Urban space is not immediately thought of as an abstract environment, but the work of Stephen Haley invites us to re-consider preconceived notions of space, time, and representation in a world dominated by digital technology.
Underlying Haley’s work is an interest in epistemology – how we know and represent the world. Focusing on suburban landscapes, cities, architecture and technology, his work reflects “the actual landscape we inhabit, mentally and physically – not the romanticized tradition of exotic, distant space such as the bush”. Haley’s artwork approaches the effects of technology on our lives, in a way that acknowledges and welcomes new states of experience, rather than presenting technology as a detrimental effect on traditional landscape.
To further consider philosophies of understanding and epistemology, Haley uses the concept of the planar glass mirror as a recurrent tool to comprehend contemporary space. He recognizes the mirror in both technology and philosophy: as a fundamental aspect of modern visual systems such as photography, cinema, video and 3D modeling; and metaphorically through the act of thinking and reflecting.
Recognizing that “the ideal of the mind or vision as a simple mirror was shattered during the modernist phase but it persists in a modified form”, Haley’s works are in turn multifaceted. He portrays a fragmented, disjunct, and inconsistent transformation of contemporary space, which like a mirror ball, “projects out into the world as much as reflect it”.
One of the most thought-provoking aspects of Haley’s work is the blurred distinction between reality and its virtual representation: is reality made to look virtual or is the virtual now the original, with reality becoming a simulation of a pre-designed digital environment? Haley expresses that the map literally now proceeds the territory, and reveals how abstract our familiar environments are – that they are constructed to resemble the digital.
‘Somewhere about Now’ is a major exhibition of Haley’s work over the past six years, as well as new work which premieres in the exhibition. Four new prints virtually represent various locations, which Haley uses to incorporate complex references to philosophy, statistics, symbolism and architecture.
Interval depicts a modern hotel, with identical rooms encased in reflective glass. Inside the walls sit portraits of French philosophers Baudrillard and Foucalt, and the outside walls reflect “an impossible landscape of functionless symbolic architectures” such as the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower.
Changing Landscape takes the form of Chinese landscape painting, but is in fact a statistic-based work which references average CEO salaries in the USA. United and Freedom illustrate the notion of modern ‘generic spaces’ through rendered 3D models of a petrol station (a homage to Ed Ruscha) and a typical suburban shopping mall, bringing to light the non-places of our contemporary environment, which have become ‘spaces’ rather than ‘places’.
Repose and Pose sit opposite each other: Repose, a projected video work, lights Pose, which in turn reflects the light and movement back into the space. Working in dialogue with each other, this combination of technology and material spatialise the medium of video and engage the position of the viewer in the process of looking.
Self-referential loops of simulated spaces, reflections, and repetition investigate contemporary Western space in Stephen Haley’s work to question familiar and preconceived notions of the world. His work re-presents these suburban and city landscapes in relation to their construction in digital technology. By doing this, Haley reveals an ‘in-between space’ that exists between the virtual and the real, blurring the boundaries between the two, and suggests that this overlapping may continue until we will ask where that distinction has gone.
Glen Eira City Council Gallery
Until 28 October, 2012
Driveby, 2011, screen still from single channel video projection, 2.04mins, dimensions variable
Repose, 2012, screen still from single channel video projection, 2.04mins, dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne