Inanimate household objects, by their very nature, are incapable of doing much by themselves. They just sit there, minding their own business, until we come along with our demands. Some of these are utilitarian: cups are asked to contain drinks, both hot and cold; forks are required to convey victuals from plate to mouth; clothes are persuaded to simultaneously conceal and reveal human flesh.
But some of the tasks we give objects are far less reasonable. We insist that they hold meanings; we infuse them with memories and imbue them with power. In this way we transform simple objects into complex fetishes.
Nothing was quite what it seemed in Haswell’s exhibition. From a distance, the artist appeared to have gathered together an odd jumble of humble objects: plates, cutlery, glasses, and an admittedly slightly sinister rifle. But up close the materiality and textures of the objects betrayed their imposter status. Haswell presented cunning facsimiles of ordinary things; she rendered the familiar strange and invoked the eerie and the uncanny.
Haswell has mined her own history; the phrase ‘Made in Hong Kong’ in the title is a nod to the city of her conception. And the objects she recreated are familial relics: things that hold great significance for those who know how to tell the tales. Ordinarily these domestic fetishes remain mute to others, but the dense layers of meaning that Haswell applied to her recreations (through titles, text, materials and process) allowed gallery visitors to hear their own new stories, if they took the time to listen
An over-sized rugby jersey hung on one wall. Instead of nylon mesh it was made from red velvet. And in lieu of the player, team or sponsor’s name it was emblazoned with the words Drinker of White Wine in white cross-stitch embroidery. This lush garment seemed like something Harry Potter might wear once he retired from Quidditch and hit the bottle; bespoke tailoring for thwarted ambitions.
In fact, almost everything in Made in Hong Kong / Curtains was handmade. The slim white rifle titled Ghost, 2017, bore the smears and pits, as well as the tell-tale seam line, of the casting process. Haswell’s polyurethane rifle is no longer an agent of death. It is impotent, symbolic.
Yet the inevitability of death was a pervasive theme throughout the exhibition. Both Letters on the Occult Meditation, 2017, Haswell’s collection of ‘flayed’ books (pages removed they are reduced to their leather skins) and True Until Death, an actual piece of skin (vellum) painted with tattoo flash of a heart and dagger, functioned as memento mori. So too did the aptly named Last Drinks, 2017, wonky glasses (of both kinds) on a stainless steel drinks trolley that might be more at home in a hospital ward. These talismans that ask us to remember death. After all, it will eventually be ‘curtains’ for us all.
Caz Haswell: Made in Hong Kong / Curtains was at Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney from 19 October to 11 November 2017.