A couple at an Exhibition by Roger Hiorns at the Hepworth Wakefield in 2013

Artists Explaining Themselves

I have visited countless exhibitions over the years. I have always been of the opinion that explanations are unnecessary. I often relate this Robert Frost story.  When he was asked to explain a poem he replied, “So you want me to say it worse.” I once had an exhibition where the audience only knew who had taken the pictures – no titles – no explanations. I loved the look of it. Maybe just the fact that I was the maker was too much information. Maybe that would raise expectations in the mind and eye of the viewer – prejudice.

I usually look at works and if I feel satisfied I leave without reading explanations.

However I went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. There is a work there by Roger Hiorns which is simply 2 scrap jet engines from a U.S. military plane sited on a terrace.

Sculpture by Roger Hiorns
Two redundant jet engines, form a sculpture by Roger Hiorns photograph Robert Norbury

I remembered seeing his exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield which had a profound visual and emotional effect on me, I never wondered what Hiorns intended us to feel. The exhibition was a number of old engines and steel work benches like the ones I imagine you would find in a laboratory. Plus other objects. At the time I was working at the Hepworth as a kind of resident artist running workshops. I wandered round the work but initially it left me cold. Then someone came in and placed small piles of white powder on the benches and set fire to it.

At some point I became aware of two young men (I think two) in white shirts and black trousers. I watched one of them remove all his clothes and then seat himself on one of the benches. Few people in the room seemed to notice what was going on. I photographed this process. I can’t remember whether I read any kind of explanation but it didn’t seem to matter at the time.

Click the pictures to start a slideshow.

However when I saw his current display at the Y.S.P. I was at a loss as to what it was all about. I don’t think dereliction is an interesting subject any more. I read the explanation and was impressed to say the least. I will still always look at work first then read the explanation but I will read them. The engines are from a decommissioned American reconnaissance plane. Machines designed to reduce anxiety of a threat from another nation. Within the engines are crushed tablets commonly used to treat depression and the symptoms of trauma. I would never have known this without the explanation. I was impressed by Hiorns’s train of thought.

When I take a photograph I rarely have any kind of philosophical intent. The elements of the composition or the main subject impress me to capture them. As I press the button my mind is blank. Maybe that’s why I have had difficulty working on themes or series. I don’t know why I take the pictures but my mind eye and heart are in register when I do.

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