You always have to think about materials and objects in terms of being malleable – you have to cut them off from what their established use is, to directly interfere with their world-ness, it becomes a process of human empowerment to re-use and re-propose the power of objects simply left lying in the street. – Roger Hiorns
Ikon gallery Birmingham is presenting a major exhibition of the Birmingham-born artist Roger Hiorns. Through the transformation of materials and found objects, Hiorns focuses on various aspects of modern life, closely analysing what is assumed or taken for granted.
Jet engines often occur in Hiorns’ work. By injecting a US military aircraft engine with anti-depressants, he toys with the possibility of affecting some kind of robotic nervous system, reflecting his ongoing interest in the anthropomorphism of machinery. In his Youth series (1999 to the present), the encounters between a jet engine and a naked young man suggest not only mysterious communion but also melancholy. Ripped from the wing of an aeroplane, and partly dismantled, the engine is positioned like a remnant from classical antiquity, instilling awe as if being contemplated at some point in the distant future when air travel as we now know it no longer exists.
This exhibition will also include a new video work documenting Untitled (a retrospective view of the pathway), an off-site project produced by Ikon in June 2016. It features choristers of St Philip’s Cathedral Birmingham singing Evensong whilst lying on their backs on the floor of the nave, rather than standing to sing installs in front of the altar. A re-imagining of an ancient ritual, atomising a rigid formation, it exemplifies a restlessness with respect to a revered institution, part of an establishment that defines our society. Likewise, he focuses his attention on the art world and has made numerous statements that articulate a certain scepticism:
“I believe that the artist’s role is to move things on, to hold up a truthful mirror in order that progress might continue. Frankly, I’m suspicious of many of my contemporaries who make work that simply reflects the desires of collectors: they’re reinforcing the surfaces. I think. I find artists fascinating, in the same way, I’m fascinated by how machines and systems function.”
Hiorns has recently made paintings with copper sulphate. Delicate works of art, untouched by the artist, they are at once beautiful and problematising. There is a kind of instability embodied in them that epitomises his artistic practice as a whole. At Ikon the artist exhibits a very early pair of sulphate works, grown from brain matter. These pieces embody the hyper-vigilant fragility of the contemporary mind.
Ikon is now working towards a summer 2018 launch for Roger Hiorns’ Buried Aircraft. This re-scheduling gives us the time needed to finalise plans for this ambitious project. In the meantime we will continue to raise funds for our work in the Ladywood district of Birmingham, using our canal boat as a hub for creative activity there. Our aim is to collaborate with the diverse communities in Ladywood to develop a programme of activity inspired by their cultural histories. This will be the latest iteration of our ongoing programme of artistic activity on canals, following the success of Black Country Voyages (2014-2017) and Slow Boat (2010-2013).
Image: Roger Hiorns, Untitled, 2011. Jet engine and youth. Courtesy the artist and Ikon