Feature Article

Powerful energy

Unlikely mediums such as radio waves, solar winds and aroma molecules are the medium of choice for NSW artists Joyce Hinterding and David Haines, on show at PICA.

Joyce Hinterding and David Haines with Large Square Logarithmic VLF Loop Antenna at their PICA exhibition, Energies: Haines & Hinterding. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

In the hands of NSW artists Joyce Hinterding and David Haines, art combined with science is fascinating, fun and absorbing. A survey of their solo and collaborative works, Energies: Haines & Hinterding at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts encourages visitors to the show to marvel at the universe and reimagine the world around us as a place buzzing with invisible energies and curiosities. The two have been working together for 15 years producing works utilising very low frequency (VLF) radio waves, television signals, satellite transmissions, solar winds and aroma molecules, many emerging from informal experiments conducted in and around their home in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

The two artists have exhibited across Australia and around the world from Brazil to England and the US. Haines says all the typical traits of contemporary art can be found in their work. “There’s Minimalism and Op Art for instance,” he says. “All our work is driven by aesthetics, so we start with our aesthetic interest and work from there. Science determines and helps form that aesthetic. Duchamp was interested in four-dimensional mathematics as a way of entering another kind of reality. We’re doing the same thing with many of our works, but through the electro-magnetic spectrum.”

Hinterding explains a continuous line of Op Art-style graphite drawn on the gallery wall. Attached to headphones, the graphite acts an antenna. “It’s scavenging energy from the atmosphere, creating currents you can listen to, and by touching the graphite you can add your energy into the work,” she says. Other works with graphite drawn on glass operate on the same principle.

Geology, 2015 by David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2015. Commissioned by the MCA, supported by Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna O Waiwhatu, Christchurch, New Zealand. Image courtesy the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney. © the artists. Photo Christopher Snee.

Some are on paper, and as visitors touch the graphite, the eventual smudges add to the work. Two works previously on show in New Zealand demonstrate this outcome, with the graphite lines becoming less visible. “We’re kind of reimagining electronics with an aesthetic bent,” says Hinterding.

The Wollemi Kirlians (front cover image) is an extraodinary suite of 24 images of plant life, collected from the Wollemi National Park in NSW, bearing mysterious, coloured auras. Haines rebuilt the Kirlian photographic process, accidentally discovered by Semyon Kirlian in 1939, when he found an object on a photographic plate connected to a high-voltage source produced an image of the object with an emanating light. “It’s the origin of how we think about the aura in New Age terms,” he says. “This old technology uses water and electricity, so it’s quite dangerous.”

Haines, whose PhD questioned the under-use of aroma as a medium in contemporary art, has included Slow Fast Mountains in the show - two rock forms, with an invitation to viewers to smell the work. Working in his studio with a palette of 1,000 aromas, Haines doesn’t create the floral tones we would normally associate with perfumery, but instead, the aroma of a factory or the ozone, for example. He says perfumery is a black art. “There’s no formal training. There is a methodology written down, but beyond that, it’s quite secretive - for commercial reasons. It’s a bit like a piano player trying to explain a piece of music - you can have the formal method on paper, but how it’s developed is another thing.”

The multi-sensory exhibition includes a video of the performance work Encounter with the Halo Field. A blend of contemporary dance and sculpture, the performance, which took place under power lines, dramatically used the body as an electrical ‘earth’ to light hand-held fluoro tubes.

Encounter with the Halo Field, 2009/15 by David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2015. Commissioned by the Australian Network for Art and Technology and Art Monthly Australia, supported by the Australia Council for the Arts. Image courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney. © the artists. PhotoChristopher Snee.

In an adjoining gallery, Earth Star consists of time lapse photographs of the sun on screen. Antennas detecting radio waves from solar winds on the sun, 149.6 million kilometres from earth, are heard in real time, the hissing noise changing throughout the day as the sun moves overhead. “There’s something really powerful - as an artist, to look at images of the sun,” says Haines. Accompanying the work is a construction of the odor of the ozone, embedded on strips of paper and handed out to visitors to the show. “It’s a kind of aromatic portrait of the ozone. It’s a strange chemical smell, like just before rain,” says Haines, who admits if the art world stopped tomorrow he could easily keep working in the area of aroma quite happily, finding it continually interesting.

Upstairs at PICA is the beguiling Geology, created from computer-game technologies and a Kinect system for gesture-based interaction. Standing on a designated spot, simple hand and body movements direct the movement of various environments on screen. Hinterding says they were invited by Christchurch Gallery to create an interactive digital work after the 2011 earthquake there and Geology is the result. “The work moves around three environments vis body gestures - a landscape, an underworld and white cube space,” she says.

“Gaming has such a media presence. We all hear about it and know about it, but this work gives the general pubic the opportunity to explore it in a different way.”

Energies: Haines & Hinterding is on show at PICA until 29 October.

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