English Student Faye Williamson describes the rich interwoven links and dialogue within the works of Hamad Butt and Walter Van Rijn at the Time After Time exhibition at John Hansard Gallery.
John Hansard Gallery centres itself within Southampton’s newly established Cultural Quarter – a hub for the city’s emerging creative scene to flourish and present itself to the public. The gallery exhibits a range of contemporary art from across the globe, which is currently being encapsulated into a selection of magnificent installation pieces curated by Stephen Foster, named Time After Time. Within this exhibition, themes of the personal, the intuitive and the political manifest the artworks, bringing light to installation art’s plasticity as a form of social and personal representation.
Upon visiting this gallery, I arrived with expectations of learning fresh concepts about art which I was yet to be fully exposed to. The first room belonged to Hamad Butt’s Familiars (1992). A room comparable more to a science lab than an artistic space, Butt brought his background in biochemistry into the creative environment, resulting in an entanglement of the delicate and the industrial, of shadow and of light. Although these paired characteristics do not fit into a single vision, they fit together perfectly into a tapestry of the intricacy and fragility of the materials that contain toxic chemicals. These materials – flimsy wiring, frail glass, unpolished metal – are the encasing that prevent risk from affecting humans. Uncovering these objects, we are at once bombarded with the extent of trust we put into materials to protect us from danger. One of his works, Cradle, plays on the idea of delicacy meeting with the poisonous by forming a Newton’s Cradle with receptacles filled with iodine, chlorine and bromine. The symbolism of receptacles as something which is commonly found in a chemistry lab helps us to conclude that the installation has a risky edge to its construction which vision is too limited to realise alone.
Once deep into the exhibition, I was introduced to what would be my favourite collection: Walter van Rijn’s Unconsumable Global Luxury Dispersion (2018). Like Hamad Butt’s work, Unconsumable Global Luxury Dispersion brought what was inherently ‘objective’, data, and let it become the focal point of his art. By converging art and science, both van Rijn and Butt are proactively changing the landscape of art from something that always must be entirely subjective to a piece which its systematic nature can be unravelled. We are bombarded with data-filled screens and walls that make little sense to the average spectator. However, what made these numbers so fascinating was the feeling of inadequacy and intimidation that it brought on myself. Why does objectivity seem so intimidating? Something that looks so conventionally intellectual has made us feel inferior to it. An assembly of organised and preserved data has made us feel passive, overwhelmed and submissive to the information, rather than open and free thinking to it. Regarding our own data-ridden lives, we are passive to the amount that we share on social media; we become slaves to technology, letting their complexity overrule our freedom to think and act for ourselves. The personal and political aspects of van Rijn’s work brought the sincerest and most unexpecting intrigue, marking it as a truly unpredictable piece.
These are just two artists and their works featured in Time After Time, and yet, we already begin to acknowledge the interwoven – and often contradictory – elements of contemporary art. Contemporary art brings with it a sense of unease, because we cannot define it by a simple term as we have done for centuries. Instead, these artworks encourage a holistic approach, where labels become irrelevant in the face of amalgamation.