Withness: A Haunting, Part 2 of Hazewinkel’s materially diverse, multi-site installation project The Ongoing Remains (3 Parts), can be considered the conceptual and procedural nexus of the broader project which was commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the National 2019: New Australian Art.
Hazewinkel’s artistic practice characteristically explores links between the remote past and the contemporary realm by teasing out tensions between damaged ancient figurative sculpture and our own ephemeral bodies. More broadly his work examines the relationships between ancient objects and contemporary societies through museums, collections, collecting practices and modes of display.
Presenting Withness: A Haunting in the context of the 19th Century sculpture collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales is an example of this strategy, and by doing so the artist invites us to consider the work through a socially transhistorical lens.
Calming and unsettling, this video presents the erasure of a seemingly endless supply of portrait busts that depict a white patrician European male whose identity is not revealed. Typically an encounter with a portrait bust (like most forms of portraiture) raises the almost irrepressible desire to know the identity of the sitter. Here the identity of the figure is less important, rather its ‘type’ is the focus of this work.
The twelve figures being erased in this almost hour long video are not honorific representations of a brutal dictator, a victorious general, a powerful captain of industry or a monarch; rather they are representative of a perhaps more threatening hybrid entity, one characterised by anonymity and complicity. These versions of the same seemingly anonymous figure refer to an earlier history, their original sculptural referent is a1432 portrait bust attributed to the Renaissance master Donatello. Donatello’s famous humanist original (of Florentine politician) has come to inhabit the world (and history) in a very different manner than most other portraits. It has been faithfully cast and recast thousands upon thousands of times with each cast loosening the ties to the original sitter’s identity. Blindingly white faithful reproductions of the original can be found in cast galleries and traditional drawing schools world over, wherein generations of art students have spent hour upon hour learning to render yet another faithful likeness. In this way, over time, the identity of the sitter has been slowly bled out.
In an Opportunity Shop in Sydney, Hazewinkel uncovered a numbered copy (No.134) of an earlier copy that was cast in Sydney in 1885 for the Bathurst School of Arts in regional NSW. Initially, he thought he had discovered a cast of an early Roman portrait, however the figure’s true art historical identity was soon established. Hazewinkel’s misidentification had good reason in that Donatello (active during the antiquity-crazed Renaissance) maintained a fascination with early Roman portraits, which were among the first to present their subjects to the world warts and all.
Hazewinkel began casting and recasting the figure. Over several years he has made more than 150 versions, further bleeding out the identity (and relevance) of original sitter with each new version. Assembling them into groups in his studio the identity of the original sitter slowly became absent in a physically paradoxical manner. Through these assemblies the bust itself (a sculptural typology periodised by stylistic characterisations) began to resonate with a different meaning, one that infers a generalised social type rather than an individual. Here the figures being erased are identifiable versions of the same type, individualised by their disfiguring fissures and fractures, which are cast into each figure. These ruptures are structural; they are integral to each figure’s condition of being. The ruptures are the result of Hazewinkel’s deliberately imprecise casting process in which intentional misalignment of the moulds constituent parts produces expressive markings.
Working in close collaboration with sound designer / composer J. David Franzke the pair devised an approach to the video’s sound, which reflects the visual idea that just before a person dies they see every image they have ever seen flashing upon their mind screen. Here as each head is slowly erased every imagined memory (that it ever held) is released in a meditative composition of sonar like blips, pinging and echo traces that chart the trajectories of tiny chips of plaster, which like minute materialised memories, shoot across the screen. Without an identifiable beginning or end, Withness: A Haunting presents a seemingly endless cycle of the erasure (and perhaps forgetting) amidst swirling clouds of white plaster dust set against a sky blue background.
Each figure's entry to the frame is accompanied by the beeping of what might be medical apparatus, this adds to the overall clinical atmosphere of the procedure. Each figure has its own soundtrack which, more than their physicality, distinguishes them from those that have come before and those that will follow. At the moment of contact between each head and erasing disk their psychic interiority is aurally unleashed, flooding into the space that surrounds the viewer.
Each erasure produces a residual artefact - the stump of a neck, the vestige of a jawline, a silent mouth - these artefacts are the material subjects of the overall project’s third part, Continuum: The Persistence of Being, a photographic triptych that exploits the evocative power of the fragment to reveal a physically absent, yet somehow present, entity.
An easily overlooked aspect of Hazewinkel’s The Ongoing Remains (3 Parts) is the way that its three-part structure mirrors the tripartite conception of the broader The National: New Australian Art project. Conceived as three biennial exhibitions (2017, 2019, 2021) The National is curated by and staged across a coalition of three of Sydney’s most significant cultural institutions - the Art Gallery of New South Wales, The Museum of Contemporary Art and Carriageworks. If we consider the structure of The Ongoing Remains (3 Parts) as a conceptual mirroring of The National’s broader structure then Part 2, Withness: A Haunting can be considered reflective specifically of The National’s second iteration (the 2019 iteration) for which it was created. Thinking about The Ongoing Remains (3 Parts) in this way highlights the ways in which Hazewinkel engages with museums, collections, collecting practices, modes of display and other museological systems as means of shedding light on the contemporary social legacies of ancient objects, archetypes and stories.
Situated in the vaulted Old Courts of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Withness: A Haunting was strategically presented alongside a selection of 19th century neoclassical marbles. One of these (positioned in front of the screen slightly to the right - see documentation) is a work by the American born sculptor Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908). Hosmer was an openly gay woman who, through her imagery, subverted the way that women’s stories were told; she is today regarded as one of the world’s first female professional sculptors. Hosmer’s work positioned in the context of Withness; A Haunting is titled Beatrice Cenci (1857). It represents an exhausted young woman whose body is almost prone. For most contemporary visitors the identity Beatrice Cenci means little, however knowing a little of her story makes the work resonate with a powerful contemporary relevance. Beatrice Cenci (1577- 1599) was young Roman woman, she was the daughter of a vicious and violent aristocrat of great wealth and power. According to historical records Beatrice was subjected to years of brutal physical abuse and imprisonment at the hands of her father. After several escape attempts Beatrice (and her brothers) planned and murdered their violent father. The violent abuse perpetrated by Francesco Cenci was widely known throughout Rome and at the time of his killing great effort was made to have Beatrice (and her bothers) absolved of the crime, however the then Pope, Clement VIII refused her clemency and Beatrice was executed.
Harriet Hosmer’s Beatrice Cenci (1857) is a remarkable study in beauty, a beauty that masks a radical critique of patriarchal culture. Harriet’s Beatrice was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1892, she was the ideal company to stand with and experience Hazewinkel’s Withness: A Haunting.
See selected installation documentation of Part I, The Emissaries: Keepers Of Our Stories, from The Ongoing Remains (3 Parts) here
See individual documentation of the 26 cast figures comprising Part I The Emissaries: Keepers Of Our Stories here
See Part 3, Continuum: The Persistence of Being, from The Ongoing Remains (3 Parts) here
See selected documentation of Parts 1, 2 and 3 of The Ongoing Remains (3 Parts) accompanied by a brief text by Ross Gibson here