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Chris Hawtin

The Golden Age / Gregor’s Lament


Chris Hawtin - The Golden Age Malgras|Naudet, Manchester 7th December 2013 - 4th January 2014 Chris Hawtin - Gregor’s Lament C & C Gallery, London 9th January - 16th February 2014


Chris Hawtin The Golden Age / Gregor’s Lament


Chris Hawtin: Other Worlds, Alienation and Ambiguity in The New Age of Anxiety Duncan McAfee

Perhaps it has always been, for one reason or another, an age of anxiety. As human knowledge and understanding has evolved and expanded, so too has the scope and reach of our anxieties. Where once we feared the forest and the beast, where once anxiety manifested itself in outsiders, invaders, plunderers from across the sea, it is now projected in all directions, inward and outward; insurgent threats, drones, homegrown terrorism, Franken-foods, carbon footprints, stealth marketing, economic unsustainability, infectious social instability. Anxiety pervades every corner of our lives: ecology, society, economy, our homes, relationships, desires and bodies. And beyond its sheer scale and reach, what sets the New Age psyche apart is the underpinning anxiety that for the first time in history, it is probably all our own fault. Hawtin’s epic landscape paintings seem to reflect this sense of deeply penetrating social and personal vexation. One might read these images as visionary revelations, portents of our Post-Carbon Age prospects, representations of an inevitable juncture along our current path. The viewer might play the part of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, scouring this deserted country, piecing together the back story, in search of “connexions”.1 Hoban’s book is narrated by Walker,

a 14-year-old boy and relative innocent, so we discover as much through his observations as is conveyed by what is not told to us. Hawtin employs the same tool in his storytelling, revealing only snippets of his future world in paintings, drawings, sculptures and now models. Our advantage over Walker, or Hawtin’s Jerome et al, is that we perhaps know at least the first part of the back-story. But possibly these are not visions of the future at all. They might read like the history paintings they gently echo, images of a distant past. Maybe there is a tongue in the cheek of an alternative history book here, a critique of anti-scientific dogma, such as Creationism as demonstrated in Cincinnati’s Creation Museum. This attraction presents a literal depiction of the Genesis story as history, complete with animatronic displays demonstrating dinosaurs and humans walking side-by-side some 6,000 years ago, even down to a saddled Triceratops.2 Is Hawtin’s world a parodying alternative creation story, a barbed critique of some Scientologist or Raëlian-like belief system, where life on earth was created by an advanced alien race, and these are the holy paintings that speak of the ultimate rescue of the chosen few?3 We might imagine a repositioning of these images in the past or in another galaxy, science fiction scenes played out in cycles; “all this has happened before, and will happen again.”4 Therein lies one of the great many ambiguities which stretch


across this body of work, pushing and pulling between past and future, concealment and disclosure, emergence and collapse, attraction and repulsion, belonging and alienation, pulp fiction and fine art, expertise and amateurism, collapse and convergence, beginning and end, life and death. These may be symptoms of The New Age, disquiet in not knowing what one is seeing, unease in uncertainty. This is achieved through Hawtin’s diverse techniques and painterly mastery. Akin to Hoban’s rendering of Riddley Walker, whose society’s Stone-Age level of technology and understanding is contrasted with the found remnants of the “sophisticated” people who preceded them, Hawtin cuts and pastes painterly styles, overlaying techniques from different times and places. In The Golden Age of Reconnaissance (2013) in particular we see kitschy marbling techniques beneath a continental decorator’s dry-brush work, spatters of flicked and sprayed expressionistic paint veiling areas of landscape techniques that could have been lifted from Dutch italianate paintings of the 17th century, serrated scraper marks stolen from a Francis Bacon portrait against graphic, 1980s, metallic rendering. The results are images that seem to span many genres and times, a collapse of heritage into one ambiguous past-present-future space, untethered from rational lineage. Despite the absence of the figure, the body is present in the forms that dominate these landscapes. And the body, once more, is riddled with anxiety. They are technological, formed in a way that could not possibly hold together were they made three dimensional. In fact, Hawtin explains, these forms are computer generated, a digital intervention into painting using architectural design software, but in such a way that they are all surface; they would collapse in the physical world. Hollow and empty, they reflect the landscapes around them like broken mirrors.

Hawtin reveals that many reflected elements of the landscapes are recycled from older paintings; landscapes borrowed, fragments panel-beaten into new forms. This might be a kind of schizo-painting, shards pieced together to form new mythology, like the Punch and Judy show of Riddley Walker, misremembered and yet heartbreakingly accurate. Here is also an anxiety about painting itself; it is at once evocative and illusionary, luscious and sensual, fleshy and organic, dirty and drab, lacerated and scabby, stolen and broken. These biomorphic bodies are hybrids of parts of other forms, each poetically beginning from (and still containing) the form of an egg, a splicing of technology and organic matter. Fiction here channels fact: recently, during FutureFest 2013, social psychologist Bertolt Meyer gave his phone to a fellow speaker, who was then able to control Meyer’s bionic hand. “My hand comes with an iPhone app ... This gives the word hacking an entirely new dimension because if someone hacked my phone they could hack my hand.”5 Couple this with President Obama’s question as to whether “... technology is moving so quick that ... at some point, does the technology outpace the laws that are in place and the protections that are in place?”6 At what point does the technology develop more rapidly than our ability to prepare for its consequences? The paintings play both ways as always. These technological bodies are also beautiful objects, magnificent floating creations, monuments to the power of imagination and invention. There is the science fiction fan’s obsession and detail in each form. Hawtin himself describes imagination as “… a floating, disembodied assemblage of seemingly irrational elements with many potential directions ...” and could be talking about the painting itself as a representation of pure


imagination, a celebration of its power. Is it not this human imagination that binds us together, that creates us as societal beings and provides hope amidst anxiety? Imagination is the place where worlds are made. There are other more familiar bodies just out of frame, their presence indicated by rudely written signposts marking territories, or broken makeshift residences, sometimes apparently constructed from debris like Jerome’s hut in The Mechanism (2013). But in Ennio’s Spire (2011) there is again the ambiguous suggestion that this could be either a new kind of semi-organic structure, a future bio-architecture, or the ruins of a previous tower-like structure, possibly a skyscraper. Belief systems and ideologies are always bubbling away beneath the surface. In conversation, Hawtin describes these humanoid characters in great depth, each part of a complexly allegorical story that is still unfolding in the work. Their alienation from this world, their relationships with each other and with the ominous bio-technological forms that co-habit the landscapes point to the work’s relationship with politics and technology. Each character, Hawtin explains, has a carefully chosen name, for example Marco (after the explorer Marco Polo), Seth (Brundle, the scientist from The Fly), Jerome (after St Jerome, the hermit); their significances and relationships with each other are developing into some kind of parable of 20th century political history. These characters have been revealed to us before in Hawtin’s previous theatrical sculptural works. Here they have become miniaturised, have moved away from theatre, perhaps towards the hobbyist’s workshop. The language of modelmaking (in this case butchered and bastardised tabletop wargame figures, rather than matchstick architecture, WWII aeroplanes, or model railways) brings with it an outsider

quality. There is a harmlessness, an innocent boyhood preoccupation, or a hobbyist’s retirement project, but also a sincerity and an authenticity that one attributes to the model-maker; a truth that can only be spoken by the outsider. Of course, for Hawtin this ambiguity is ripe; the models negotiate the space between the paintings and the sculptures: “For me the unique quality of painting is that one can simultaneously invest in the object and the space. With film we are entirely invested in the space, and with sculpture the object. It seemed to me that a model is an object which is similarly invested with the fictional space of a painting.” Other-Worlds seem to be inevitable side-effects of our New Age; dystopian settings which pick and mix from the available palette of anxieties. These are not places of escape, these are not decorative diversions, these are not proposed alternatives. Hawtin describes fiction as “... a place; a vehicle for channelling and filtering back elements of life.” Like Hawtin’s characters, we are all experiencing alienation; from the landscape, from the technology we can no longer understand, from each other, a kind of enforced nomadism. But there are no lessons here, this is not some confessional, this is no lecture. These are the playing out of scenarios revealed only in brief flickers, fragments of a fiction, channels of imagination, windows on a hidden world with all its ambiguities. Recent news from The New Age has seen the reported inclusion of geo-engineering in the UN Climate Report by Russia,7 reflecting the money that has already been invested in the development of these technologies. At the end of September the first cargo ship navigated the North East passage, once an impenetrable sheet of ice.8 This is framed by territorial scraps, a race for the undiscovered oil reserves


beneath the Arctic ice sheets and debates over new and potentially lucrative tourism opportunities. And so, in this New Age reading of Hawtin’s Other-World, the ambiguity is rich and true, with pessimism perhaps, that this is the land to which our current track leads, our current economic and political destination. Perhaps the money has been spent, the deals have been made, perhaps the future has

already been bought. But it is also a metaphorical world, one which we already inhabit, alone in these hybrid landscapes, each of us a nomad, but retaining the enormous potential of imagination. Unlike in the pick and mix spirituality of the New Age that came before, each of us now assembles our Other-Worlds from the palette of anxieties laid before us. Welcome to The New Age of Anxiety.

References: Hoban, Russell (1980) Riddley Walker, Jonathan Cape The Creation Museum, Cincinnatti, US, http://www.creationmuseum.com 3 Wikipedia, Raëlianism, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ra%C3%ABlism 4 Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) Sci-fi Channel 5 Hood, L. (1st Oct, 2013) Your body is the next frontier in cybercrime, The Conversation, www.theconversation.com 6 Obama, Barack (23rd Aug 2013) “New Day” CNN interview, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/23/politics/barack-obama-new-day-interview transcript/index.html 7 Lukacs, M. Goldenberg, S. and Vaughan, A. (19th Sept 2013), Russia urges UN climate report to include geoengineering, Guardian Newspaper UK, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/19/russia-un-climate-report-geoengineering 8 McGarrity, J. and Gloystein, H. (27 th Sept 2013) Big freighter traverses Northwest Passage for 1st time, Reuters US, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/27/us-shipping-coal-arctic-idUSBRE98Q0K720130927 1

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Gregor Chris Hawtin

He could feel his hand shaking as he held the note out across the bar. ‘Same again mate?’ He could just manage a muttered assent. Well there’s fuck all else to do, he thought. A calm, almost humorous resignation came with the drink and music - an added bonus maybe, but attached to a growing expense, which was slowly but determinedly hammering out a gaping fissure in his severance payment. That day still hung over him like a lost weekend in the New City - I mean, they informed him by email for Christ’s sake! Yet there it was; the world had changed and he was out of a job. He had to assume Jerome had received something similar - perhaps even before he had - and must be going through the same shit, asking the same stupid questions. He wasn’t alone then...but he felt it. He had changed. Times past he kidded himself he was some kind of warrior - a sentry, a sentinel, sitting in his tower keeping vigil over the eastern border. Reality was - he was nothing more than an, albeit high-flying and successful, bureaucrat. A bright boy with an even brighter future, and (unlike old Jerome, decaying in the malodorous marches alone) his position was active, eventful - things were happening in the east, exciting things which MEANT something! Still...no point dwelling on the past as they say, but what else did he have? These stints in these bars - so many bars there are now! - were an easy way to access it. τι να κάνουμε? What a passive way of looking at the situation. Passivity or resignation? And so, after the great collapse, bars were pretty much all he occupied himself with. He had been provided with just enough

currency to drink himself out of corporeality and he wanted no part of no part of them and they, in turn, wanted nothing from him but silence and acquiescence. All this would have done for him too if he hadn’t met Venn. Venn was the kind of person he, Gregor, had spent his life despising. Venn was an opportunist, an inveterate nomad who believed the system worked, but worked solely for his benefit. Venn was admirable, and quite possibly insane. They met one night in a roadside bar while Gregor was drifting into the customary reminiscences. They fell into conversation, or more accurately, Gregor had wanted to talk and Venn was willing to listen, about bad luck, past conquests, financial penury - all delivered with the drunken, resigned lack of agency of a man half on, half off a bar stool. Gregor had tried to extract a drink from the stranger by means of a bet on the only, somewhat pathetic, magic trick he knew; the standard “pick a card” gambit. Venn dutifully listened, chose and Gregor elaborately, and somewhat overdramatically proceeded to the prestige. ‘Never odd or even’, said Gregor, smiling. ‘Double or nothing?,’ asked Venn, and proceeded to perform the most complicated, dazzling array of card tricks Gregor had ever seen, leaving him both bemused and elated. ‘Drawn onward’, said Venn, ‘drawn I sit, serene rest is inward.’ Venn bought him a drink anyway, and pretty soon they had formed the kind of tentative friendship made by two drunken people on the road. Gregor lamented about his wife Mir who had left him after his redundancy - can love even exist in this climate? Her name meant ‘peace’, but Gregor had always guessed they had named her after the space station ‘cos she was pretty ‘out there’, but she was no satellite - didn’t even


hang around a week. Venn told him of his life on the road there was always a deal to be done, and he knew how to make them. This was his time, he said, ‘they’re filling worlds with me now!’ he said, taking a large gulp of drink, ‘they’re building cities from me now!’, and raised his glass high, ‘here’s to all you beautiful dispossessed! Disinvest! Disinvest!’ As the two of them grew steadily intoxicated in the screen light of the bar, Gregor realised that his existence, or at least the chance of his being in a state to call it such, would most likely involve the prospect of joining Venn on the road. He comprehended, as they talked, that Venn, despite his pretence at solitude, was feeling a lack of company. He had started talking about someone...his great love... And that’s about as much as he could remember of the evening. As Gregor awoke the next morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed into a nomad, the same as Venn, an exile from the society and politics he knew, cast upon the trail and heading who knew where. It didn’t even matter that much he guessed. Venn had some plan to head for the Bright New City in the south, intent on causing trouble - some kind of outburst, causing a riot or two. There’s no place like the big city to raise some eyebrows, he said, ‘call it vanity but I like to let them know I exist once in a while’. Gregor agreed, but on the condition they could pass through the Marches first to check on Jerome. Something told him Jerome would be heading south anyway - Gregor was fairly sure that he would rather take shelter with Marco than wait to see what Seth and Ennio had planned for him, but he wasn’t all that certain that Jerome would find life in the city entirely easy to adapt to after so many years of solitude. In fact, these days, there was probably no place for solitude anywhere. He had heard that Marco had eyes all over the city and that Seth had eyes everywhere else. The two of them had made the world

a battleground; a war zone, and as far as he could tell, with Ennio in his corner, Seth would almost certainly come out on top. So Gregor and Venn set off together in this indeterminate topography on their quest to nothing - demanding nothing and getting what they could. Venn knew the land and how to swindle the best out of it in a way Gregor could never have envisaged, or ever have hoped to learn. He would have been truly lost without him. They camped outside. Venn slept easily and Gregor was fitfully wakeful, counting his losses under the endless sky. He valued the authentic insignificance it brought him. Yet still he couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that their pathetic expedition might go down on record as the last great journey in real space and frankly, he felt embarrassed. It hadn’t occurred to him that Venn might have an agenda of his own. He had never thought to look past the studied form of the periplanetic he portrayed, but there was something; some dusty memory of that night in the bar where they met, that came back to him months later. The nomad was not an aimless wanderer, no, he saw it now, as they approached the gates of the Bright New City. He was here for a reason, and it was to see Ennio. Of course! Venn, the outsider was revelling in the cycle of destruction and insecurity she was casting down. The end of the city, the world full of nomads like him. This was what he meant when they first met. He was following Ennio on her unstoppable artery of urban demise, and he, himself was part of it too. Gregor followed Venn, Venn followed Ennio, she followed Seth, and Seth was no longer capable of making decisions, just responding to automated systems; they were a procession of fools dancing to the industrial tune of whirring circuit boards.


The Protarch (Dawn), 2013 oil on canvas, 190 x 320cm


The Mechanism (Morning), 2013 oil and pigment on canvas, 236 x 198cm


The Capital Drone (Daylight), 2013 oil on canvas, 200 x 250cm


The Iron Barb (Twilight), 2013 oil on canvas, 150 x 300cm


The Golden Age of Reconnaissance (Night), 2013 oil and enamel on canvas, 150 x 250cm


Ennio, 2013 oil on canvas, 200 x 160cm


Gregor’s Lament On the evening of his rescue he was falling off a bar stool He was restrained Pressure was his watchword and civics were his duty alone These carefree days, the remedies: a ‘64, a glass, a drum So take your time on the way Circuits start at the end Counting out the silver, Gregor looked him sideways and said, ‘You know the one, she was my first love, the international station The name, the name ‘Cos she was always out there, but she was so much more than a satellite’ around, around, a round Follow the followers all the way Follow the following, cast the trail away And who knows how long after, he was homeless on a hillside with this perfect stranger And wandering the plotlands they hit another four winds bar He thought, ‘this following is madness but pioneers they always attempt to close things down around us now’


Gregor, 2013 oil on canvas, 61 x 46cm


O.U.R., 2013 oil on canvas, 50.5 x 80cm


The Destroyer of Cities, 2013 mixed media, 23 x 9 x 9cm


Gregor, 2012 mixed media, 156 x 40 x 40cm


Ennio’s Spire, 2011 mixed media, 65 x 30 x 30cm


Venn - The Nomad, 2013 pencil and charcoal on paper, 28 x 21cm


The Bright New City

Soldiers

After we first discussed the crime it seemed so simple to align A clean and angular scenario And so we headed word of mouth to the bright new city in the south but all we managed was to lose three days on ‘64

Ennio Ennio what were you thinking of? Beaten and bloody and I don’t know why Ennio Ennio the edge of the city is safe From people with nothing no power no hope

And it occurred to me that when Venn said, ‘they’re filling worlds with me now’ There was no answer that could explain, ‘they’re building cities from me now’ And when that city played us out Photeus holed up in redoubt But things don’t look so bright and new around here. So with that attitude he said, ‘Well fuck the πολις, go ahead I haven’t seen them drinking cocktails here - not for a while’

Is it true you were thinking of buying your way into those soldiers? Line up among them and fight for your lives Stepping on debris the cracked and the shattered remains of walls and ceramics and I don’t know why Pulled between nations, the weapons of trade The city is burning they’re hoisting the barricades and is it a grave sin to agonise? Ennio Ennio hop on, alight and destroy Dance as they’re calling your name, because you’re not listening and descend to caves which no one occupies Closing the door of each room, the structure crumbles away and we face the dawn in cruel austerity

Red Horses of the Snow are Mark Burgess and Chris Hawtin www.redhorsesofthesnow.com

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Published in an edition of 500 copies, 200 with exclusive Red Horses of the Snow cds Chris Hawtin - The Golden Age Malgras|Naudet Crusader Mill, 66-72 Chapeltown Street, Manchester, M1 2WH www.malgrasnaudet.tumblr.com malgrasnaudet@gmail.com 7th December 2013 - 4th January 2014 Chris Hawtin - Gregor’s Lament C & C Gallery 18 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3HF www.ccgallery.co.uk joanna@ccgallery.co.uk 9th January - 16th February 2014 The artist would like to thank Joanna and Emily Gore, Magnus Quaife, Duncan McAfee, James Betts, Mark Burgess, Ricardo and Sofia Tenreiro da Cruz, Joanna Papadopoulos Averoff, Jason Martin, Victoria Voivonda, Catherine Graham-Evans, Hazel Hawtin, Alistair Hawtin, Ian Dawson, Juan Bolivar, Paul Rushworth, Dominic Lewis and Filippos Tsitsopoulos. All works © Chris Hawtin 2013 Texts © Duncan McAfee and Chris Hawtin 2013 www.duncanmcafee.org Photography by James Betts Printed in the UK by Healeys Print Group This catalogue was made possible by the kind assistance of:

Malgras|Naudet


Chris Hawtin

The Golden Age / Gregor’s Lament

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Chris Hawtin - The Golden Age / Gregor's Lament  

Exhibition Catalogue

Chris Hawtin - The Golden Age / Gregor's Lament  

Exhibition Catalogue