Encounters with buildings are grounded by conventions and expectations, but Alex Hartley shows us new ways of physically experiencing and thinking about our constructed surroundings – through surface and line, scale and materials, locations and contexts.
Hartley's work addresses complicated and sometimes contradictory attitudes toward the built and natural environments. His practice is wide ranging, comprising wall-based sculptural photographic compositions, room-sized architectural installations and, more recently, unique photographic works with sculptural elements inserted as low-relief into the surfaces of large-scale colour prints. Uniting these works is an investigation of modern architecture and the ways in which it is conceived and presented. Often destabilising ideas of 'iconic' architecture, Hartley's practice allows room for multiple perceptions of and uses for the built form.
In works such as Case Study, 2001, a nine-metre slice through a steel and glass building based on the houses of the Californian Cast Study Programme started in 1945, glass encased photographs of gallery spaces, tower blocks and other architectural constructions create a disorientating fictional space which both perplexes and seduces the viewer. More recently, Hartley’s work has been a sustained investigation into dystopian architecture, secular habitation, communal living and the construction of sanctuary as an inherent drive to form refuge from the world. Architectural emblems of the counter culture movement, including the iconic Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome adopted by the short-lived mid-1960s experimental artists' community Drop City, for example, are reconfigured in large-scale installations that confuse place, purpose and context. Photographs, made unique through the addition of architectural models built to scale directly into their surfaces, present narratives alluding to the creation of something which has turned against us and become uninhabitable, rather than as intended sanctuary from the outside world.
In 2004, while participating in the Cape Farewell Arctic expedition, Hartley went to the High Arctic 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. In 2012, this new nation – Nowhereisland – embarked upon a 500-mile journey around the south west coast of England as part of the Cultural Olympiad: one landscape moving through another. 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. www.nowhereisland.org
Born in 1963, Alex Hartley graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1990 and lives and works in London and Devon. The Clearing, a collaborative and participatory artwork, occupied the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park until December 2017; also that year, the artist's work featured in the Yokohama Triennale while the monumental, site-specific installation Wall was on view as part of the 2017 Folkestone Triennial until November. This followed Hartley's participation in the 2014 iteration of the triennial with Vigil, a project in which he together with volunteers manned a specially constructed look-out point, maintaining a log book to document observations made from the vantage point of the sea-facing Grand Burstin Hotel. Previously, the artist has undertaken a residency with the National Trust for Scotland (2013) and has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally at venues including the Compton Verney, Warwickshire, UK (2019); KØS Museum for art in public spaces, Koge, Denmark (2019); Royal Academy of Arts, London (2017); Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2017); Contemporary Arts Centre, Ohio, US (2014); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark (2013); Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester (2012); Fundación Canal, Madrid (2008); Leeds Metropolitan Gallery, Leeds (2008, solo); Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2007, solo); Natural History Museum, Liverpool (2006); Urbis, Manchester (2006); Distrito Cuatro, Madrid (2003, solo); The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan (2001) and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark (2000). Since 1997 Hartley has been engaged in collaborative site-specific projects with architects including David Adjaye Associates and Alford, Hall, Monaghan and Morris.
Recent group exhibitions include THE OTHER PLACE, KØS Museum of Art in Public Spaces Køge, Denmark (2019); Where function ends: Responses to the architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens, Hestercombe Gallery, Taunton, Somerset, UK, (2019); In Ruins, Witley Court, Worcester, UK (2019).