Being Here with Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

If you write or paint or do something very solitary, you come to love inanimate objects. My wolf mug is my buddy on mornings when I need to answer emails, my Bic pens are my tools for drafting inconsequential and sometimes totally consequential notes, my ancient orange desk chair with a slight lean to the right when I stretch my back is not helping my spine but it has a comforting familiarity about it I have come to love, these things are part of my world and they inhabit it as I do, sometimes with love, and sometimes with cold utility.

Conceptual sculptors Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg understand the world of love and utility among objects in such a unique and refreshing way that I must make a disclaimer. Their arrival from Brooklyn to Minden had me frothing at the mouth with excitement – artists with some NYC chutzpah and glamour! And, less superficially, they arrived with a stunning record of unpretentious exhibiting all over the place of work densely thought out and meticulously made. This is not a super critical review because I admit to fandom right away.

Their exhibition ‘Here’ at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery this April was a gentle introduction to their work. Several dozen extraordinary collages, all of which were made from photographed bits and pieces of sculpted work prior to the move and after, all with their trademarked blue polystyrene and a wonderful video was the perfect entry into their world for a small community not necessarily familiar with the history and trends of conceptual art making.

Here (b363), 2016, 11x14" inkjet on paper collage
Here (b363), 2016, 11×14″ inkjet on paper collage

The collages worked wonderfully as two dimensional pieces. Some of them seemed every bit as intricate as a painting, full of the kinds of struggle of composition and planning that a painting entails. But, they were photographs of sculpted pieces also made with meticulous craftsmanship. The viewer then is looking at a work that has multiple layers of meaning, and multiple layers of creating. Some of the collages seemed like enigmatic stories, some seemed like starting points for movies and some rested comfortably as abstracted works. The mixture of their urban past and their now, rural and woodsy present were delightfully explored – the trees like their street lamps are exquisitely crafted with humour and quirk.

Certain collages had enormous psyche space in them. By that I mean viewing the work up close and then stepping back confirmed that which is always desirous in art work; looking and thinking separate, come together again in analysis and then released in an emotive resignation. You exhale when you see good art work just as when you confront something like a vista in nature. I wanted one to take home.

The video in the exhibition is a slightly older work. Titled ‘The Way Things Are’ it features ‘characters’ from Hanson & Sonnenberg’s earlier work such as street lamps, a zamboni, post office boxes, street signs all of which come to animated stop-motion life in an evening on a city street corner. A chair mysteriously falls over on a rooftop, a zamboni leaves a garage without a driver and slowly chaos ensues; street lamps explore garbage cans throwing them asunder and one even urinates, a garbage can leaps from a building, a stop sign bashes a post office box into rubble. This is glorious stuff for those of us dedicated to philosophies of chaos theory. The set is both detailed and realistic down to chain link fence, street cobblestones and working lights. Created in the deep blue and green hues from the set made of polystyrene the video goes beyond cartoon, and with the ensuing catastrophic atmosphere enters the macabre. Something lurks in all their work and ‘The Way Things Are’ is an illustration of the escalation of seeming entropy.

While the pieces I saw in the exhibition and from what I can find about Chris and Hendrika on the web, one could deduce a kind of coldness in their work. Their materials are those that are used in a common way such as street signs, the things we never think of as having warmth or personality. However, their approach, taking these seemingly impossible and mundane materials and making them into lively things that suddenly jolt about or lie down or urinate and get twisted into other forms such as buckets shows two artists on an epic search for love and transformation.

Modesty reigns in this kind of artwork. Deep into the video ‘The Way Things Are’ two things stand out in distinction; first an orange hue vibrating from what looks like a little street corner studio. Is this them? Are they continuing to work away while their creations run amok? It’s lovely to think so. Another, on the back wall of an open doorway is the only text “No Rules”. Of course, when even the street lamp can’t be trusted to perform its one duty we have the delightful chaos that only artists such as Chris and Hendrika are able to create and eventually put back in order.

You can watch their videos and see more of their work at BucketofBlood



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