Art is supposed to be dangerous. It is supposed to break convention – to challenge its viewers, and open them up to a new form of perception. In today’s cultural landscape, we are bombarded daily with so much information and experience that our collective attention span has become shorter, which is particularly true of young people. The world of modern contemporary art has felt the effect of this seismic shift. Young artists are increasingly no longer focused on a single discipline, but instead they are establishing connections between various crafts, and subsequently producing work which cannot be pigeonholed, and in many cases, work which speaks directly to their young peers through the language of fragmented attention.
Haydn Allen‘s recent debut solo show Alien Party In The Swamp embodies the aforementioned notions perfectly. The 22 year old artist and recipient of the 2017 GPG/Mudfest award presented the show throughout April at the George Pattern Gallery, and it offered a window into an erratic mind with a clear penchant for dark humour. Featuring trash sculpture installations, dozens of bottles of ringworm cream, a chandelier, a circle of television screens, a tangle of cables and a cacophony of sound, Alien Party In The Swamp could be described as a show about contrasts. A particularly notable theme which ran through the work was the contrast of the digital and the organic. This contrast is increasingly topical, as a societal shift towards living in a digitally dominated world is gathering momentum with each passing day.
As a video editor, Allen brings a twisted perspective to the imagery he manipulates. For instance, one of the television screens played a loop of footage samples sourced from the seminal children’s show The Teletubbies, which was interweaved with samples sourced from pornographic videos. Again toying with the notion of contrast, these digitally edited videos were rigged up via a precarious series of cables to play through analogue era television sets. One of the most striking installations of the exhibit was a collection of smart phones with crystals placed over their screens. Serving as a comment on the disposable nature of modern technology, the pieces also offered a critique of twenty-first century spirituality; we all know the type of person who boasts about their connection to the spiritual, while still living vicariously through their mobile device in an ironic affront to what they preach. Alien Party In The Swamp contrasts spirituality with consumerism, forcing self reflection, yet it does so in a non-invasive, somewhat tongue in cheek fashion.
The program notes for Alien Party In The Swamp explained that the installation “summons its own synchronicities and disharmonies.” This can serve as an apt description of the viewer experience of the show. The work is both unsettling and welcoming; it invites you into the world that it creates, but stops short of making you feel at home there. Art is supposed to be dangerous; these installations, and their connotations, are dangerous, and chaotic – they challenge the viewer who perceives them, offering them new perspectives, whether they want to see these perspectives or not. The work is not content to simply be appreciated – it draws you in until you are consumed by it, and immersed in both its chaos and the inherent beauty therein. Each television set is playing its own independent sound, yet these sounds seem to merge into a singular frequency, almost into a score. Alien Party In The Swamp dares you to find connections between that which is seemingly unconnected – and it rewards you for finding those connections.
Haydn Allen is impossible to pin down as an artist – for Alien Party In The Swamp, he is part installation artist, part visual artist, part video artist, part sound designer, and part sculptor. In this sense, his work is a representation of the new wave of intersectionality in modern contemporary art – and he represents the freedom and paradigm shifting nature of that intersectionality so well.