Hilary Jack and the art of socio-political reflection

The artist's works, such as Little Britain and The Late Great Planet Earth, explore climate change and political unrest to urge viewers to reflect upon their surroundings.

by Dilpreet Bhullar Published on : Jan 04, 2020

The famous lines, ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ from the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias, lay bare the supremacy of time over the reign of the mightiest mortal. The history of empires is engraved in the walls of the monuments that promise to stand tall even on the rainy days. Over the centuries, the empires have given way to government forms, and gradually, the lines between the aesthetic appeal of buildings and the monuments blurred.

Today, human utilitarian demands and psychological needs run the practice of architectural designs, where the boundaries, largely, put the physical spaces into order. Translating it to the macro level, the barbed wires, chain-link fences and walls across the international borders aim to discipline the chaos if let unleashed. Borrowing the element of suburban larch lap fencing from the built environments of homes in the English suburbs, the artist Hilary Jack with her work Little Britain, in the immersive exhibition Buffer Zones, let the viewers take a walk through multiple barricades, borders and partitions.

No borders just horizons only freedom | Buffer Zones | Hilary Jack | STIRworld
No borders, just horizons, only freedom Image Credit: Hilary Jack, Courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Talking about the site referential artworks, sculptural installations and art interventions, Jack in her brief interview while taking cognisance of the political climate, says, “I am interested in socio-political issues and the politics of place. My work explores these aspects of our daily lives. We are living in extraordinary times – global politics and social unrest are daily features of our news streams, the climate emergency is at the forefront of many people’s minds, while in the UK the referendum in 2017 to leave the EU has dominated our political discourse, and the debate about immigration, citizenship, and the Irish Border continues.”

The Late Great Planet Earth| Buffer Zones | Hilary Jack | STIRworld
The Late Great Planet Earth Image Credit: Hilary Jack

At Yorkshire Sculpture Park, as part of OPENAIR, commissioned by YSP curator Sarah Coulson, the site specific-installation is an 8-metre x 9-metre neon text piece: No borders, just horizons, only freedom. Incisive enough to raise the curiosity of a passer-by, the installation is a take on the politics of place, physical boundaries, and personal freedoms. The words No borders, just horizons, only freedom is of first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Amelia Earhart, the American pioneer aviator.

To give the artist’s perspective on her work that will be installed at Alnoba Sculpture Park, New York in the summer of 2020, Jack explains, “My neon artwork, No Borders, can be understood in different ways depending on its location and the particular moment in which we are living. Members of the public have interpreted its meaning in a variety of ways regarding freedom to travel, freedom of citizenship, creative freedoms, and the Me-Too generation of women’s voices. Social media has helped spread the sentiments behind this artwork. This particular artwork has raised the profile of the activist element within my work and subsequently led to the realisation of other artworks like Little Britain, in Buffer Zones, which explored suburban boundaries, and social impact of the UK referendum on neighbours and neighbourhoods across the UK.” 

The Late Great Planet Earth|Buffer Zones | Hilary Jack | STIRworld
The Late Great Planet Earth Image Credit: Hilary Jack

The reality of environmental migration is often heard of, but not commonly accepted. The artist’s response to these climate changes and its impact was made visible with the exhibition titled The Late Great Planet Earth. The works were conceived with a view to acknowledge the elegiac narratives, a thing of the pre-digital world and current-day anxieties over geopolitics, environmental change and rare celestial occurrences. The manifestation of consumer culture, the ubiquitous turquoise bag of Manchester saw a way to the exhibition through her photographs. Eleanor Clayton in her contextual essay to the exhibition rightly puts it, “The reified bag is presented complete with tree, but in contrast to the origins of the series, the tree is dead while the bag is made permanent and eternal. As waste has become prominent, nature is diminished.”

Shadow of the Future, Hilary Jack | Buffer Zones | Hilary Jack | STIRworld
Shadow of the Future Image Credit: Hilary Jack

The king Ozymandias, under the hubris, ignored the warning signs of the certainty of time punctuated by divisive thoughts. Unlike Ozymandias, Jack affirms to the non-conformist viewpoint when she says, “Using their own lived experience, artists can interpret life in a different way to the norm or majority view, presenting alternative ways of thinking and calls to action.”  

The Social Lives of Objects| Buffer Zones | Hilary Jack | STIRworld
The Social Lives Of Objects Image Credit: Hilary Jack

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About Author

Dilpreet Bhullar

Dilpreet Bhullar

Bhullar is a writer-researcher based in New Delhi. She has been co-editor of the books Third Eye: Photography and Ways of Seeing and Voices and Images. Her essays on visual sociology and identity politics are frequently published in leading books, journals and magazines. She is the associate editor of a theme-based journal dedicated to visual arts, published by India Habitat Centre.

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