Saturday, April 28, 2012

Martin Hodge: concept and execution

Martin’s work has always been popular at Stockroom. It’s bold, it’s architectural, and it’s playful. And for his current exhibition he has again delivered work with a characteristic punch. His large steel screens in particular carry a special potency, a beautiful balance of idea and material. The steps he’s taken along the way to bring the work to its final resolution are thoughtful and executed with precision.

Martin Hodge, Barbie

At a distance we see familiar characters – Barbie, Batman, a lamb. They’re photographic and appear as if they have depth and tone. Not dissimilar to scaled up images from a newspaper print. But at closer inspection they reveal something mind-blowing. The screen is completely black, no grey tones whatsoever, and punctured with hexagons of varying size.

So there’s a few questions this triggers off. Why have these normally tiny little dolls and action figures been blown up to human scale, and what impact does that have? Why are they lasercut into steel, and not, say, printed on paper or painted on canvas? And why have they been manipulated digitally before putting them on the walls?

Martin Hodge, Batman and Lamb

Maybe blowing up to human scale makes you realise the caricature nature of the figures. It amplifies the thin limbs of Barbie, the bulging muscles of Batman. A skinny, 5 foot tall bobble-headed Barbie is hardly an attractive proposition to anyone. She couldn’t possibly stand on those teensy feet. And the classic ‘condom-full-of-walnuts’ physique of Batman would not instil a sense of confidence in anyone relying on him to fight against a villain. He’d barely be able to put his hands together. A 4 year-old would kick him in the codpiece before he had a chance to swing his meaty arms in any direction. Who are these idols? These frail figures of celebration.

This leads on to another slightly haunting element in the imagery - a sense of religious iconography. A lamb and a jesus-christ pose. Sacrificial figures delivered to us as membranes through which shadows are cast on walls. Figures of power, rendered in miniature plastic and resized in steel.

Maybe the lasercut steel is a filter. The images created exist in our minds thanks to the gaps in the screen. We acquire so many of our cultural stories through screens – literal and metaphoric. They are filtered, some parts highlighted, some parts edited out. And what about hexagons? Hexagons in rows look like beehives. Beehives are made up of worker drones and one queen who births all the young. And all the young grow up inside little hexagon rooms.

And maybe, digital manipulation is an extension of the artistic urge itself. Think of early humans picking up a charcoaled branch from the fire and scraping it across a flat rock to make a line. 21st century artists can capture the light reflecting off objects in a box that converts that light into coded digits of 1s and 0s. There’s all manner of magic that can be conjured up after that. Robots can print out those images by shooting lasers through steel. Imagine that!