Ariel Hassan Walks a Dark Wire

One of the most powerful tropes of art of the last 100 plus years is that everything is fluid, everything is negotiable. What’s this got to do with Ariel Hassan’s current work?

Everything or nothing – it all depends on what happens when you engage with the works. The exhibition is composed of 30 plus small, framed black and white images and in the adjoining space a video which appears to represent a sped up helicopter view of a flight over canyons and gorges. Individual letters appear at the junction of a split screen image which articulates the same ‘flight’ in mirror action reverse.

ariel-hassan-making-all-things-equal-greenaway-adelaide-reviewAriel Hassan, ‘REVERSAL OF CONTINGENCY INTO NECESSITY’, (2016) 3D animation

Apart from the low sonorous sound track both spaces are hung with a pressing silence. The black and white images are computer jet prints in edition numbers of around 10. Each has a distinctive identity and carry evidence of tight editing. Their aesthetics allows for subtle exchanges of darks, lights, mid tones, textures and patterns which can be readily associated with modernist intaglio printmaking. Where to from here?

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Ariel Hassan, ‘MAKING ALL THINGS EQUAL’, (2016) Installation view

A starting point is familiarity with the artist’s practice to date, particularly his method of reworking from existing images to create hybrid forms in which ‘new’ resolutions are embedded with traces of previous states. The engine room for Hassan’s practice, including the works in this current exhibition is a set of personal ideas and instincts derived from a diversity of sources – the artist’s own experiences of being a global creature (growing up in Argentina, living and working in Spain, then Australia and currently dividing his time between Australia and Berlin, Germany) – and world views shaped by critical theory, research and general reading.

Central to Hassan’s deliberations is the question of personal and collective freedom and the choices that need to be made in relation to these idealised states. In this context, Hassan operates as a chameleon-like figure, setting up situations in which the ‘art work’ is fugitive or ambiguous by virtue of purporting to be, or be about, painting when the very process of, for example, copying and extrapolating the original source imagery, then syndicating and morphing this imagery in 2D and 3D, pigment and digital forms, continually challenges the viewer to say ‘here, at this point, this is where the art stops its running and makes its stand’.

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Ariel Hassan, ‘OIKONOMIA’ (2016), Installation view in MAKING ALL THINGS EQUAL

But Hassan’s appreciation of what life might be sees fluidity and paradox where others desire resolution. The key features of his practice which involve creating small images of flux, painting these as ‘still lifes’, photographing and scanning details, digital editing the projecting or syndicating components of the original images onto screens and surfaces that sometimes climb of the wall and onto the ceiling or floor all speak of a creative imagination that works in a rhizomatic manner, constantly sending out fresh shoots as possibilities present themselves.

This might suggest unregulated freedom. But time spent in the company of these works reveals otherwise. Hassan has said that “I have rules that are set in place to allow the work to be free”. The OIKONOMIA series, for example, operates on a set of finely calibrated aesthetics. Integral to progressing each image through a series of states is the question of existentialist judgement. Making decisions about what to do next, what to put in or leave out maintains the artist in a state of precariousness, like a high wire performer, conscious of shifts in balance at every step. He talks about fear of comfort zones being “liquefied” or “exploded” which leads to overreliance of sets of rules, popularism and totalitarianism.

ariel-hassan-making-all-things-equal-greenaway-adelaide-reviewAriel Hassan, ‘OIKONOMIA #19’, (2016), digital print on etching paper

The OIKONOMIA series was inspired in part by two etchings from Goya’s Los Caprichos series of etchings. Hassan’s images share a darkness with Goya’s, visually and conceptually.

There is a political subtext to these works, something that Hassan has sought to handle with care. Allowing any work “to be itself”, as he says, leaves no room for political banner waving. But in this series this balancing act between image and meaning has been taken to precarious limits. Elements of figuration – an arm, foot or a figure – reference human souls cast in some Dantean void.

ariel-hassan-making-all-things-equal-greenaway-adelaide-reviewAriel Hassan, ‘OIKONOMIA #6’, (2016), digital print on etching paper

They have their origins in images sourced from porn sites, which represent for the artist an expression of sexual hunger or desire, which, in the nature of pornographic addiction, deliver only boredom or escapism. As such these images and components of the video, REVERSAL OF CONTINGENCY INTO NECESSITY with its binary dynamic of opposites running from each other, can be read as open-ended metaphors for the fluid relationships that exist between freedom and control in contemporary life. Then again, they might well be ‘of themselves’, “moments of beauty”, as Hassan says, not in their creation but points of discovery.

This exhibition offers a bare boned contemplative experience. Spend time. Don’t demand meanings. You will be rewarded.

Ariel Hassan: Making All Things Equal
Greenaway Art Gallery
Until Sunday, November 27
greenaway.com.au

Header image: Ariel Hassan, ‘OIKONOMIA #9’ (detail.), (2016) digital print on etching paper

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