For the past two decades, Hany Armanious has been trying to unlock the energy and magic hidden within the things that surround us. He’s looking for the moment when the ordinary becomes uncanny, which only becomes apparent when one object is considered in relation to another, or when there’s a slight shift in an object’s materiality or function.
He’s drawn to mundane items, the slightly shabby, the dated and discarded – the stuff that often gets overlooked or neutralized to near-invisibility. This penchant for the unremarkable made it easy to walk through his exhibition, ‘we go out inside’, and miss just how extraordinary and precisely executed this show actually was.
Even with prior knowledge of Armanious’s work – his experimental approach to, and indeed mastery of, casting; his inventive use of materials; his alchemical turbo-charging of ‘readymades’ – it is still hardly credible that all of the objects on display here, including the plinths, had been cast in pigmented polyurethane resin, polyester resin, bronze and silver. Even materials that Armanious has used previously, such as expanding foam and polystyrene, were represented as casts of themselves. The level of detail in the duplicated objects is astounding, but this trickery – the illusion – is only part of the artist’s quest; there is agency, vision and real commitment in the selection and arrangement of these faux-readymades.
Take, for example, The Pomegranate (all works 2013), a small group of objects: a disposable cigarette lighter, an old leatherette camera case with expanding foam spewing from inside, and a block of concrete and mortar. It’s an odd configuration that doesn’t immediately communicate magic, but neither does it appear inanimate. The foam looks fresh, as if still expanding, and there is fuel in the lighter. Both hint at an inner force or energy. The chunk of concrete is heavy with its own associations and history. It carries the trace of a post as a scar, making it a kind of mould, subtly reminding us that it is itself also cast. In Ikebana, a small bunch of transparent tubes balance on a hacked-up and decorated totem, which in turn stands within a triad of distorted polystyrene balls. The title offers some clues to this confounding concoction: ikebana is the Japanese discipline of giving life to flowers through arrangement; the container is a key element of the composition, which also draws attention to the plinths in this show. Each is cast from an original Perspex plinth commissioned by the artist. When the plinth was delivered, it came covered with protective paper; recognizing the reveal-conceal poetics of a cloaked plinth Armanious decided to cast it ‘as is’ using his intricate layering technique.
There is something slightly unnerving about being in a room full of these sculptures; it’s both familiar and strange. The time Armanious invests in replicating his chosen objects not only validates our sustained contemplation of them, it’s also a means for him to dissect and question the very essence of the original, a hands-on attempt to tap into its core. The extent to which his counter-readymades become magical as a result of the transformation process fluctuates by the minute. Only fleetingly do they register as replicas stripped of their original substance, and even then, they could be telling us that we only see the magic when it is no longer there.