Modern Art Oxford has been a bastion for contemporary art outside of the London bubble. Celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, the gallery pulls a roster of acclaimed artists under the leadership of its current Director, Paul Hobson, to take over the city-centre space drawing even the hardiest of crowds from the capital.
Anne Hardy (b. 1970) is a British artist who creates sculpted environments, combining elements of photography and audio in to large-scale complex structures within which the viewer is encouraged to explore. FIELD reimagines the gallery as series of constructed landscapes using wood, concrete, carpet and other found materials, combined with light, text and sound to create a full “landscape” experience.
The work itself is completely immersive – large swathes of carpet envelope the visitor – warm blues and off-canary yellows create an illusion of heat but without suffocation. Elemental scraps of construction material puncture the block colours – visitors can step inside a wooden constructed capsule to be surrounded of audio from a workshop – sawing and sweeping echoes from the untreated wooden panelling in a sauna like atmosphere. The viewer twists and turns through her range of works – each fabric, furnishing or medium elicits a different reaction – it’s a texture overload on the senses.
The work is tricky to comprehend – without the additional information supplied by Modern Art Oxford’s literature handed to each visitor, the point may be lost. But in creating this situation, Hardy is exploring the age-old question: ‘What is art?’. Her work here is by no means ground-breaking in an attempt at post-modernism, but it raises the classic concerns of contemporary art’s alienation. What Hardy achieves is a multisensory work that challenges notions of how art can function – and its art based on the surroundings of the city of Oxford. This creates a smart dialogue between the city’s legacy of “high” art – from the Ashmolean with its second-to-none antiquities to the old masters in the university collections and even Oxford’s art college The Ruskin, which has a reputation for producing the best painters and draughtsmen in the country. Anne’s work takes all of this – a city with a heritage of production of fine art, and flips it on its head – the context is everything. Her work references the craft, from individual to industrial, of “creating”. The only criticism of such an approach is its potential difficulty to grasp.
By Toby Weston
Anne Hardy – FIELD, runs from 7 November 2015-10 January 2016 at Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP.