FIELD,Anne Hardy’s recent exhibition at Modern Art Oxford was an expansive experience. Based largely on the artist’s two preferred media, photography and found objects, the work sprawled across three rooms, delineating a journey through creative space. At the entrance, the visitor was greeted with a large-scale photographic display, followed by two major installations: one room lined entirely in blue with a wooden hut in the centre, the second, in canary yellow and adorned with hanging screens and everyday objects. The effect was oddly intimate, a world in miniature.
Hardy hasn’t always worked on installation art. She started out constructing her diverse sculptural spaces and photographing them, before destroying them. Photography still plays an essential part in her work but she has also started to document the process, revealing the unfinished work, as it were. Hence, perhaps, the intimacy of her art. “I used to want to show only the image,” Hardy explains, “rather than the structure, so that the physical reality of these worlds would remain uncertain and unresolvable, and so the structures I built to make the images were provisional and fragile. I have carried this approach through into the three-dimensional works: the sense of temporality, and impermanence is important to me – that everything could change or collapse.”
FIELD is the third exhibition in a sequence of shows; the other two were exhibited at Kunstverein Freiburg and the Common Guild in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Hardy reflects that, “The ‘field’ of these titles is, for me, a way of thinking about an expansive work space that encompasses the visitor to the work inside it: a ‘living’ work that defines a zone of interest, a terrain or an open-ended psychological space:
The works themselves evolve through process and in all 3 exhibitions have involved long install periods where much of the work is formed in situ, in response to the spatial characteristics of the gallery.”
The exhibition is quiet when I visit it on a grey weekday afternoon in January. In the dim and hushed interior of the wooden hut, there is a narrow wooden bench, and a soundtrack plays on loop. I sit on the bench and listen to the distorted, ambiguous sounds of scraping and carving and Anne Hardy’s voice, creating a kind of associative poem. “Ambiguity within the texts and sounds is a way to open up an imaginative space that sits alongside and circles around the physical structures of the exhibition: a parallel and suggestive space,” Hardy explains. “It’s easy to assume that language is definite in its meaning, but the way in which I wanted to use the text was to make it quite distinct that that’s not the case, that language, as with our other perceptive skills, has slippage. The sounds operate in the same way for me, they are all recorded in the studio from processes and activities used in making the work, so they have this definite analogue origin, which becomes abstracted and suggestive once disconnected from their original source. The sound, text, physical structures are all intricately connected from the beginning of the process.”
Outside the yellow room, visitors are requested to take off their shoes. Barefoot on the soft carpet, we wonder soundlessly around this kind of playroom of photographs and found objects, bathed in warm light. It reminds me strongly of an artist’s studio and Hardy confirms that this is intentional. “I wanted to take my process to the gallery, so that it’s really apparent that this is a point in time at which you can be with the work, but it doesn’t mean that it is a static ‘finished’ thing. To me making work is a way to think about things around me, and I want the shows to be ‘living’ things that are alive and make space for other people to be in them.”