Alex Hartley is a UK based artist whose work explores our understanding of utopian ideologies. His early work focused on the white cube of the gallery space; testing the parameters of art's containers. This has expanded to explore iconic modernist architectural forms, as the work considers buildings as social experiments manifested in both the built and natural environments.
His practice is wide ranging, comprising wall-based sculptural photographic compositions, film-making, climbing, artist publications, room-sized architectural installations and it often involves travelling to remote places. More recently, he has made a large series of unique photographic works with architectural elements inserted as low-relief sculptural constructions. These imagined bass-relief structures and shelters are physically inserted into large-scale colour photographic prints of wilderness and extreme landscape. Hartley destabilises ideas of both iconic architecture and nature, as he questions how we occupy the world's wild places.
He has taken his work into the public realm expanding the context for his work with ambitious works of land-art, employing his practice to test and expand our notions of utopia, the individual, and the critical relationship we have with the environment.
Hartley is represented by the Victoria Miro Gallery, UK
Bass-relief mixed-media architectural constructions physically inserted into large-scale landscape photographs. The architectural elements are imagined, fabricated and fixed through the photographic plane – penetrating the surface and protruding out from the landscape image.
In 2004 Hartley went to the High Arctic where he searched for and discovered an island that had been revealed from within the melting ice of a retreating glacier.
The island was taken out into International Waters where it was declared a new nation. This new nation – Nowhereisland – was towed behind a tug around the South West coast of England during the 2012 Olympic Games.
At the end of Nowhereisland's journey, in September 2012, the island was broken up and distributed amongst the 23,003 people from 135 countries who had signed up as "citizens of Nowhereisland". As a final gesture, a small piece of the island was sent to the edge of space where some particles of rock from the island will remain forever in the upper-stratosphere.
A precarious encampment was built on the outside a 13th floor window of the iconic Grand Burstin Hotel overlooking the town, harbour and the channel across to France. A single occupant maintains a watch over everything seen below for the nine week duration of the exhibition. A parasitic building quoting a ship’s crow’s nest and the 1970’s rooftop protests of Strangeways prison and Greenpeace actions. An hourly log of visible events was kept at www.vigil.org.uk.
Based on Arts and Architecture magazine's experiments in American residential architecture during the 50's and 60's. Case Study is a slice of 1:1 scale architecture with an etched glass façade obscuring an interior with a desert view beyond. As with the Etched Glass works, the image takes on a very real dramatic three-dimensional appearance, which contrasts with the sculptural rear and side views of the work.
Dropper is a recreation of a "Drop City" dome. For a brief five-year period in the mid 60's, Drop City was an artist's community in Colorado that became a symbol of the hippy movement. The community disintegrated and broke apart amid tensions exacerbated by the 'no rules' policy. Fabricated from the roofs and bonnets of cars, Hartley lived in Dropper during its two months at the Victoria Miro Gallery, and at various other locations. Dropper was donated to the Occupy movement in 2011, but in parallel to the breakup of Drop City, it contributed to the collapse of the camp by creating a hierarchy amongst the tented dwellings. Intended as a meeting forum by Occupy it was eventually taken over as a flop house.
Photographs of models of minimal interior spaces are brought to life when viewed through their etched glass containers. The encased image resonates between the photographic plane and the etch of the glass as the viewer moves around the work, making the enclosed spaces appear impossibly real, giving the illusion of a window into another world.
In a military installation in Toronto a fixed camera records Hartley in real time over a two and a half hour period as his core body temperature drops below 35 deg C and becomes hypothermic.
Examples of architectural photographic work.
Commissioned for the exhibition “The Collection” curated by Siobhan Davies. The film blends and melds a single protagonist as he/she/they move through an imagined constructed built environment, describing and charting the space and structure as they move in all directions through the film clips - creating a whole new architecture.
Part architectural coffee-table book, and part dumb climber’s guide. LA Climbs applies the rules of a climber’s guidebook to a selection of Los Angeles architecture, describing routes over both the iconic and the ordinary; building a personal journey and portrait of the city, and treating the built environment as mere surface and texture.
A single architectural image is divided into 35mm slides and housed in a museum slide display box. Slides are removed until the image can still be read, and a tension between the represented space of the slides and the infinite depth of the light box beneath resonates.
Architectural collaborations with architects David Adjaye, AHM&M, ABK Architects amongst others. Commissions include ‘Passage’ at the Barbican London.