The real, the social and the surreal merge in sculptures that reference or employ what Ed Ruscha once described as the ‘unreported artefacts’ of the urban landscape
‘Billboards are almost all right’, the architect Robert Venturi wrote in Learning from Las Vegas (1972), his and Denise Scott Brown’s treatise on the architecture and infrastructure of persuasion which found its centripetal apotheosis in a desert oasis. By ‘all right’ he didn’t mean beautiful. He didn’t even mean not ugly. What he did mean was that they existed and that they existed for a reason: the Strip may have been all crass commerce on its false-fronted surfaces, but its subtexts were all about unsatisfied desires and transformation.
Just as Venturi learnt his lessons from Las Vegas, withholding judgement so as to see clearly what conditions were really like on the ground, so the sculptor Mark Handforth has learned from what already exists in the world, all the things that are there and aren’t going away in a hurry – regardless of whether they are good, bad, ugly or just plain indifferent. Billboards, lampposts, backyard satellite dishes, motorbikes, fluorescent tubing, roadside symbols, any of the things that Ed Ruscha once called the ‘unreported’ artefacts all around us. If, as Venturi suggested, Modernism is the radically idealistic dissatisfaction with what exists, with objects and places and ways of living that emerge from the convergence of necessity and desire, then Handforth’s Pop ready-mades (in many cases assisted or self-made) are, for all their references to the modern, themselves something other. They seem to propose that the subtext of things as they are is nearly enough; that, given the right nudge, they will reveal themselves and their true character.
Handforth, a Hong-Kong-born Brit who has called Miami Beach home for more than a decade, moved to the Sunshine State not long after Hurricane Andrew laid waste to much of it in 1992. The disaster created just the sort of contemporary ruins and skewed, disrupted sense of normalcy latent in his sculptures. (He likes to see the wear and tear inflicted on a nondescript thing that ushers it towards a new and unforeseen state of affairs.) It was a few years after the storm that he found a junked satellite dish in a Florida yard, stripped of its antenna and electronics. Handforth adopted the giant parabolic husk and dragged it to his Miami gallery, where he cleaned and sanded it and tossed in a few throw pillows and a blanket to encourage gallery visitors to get comfy in it like contented molluscs on the half shell. Beginning with Untitled (Dish) (1996), Handforth continued to appropriate with a light hand, making adjusted ready-mades that don’t lean too heavily on their Conceptualism, and succinctly re-jiggering the odds and ends of a society that discards its technologies as fast as it can produce them.
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