‘industrial and gritty’ vibe that you are talking about comes from showing at Seventh. It’s a great space for experimentation and development of ideas, but I guess there are limitations in terms of ‘slickness’ that comes with exhibiting in an ARI. The process really contrasted with the experience of producing a commissioned series with a discerning and pedantic publisher such as Perimeter Editions, where there is such a high level of control over the material outcome.
KH: There is no text by either yourself or Arini within the book. What was the logic behind this decision?
GH: This was a point of discussion during the production of the book — speaking with Justine Ellis and Dan Rule (the excellent Perimeter dude and art writer) — we decided to allow space for our photographs to speak, and commissioned a reflective essay from the venerable Lou Hubbard instead. I’m so enamoured by Lou’s practice, seeing her as a senior in our creative discourse of thingness, I couldn’t compare my words to hers.
KH: Can you please tell me a little about the process behind making the photographs? Was it very experimental and organic, or more planned and then executed?
GH: This is a funny question … and one that I’ve considered a bit. Arini and I take very different approaches in the collaboration, but there are some things we share. In the act of making the still life photographs, we spend months accumulating objects, offcuts, materials, and living with them in different arrangements (mostly as paper weights or on window sills). We have gigabytes of non-published candid assemblies that might only see the light of day through Instagram (or Snapchat for the sexy combos). The chosen few make it to the studio in crates, where we spend a few days intensively arranging and photographing. This is a sporadic and productive activity for Arini and I, and to be honest it’s where Arini really switches on: thinking through making. The process is heuristic, we set up the lights, take turns shooting and arranging, the narratives developing as we manhandle the objects. It’s fun.
KH: I’m curious why you had the simultaneous openings. Was this just for exposure, or a conceptual idea?
GH: The concurrent openings were due to our involvement in Current Projects, a Brisbane based window exchange program. We installed a textile print of a photograph from Moved Objects in the window of Ryan Renshaw, which was conceptually linked to Product Placement, but also a sneaky way of incorporating our own work into a curated exhibition. Somehow the interstate dislocation consoled my curatorial ego-guilt!
We’re looking forward to more projects next year … we have a few ideas on the cards: an international residency to produce a new series for Moved Objects II with Perimeter Editions, a move into larger scale spatial still life works, and more studio based experimentation. We’re interested in our collaboration modality and are talking though some funny role playing multi player activities to scope out the way we each work and respond to each other. Individually, I’m looking forward to converging my design and art practices, and finding a critical and textual outlet for the ideas that have been rolling around this year. Hutchison Byng 2014!
Moved Objects, by Georgia Hutchison & Arini Byng, is available now via Perimeter Editions