Saturday, January 1, 2011

Meet Your Maker: Andy Hutson

“It’s the end of the world as we know it…” sang REM’s Michael Stipe on that legendary 1988 pop song of the same name. Somewhat disconcertingly, he wound up telling us that he felt "fine” about it.

Most people who contemplate 'the apocalypse' aren't that comfortable with the scenario, as Melbourne artist Melbourne artist Andy Hutson knows only too well.

He's made study of such people (also known as 'preppers'), part of the inspiration behind the new exhibition he's about to launch at Stockroom, entitled It’s a long way to TEOTWAWKI* (*the end of the world as we know it).

Andy's show is an exploration of the ‘catastrophe’, in our culture, and those who ‘catastophise' - these preppers or 'survivalists'... people who actively secede from society and/or prepare for ‘the end’.

Andy describes his new show as an installation which "depicts a life-sized tradesman’s van, parked in the middle of the gallery and containing an ambiguous collection of objects: it might just be the stuff left in the back of a builder’s truck...but it could be the materials required to build a bomb. The entire work is made from papier-mâché, using recycled materials. In the adjacent gallery, a collection of drawings on found materials depict scenes which could just as easily be post-apocalyptic landscapes as they could be images of building sites.”

He goes on: “The acronym ‘TEOTWAWKI’ pops up regularly on internet forums and websites put together by ‘preppers’. These are a loose grouping of people, predominantly in the US, who believe that our civilisation is en-route to certain disaster, and are taking the necessary precautions to ready themselves. Situations such as governmental collapse, nuclear fallout [maybe even zombie apocalypse?] are outcomes that are being taken into serious consideration.”

It’s a long way to TEOTWAWKI* is an attempt to examine the parallels and anomalies between the homemade, shonky and DIY, and the aesthetics of terrorism.”

The end of the world might be nigh in Andy’s subject matter, but the exhibition is only the beginning of a fascinating, darkly humourous conversation about something that our culture usually either sensationalises or sweeps under the carpet.

In between these two polarities lies the good oil - space for an interesting exchange of ideas, some of which you're going to get a taste of here, in an interview Andy recently gave Stockroom. APOCALYPSE NOW!

Stockroom: What is it you think or feel attracts you to "the catastrophe", with regards to your work?

Andy Hutson: The idea of catastrophe interests me because I view it not only as something that exists within great geological upheavals or military conflicts, but also on a more personal, immediate scale – like the emotional or mental.

To me disaster is a useful catalyst for self-reflection.

Above, artist Andy Hutson, firmly ensconced in his 'bunker'... Pic: Andy Hutson.

SR: For how long have you been preoccupied with this theme? And how do you think it has evolved within you? Was there some kind of catalyst for it?

AH: The theme has been on my mind for some time. It started out as a kind of awareness of catastrophe as the zeitgeist of our times – terrorism, environmental collapse – these things were in the news all the time, and I began to get a feeling that it wasn’t likely to change any time soon.

Over the years I’ve done a bit of reading into different forms of catastrophe. I became very interested in the concept of entropy – the law of thermodynamics that states all matter will slowly lose its energy until it’s an amorphous, colourless mass – and I began to see that catastrophe was an inherent aspect of life.

I remember quite clearly the moment when I felt that we were living in an era of global disaster: I was reading an article that described the London bombings from first-hand experience. The horror of it all affected me quite deeply, and I suddenly felt a strong connection with the people involved, even though I was on the other side of the world.

SR: Do people find your work ‘confronting’? And what kind of reactions do you get from those who experience your work?

AH: I don’t know if confronting is a word that I would use… I try to make immersive installations; I often black out the space to focus as much attention on the sculptures as possible. But there’s always an element of humour too, so I guess any of the darker aspects of the work are usually balanced with a sense of fun.

People tend to respond differently, but when the work is successful I think it’s a sense of enjoyment, maybe even wonder – I recently made a sculpture with a lot of moving parts which was very popular with kids...

Above, the van from It’s a long way to TEOTWAWKI*. Pic: Andy Hutson.

SR: Here's a big fat serious one for you! Since ‘9/11’, the topic of terrorism has become almost taboo to discuss openly in forums (like art galleries!!), lest the initiator be dubbed a terrorist themselves… Given your new show in part explores this theme, are you anticipating any 'trouble'? And do you have any views around this kind of cultural censorship around this kind of 'conversation', and the impulses that drive it?

AH: I’ve made work like this - and potentially more confronting or controversial - before, so I don’t anticipate a riot or anyone taking to the work with a hammer. Plus the exhibition is supposed to be humorous, you know? I suppose that given the recent spate of media attention around Wikileaks and Julian Assange, the issue of censorship is quite pertinent at the moment, but I think in general the art world tends to be somewhat immune to such things – except in the occasional case of political overreaction such as we saw with Bill Henson’s work.

I think that censorship can be a healthy societal force, in that it inadvertently drives innovation, both in the content and approach of an artist’s work.

SR: What do you love about being an artist? And how did you get into art in the first place?

AH: I enjoy being able to work when I want to, most of the time. I think I ended up at art school because I didn’t get into design or fashion.

SR: What kind of work can we look forward to in It's a long way... And have you enjoyed making the show? Did it take long to make the work and come up with the ideas?

AH: The show is centred on the sculpture of the van. The idea to construct a model of my housemate’s van is an old one - I was using it a lot to shift my work and materials around, and it seemed to be verging on becoming an integral part of practice. Transforming it into a car-bomb was the obvious way of integrating it into the actual work. It’s been a relatively short period of construction, as I have only recently returned from a research trip to Europe. I’d say that once the show is up, I’ll have been working on it for just over a month. It’s been fun.

SR: What is it that fascinates you the most about 'preppers'? And are you in fact one yourself?! (Do you have a bunker?!)

AH: I guess the preppers interest me because I have always enjoyed being outside; my parents took me and my sister camping almost every weekend when I was a kid, and I started in scouts when I was eight – so the idea of survival in the wilderness has always been of interest to me. I look at the preppers in America as being a kind of contemporary spin-off of 60’s counter-culture, like Drop City and other self-sufficient communities who wanted to live off the grid; except these guys seem to be inspired by some deep-seeded paranoia, most likely induced by Hollywood films. Look at James Byron Birkhead, who was accused of making bombs to ‘protect his family’ after he watched the movie 2012.

Right, a 'sketchbook sketch', recently published on Andy's blog.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was a prepper, but I’m certainly excited by the idea of living off the land, cut off from society. Sometimes I feel like my studio is a bunker. It’s partially underground anyway…

SR: What would the end of the world look like do you think - if you ever let yourself imagine it.. Would it be like one of those apocalyptic movies, or less spectacular?

AH: Despite my love for disaster movies, I suspect that T.S. Eliot was on the money when he said that it would be “not with a bang, but a whimper”. It’s a condition of thermodynamics...

SR: What is your favourite ‘end of the world’ story - film, literature.. anything.

AH: I really like Time Of The Wolf, by Micahel Haneke. It predates Cormac McCarthy’s book ‘The Road’ by a few years. I think films that portray the post-apocalyptic scenario are far more interesting than films that actually portray disasters, as they generally allow for a more in-depth exploration of the human condition. Although I am a sucker for special effect films like 2012, in all their CGI glory...

SR: And if you were going to write an end-of-world-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario, what would happen?

AH: Probably something along the lines of Dr. Strangelove. Colonel Ripper could have easily been based on George Bush Jnr.

Right, Sterling Hayden as Colonel Ripper in Stanley Kubrik's 1964 film, 'Dr. Strangelove'. Pic: imdb

It’s a long way to TEOTWAWKI* opens at Stockroom on Saturday January 15, (4.30-7pm) and continues until February 5, 2011.

Enquiries: (03) 5422 3215, 98 Piper Street, Kyneton, Victoria.

Visit Andy's fantastic blog and read his Artist Profile.

Words: Megan Spencer. Thanks to Andy Hutson for the interview and images.