TJ Boulting presents ‘Under The Influence’, the first solo show by artist Dominic Hawgood, recent winner of the British Journal of Photography’s International series award. Hawgood is a recent graduate of The Royal College of Art, and features in this year’s Catlin Guide, a yearly book that presents a collection of recent graduate and postgraduate artists from UK art schools, which is now recognised as an essential reference for collectors of contemporary art.
The installation at TJ Boulting follows the artist’s previous works ‘The Conversation’, which depicted intimate portraits of women in Texas who had responded to an advert that the artist had placed for people speaking in tongues, and Hawgood’s work ‘Shrine’, where the artist photographed illuminated roadside church signs in and around Dallas, shooting them when they were on and off. In his latest work, Hawgood returns to the site of set belief systems, with the prize-winning photographer’s latest work focusing on evangelical African worshippers, including live satellite exorcisms.
Hawgood tackles the nature of perceived reality, the work processes to what degree real experiences were happening to the artist as a documenter of what ‘seemed to be’ the quite theatrical performances of deliverance and exorcism. The reality presented is multi-layered, created with a kind of confusion that blurs the divide between the real and the theatrical. Hawgood re-creates this effect for the viewer, removing narrative functions and introducing a noirish feel, and the slick language of advertising.
This advertising effect reflects the nature of staging the actions of exorcism and other rituals to engender belief systems, but the work questions where the line of reality is drawn, one aspect of true documentation is that the artist’s work doesn’t attempt to answer the question – even if it might not be true documentation. Instead Hawgood’s images posit the question through layers of meaning – what are the protagonists in these actions doing? Are they performers or convinced believers? Is the enraptured audience being sold a belief system, merely a fictional template for living? All the while the work looks like advertising, but the viewer isn’t being sold anything. It’s all intentionally very ambiguous. The works become like stylish billboards for Jesus selling Nike, or some other brand selling you another erroneous identity.
With the artist’s work it seems we are all consumers, whether viewer or subject matter, in place of the athletic model, or seductive pose, are the outstretched hands to God, the motif of spiritual desperation and hope, tokens of evangelical reverie, the remnants of miracles soon to become reliquary. All rendered with a gloss and sheen, then painstakingly lit after months of lighting design by the artist.
In fact this is an aspect to the work that remains an intentional mystery; to what degree the artist himself has documented these events, and in doing so has either worked up the primary image of a blessing or deliverance – or staged the events himself creating a secondary, or tertiary fantasy. Potential hyper-reality re-enacting a staged fictitious action. Are the artist’s subjects relinquishing their own power to a principle of belief, buying into a construct?, is it all real? – or are these works staged by Hawgood?
The artist will not be drawn on his practice, and the images remain rightly ambiguous; the mystery is an important layer of the work, the subjectivity of belief is also the viewers in questioning the image. On Hawgood’s website there is an image of a bottle of holy water that was created by the artist using 3D digital rendering with no use of the camera at all. The water is not real, it does not exist. The sales pitch is a construct. It looks like a perfume ad.
The artist ties his installation images at TJ Boulting together with another motif and signifier, that being the use of fluids in this particular system. Whether this is the woman slumped forward in the noir film-like still, seemingly ‘drooling out the devil’ post exorcism, in the work ‘This Is Where The Darkness Lies’, dripping onto a cloth what appears to be some form of devilish Rorschach, manifesting before her very eyes – or the woman being sprayed with holy water in ‘This Body Is Not Your Temple’. These depictions of fluids, both spiritual and bodily are signifiers of the importance of physicality in Christian belief and its transformative power, but also the disturbing and abject state of worshippers to give up bodily control to others. The manifestations and transactions of power are earthly events, veiled in the mist of a sales pitch. Or are they?
Hawgood brings you his illusory presentation through the meticulous installation of a multi-layered and complex work, having spent months on the CGI lighting design of his colour pieces, the printing on vinyl of his monochrome works, and the construction of his installation at TJ Boulting – it’s a very thorough affair – the transmission of power through layers, and screens of advertising, a system of language conveying the subjectivity of the supposedly documented belief system, rendered, quite literally at times, and signifying the hyper-reality in the language of the art, as well as the rapture of the evangelical stage. The work also highlights the quintessential core of photography since its invention, from a fresh perspective: to what level does it manage to capture ‘reality’ when the system is ever-more complex, and ever-more subjective and convoluted.
Dominic Hawgood, Under The Influence – TJ Boulting – until 21 March 2015
Words: Paul Black Photo: courtesy of Dominic Hawgood and TJ Boulting © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved