American sculptor Duane Hanson is best known for his hyperrealist figurative sculptures.
Using specialized materials such as bronze and fiberglass resin, he creates seemingly life like subjects from live models and dresses them in second hand clothes, accessorizing them accordingly. Hanson’s subjects reflect varying characters frozen in snapshots of the ‘everyday’, which the viewer is able to examine up close, speculating without restraints that would be unquestionably present if one were inspecting a living human. The sculptures posess an inward gaze, oblivious to the external, and the onlooker is made to question their relationship with these characters.
In his earlier works Hanson’s subjects were displayed in more shocking situations, often gut wrenching and brutal. The heightened realism of dead bodies was daunting and emotive. Pieces of reality often hidden or intentionally pushed to the back of people’s minds were visually propelled forward, causing us to confront these terrifying scenes through uncompromising hyper-realist imagery.
In later works, as displayed at the Serpentine, he abandoned such shocking material and instead portrayed subjects of a common nature whilst still erecting issues we face in modern day society, such as obesity and underpaid labor; issues that don’t seem so shocking to begin with due to overexposure, but still manage to infiltrate the majority of households. This is a considerably scary predicament. These issues are like viruses, instigated by the societal conditions we are subjected to and spreading through households undetected. The stereotypical characters present these issues in a linear manner, we are not challenged by the meaning of the works and what is presented; it is what it is.
Meet Queenie, an overweight cleaner who spends her days picking up after the public. She represents the forgotten, faceless woman. Her work is tiring and she is poorly paid. Our food and product consumption produces a waste product that we discard, oblivious to the repercussions it may have and the machine-induced-people, like Queenie, who keep the consumer process running. Hanson highlights certain members of society and makes a commodity out of them. One figure often represents a type of person who is rid of their individuality, is easily replaceable, and who functions as part of the capitalist society machine. Hanson’s sculptures become a product, and the hyper-realistic state conveys to us how we have become part of the consumer culture. We are led to question the way that political and social conditions have affected society and the promise of the ‘American-dream’ way of life is destabilised.
The exposed brick and hidden corners of the Serpenting Sackler Gallery are a great accompaniment to these sculptures, often producing disorientating interactions with the sculptures and leading one to confuse other visitors with artworks.