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Austin Hearne has been a studio artist at The Complex since 2019 and is part of the family; not only because he is one of the faces we see smiling at us daily (or smeyesing considering for most of his tenancy we have been behind masks), and through bonding over various projects and collaborations, not to mention over chats and drinks at openings.
Austin’s first collaboration with The Complex, long before he became a studio artist, was back in 2016 for the group exhibition ‘Still’ in our Little Green Street main space. Working from ideas based around the concept of “Still”, each artist ‘set about exploring their own practice, investigating the territory of the human condition, where we begin and how we navigate our way through this thing called life’.
Throughout Covid not only did Austin survive the difficulties of working around restrictions, he persevered, worked hard and thrived, with show after show in 2020 and 2021.
In September 2020 fortune was on our side when a relaxation in restrictions allowed for opening an exhibition on Culture Night. Austin was joined by Ann Ensor in a two-hander called ‘Ceremony’, which brought Austin’s family business experience of painter/decorator techniques together with his use of religious symbolism and imagery. Further presentations of Catholic Church inspired artworks came in 2020 with work in ‘A Reluctant Mirage’ in NCAD Gallery, ‘Whispers’, RTÉ Culture (online), an essay about ‘Whispers’ featured in VAN, and in 2021 with ‘Love Letters to Cardinal Raymo’, Gorey School of Art, ‘Queer as you are’, Luan Gallery, Athlone, ‘I am what I am’, Ballina Arts Centre, Mayo. In May 2021 Satin Shadow (Austin Hearne and Glenn McQuaid’s queer goth band) were invited to perform as part of ‘Portico Online’. An online program that accompanied the exhibition ‘Portico’, featuring works by Mark Swords and Tanad Williams, at The Complex.
For The Complex, this collaboration on ‘Slabs’ is something quite different to what we’ve seen from Hearne before. It is the presentation of a collection of the artist’s photographs, an archive accumulated over 20 years. Sure, the religious imagery is there, and motifs of the painter/decorator materials we’ve become familiar within his work, but we also see family photos, newspaper cutouts, collages, advertisements, photos of nights out, posed pictures, candid snapshots, over and under exposed images, half visible objects, sometimes splashed, splattered or scratched obstructing the full picture. The collection reminds us of a physical manifestation of the 4,000-10,000 images we now consume daily via advertising and social media. It makes us think about photo albums (we should really make some), the amount of digital photographs we have collected (we should really sort through those hard drives), and how we remember something clearly when there’s a photo of it. It makes us think about the value of photographs, of collecting, organising and archiving, as a means to make sense of things, remember things, laugh at things or look at things afresh.
Whilst in some ways deeply personal, ‘Slabs’ is at the same time universal and multi-layered, offering a tactile exploration of digital (and non-digital) archives, a provocative analysis of data collection, and scrutiny into the place of photography in our individual lives.
SLABS ARTIST’S STATEMENT, OCTOBER 2021
‘Slabs’ is an ongoing, growing and open-ended photographic archival project. In its essence it consists of a series of used painter/decorator wallpaper-pasting tables, or slabs, used as carriers for presenting photographic and archival materials. These slabs are utilised to present my archive, which spans over 20 years of collecting, editing, collaging, and printing. I’ve long since grappled with the volume and value of my past and present photographic content. Issues around storage, care, and quality of the material abound. The medium of photography has rapidly changed over the last two decades, from the analogue age of film and darkroom production to the swift infiltration of digital processes. My relationship with these contemporary processes has at times been fruitful, frenetic and maddening. I feel frustrated with modern technologies and the tech giants who have big hands in our ways of working, and even bigger eyes watching over our archives. I don't trust this digital age of media storage and ownership. I recently purchased a new computer and its lack of ports doesn’t accommodate my large external hard drive or the many discs that house various folders from my archive. It seems we, the users, constantly have to stay a step ahead and fight to keep our property accessible. I value the printed image over the unstable digital image, from fine art darkroom printing to mere desktop prints off an office printer. I trust this printed material will outlast latent digital files. Technology with all its inbuilt obsolescence, tech giants ever changing, monetisation of systems for iCloud upgrades etc. This is both tiresome and enraging. To top it all off, Ireland is being infiltrated by scummy data centres, that hold and house selfies, dick pics and influencer bullshit. The content and themes within the photographic material on the Slabs varies. The numerous images bounce off each other, seemingly fitting together in some cases and clashing in others. A memory bank where some thoughts, traumas, situations, people are remembered, truths rewritten or buried. I question if this project is autobiographical? Flitting from the personal to the political, from self-reflection, family portraits to snarling, snarky piss-takes of an organisation I despise. Maybe it's an exercise in making sense of the world, my world, a world lived through the many ages of photographic practice. A world as a gay boy/man, a queer person living through an age where the Catholic Church has lost some of its grip, kicking and screaming its way through two tumultuous referendums that sought to govern lives, loves and bodies. - Austin Hearne
'Considering works for Slabs, a slideshow', shot and edited by Jenny Keogh, is a video-based work by Austin Hearne that presents a series of photographs and collages from his archive, these works will not be included in the physical exhibition presented in The Complex gallery. This video work gives an alternative viewpoint of Austin's archive. Developed for web-based engagement, to precede, or proceed, the physical exhibition. Click here to view