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Hadley and Maxwell

Hadley & Maxwell

By only

Sunday April 16, 2006

Let’s just give it up

Local artist collaboration Hadley and Maxwell have been making and showing really complicated conceptual art since 1998. They became well-known in recent years for their ‘décor project’ in which they redecorated the apartments of curators, writers, and artists involved in Canada’s visual art scene. The ‘décor project’ can be described as a photo-conceptual version of “pimp my ride” for Canada’s art intelligentsia. When they redecorated the apartment of Jonathon Middleton (then curator of the Western Front) they made a giant phallic totem of art books in his living room that read like a psychoanalytic deconstruction of Middleton’s book collecting as a material manifestation of his sublimated libidinal energy.

With their recent show “Deleted Scenes” at the Contemporary Art Gallery, they’ve stepped out into some new territory that is actually really bleak despite the playful surface. The first thing you see as you approach the gallery is a work entitled ‘promise’. It’s a white flag flying at half-mast, seemingly a gesture of the double loser, combining symbols of mourning and giving up. The surrender flag at half-mast functions as a logo for the new work and maybe even their collaboration, signifying the depressive and the defeatist teaming up to form a contemporary art power-couple. A lot of the discussion around Hadley and Maxwell has focused on them as collaborators, and the history of collaborations as an attempt to sidestep the art world’s modes of critical reception that have been dominated by ideas of the male genius. Where other collaborations have been criticised for privileging the contributions of one partner over the other, Hadley and Maxwell seem to exist in some ideal collaborative netherworld, tag-teaming the art complex in the way they finish off one another’s thoughts at artist talks or in teaching theory classes together.

Inside the gallery, ‘Language to be Looked at’ is a video piece that seems to make specific reference to themselves as a collaborative duo and the processes involved in collaboration between two individuals who rely on speech and gesture to bridge the void between them. Each artist appears in the frame of the video monitor placed at a distance of several metres from one another. Hadley is listening to the Blood Brothers cover of “Under Pressure” and throwing stuff at Maxwell. Everything that is thrown and crosses the void somehow mutates into something else when it enters his monitor, like a Molotov cocktail turning into a volume of Marx (real violence turned theoretical). The work, I think, tries to humorously articulate the failure of language to do what we really want it to do: connect us with someone else. If that is the case, then it kind of wrecks the fantasy I had about them communicating on some transcendental supra-lingual level.

The show takes up a more political tone with the video piece ‘Conspiracy’. Like the rest of the show it is a panopoly of reference, imitating the form of an iconic minimalist sculpture by Robert Morris that consisted of two square columns, one standing vertical and the other lying horizontal. Minimalism was a brief chapter in avant-garde art that tried to conceptually break off from modern abstraction. Here the same forms look like the toppled ruins of politically engaged art. In ‘Conspiracy,’ Hadley and Maxell have embedded a video monitor in the horizontal column and put a hand-knit Bellaclava upside down on the vertical column. The video playing out of the toppled monitor is a clip from the final Sex Pistols show in San Francisco in 1978. Johnny Rotten is locked in an extended sneer and then sardonically quips, “Ever get the feeling that you’ve been cheated?” before exiting the stage. This reflects a theme that is a source of huge anxiety for contemporary artists, that the days of politically effective art are long since gone. If in fact they ever existed then, like the Johnny Rotten of the Filthy Lucre tour, all we are doing is simulating rebellion for the purpose of entertainment.

Hadley and Maxwell will be giving an artist chat on Thursday, April 20,2006 7pm.