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This large leather curtain responds to and reinterprets two small archival photographs that depict a little known female figure from Antiquity who for Hazewinkel maintains considerable contemporary social relevance. Suspicious Marble (Omphale) represents a melding of the two main areas of the artist’s creative practice, photography and sculpture, and his abiding interest in the contemporary social relevance and legacies of ancient archetypes, objects and myths.
The identity of the photographic subject can be established by the fact that she is represented with the classical attributes of Herakles. Here we see Omphale, a powerful queen of the Eastern Iron Age kingdom of Lydia who continued to rule independently after the death of her husband.
While little is known of this mysterious woman most of what is known has come down to us through Greek mythology. In the Greco-Roman tradition the story most often associated with Omphale involves Herakles, enslavement, an exchange of garments and the reversal of gendered social roles.
The ancient narrative suggests that Herakles, having brutally murdered his friend Iphitos, was (by decree of the Delphic Oracle) enslaved to Omphale for three years. The plot continues to thicken. It is said that a condition of Omphale’s was that the hyper-masculine Herakles wear only women’s clothes and remain at her court spinning flax, while she wearing his lion-skin took up his olivewood club and engaged in men’s activities such as hunting.
Little ancient material culture associated with the narrative survives, however it is well represented in ancient literary sources. There is a brief period in the history of Roman sculpture (at the emergence of the Imperial period) in which we see wealthy Roman women responding to the changing legal, economic and social status of women by commissioning portraits of themselves in the style of Omphale. Following this brief flowering Omphale disappears again before emerging (albeit briefly) in European 19th century musical, sculptural and decorative arts contexts.
Concurrent with the issues of power, gender, and the fluidity of gender based identity (which form the basis of the contemporary social relevance of the narrative), Suspicious Marble (Omphale) represents Hazewinkel's ongoing investigation of the relationships between materials, the body and the very human act of remembering. The two archival images used in this artwork depict a stone representation of soft human skin around which is swathed the skin of another warm-blooded animal. By enlarging the images to roughly human proportion and printing them onto the skin of yet another animal Hazewinkel sets up a theoretical framework for considering how a material makes meaning; and the role that our bodies play in generating and apprehending that meaning. Suspicious Marble (Omphale) presents skin as both subject and object, this subject object exchange bears resonance with the theoretical concept of material semiosis wherein (for proponents of Material Engagement Theory at least) a material’s meaning emerges from the conceptual blending of one’s physical and mental responses to it, during a context specific engagement with it.
Hazewinkel is alert to the historical development of photographic and sculptural presentation modes. In Suspicious Marble (Omphale) he conflates traditional wall-based approaches to the presentation of photography with more a spatially concerned in the round approach commonly applied to sculpture; which can be considered here as another physical, material manifestation of the doubleness that is central to the narrative from which this work unfolds.
Suspicious Marble (Omphale) is linked with Hazewinkel’s ongoing academic research into the powerful and mysterious Omphale and as to why she is so little represented in the canon of Western Classical Studies. It is related with his 2019 photographic work Disputed Becoming (Omphale, Herakles, Omphale) which can be viewed here
Read the artist's writing on Suspicious Marble (Omphale) in relation to Material Engagement Theory in his essay From Limbo To Mashup and The Spell Of The Fake: Relating Contemporary Photographic Practice, The Photographic Archive and Material Engagement Theory here
The archival images used in Suspicious Marble (Omphale) are drawn from a box titled Suspicious Fakes and Forgeries in the John Marshall Photographic Collection at the British School at Rome Photographic Archives.