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Peter Hennessey

 
 
www.peterhennessey.net  

“For the past two years, the art of Peter Hennessey has powerfully examined the media-saturated events and phenomena that have inscribed themselves upon his (and our) memories and dreams. Deploying the most commonplace of materials (plywood, galvanised steel hinge, canvas), Hennessey has produced bold, arresting and intricate sculptures based on subject matter which is familiar, even infamous, but physically inaccessible...“

(excerpt from Space Voyagers and Neonatal Nightmares: an odyssey into the Art of Peter Hennessey by Varga Hosseini, 2006)

 
   
Works chronology  
   
Miscellaneous My Voyager My Nicu My Burnt Frost  
     
Essays  
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My Burnt Frost, by Peter Hennessey, 2008
 

My Burnt Frost continues my investigations of the space between images and experience in the contemporary world, as well as my interest in sculpture as the performance of objects. My particular concern for this show is the point at which objects cease to exist or transform themselves. The moment after which the thing can only be remembered, when the opportunity for actual experience explodes. The focus for the works in this exhibition is an event that occurred on February 21st this year, when the US Navy used a SM-3 missile to destroy a damaged spy satellite, known as USA-193. This operation, code-named ‘Operation Burnt Frost’ was justified on the basis that the satellite, which had malfunctioned shortly after deployment and was in a rapidly decaying orbit, carried 450kg of toxic hydrazine that could potentially produce a toxic gas cloud if it survived re-entry. However, many (including Russia) were sceptical of the hazard that this relatively small quantity of hydrazine presented, claiming instead that this was a de-facto testing of a US missile defence system. The US government stridently denied this claim, although six days after the event US Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates did say that the mission’s success showed that U.S. plans for a missile-defence system were realistic.

I was interested in this occurrence for a number of reasons. I have a long-standing fascination with what I call ‘inaccessible objects’, such as satellites, for both aesthetic and conceptual reasons, and USA-193 is particularly intriguing. Not only was it physically inaccessible (up in orbit) but it was even visually inaccessible, as it was classified so there are no publicly accessible images or even descriptions. We know it only in the vaguest terms, as a blurry dot in an optical telescope image or the deliberately meaningless code-names USA-193 or NROL-21. Now it has been blown up and its existence is further reduced to a series of informational echoes in the media. How could we attempt to represent this thing that we could really never see?

I see my sculptures as more like performances than representations. They attempt to physically ‘act out’ the objects that they represent. There is certainly a physical resemblance - otherwise it would be a poor performance indeed - but they do not tend towards visual equivalence. Instead they attempt to manifest the physical presence of the objects. In many ways they embody the absence of the thing rather than fabricating its presence. Therefore, instead of trying to reproduce the absent object, as I have done in much of my previous work, in this case I am looking more at the moment of its disappearance.

In the central work of the exhibition, My USA-193 (...now you don’t), I am presenting the remnants of a performance of the destruction of the spy satellite. Sealed into a toughened glass case are the remains of a scale reproduction of the spacecraft that has been destroyed in a scaled down explosion. The case itself shows signs of the damage caused by the detonation that has occurred within it, and the viewer is left to try to imagine what the scattered fragments might have been. Accompanying this work is a video of the explosion event, showing the destruction. However, at no point is the viewer ever allowed a definitive inspection of the original object. The exhibition also includes a series of small bronze sculptures titled Debris Piece #1, #2, #3. These capture collections of flying debris, reproducing moments from the process of explosive destruction that has transformed the original object.

Peter Hennessey

2008

 
 
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Space Voyagers and Neonatal Nightmares: an odyssey into the Art of Peter Hennessey, by Varga Hosseini, 2006
 

"All the impulses of all the media were fed into the circuitry of my dreams. One thinks of echoes. One thinks of an image made in the image and likeness of images".1 -- Don DeLillo
For the past two years, the art of Peter Hennessey has powerfully examined the media-saturated events and entities that have inscribed themselves upon his (and our) memories and dreams.
Deploying the most commonplace of materials (plywood, galvanised steel hinge, canvas), Hennessey has produced bold, arresting and intricate sculptures based on subject matter which is familiar, even infamous, but physically inaccessible.
In exhibitions such as Repercussions (2004) in Adelaide, Proof (2004-05) and My Moon Landing (2005) in Melbourne, and My Voyager (2005) in Perth, Hennessey has showcased stunning, life-size re-productions of military and aeronautic artefacts which are imbued with symbolic, historical and political resonance. Take My Ikara (2004) for instance, Hennessey's four-meter high plywood and steel rendition of an Ikara missile manufactured by the Australian military and tested at Woomera. The imposing, pistol-shaped sculpture is symbolic of both Woomera's troubled history, and the broader anxieties surrounding national security. Then there’s the sprawling My Voyager (2004), a satellite-dish-like structure modelled on NASA's Voyager 2 space probe, which was launched in 1977 to contact extra-terrestrial life. Here, Hennessey adopts the theme of communicating with aliens in order to interrogate the treatment of foreigners in our own communities.
The motivating force behind these and other works is Hennessey's ongoing fascination with what he calls "the ‘physicalisation' of things that are only virtually accessible to us"2. This explains his preference for objects which he believes "have a large presence in the world: they exist as memories of televised images or via a multitude of representations like the echoes of a clear, sharp sound"3. Accordingly, his structures are conceived with the purpose of enabling the viewer "to have a physical experience of the object while still being able to experience the absence of the thing"4.
Visually, these concerns are realised through a rigorous, labour-intensive aesthetic: the use of computer-design software, three-dimensional models, and laser cutting technology to painstakingly design, assort and assemble a 1:1 scale re-enactment (and transformation) of objects that initially exist as images sourced from the internet.
Hennessey's austere aesthetic is elegantly honed and refined in muscular, mixed-media works such as My Mission Control (the act of observation changes the object observed) (2005); a cool, clinical re-staging of the NASA control desk that monitored the flight and lunar activity of the Apollo 11 astronauts. However, rather than broadcasting the footage of that historic mission, the bulky, blocky buttons, stationary dials, corky controls and slim screens on Hennessey's control desk transmit footage of his own, studio-based, make-shift lunar-stroll, My Moonwalk (Fourteen Kilograms) (2005).
Watching this DVD recording of the artist as a gangly, gallivanting Spaceman, my mind reverberates with sound bites and ballads affiliated with the Apollo 11 mission. I recall a legendary astronaut's crackled, metallic, lunar greeting, followed by the lachrymose lyrics of a certain star-dusted Space Oddity: "Houston, Tranquillity Base here, The Eagle has landed"5 (Armstrong); "Take your protein pills and put your helmet on/Ground Control to Major Tom"6 (Bowie).
This slick and skilful synthesis of sculpture and simulation in My Mission Control… (2005) reinforces the ghostly, televisual character of the moon landing, and its political import as a globally-broadcast spectacle. If the majority of Hennessey’s works to date have been concerned with furnishing physical re-enactments of virtual phenomena, then the artist’s most recent offering at Greenway Art Gallery entitled My NICU (I am always amazed how something so small can be so big) (2006), marks a subtle shift in perspective.
My NICU... (2006) -- the latter term being an acronym for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit -- is Hennessey's answer to an environment which, he remarks, "one could possibly access but in truth would rather not"7. Indeed, from a distance, Hennessey's eerie, intimidating installation appears to have been prised from the grimy ward of a forsaken, contaminated clinic. In the centre of the confined gallery space, under a dim, dingy light, a Draeger incubator is flanked by, and affixed to, a plethora of infusion pumps, drips, ventilators and monitoring systems.
A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is a considerably humid and highly controlled space, specifically calibrated to maintain the requisite skin and body temperature of prematurely-born infants, and to sustain their breathing and nutrition through the intravenous administration of oxygen, fluids and nutrients.
Comparatively, Hennessey's version of this synthetic, life-sustaining environment -- constructed from plywood, steel, graphite and silicone, then coated in wax -- is cold, ominous and unsettling. The bleak lighting, the cool, tomb-like setting, and the scumbled and scrawled surfaces of the installation evoke a formidable scene of abandonment, infirmity and trepidation: harsh, corroded, sinister. As a new father, My NICU... is Hennessey’s haunting and disquieting interpretation of a profoundly emotive space which he believes "crystallises the anxiety and even fear that comes with anything precious"8.
In tone and character, this new installation marks a more intimate and poignant direction to Hennessey's practice. However, MY NICU is in keeping with his previous accomplishments in its ongoing commentary on the ironic character of contemporary existence: our unfounded faith in, and apprehensive reliance upon, the media, science and technology.

Varga Hosseini, 2006

NOTES

1 D. DeLillo, Americana, Penguin Books, New York, 1990, p.130
2 P. Hennessey, My Voyager: 1 – 25 September 2005 (exhib. cat.), Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth, 2005.
3 Hennessey, p.1.
4 P. Hennessey, My Moon Landing: 23rd June – 23rd July 2005, Torlano Galleries, Melbourne, 2005 (printed artist’s statement).
5 http://thinkexist.com/quotes /neil_armstrong.
6 D. Bowie, Space Oddity, sound recording, Philips, 1969.
7 P. Hennessey, My NICU (I am always amazed how something so small can be so big) 28th June – 23rd July 2006, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide, 2006 (printed artist’s statement).
8 Hennessey, My NICU.

 
 
 
[essays should not be reproduced without permission from the authors]
   
 
 
BIOGRAPHY
1968
Born Sydney. Lives and works in Melbourne.
1990-95
Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours), RMIT
2000-04 Australia Council New Media Arts Board Member
   
 
SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2008 My Burnt Frost, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
2007 My NSAT-110, Kandada, Tokyo
2006

My NICU, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
My Ejector Seat, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne Art Fair

2005 My Moon Landing, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
My Voyager, PICA, Perth
2004 Repercussions, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide; (with Patricia Piccinini)
Closer (in collaboration with Chunky Move), Perth Festival
2003 Closer, ACMI, Melbourne
Booth, ACMI, Melbourne
1996 ICU, The Basement Project, Melbourne
1995 TerrUrbanism, Australia Centre, Manila, The Philippines; (with Patricia Piccinini)
PathL, The Basement Project, Melbourne
1994 TerrUrbanism, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne; (with Patricia Piccinini)
MPath, The Basement Project, Melbourne
1993 Two Hertz, Temple Studios, Melbourne; (with Peter Zellner)
1991 Heretical Gestures At The Birth Of Enlightenment, Swanston Street Gallery, Melbourne
Recent Works and Collaborations, Charles Williams Gallery, Melbourne
 
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2007 De Overkant, Den Haag Sculptuur, The Hague
2006 Greenaway Art Gallery at ARCO, Madrid
2004 Anne Landa Award, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
Proof, ACMI, Melbourne
2002 Akiharbara TV, Tokyo, Japan
Click, Bendigo Art Gallery, Geelong Art Gallery, Latrobe Regional Gallery, Mildura Arts Centre Gallery and Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery.
2001 LumpCD, CCP, Melbourne
2000 LumpCD, Impact Festival, Utrecht, Netherlands
1999 LumpCD, Spiral TV, Tokyo, Japan.
1997 Protein Lattice Remix screened at SIGGRAPH 97, Los Angeles, USA.
pH2, Interact Multimedia Expo, Melbourne.
PathL, screened as part of ArtRage on ABC-TV and at SA Stage Gallery, Adelaide
1996 Vert, Experimenta TV commercial project, TEN 10
Basement, Test Strip Gallery, Aukland, NZ
Full Stop, Basement Gallery, Melbourne
Robotica, curated by Shiralee Saul, Melbourne Town Hall
1995 RMIT Department of Architecture Major Project Exhibition, RMIT Gallery, Storey Hall, Melbourne
Since The Accident, Basement, Melbourne
Arts & Industry Design 95, The Arts & Industry Gallery, Melbourne
1994 Critical Mass, Arts Victoria Gallery, Melbourne;
Humanetics, New Media Network, Southgate, Melbourne;
Scission, The Basement Project, Melbourne; (exhibitor & curator)
1993 ity Screens, Melbourne International Festival Projections;
Pure Cinema, Charles Williams Gallery, RMIT, Melbourne;
Vitae, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne;
Deliquescence, 200 Gertrude St Gallery, Melbourne; (curator)
Deliquescence, Canberra Contemporary Art Space; (curator)
1992 Deliquescence, First Draft West, Sydney; (curator)
SuperMart, Blaxland Gallery, Melbourne
1991 The OverExposed City, Swanston Street Gallery, Melbourne;
CMAA Competition Touring Exhibition, Australia
 
COLLECTIONS
Horsham Regional Art Gallery, Vic