Book Review of Dominant Wave Theory By Tim Smit (co-founder and CEO of The Eden Project) When you run a place like the Eden Project you have the privilege of receiving presentations and meeting literally hundreds of artists who either want to get involved on the ground or who simply want a space in which to exhibit their work. After a while you become blasé because in truth most of what you see is good but derivative of something else. Andy Hughes is something else entirely. I first came across his work on a calendar for Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), the campaigning organisation to clean up our seas and beaches. The pictures were startling because they forced you to look at familiar things through a different lens.The commonplace, the unwanted detritus of everyday life was here given its moment in the spotlight, a dignity returned. In an elegant way the camera caused a transformation from trash to art and, in so doing, stimulated the imagination to consider the nature of waste and even consumption itself. In Andy Hughes’ hands a discarded water bottle can have the visual impact of a Dale Chihuly glasswork. In a sense, the knowledge that these pieces have been abandoned lends them a mystique and melancholy that objects of desire could only dream of having. Andy Hughes is a singular voice showing us something uncomfortable yet sweetened by the beauty of the image. This is something most great artists aspire to and Andy is, in my view, well on the way to carving an important place for himself in the top rank of photographers. Enjoy this book – I guarantee that many of the images will linger long in the imagination.
Introduction: With the invention and development of photography in the late nineteenth century many have discussed and concluded that it liberated painting with the burden of depiction. Whilst for some the argument about art and photography is over, for others it might not be, especially as photography appears to be one of the most ubiquitous and attractive media forms in the public sphere. There are now hundreds of millions of new photographs circulating around the world everyday. Photography has that very particular way of describing with precision the likeness of things, objects, places, spaces and people. It’s both a science and an art, enabling humans to ‘see’ the farthest and deepest depth of our galaxy as well as reminding us of a lost loved one, a long departed pet or a sublime snow covered mountain.
Art Now Cornwall – Susan Daniel-McElroy
The images in this exhibition come from Dominant Wave Theory, a recently published book of photographs made on various beaches around West Cornwall, Scotland and the USA over the last six years. An active member of Surfers Against Sewage, his photographs consider the epic and the everyday in the detritus washed up on the region’s shorelines. These are not ordinary photographs but express the latest twenty – first century developments in mass market colour photography – plastic on plastic you might say.
In terms of subject matter and approach, some of these images recall the work of Keith Arnatt and his exhibition Rubbish and Recollections 1989. Originally a conceptual sculptor in the 1970′s, Arnatt placed his photographic work firmly in the British Landscape tradition with his Polythene Palmers 1987, photographs which ironically depicted Arcadia as described by Samuel Palmer in his utopian visions of landscape.
Whilst Hughes’ images of plastic depicted in heroic scale may give us some concern about waste material and its impact upon a sensitive maritime environment, there is another side to these intelligent images. Hughes presents us with not only an ecological message but a knowing heady rush through artistic strategies using the power of photography’s saturated colour to highlight, frame, and play with scale, in an irreverent awareness of art historical practices.
Using technical aspects of the medium to portray a tiny object as something of heroic scale is a favorite trick of photography as is is the careful crop and use of the rectangle to suggest something beyond the the picture plane [ for example, an extensive landscape]. In the context of the St Ives school, the artist knowledge has influenced a number of these images. But it is the distinctive nature of the medium that has been exploited all too often; photography has the capacity to picture the world in a most mysterious manner. It is as if the technology had a direct connection with the artist’s Id, where the collective experiences of his physical and cultural landscape have soaked into his mind reside.
Perhaps this is why some of the objects portrayed here remind us of other things, suggesting a transformation has been made by the processes that govern photography. Why is it that a shard of plastic looks like a crashed UFO ? How can it be that that piece of foam looks like a bit of Robbie the Robet circa 1951 or a monster ( depending on which way you look at it) ? And how stunning is that landscape which jas the look of granite and stitching at the same time as it shocks you into realizing that it is the chain-mail gloved hand of a resting Saracen Knight ?
The New Landscape, Dr Harriet Hawkins Royal Cornwall Museum | 2008 The more normal ‘rubbish aesthetic’ is to understand it as a symptom of a hysterical, histrionic reaction to an over consuming world. This is not the aesthetic of disposal that we find here. Rubbish has a rich, if not well studied, art history, both as art’s subject and its material. For many cultural theoreticians rubbish owes its criticality to the fragmentary aesthetic of Walter Benjamin and the modernist theorisations of Theodore Adorno and the Frankfurt School. For Adorno rubbish was base failure, the low point of civilisation to be set against ‘art’. For Benjamin, the fragment’s break down was the site of a critique of consumption. Contemporary critic Julian Stallabrass extends this to understand trash as the betrayal of the ‘capitalist’ wish symbol.
However, these understandings are of limited help in understanding Hughes’, or [Shanahan’s] work. In Hughes’ powerful images, rubbish is much more than the out of place detritus of daily life. Rather, the close-ups give us a monumental beauty in the texture and colour of these forms. In Hughes’ images, rubbish becomes part of the contemporary sublime, playing on the tensions of high and low that sit at the heart of this aesthetic. Hughes’ striking images offer a poetics of seaside trash; a detritus of a throwaway society amidst the detritus of nature. Across the suite of his images, our attention is drawn, through the large scale and saturated colours, both to the surprising beauty in these different rubbish forms, but also different sand grains upon which this man-made detritus sits. Sand that is after all the by product of the ocean’s own destructive tendencies.
If Hughes’ images form part of a contemporary sublime, then Shanahan’s work forms more of a contemporary picturesque. Tailing’s Dam, Goongumpas, 2008 (picture below) depicts a common scene of the post-industrial landscapes of Cornwall. The abandoned site becomes a place of calm beauty where the ruins of past productive landscapes become sites of aesthetic appeal. Shanahan’s image deploys the picturesque’s romantic reframings of ruination and decay in the post-industrial landscapes of Cornwall. The poignant reflection of the mine engine room reflected in the still water (a reminder of the absences of function and utility that would once have animated these sites), together with colours of mineral wash and the strewn debris of industrial activity, are here enrolled in a image of peaceable beauty. A rather different aesthetic informs the second of Shanhan’s images, Child’s grave, United Downs (2008). Here, reclaimed material (old chairs and plastic toys) come to form an impromptu, but not less emotive, memorial. In a powerful re-fetishisation, once discarded commodities form unlikely talismans and grave objects. Rather than meaningless, these objects hang heavy with absent presences; of the personal meanings these objects are imbued with and of the child.
Dominant Wave Theory – Extract From Book Essay by Lena Leneck Andrew Hughes’ photographs of rubbish at the beach speak to this dread. His monumental photographs of the banal relics of our evermore super-sized and disposable lifestyles intimate the hidden depths that lurk beyond the superficial disgust with which beach junk fills us. We are dismayed by the desperate irony that the very beaches we seek out as physically and psychically restorative refuges are as irretrievably polluted as our toxic hinterlands’.
Library Journal Review Hughes has been doggedly photographing human society’s flotsam on beaches for ten years. As a surfer, his relationship to the coastline is intimate, and his view is close and dramatic. He creates confounding magic from washed-up trash, plastic bottles, disposable beverage tops, tangled fishing wire, and deflated beach toys-just some of the objects he has captured in England, Scotland, and the United States. The statuary images he finesses from them are at once majestic and insidious. Starkly positioned where found, the human-manufactured items look dangerous, lonely, and strangely monumental, their presence a distress against such lovely backdrops as sand, sea, and sky. Blending artistic beauty with environmental exposé, Hughes is successful in making the viewer wonder how garbage affects our oceans and beaches. Five essays contextualize the work in artistic and environmental terms and call attention to the immense ecological problem these objects present. Finely designed (by David Carson) and printed, this is an excellent first book for the photographer. Recommended for large public and academic photography collections. Deborah Miller – USA library Review