by Rahul KumarJan 02, 2023
Patrick 'Paddy' Hartley is a Berwick-based visual artist whose practice has largely been spent exploring themes of memorialisation, remembrance and the origins of WW1 facial reconstruction. His creative exploration, which uses ceramic and textile materials as primary modes of observation and understanding, has brought to the fore his interest in the structure of the human face and furthered the artist’s curiosity about the human body and its social context. In an exhibition at Museum Tinguely in Basel (Switzerland), entitled Cost Of Life, which closed in January earlier this year and tours to the Academy of Arts Riga (Latvia) in Autumn 2022, Hartley showcased a series of artworks in ceramic, metal and glass in addition to works incorporating surgical instruments and pharmaceuticals alongside photo images. The exhibition embodies Hartley’s practice over the past 30 years, with a special body of work commissioned by curator of the Roche Historical Archive, Alexander Bieri. The Cost of Life art exhibition touring to Riga later this year will also make an appearance at the Anatomy Museum in the Latvian capital.
The exceptional attraction of the show is most certainly Hartley’s new series of ceramics, which were made within 10 months in 2021 in almost complete isolation in his studio and home, during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition shares a number of complimentary archive-works as well, such as The Aligera Series (2015), where captivating images were made using the tissue of a lamb’s heart, captured on a lightbox.
Hartley’s artworks are displayed in a single, large hall at the Museum Tinguely. The spatial curation of the show allows to the viewer a bird’s eye view of Hartley’s commentary on health and the body as it has developed over the years. The ceramic sculptor has been creating engaging and thought-provoking works of art for the past three decades.
The ceramic artist tells us about the moment this journey began. He says, “I suppose I was your typical kid - always drawing, making and assembling things, just really for the pleasure of it. But I must have been around nine or ten years old when for the first time, I saw a picture hanging on my aunty’s lounge wall which was different from any other picture I had seen. I knew immediately that it was more than just a picture. That it was a picture ‘about’ something. Even at that age I realised that the picture was communicating something really bad because of the way the figures and animals were depicted. I was always transfixed by it whenever I would visit her and knew there was a narrative present about an event and an anger and there was a reason for its existence. It wasn’t until years later I discovered it was a large replica of Picasso’s Guernica. It made a huge impact on my creative approach partly in terms of what I create and also why I create the art I do.”
The Cost Of Life exhibition examines the medical and health landscape of the world at an imperative moment in human history. Amidst the unknowns of the ongoing pandemic, innumerable relationships and dynamics have been disrupted, demolished and turned upside down in record time.
Hartley takes a historical perspective on the issue, bringing together a range of issues. The catalogue of the exhibition is a 100-page long book print which shares a wealth of information about the process behind this body of work. He says, “I thought those diagrams created to illustrate how the R number worked were fascinating - how one person’s infection of others can be calculated - whilst requiring relatively close, near physical contact for this to occur. Compare it to the simultaneous digital connectivity of one person to hundreds, thousands of people, many of whom take what they read as fact. I find people stating that we are living in ‘a post truth future’ utterly chilling and what is or isn’t ‘fact’. I am just re-reading John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, set in a post-apocalyptic land where anything that isn’t considered ‘normal’ is considered mutant. Giant Shire horses and tailless Manx cats considered deviants for their physical variation and swiftly dispatched along with so called human deviants and with an even more disturbing conclusion in extermination. How quickly fact can be blurred or lost and replaced by ignorance and opinion thanks to a lack of willingness to interrogate those facts.”
Hartley concludes sharing his view on the potential future. He says, “As for dystopic / utopic futures, one person’s dystopia is another person’s utopia – it’s a matter of perspective. I think most people try to create their own little utopia, it’s more of an individual choice and one which could never be fulfilled en-masse a societal level. Dystopias are already here and have been for centuries and are many and varied, and usually created by a male with a vision of his own utopia”. The exhibition provides the opportunity to reflect on the sociological impact of health and the societal purview on the body and its capacities. Hartley’s work displays a sense of maturity in terms of aesthetic, evolved, refined and sophisticated which makes every piece a layered interaction.