This essay will attempt to critically analyse the works of Roger Hiorns. It will look into the reasons behind his nomination for this year’s Turner Prize, the links between the artist’s previous works and the works he is making now. It will also look into the methods, techniques and materials he uses, and also his opinion of other artists and the works they are making and how his own works compare.
The exhibition for last year’s Turner pize was condemned by critics as being too intellectual . And that it felt didnt have the same impact as Damien Hirst’s shark or the infamous Tracey Emin’s unmade bed or indeed any of the other works that have made the Turner Prize a major topic for discussion overs the last decade or so Jones a jury member said: “Last year’s deal of brilliance in contemporary art and we have ended up with a shortlist which dazzles.”
Deuchar, a jury member, reports that the meeting, that had lasted almost six hours before Their selection of the nominees “certainly did not begin with a postmortem on last year”. He went on to say the aim of the prize was “to bridge the gap between the world of contemporary art, which some people say is difficult, impenetrable and closed, and the wider world of public art appreciation and engagement”. Skaer was nominated for her sculpture, drawings, and films. Recent works including pieces referencing Brancusi, Hokusai and Leonardo. Wright was chosen for his paintings on walls that reflect the architecture he discovers there. Jonathan Jones, jury member and art critic, compared wrights “spiralling and fascinating” designs to Islamic tile art.
Hiorns was included in the nominations for the Turner Prize for his work entitled ‘Seizure’, a monumental commission given to him by Artangel and the Jerwood Foundation; it was also supported by the national lottery and Channel 4 television. The work was selected through the Jerwood/Artangel Open, an initiative for the arts. His instillation, built at Harper Road, London began as an empty council flat. The location was chosen because of its previous usage rather than its architectural nature. Once the building was ready he filled it with approximately ninety thousand litres of copper sulphate solution, his ambition. “Total crystallisation” “I’ve always liked the idea of inconsistency in my work, and to be able to obscure my responsibility for making aesthetic choices. When growing copper-sulphate crystals you never know what the result will be so it’s a way of passing that responsibility on and effectively taking myself out of the creative process. I’ve been working with copper-sulphate solution for ten years now, so this project is not only an escalation of that work, but also, perhaps, a logical conclusion.” To do this he had to pour this strange blue liquid through a hole made in the ceiling of the bedsit filling the space. Inside the room he had installed a specially made tank to keep the liquid in place around the walls, floor and ceiling. Once poured, he had to wait until the temperature of the liquid had reached twenty degrees centigrade before draining of the excess solution. And then Hiorns had to make test holes in the tank to see if it had even worked. To his relief and delight he had transformed a dismal unused flat into a crystal grotto, shining and glinting, glowing an intense shade of blue.
“The piece has an aggressive nature, as the name ‘SEIZURE’ suggests; it’s the idea of a solid mass taking over a space which was once someone’s home that I find really appealing. I suppose that comes from some psychological state of my own. That’s the only starting place if you’re a rationalist, though I don’t let it keep biting at my ankle like Richard Dawkins.” said Hiorns. “I’m not a scientist. I’m more concerned with starting a natural process which will go on happening by itself. It’s never ending. It won’t stop whatever you do.”Once completed the project attracted hundreds of visitors every day, people travelled from all over to see this once unknown council flat in London His works continually follow the same reoccurring theme, transformation. The relationships between objects and materials, whether made or natural, obvious throughout his past works and sculptures, a mixture of representational and non-representational. A disruption of boundaries and a straightforward material presence. Hiorns repeatedly uses the same formula of two fixed elements, and a third unpredictable, almost autonomous force.
It seems that because of this, we as the viewer can associate with the works more easily and are more aware of the way they react to each other. The substances and materials hiorns uses are completely contrasting, and have no apparent relationship to one another. Such as steel and perfume which the artist had previously used in a work that he called Vauxhall 2003. His work Intelligence and Sacrifice 2003 was made from steel rods supporting fraglile looking crystal encrusted thistles Hiorns mainly uses self changing materials such as soap solutions that create foam or copper sulphate which transforms from a liquid into deep blue crystals. It is this element of these works that is autonomous; it relieves the artist of all control of the final outcome, and allows the sculpture to form its own conclusion. A game of chance, and a kind of deliberate chaos. The objects he uses look familiar but are also alien looking at the same time, the ready made taken to a whole new dimension.
The works such as Two Forms 1999 look like every day run of the mill objects, but on closer inspection they are like nothing I have ever seen before. A strange looking column of bubbles rising quietly from the work gives it a kind of reason for being, but it seems to have no real purpose.
Hiorns always uses odd or out of the ordinary materials, such as detergent filled bowls, perfume and even including his own semen, which he had smeared on the glass lights that illuminate the Parthenon for the Athens Biennale, which incidentally had disgusted the city officials.
In his defence he says, “But the youth of Athens liked it. They liked the way it subverted the whole ancient museum thing and made the city open to living culture instead of only dead.” Hiorns has also coated BMW engines The Architect’s Mother (2003), plants and models with the same solution as seizure, all of which are encrusted with a shiny sparkling layer of crystalline blue. Although the crystals themselves are small jewel like objects within themselves, the whole piece or pieces are not so perfectly formed, In Copper Sulfate Chatres Copper Sulfate Notre Dame (1997), the crystals grew on cardboard models of cathedrals, their Gothic sparkling with blue crystals, but still keeping their gothic form. In other works the ready-mades were not bought or found, but were collected from nature such as the thistles that were used in Vauxhall and Discipline 2003
‘The crystallization isn’t about the beautification of the object because the crystals are actually very acidic,
’ Hiorns said, ‘so with the engines – in a way the clumsiest metaphor for power I could think of– they’re actually being eroded rather than adorned.’
To make another of his works, Vauxhall 2003 he had to make a drain and grating in the floor of the sculpture court in Tate Britain. On its own not a particularly interesting or aesthetically pleasing work, and strangely, instead of the drain taking away water as is expected, Hiorns chose to have fire rising from it. By doing this Hiorns completely reverses the use of the everyday mundane and barely noticed object. Confusing the associations and preconceptions that the viewer will have most certainly brought with them. He said that ‘the fire transforms the reason for the gully to exist’. Hiorns says that the work is ‘pro active’ as it works both with and against its own environment. The drain itself looks perfectly at home in the floor of the Sculpture Court and looks like it has always been there, the only strange thing about it is the fact that a drain is not usually placed in the centre of a space, and is more often found along the edge of a kerb or wall. The angle seems wrong too again these are usually lined up parallel with the surrounding structure; this appears to have been intentionally placed with a slight twist to disrupt the viewer even further. The fire itself makes the space itself appear completely different, almost dangerous in a space where fire is normally prohibited. It looks almost like a sacrificial alter or some kind of religious offering. A lot like his other works, Vauxhall is full of familiar references but completely unexplainable,
Hiorns views it as a ‘proposition’ and is wide open to a variety of interpretations. He sees it as his place to put these elements into their settings which then in turn allows the interpretations of the works to commence, he also says that the works are not dependant on the interpretations or readings, but each has its own reasons for its existence. ‘The works are successful if they are self-contained and need nothing else. They exist by their own language.’ This theme of self containment runs strongly and continuously throughout his works. Although visually they are worlds apart.
His works have also been exhibited at Tate Britain (2003); UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2003); Cubitt gallery, London (2007); Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes (2006); Camden Arts Centre, London (2007) and as part of the British Art Show 6 (2005);
Destroy Athens 1st Athens Biennial, Athens (2007); and Lismore Castle Arts, Co Waterford, Ireland (2008).
Hiorns has pieces of work in many international collections including Tate; Arts Council England; British Council; TBA21 Austria; and MoMA, New York.the Milton Keynes Gallery (2006) and the Cubit Gallery, London (2007). He has also made a public sculpture which is situated outside the home office.
Another of his pieces situated at the Jesus College in Cambridge, has to be cleaned daily with disinfectant, he says that,“It appeals to the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) of collectors,” ‘ “All that ritual and fetishism intrigues me.”
‘All these works relate in some way to hygiene and obsessive-compulsiveness and a fear of losing control of one’s personal structures – such as in the brain disease CJD,’ Hiorns explains, ‘so while they’re sculptural objects, they’re also an extension of psychological thought.’
When trying to understand the artist and looking at his life in general and his influences, it seems that his works are a continuous development and directly linked to his life.His father, who was a solicitor, died of an illness when Roger was only seventeen years old. He also has a big brother called Paul, he is an artist too.
As a child, Hiorns had a love for disaster films, such as, Threads (1984), a movie about the effects a nuclear explosion would have on the United Kingdom.
He went to Goldsmiths and says he studied,“Nothing in particular. There was no structure. It was all very hands-off.”
When talking about himself he says that he is,“restless, impatient. I’ve always had a kind of irritability since childhood. I mean, what does a child growing up in the middle of Birmingham want to do? He wants to leave as fast as possible.”
Now he has a studio in Deptford, and lives a life that he says is “healthy”
. Hiorns lives with his girlfriend, Anastasia Marsh, who is also an artist.
He says that he is inspired by Ezra Pound, Benjamin Britten, Jacob Epstein and Joseph Beuys.
“That makes me sound old-fashioned — but there’s a lot of pop culture in my work, too: Bowie, Joy Division, Pan Sonic, Sunn O.”
He also claims that he is not interested in the generation of artists before him. He says that the young British artists are self obsessed and
“That kind of art is all about disclosure. It’s dull, dull, dull. Maybe my generation is reacting against that. I try to keep myself out of my work. SEIZURE is kind of autogenetic — growing by itself. I prefer to distance myself from ideas of posterity, of the longevity of a piece of art. None of that seems healthy. I don’t like explaining and being explicit. I don’t make art with lots of announcements and whistles and bells.”