Double Vision, Turner Galleries, 2013

Double Vision, Turner Galleries, 2013 

Harry Hummerston’s Double Vision   

In pushing the boundaries of cinema in the heady days of the 1920s, polemical Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein postulated a theory of montage by which ‘each sequential element is perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other’. Eisenstein suggested a radical anti-narrative, an asequential mix of images that requires the viewer to suspend the temporality of the film experience in favour of (ironically given his radical rhetoric) a more traditional way of making sense present in visual art for centuries. The juxtaposition, layering and overlapping of disparate images has been a device for making meaning used by artists from antiquity to the recent posturings of postmodernism with its signature tactics of the appropriation and collision of imagery.

Harry Hummerston employs this tradition of layering in this new body of work, Double Vision, evoking in a powerful way the immediate relationships of his chosen imagery. Eisenstein is also famous for having said that by putting any two images next to each other people will try to make sense of them as a story. This tendency of language (the sort of hidden dynamic Roland Barthes called ‘the rustle of language’) allows for the construction of powerful metaphors and such as the juxtaposed revolutionary leader and peacock in his October (1927). And while this manipulation of visual language can easily construct a strong meaning, and in the case cited in October a cynical narrative, it is subject to the will and direction of the author. However it limits the serendipity or accidental dialogue of images and signs. Hummerston tries to allow this to happen. He works from a bank of images that he has chosen without any particular idea or direction in mind. The images, which he simply likes the look of, are selected at random from sources within popular culture. They are then arranged on top of each other together not for any explicit reason such as building a critique or comment – but for their aesthetic appeal. This is a difference that allows for the haphazard occurrence of meaning determined by an emotional response as opposed to a rationalised and determined one.

For instance a work such as The Kiss brings together two completely disparate images – a hummingbird and the rigging of a sailing ship; two images that seemingly have nothing in common. Chosen to sit together because Hummerston likes the way they look, when you begin to relate them to each other all sorts of ideas come to mind. Both need air to operate, both have a direct and dependant relationship with nature. Sailing ships literally fly across water as they are blown along while hummingbirds nest and live in trees from which the rigging of the ship is made. The combined image is full of air and space accentuated by the complexity shared by the two layers. Hummerston has manipulated the symmetry of the image of the hummingbird, that at first glance stands opposed to the disorganised pattern of the rigging; but of course the rigging is built symmetrically and has to be so for a sailing ship to be able to function.

Hummerston’s nod to Pop Art is evident in several of the works (Andy, Tat) but it is most apparent in China Girl where he has serialised Vladimir Tretchikoff's 1950’s ‘The Green Lady’ (real title; The Chinese Girl) – an image that adorns millions of walls around the world – backed by sailing ship rigging again. While Hummerston has again manipulated the symmetry of the work to give it balance, when you begin to think about the relationship of the two images an inevitable dialogue emerges that suggests nineteenth century colonialism made real in the here and now through the stereotypical image of an other, exoticised woman. I mention these two works; The Kiss and Chinese Girl, to illustrate how the ship’s rigging can, given its juxtaposition, bear a different meaning. All signification is contextual and contingent on relationships. The ship’s rigging moves through meanings depending on what it is in relationship with. What is clever about Hummerston work is that he appreciates this point in particular, allowing him to use of a group of images to combine and re-combine for an almost infinite set of dialogues.

The simplicity of these ‘combines’ can of course mask more serious considerations. M and M also replicates the symmetry of The Kiss but the images chosen quickly evoke a dialogue full of political interest and critique of American pop-hegemony. Mini Mouse and Mickey Mouse are iconic signs of American twentieth century imperialism synonymous with the use of popular culture to sell American capitalist values. The undelayed image of terrorists totting machine guns can’t help but construct a political reading. Is the consequence of American imperialism responsible for worldwide terrorism? Are Mini and Mickey capable of the mass destruction of any culture resistant to American hegemony? A similar reading can be found in Rainmen - the implosion of these two images, a pair businessmen and a helicopter, creates a sinister combination open to an easy assumption of Hummerston’s political intention. But this would be misplaced. For while these meanings do occur, independently these images come without an ethical loading. But this image, like the rest of the work in Double Vision, is ‘cool’ on political rhetoric. There is no real didacticism in these works. They are there without overt messages.

Coolness was a serious move in art in the 1960s. It is all but forgotten that the detached perspective of Pop Art was carefully engineered through the use of pastiche, specifically to evoke a coolness that tried to avoid the everyday of political activism that was so prevalent then. It is not just the style of Pop (block colour, appropriation, industrial techniques of printing, repetition) that Hummerston uses in these works but it also it’s the cool, disengaged and impersonal authorship of the works. There is no moralising in these images - but of course they can be re-used for that. No, these works are driven in the first instance by an aesthetic response to popular imagery and constructed likewise. It’s up to an audience to engage them however they will.

Julian Goddard July 2013