This must be the place is a respite for the doubtful, a breather for the disheartened. A place to feel good and remember laughing is good stuff – especially when it’s at your own self. It’s somewhere where all the niggly, unsure, sore bits can hang out without getting a hard time. A place full of weird and wonky and warm things that will sympathetically tickle the discomfort of not-knowing and remind you that sense doesn’t need to be made of everything.
Hailey Atkins is a Brisbane based artist graduated from Queensland College of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Art with Honours (Class I). Her sculptural practice sits at the intersection of humour, failure and ambivalence, and explores how the resulting aesthetic can be utilised to meaningfully disrupt the negativity surrounding failure and doubt. She has exhibited widely in Queensland, as well as interstate (Sydney, Hobart) and internationally (Utrecht, Netherlands) and is forthcoming artist in
residence at Kaus Australis (Rotterdam, Netherlands) Oct-Dec 2017.
This must be the place. What place is it, exactly? I’m not sure, but neither is Hailey. It’s a bit of a limbo, a nowhere land.
It’s a place where thoughts, anxieties and experiences become physical.
Hailey is pretty unsure about what she’s doing in her life and her practice; whether she’s doing the right thing, where it’s leading, what to do next, etcetera, etcetera. That’s not so uncommon. I don’t know what I’m doing in my life. Do you? I suppose we all just find a way to handle that unsureness. I got an accidentally too-prominent tattoo. My boyfriend’s applying for a gun license. My sister fills her house with plants to care for. My Dad buys progressively more expensive cars. Hailey makes sculptures. They’re not long term solutions to the unsureness but they’re little helpers.
Making, physically making, from one work to the next, allows Hailey some kind of control in the negotiation of her general uncertainty. Making things is assertive. Most of the works are drawn from distinct thoughts and experiences in her life, things that have added to the unsureness, and she’s extrapolated them, given them solid form, and this way she can acknowledge them. She can touch them and look at them and really deal with them. And she lets us do it too. The works are funny, wonky shapes, and the ambiguity of the forms means that they can be our experiences too. Visual associations flicker across the mind when we look at them (a laundry basket, a lollipop, a giant phallic vegetable?). They’re things we find familiar, they’re humorous visual metaphors that we can’t quite pin down.
An Unimpressive Pit invites us in with its elevated standing step, peaking our interest and expectations. Looking into the pit, it’s so much shallower than the external form implies. It’s a bit of a letdown, because we were optimistically expecting more than the title promised. But of course it’s a letdown; it’s come from an experience of life. That’s why it’s so familiar. That familiar life letdown. Here, we can laugh at our own optimism, or we can laugh at Hailey’s expectation of it. She knew we’d be expecting a deeper pit than what she gave us. I think she wants us to see that, too; see that we are optimistic, despite our unsureness.
The other works recreate similar feelings of uncertainty or doubt. It’s a shadow of the doubt we feel in our lives, though. A mimicking but also a mocking of it. The works gently make fun of our tendency to overdramatise experiences or feelings which are often entirely banal: our making of mountains out of mole hills. Here, Hailey has undramatised them, brought them back into banality, into a manageable scale and an approachable form. They don’t overwhelm and they don’t underwhelm. They just…whelm.
As well as uncertainty, doubt, and optimism, the works also boast allusions to achievement, rebellion, to heads held high. They are constructed with a sort of sturdy pride. They let us laugh at them, and the anxieties they manifest. There is humour in the clumsy material construction, in the imperfect shapes, the lanky slumps and leans, the contrast of soft and rigid. By juxtaposing our grand expectations with their mere ‘whelming’ reality, they encourage us not to take them too seriously, and not to take ourselves too seriously by extension. They’re telling us we’re OK. The doubt, the unsureness, the optimism: it’s OK.
Self-conscious as they are, these works are determined not to care what you think of them. They form the streetscape for this nowhere limbo land: lacking conviction on any external issue, but solidly, physically, tentatively asserting their presence.
Essay by Miranda Hine