At first glance, the five wall-mounted, ghostly sculptural masses presented in Matt Hinkley’s recent exhibition suggested at most a weak resemblance to the artist’s previous work. His garishly coloured, miniscule polymer clay sculptures with their abstract patterns cast from hand-etched plaster moulds were nowhere in evidence. Nor was there any sign of the table-tennis ball, aluminium tubing or obsolete items of electronic hardware upon which he has, in the past, inscribed similarly intricate designs. The increased magnitude of Hinkley’s new works (all Untitled, 2012), along with their heavy horizontal protrusion from the wall, lent them a certain cumbersomeness and docility – qualities difficult to attribute to the Australian artist’s previous sculptural output.
Yet despite superficial differences, that the new work was manufactured through an ad hoc, labour-intensive technique with ordinary objects and materials, confirmed its underlying continuity with Hinkley’s previous work. The DIY production process employed by Hinkley for the new works, more specifically, involved casting the sheets, strips and shreds that comprised the outer layers of each work by scraping a thin coat of liquid silicon onto an array of flat surfaces – mostly different sorts of paper and tablecloth. Each silicon piece was then wrapped around a structure built from either wire attached to a metal frame or, in the case of the simplest, cylindrically shaped work on display, wire alone.
The completed works staged a series of disjunctions between the formal properties of silicon, wire, and stainless steel. Viewed from certain angles, the wire structures of certain works were plainly visible, which had the effect of punctuating the outer rubbery layers of the work. The underside of one work, more radically, left its innards substantially exposed; the viewer could glimpse the stainless steel Sol LeWitt-type modular structure pressing against delicate outer layers. Typically though, one’s attention was directed more towards these layers than to the geometric architectures concealed within.
On closer inspection, the undulating outer surfaces of each work – its apparently smooth, crumpled complexion – broke apart into a jagged complex of internal formal relations. Distributed across these torn and perforated matte textures (in a fairly inconspicuous manner) was an uneven patchwork of ‘white’ fields, radiating barely perceptible modulations in colour. (This is one quality, it would seem, that Hinkley’s work shares with that of the Melbourne minimalist painter Robert Hunter.) While pigments that had been stained or rubbed into the silicon in high concentrations were immediately perceptible, if the eye remained trained on a single work for an extended period, an ensemble of infinitesimal differences in colour within and among the different regions of each work gradually – almost phantasmagorically – began to appear.
What was suggested was a curious analogy between, on the one hand, the physical process of pigment soaking into the wet silicon and, on the other, the viewer’s gradual capacity to perceive the work’s subtly colour-stained surfaces. Yet while instructive to an extent, this analogy ultimately failed to convey the way that, although seductive, the works could only be ‘activated’ through the sustained concentration of the viewer – a certain degree of discipline in the act of beholding the art work was required. If the viewer refused to invest, so to speak, in the work, then the latter refused to give itself over to perception, and its optical effects remained in a state of dormancy. Part of the significance of Hinkley’s exhibition derived precisely from this paradoxical formal operation: of an autonomous work prescribing in part the conditions of its own consumption. With the proliferation of often-bombastic participatory, interactive and immersive modes of contemporary art, it seems as though Hinkley deemed it necessary to incorporate this protective cocoon for his work into the work itself.