Exhibition review Angela Hutchings: The Maling Room Casula Powerhouse, Sydney NSW
In a cultural climate which is obsessed with representations of the body, of which the current exhibition Body at the Art Gallery of NSW is only one, albeit colossal, example, it's refreshing to come across an artist who is engaging with some different issues around embodiment. Angela Hutchings is not of the fetchingly named 'shit and piss' school of art, nor is she concerned with that obsessive reflection on and representation of the 'abject' body which informs the work of so many of the contemporary artists shown in Body. In this exhibition at the Maling Room in the Casula Powerhouse, Hutchings draws on a more compassionate approach to an often marginalised body - the sick and aging one - and treats it with an intellectual curiosity which results in some interesting speculations on the nature of embodiment.
The 10 pieces in the exhibition are constructed out of the detritus of domestic hardware - toilet cistern parts, rubber chair stoppers, curtain rings, window fittings and plastic colanders - which have been reconstructed into objects which invoke or suggest a body rather than directly representing it. One piece is composed of a toilet cistern part, a rubber shower cup and an earpiece from a transistor radio. The appearance of the object itself - the, the cheap plasticity of the toilet part, the ancient yellowed ear piece with its trailing plug and the dirty cracking lips of the perishing rubber cup recall a scary past of unfamiliar, and most likely unhygenic, clinical practices, acted out on, and at the same time, resembling, a body that is itself perishing. The object thus becomes a kind of metonym of a particular body - an old, dirty and decrepit one.
The other pieces in the exhibition are as succesful in their evocation of particular aging and medicalised bodies. A pair of rubber underpants is teamed with the leaves of a plastic colander and a thick piece of wadding to poignantly evoke not just the sad realities of incontinence, but also the ways in which objects have to be incorporated into the body to compensate for it as it begins to fail.
This is one of the conceptual strengths of the exhibition - it raises questions about the relationship between objects and bodies in such a way that it brings us to question what the limits of the body actually are. How do we incorporate objects into our bodies? How do we distinguish between our body and the things that become a part of it? This kind of phenomenological questioning presents the most fertile and interesting ground for discussions around the body, and it has been well served, both aesthetically and conceptually, in this exhibition.