Band Of Outsiders: Hoick Is The Collective Re-looking The Art World
Claire Johnson and Dale Lawrence are Hoick, but Hoick expands and contracts with each undertaking to include creative friends and artisans whether for an art show of multi-coloured papier-maché sculptures, plasticine ‘paintings’ or a graphic design brief.
While their work was under bright lights, open to whatever scrutiny offered by thousands of fair goers, their gaze was steadied right back at the art world itself. Playing with the notion of art as the commodification of ideas, their booth at the fair posed as a gallery art shop. In it, their worked brushed past traditional mediums like painting and existed as manifestations of their concept: tote bags, t-shirts and coffee mugs. The only objects possible to take home from a museum as you exit through the gift shop.
This work is not only an example of their model of collaboration – the work is made together with artist Morne Visagie and writer Matthew Freemantle – but of the wit and keen observation their work has become known for. A great overheard reaction to one of their T-shirts stiff with oil paint was, “but you could never wear it?”, uttered by a passerby. Creating valuable, original artwork in the guise of a coffee mug is a risk, but Hoick embrace working with the unfamiliar; they’re unafraid to commit to a concept and give themselves freedom to play.
Where did the idea come from to present the show as an art gallery gift shop?
Due to the fact that we balance a career in art with a creative ‘day job’, we are acutely aware of the contrast in perceived value between different creative outputs. Both of these have the broad goal to distribute imagery and messages using the same distribution of monetary exchange, but the perceived value of each differs greatly.
This took us to thinking about the contrast in perception of value between mass-produced items – considered throw-away – and fine art items, and the questions of ownership around merchandise versus art.
The art shop concept is a interesting intersection/mash up of these two parallel universes.
What observations does this work make of the art world?
It speaks directly to the experience and engagement most of us have with art, which is more often than not via a second or third-hand source such as ‘art merchandise’. We flipped the script somewhat in creating meticulous and legitimate artworks in the guise of these commodities. It had fun with the idea that consumption and interpretation of art is quite absolutely out of the artist’s control.
Similarly, your previous solo shows are musings on how art is viewed (Claire: Changing Hands) and what it means to be an artist (Dale: Look Busy). What conclusions have you come to regarding the subject?
One of the main conclusions that we’ve arrived at is that artists are simply practitioners, like any other career. It’s the audience, and the dissemination of the ideas through society at large, that gives the work its significance and cultural value.
What was the response to “Shall We Move On?” like at the FNB Joburg Art Fair? What were some of the conversations you had with fair goers?
A word that came up a lot was ‘refreshing’ which was lovely to hear. The fact that we had a special projects booth to play with meant the show was created and curated to play a role within the fair. It was good to feel that our audience was getting something fresh and ‘live’.
It also really pleased us that people seemed to enjoy the show on multiple levels, some skimming past and understanding it on one level, whereas the people who spent a good deal of time reading and going through the work understood it on another level.
One gentleman simply said that the show was ‘‘a very expensive way to make an interesting observation’’. Fair enough.
Can you speak about some of the pop culture references in the works and why they were included?
The references speak to the idea of consumption and how consumer culture isn’t about products or objects but rather about the consumption and regurgitation of ideas and messages. When one Google’s the Mona Lisa, 90% of results are memes, Photoshopped images or selfies – which leads us to question which is more important, the painting itself or the idea of the painting?
The images of Barack Obama eating a burger and the film still from ‘Un Chien Andalou’, for example, relate to how bits of information within the public consciousness find their way into everything we do, like a catalogue of data that continuously reshuffles itself and presents itself as new – a sensory soup where the ingredients are not always recognisable but affect the final taste.
Shaun Pollock was included as a poke at art distribution in South Africa, the idea that for a lot of us the name Pollock brings to mind a ginger-haired cricketer.
How does your graphic design background and present practice affect the art you make as a studio?
As designers, the number one thing that is vital to our survival is great collaborations. Being a tiny studio, we deeply value the working relationships we have with writers, photographers, printers, paper suppliers—the truth is that you are only as strong as your extended team. Within the art collective, this dynamic comes very naturally to us and we thrive off it.
Again, the comparison between the art and graphic design industries gives us an outsiders view of both industries, and highlights the difference in models.
Do you feel like there are certain art rules you are breaking in this work?
I suppose from a traditional perspective, we have in that there isn’t any actual ‘art’ in the show (only merchandise and marketing collateral). Contemporary art is almost defined by breaking rules, so from that perspective it’s impossible to do so. By making an oil painting on a t-shirt format, the result is simultaneously both an oil painting and a t-shirt – the contrast strikes at just the right point for us.
How did collaboration benefit the process and outcome of the work?
The collaboration drove the process with this project: the back and forth of ideas, the range of skills and resources, the unique perspective and interesting tensions within the group as well as the motivation and sense of camaraderie.
The idea incubated in Dale’s mind for a while, and after some long and ludicrous conversation between the four of us, Matthew took the reigns. His writing was the foundation and the meat that inspired all the pieces in the show. Morné took over the sculptural aspects. He produced the ceramics, printed and bound all of the books and created all the built items (down to the molding of the hangers, and the turning of the ash dowels). Dale and I produced the images, splitting up the conceptualising and production of the pieces. Our tapestries were woven by Nazeema Solomons at Coral and Hive, who we love working with. They never shy away from our ridiculous briefs. None of this would have happened if not for the amazing collaboration we have with SMITH, and their support and willingness to take the risk with us on a show like this.
What’s next for Hoick?
First up, Dale’s second solo exhibition, ‘Another Helping’, opens at SMITH on 19 October. We are also working on a piece for an African Design Collection which Amy Ellenbogen is curating at the AKAA Fair in Paris in November. Other than that we are busy on lots of design jobs and will focus back on the design studio for a while before planning our next move.
More at hoick.co.za.
Interview by Alix-Rose Cowie.