British artist Anne Hardy is known for creating landscapes through photography, installation, sculpture and audio. Hence Fields, an exhibition that occupies the whole of Modern Art Oxford and allows the viewer to submerge themselves in Hardy’s ‘Fields’ of sight, sound and touch.
Before entering the gallery Hardy has presented her first visual landscape. The entrance to Modern Art Oxford is tunnelled away in hardboard that features throughout her work. When walking into the exhibition the viewer is instantly immersed in her art and the journey through Hardy’s landscapes and Fields has already began. The main gallery is occupied by a large constructed image that stands alone. It not positioned on a wall like is so conventionally done in art spaces, but is free standing. It is given an architectural presence and Hardy fragments the boundaries and the restrictions between the viewer observing the image and the image on view. You are encouraged to walk around the image, look at it up close and soak up the environment it is presented in as well as what it reveals. A drapery of blue carpet dangling from the ceiling is an imposing presence that floods the main gallery with a blazing energy.
However this doesn’t overpower the delicate image making that hovers between the wall and the carpet. Her use of mundane materials such as staples, paper and paperclips evolves into an aesthetically appealing and intricate work of art. It’s the sort of image you want to buy a post card of in the gift shop. I did.
As you walk around the blue drapery, you are confronted with a less gentle construction. The next chapter of Hardy’s journey is a large-scale installation made out of the same hardboard at the entrance of the gallery. Two at a time, you enter into the heart of the construction, and are presented with the pulse: an audio landscape of its structure. This experience manages to be simultaneously stifling, yet also beautiful and provoking. The confines of the sculpture are deeply claustrophobic, as my friend described ‘a bit like a sauna, but without the heat’. As the soundscape begins the experience becomes painful and uncomfortable. The sawing of the wood, the battering of the bricks, the metal banging on the road and the concrete pouring from the trowel are raw, intense and painful landscapes. Yet in this there is something of beauty. These are sounds that we can hear everyday; on the way to work, coming back from the library, as we lie in bed. Yet we are never directly confronted by these noises; we might not even acknowledge them and so we never listen to or understand their intricacies and nuances. When we do, they become not just a sound passing but something delicate and highly suggestive.
In the transition between this gallery and the final ‘Field’ we are presented with more image making. Through equally as delicate and as aesthetically challenging as the first life scale photo, these are positioned on a smaller scale and are presented on the wall. These are photo scales of the debris of the installation we have just immerged ourselves in. For debris, these images are incredibly beautiful. Their positioning is somehow complex, placed on the wall on several levels and in no single
linear fashion. The final section of the exhibition, and the final landscape of our journey, is a space in which you enter and absorb its light, its objects and its sound. Asked to take off your shoes before entering the room, this becomes a sensuous experience that appeals to the eyes, the ears, and the touch of the feet as you wander around the yellow-carpeted floor. You travel through fragile and intricate objects: cassette tape dangling off the ceiling, blown glass in balls rolling on the floor and deflated balloons positioned by a wall. No longer are you simply observers in an art gallery, but you are engaged and submerged in the process and the art itself.
Hardy’s work envelopes the observer in a sensuous journey throughout many varied and diverse landscapes. It is a complex journey, and it demands an open mind and a desire to be carried away by what each of these intricate Fields have to offer.