Slacker art and scatter art, which came to prominence in the early 1990s, are not really movements so much as styles of installation that expand upon the anti-form and dematerialized techniques of post-minimalist art. At its best, this kind of work can invigorate a gallery space and produce shorthand versions of complex ideas. At its worst, it can seem indifferent, ironic and naively dismissive of craftsmanship. Christopher Hanrahan is an Australian artist whose work reflects the influence of such slacker and scatter-art figureheads as Sean Landers and Sylvie Fleury; however, over the past three years, Hanrahan has refined his aesthetic and toned down the humour of his early works. This trend of restraint continued in his latest Sydney exhibition ‘Other Standard Models’, which featured 11 modest sculptures composed of thin brass strips that emulate household objects.
On first entering Sarah Cottier Gallery – which shifted premises at the start of 2013 to a more central location in Sydney’s Paddington district – Hanrahan’s thin sculptures looked like a single installation, the uniform use of brass serving to highlight the artist’s intelligent utilization of the entire gallery space. In all the works, shimmering brass strips are marked by black scolds where each piece has been welded together in a way that seems both pragmatic and highly aestheticized. In the sculptural series ‘Standard Model (conversation piece 1–5)’ (all works 2013), each work is made from a short thin strip of brass that has been welded to a longer strip to resemble the hands of a clock, affixed directly to the gallery wall. While the works could be read as alluding to time or duration – in reference to Hanrahan’s process-driven practice – they are also vague enough to reject such symbolism, appearing as simple structural experimentations. This blurring of design prototype and reductive sculpture is repeated throughout the exhibition, in Standard Model (how it is), which recalls a basic coffee table, and Standard Model (the jazzy magical mysteries of modern physics), an enormous hanging sculpture that at once resembles a large-scale wind chime and a work by Alexander Calder.
Highlights here included Standard Model (Trojan Horse) – an archetypal dining chair as a mysterious surrogate object – and Standard Model (not quite how it is, but certainly how it could be – definitely within the realms of possibility) – an accordion-shaped room divider with two roughly cut blocks of white marble lying across its precarious base. While these evoke Martin Kippenberger’s grungy and sometimes inexplicable minimal assemblages (a slacker artist avant la lettre), Hanrahan’s genuine investment in the formal character of his works resists straightforward comparisons. Here he seems less concerned with the performative gesture than with pushing the medium of sculpture into a kind of spatial drawing.
The tension between installation and sculpture has been a feature of Hanrahan’s practice over the years, as it is for Mikala Dwyer and Hany Armanious – two mid-career Australian artists who have been very influential on this kind of practice, particularly within the Sydney art scene. All three artists seem compelled to make sprawling, ephemeral and detritus-inspired installations yet are only too aware of the relatively restrictive nature of the local contemporary art market, which focuses instead on producing unique pieces. In ‘Other Standard Models’, Hanrahan built upon the quixotic quality of his 2012 exhibition ‘Museums Have the Same Problems as Unions’, employing the traditionally fine art material of bronze to highlight the empty space surrounding his renditions of household objects, suggesting that it is art’s intangible philosophical questioning which ultimately distinguishes it from more commonplace commodities.