I was drawn to Robert Hengeveld's exhibition Agency for completely subjective reasons initially. The title of one of his pieces – Kentucky Perfect – evoked a flood of memories of the five years I spent growing up in the Bluegrass state myself. An image of visiting my friend's house in the suburbs one afternoon after junior high school surfaces: we're trying on blue Clinique eyeshadow upstairs, which makes us look like raccoons, but her teary-eyed little brother keeps busting into the bathroom and whining. He evidently wants to play outdoors.
"Can't your mom just let him go outside?" I ask. The sun's beating down at 93 degrees Fahrenheit, but the windows are clamped shut, while the air conditioner is cranked on full blast indoors. As a result, we actually have to wear sweaters to keep from shivering.
"No. We've sprayed the grass so we all have to stay inside today," she tells me. "But he has TV he can watch."
Robert Hengeveld, Kentucky Perfect
Hengeveld's exhibition at Eyelevel Gallery captures the absurdity of North Americans' quest for perfection when it comes to their lawns (and everything else really). Kentucky Perfect features rows of flawlessly manicured sod, which a wheeled assembly of lights periodically scans, followed by a mechanized watering boom that mists the grass and the episodic trimming of the grass by an automated mower. When viewed out of the context of the yard, the wastefulness and futility of the endless cycle of mechanically induced growth and the subsequent trimming back of that growth is amplified. Ghostrider, a nearby installation, also fixates on our use of technology to control our environments, as it features a hedge whose growth is continuously hacked back by a mechanical set of trimmers.
Hengeveld writes, "... the work – in its fantastical amplification of the technology's use in the everyday – examines how this technology (communications, chemical, genetic) is used to control the environments we inhabit; as a means of making things more convenient, more comfortable, more aesthetic." By intentionally exaggerating the scale of our use of technology, he forces us to take a closer look at our interventionist relationships with the natural world and the technologies we often employ when imposing an aesthetic ideal on our surroundings.
"The excessive nature of the work reframes the reality outside of it, creating a moment in which the familiar is thrown into question and seen again," he writes.
One gets the impression that any human intervention would disrupt the mechanized perfection of the rows upon rows of homogenous blades of grass – that, much like residents of the Kentucky suburbs, Hengeveld has created a dystopic artificial nature that's so pristine we must write ourselves out of it.
Eyelevel Gallery: http://www.eyelevelgallery.ca/exhibition/agency
Robert Hengeveld: Agency continues until May 11.
Lizzy Hill is an internationally published writer and the editor of Visual Arts News, Atlantic Canada's only magazine focusing on the work of visual artists. Lizzy loves her community in Halifax's artistic north end, a wonderful summer camp for grown ups full of underground restaurants and pop-up galleries. She is Akimblog's Halifax correspondent and can be followed @LizzyFHill on Twitter.
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