Lou Hubbard uses words like control, discipline, rigour and restraint. She talks about training and testing, about "stringent conditions", "being tough" and "reigning things in". She likes rules, she likes to make them and she likes to enforce them… over and over again.
Take the toy horse for example, that poor rubber soul who’s been a recurring feature of Hubbard’s work for a decade and who has in that time been subjected to all manner of violent indignities. In the video Hack (2006) several tiny toy horse replicas were dragged over a mound of blu-tack, over a plastic ruler, through a roll of scotch tape; their little legs quivering with each escalating trial. A few years later in the sculpture Dead Still (2010) a large-scale version of the toy lay squashed beneath two mighty panes of glass, the victim of some highly improbable calamity. There it was last year at the Spring 1883 art fair, legs-akimbo on a sofa and stuffed with patio furniture. And here it is again in Hubbard’s major solo show Dead Still Standing (at West Space until 28 February). The over-sized toy – now just a shell of its former self – has been wedged into a window cavity and suspended mid-gallop like a Muybridge.
The horse isn’t the only recurring motif in Hubbard’s work. Novelty nudie aprons with tits and dicks, a plastic turtle-shaped sand-box, a particularly lurid shade of bright green, white patio chairs, soccer balls, the tune O Danny Boy, planet lamps, fake eyeballs, that weird little toy dog. Again and again Hubbard returns to an idiosyncratic collection of crippity crap, repurposing and remodelling them into new videos and sculptures. Like a potter uses clay, Hubbard uses a child’s potty shaped like a turtle. As Hubbard says, “the objects are my materials.” With each new reiteration, Hubbard attempts to test the limits of her objects’ emotional and material qualities. Can they be made to do this, or that? Can they be made to make us feel this, or that? What purposes are they fit for?
Hubbard says the materials choose her, not the other way around. They provoke some deep curiosity, she says, she feels compelled to use them. Often it’s because they trigger strong memories or emotions. The toy horse, for example, is a reminder of the real horse her father gave Hubbard for her 11th birthday. Hubbard did dressage and horse riding as a child; learning to train the horses, learning the conditions of her parents 'unconditional' love. Hubbard explains, "I have an emotional relationship to training and the effect of that training on my nature."
In addition to horse riding, Hubbard did ballet, tap dancing, athletics and swimming (you’ll note no team sports on that busy roster of activities). Growing up she loved watching McHale’s Navy and Rin Tin Tin. "Anything to do with the military," she explains, "anything that involved a uniform and a strategy." Hubbard says she would invent games and make her younger sisters follow command. She would set herself challenges - how high could she jump, how many laps could she swim underwater without breathing. "I loved rules and I loved knowing where things started and finished. I understand the power play that goes with winning and losing, being favoured and esteemed for certain activities," says Hubbard "or being left behind."
Dead Still Standing isn’t a retrospective as such, since the works (if not the materials) are all new. But the exhibition does represent something of a career survey of Hubbard’s practice because so many of her go-to motifs and strategies are here: the little brown dog, the toy horse, the Frankenstein assemblages, the pervading sense of absurd high drama, the preoccupation with control and conditioning.
Dead Still Standing sees Hubbard applying her approach - trialling, training and disciplining - not just to the individual objects she works with, but to her entire back catalogue. It's as if she's testing out the limits of her own canon, or indeed of her own artistic agenda. Looking back over the show and the accompanying website, Hubbard says, "it makes me think I’m driven by exactly the same thing every time, but I still haven’t actually located that thing."
>> Maura Edmond
>> 4 February 2015
GO SEE IT:
Dead Still Standing
30 January - 28 February, 2015
Level 1, 225 Bourke Street
Tues - Sat 12 noon - 6pm