Home Sweet Home – The Irony of Feelings
Walter Seidl

The subject of sculpture in contemporary visual arts is invariably linked to the idea of it being combined with an installation and its interplay with space as a kind of psycho-grammatic matrix. Environments as general models that provide meaning with artistic expressive potential serve to question contexts of present-day life and their cultural, social, psychodynamic inscriptions. What is decisive is how sculpture is able to give form as an expression of mental states, be it as a concave or convex form, an aspect that is turned either inside or outside, and the question as to how the surface dynamic interacts consciously or unconsciously with the outside word.

Julie Hayward’s sculptures deal with the function of environments, in particular with elements in a primarily private context, one that also has psycho-social connotations. The deconstruction of sculptural dimensions results in a new interpretation of reality, with familiar object formations being used which are placed in an alienating state. On an analytical level, Hayward explores the issue of introspection, studying the desires and illusions related to diverse psycho-geographic constructions. On closer scrutiny of the objects that initially have a familiar look, the viewers are often confronted with something unsettling which evokes a sense of fear, but can just as quickly jump to a humorous level. What we have here are states of fear that basically cannot be identified and relate to Sigmund Freud’s theory of the uncanny, according to which something disconcerting can emerge on the basis of experiences that are long familiar but stored in the unconscious. The uncanny stems from something old and familiar, but immediately disturbing, representing the opposite of what is supposedly familiar, intimate, reassuring. Many novel impressions often appear unsettling and uncanny, but this is not true of all of them, since our perceptive schemes constantly oscillate between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Viewed on the surface, the uncanny is everything that appears visually mysterious to us and where, as in the case of Hayward’s sculptures, a number of questions as to the form and function of what is represented emerge. The boundary between uncanny and familiar is, however, often very difficult to identify and even according to Freud not always clearly definable.

One part of Hayward’s works refers to elements of a domestic setting, correlating with definitions of home, what is familiar, intimate, even if the artist gives these words a disturbing twist. This is also true for the objects in the exhibition “home sweet home” as well as for Home on Legs. Some objects recall cradles, chandeliers or children’s legs, and this is even more explicit in the title of the piece Bound Slippers. The latter refers to the Japanese tradition of bondage, with fiberglass and a plush object resembling ballet shoes. To be bound to “home” evokes culture-specific rites and a differentiation between the private realm and public life. The potential impact of Hayward’s works is, however, much broader and not primarily geared to the reality of a specific everyday life, meaning that uncanny aspects can be found throughout her entire oeuvre. The question that arises in media history has to do with the discrepancy between the represented and the imagined. How objective can things actually appear in a world in which reality and objectivity are simulated in the media and ultimately based on constructed aspects of reality, to which one is expected to keep a critical distance? The unfathomability that appears in Hayward’s sculptures, which has an unsettling effect on the viewer, is complemented, in Freudian style, with a psychological parallel level in which the uncanny is connected with everyday feelings, resurfacing in a humorous way in an artistically mediated formal idiom. The lightness of space is brought into harmony with the seeming lightness of objects. Fusions of various materials that are perfectly executed allow Hayward’s objects that often seem to float in the space to become cosmonautic, almost utopian formations. Amorphous structures whose plasticity extends throughout the space, reveal a hard outer shell which is sometimes clad with synthetic leather or with materials recalling orthophedic aids, while on the inside they are cushioned with plush. Colours that resemble skin or orthopedic aids also alternate with a hard black, so that there is a positive-negative effect referring to the psychological depths of what is being shown here.

On which basis do these meticulously crafted individual pieces that fluctuate between monstrosity and levity, precision of detail and precise coordination of colour emerge? In addition to intellectual considerations, it is, in formal terms, mainly the drawings, serving as prototypes, that mark off the aesthetic field around the productions that then emerge here. Once they have been executed, the finished objects seek to be used immediately, but this is only possible in the imagination, since the pieces are not supposed to be touched. The viewers are left in the dark regarding the material qualities, as it cannot be deciphered whether something is soft, hard, light or heavy and whether the material actually corresponds to what fantasy suggests it is. As a result of pure perception without a possible interaction precise instructions for handling the pieces are lacking. While Franz West relates his Passstücke to the human body, in the case of Hayward there are only allusions to a possible use, with the actual function of the work remains in suspense or in the air. Like West, Hayward’s objects allude to psychoanalytical aspects that, thanks to their materiality, recall fetishes whose task it is to serve as ersatz aspects for the real which, however, remains unattainable as a result of continual desire. For Freud the fetish is recognized by its predominantly male advocates or users as representing something abnormal but at the same time not exactly as something of suffering, since it serves to facilitate sexual desire. In the case of Hayward’s works, desire is not physically gratified. The viewers are kept at a bay, so that they are forced to take refuge in a fantasy world. Often leather-like pieces are used, mainly in black, but also skin-coloured. Both references to colour can constantly be found in Hayward, as in the works Home on Legs or Kitzelkorsett. The two titles are symptomatic for basic themes in Hayward’s works. A number of works revolve around the theme of “home”, with the German language offering various socio-culturally different modes of interpretation. Traditional terms such as Heimat, “heimisch” or “heimelig” allude to cultural-historical ideas of idyll while “Heim” (home) or “das Zuhause” can imply both a physical and a psychological aspect of belonging. Neither one or the other aspect finds gratification in Hayward’s pieces. The artist addresses those desires that are associated with home as well as the underlying illusions and abysses.

Hayward’s objects are characterized by a fragility whose formal idiom requires no explicitly formulated rules. The cradle-like objects such as Shelter are black and smooth on the inside and become transformed into receptacles that allude more black drops than to a sense of security. The skin-coloured outside contrasts with the disconcerting black on the inside so that all emotional moments that initially appear are subverted. This gives way to a mix between sterility and science fiction-like perfection of object formations that will come to existence in the near future, with their gravity subverting existing gravitational relationships. In a further sense, the objects evoke Jacques Lacan’s concept of “désir” that is based on the idea of the subject representing a lack that cannot be reversed. Similar to Freud’s loss of the phallus and its use by the fetish, Lacan’s concept of desire leads to a desire for something that cannot be found in reality and thus results in desire (for the other) falling into an endless loop.

A different twist is given to the meaning of the piece Pooped, which in keeping with its title may lie on the ground in an “exhausted” way, but allows for various different levels of definition. The compactness of the object shows that it is not necessarily “pooped” with its smooth, taut polyester surface and an externally attached pump, which resembles a cannon. Pooped could also be an over-sized sex toy which given the size, blackness and smoothness of the material could conceal dangers. The components of the objects that evoke something uncanny and anxiety, at the same time liberate moments of irony in Hayward’s work, ultimately creating a kind of protective shield that lets the viewers keep a certain safety distance. The objects remain sterile and untouched by human hand or skin, since their very meticulous execution anticipates ways of use whose actual function cannot yet be grasped at the moment.

In the sculpture titled Phobic, the theme of anxiety already becomes the central metaphor in the title. An ellipsoid structure resembling an over-sized hand grenade with holes allows the viewers to enter into contact with the object. When they stick their hands into the holes, they no longer encounter a hard shell but a soft plush surface. Sensors enable this inner core to begin to tremble as soon as someone approaches it. What is exceptional about this piece is the fact that the viewers engage in a real interaction with the object and do not just infer something from the distance. The surface of Phobic is covered with a special lacquer that can be associated with rubber when touched. Hayward thus studies the dynamic between cultural spaces of action and their social use so that the interface between object (of desire) and the performing subject remains a chimera. The initial irritation as well as a feeling of the uncanny are usually dissolved through irony and wit, bringing forth various poles of sensation and desire which are also reflected in the texture of the objects. Hayward thus sends the viewer into a labyrinth of sensations that offer different exit strategies. The type of participation and engagement with the found structures is left to the viewers but it is also determined by the surrounding space which, together with the objects, opens up psycho-geographic dimensions.