Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing – Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
Hew Locke, a British artist with his childhood roots in Guyana born in 1959.
In his work Locke explores colonial and post-colonial power, how different cultures fashion their identities through symbols of authority and how these representations have changed over time. He mixes existing materials and historical sources with his own political and cultural concerns. His mixed heritage and inspirations from this heritage can be seen throughout his works.
The Tourists (2015) – Recording
Entering the dark room we are greeted by a large screen playing a projected recording upon a battle ship (HMS Belfast). Towards the back of the room (where we enter) there are bench seats and space for standing audience members. There is then the screen at the far end of the room and at the sides, near the screen there are mannequins in various positions wearing masks and watching the screen along with the audience.
On the screen there is Caribbean music and mannequins dressed in carnival masks, gold and with beads. The mannequins are doing everyday tasks upon the ship such as cooking and manning the equipment. The music changes to long drawn out, eerie notes and the beeping of the ships sonar mixed in with a sound of radio interference. The atmosphere now seems unsettling and sinister with the skull tattoos and masks. Are they carnival masks or death masks for the men at war?
Locke had done research on the boat and had found that before it was decommissioned it visited Trinidad in the Caribbean on its final voyage. Locke imagined it had arrived during the carnival season and the crew were getting ready to take part. The music selected was not only chosen as a cliché and also as the lyrics had the double meaning to highlight some problems of the time such as sailors having affairs with women whilst away and about the US army and prostitution in Trinidad.
The museum where this piece was commissioned is a well known tourist attraction today, it also lends itself to the name of the piece which refers to this but also to the sailors being tourists themselves.
Thoughts on the piece
This piece is set upon a named warship, the HMS Belfast. Given the name of this place the audience would have certain connotations and views about what would take place on this boat, and usually the museum would portray this. However Locke has suggested an alternative history to this piece and changes the atmosphere of the boat and museum completely, just by adding some masks and music. Although there are some jolly undertones the whole piece is somewhat sinister and given some background information about what the music represents the audience can have differing views on what the piece represents. The addition of the physical mannequins alongside the performance helps bring the recording into the gallery and gets the audience more involved in the work.
Hinterland (2013) Framed artwork
A yellow, green, grey and somewhat polarised image of a statue of Queen Victoria greets you on the left as you enter the gallery room. The photograph and painted image has been drawn over with skulls, a lady and monkey-like figures playing various instruments. The statue appears to be standing in a forest/jungle or garden and is surrounded by tropical trees.
The piece is a reworked photograph of a statue of Queen Victoria in Georgetown, Guyana (where Locke lived as a child). It an image of a statue which was subjected to a dethroning and dumped in the undergrowth of the botanical garden in 1970. It was reinstated again in 1990 in front of a court which is where Locke saw it recently which triggered the memory he had of it broken in the garden. This work highlights that history and how we are affected today by that history.
Thoughts on the piece
This piece is important to the artist as seeing this statue reminded him of a place and time he remembered from his childhood. It is also a statement about a point in history and something which many other people in the country would remember. The emotional attachment to the place can not necessarily be seen in the work itself but is evident when Locke described his work in the audio guide. The monkey-like figures are like a Singerie and gently ridicule the people who are playing instruments to celebrate in this work.