What is my artwork about?
I make conceptual art that takes the form of painting, sculpture and installation. I use the rigor of tradition and craft as a Trojan horse to examine themes of the constructed self and the human desire to be seen and remembered. I re-enact antiquated modes of object making; repeating them over and over until they have been stripped of their original identity. I am interested in the concept of recursion and meta-theory as it pertains to image making. I am also concerned with a deconstruction of ideas associated with what is supposed to be “original” or “authentic”.
In 1917 Marcel Duchamp constructed a photomontage entitled Autour D’ Une Table (Around the Table). In it, five black and white images of the artist are made to look as if they are sitting at the same table, staring blankly at one another. It is a meditation on the self as other. Or, as the poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote in 1871, “J’ est un autre” (I am an other). Rimbaud referred to the act of becoming: one self (the body) being the material, the other self (thought) being the mold. In Duchamp’s photomontage, the artist’s subjective self is able to sit across from its constitutive other. One might assume this to be a sincere attempt by Duchamp to both depict and see himself in a new way. However, this assumption changes when you realize that this is an almost identical copy of a work made by the Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni. Boccioni’s work, entitled I-Noi-Boccioni (I-We-Boccioni), was made a decade earlier. Duchamp replaces Boccioni’s likeness with his own while leaving the rest of the composition intact. Suddenly, sincerity is replaced by calculation and the work sharpens its edges. These are the small but important changes that occur in a work as layers of meaning are revealed.
I make conceptual art that relies on the vocabulary of the past in order to build meaning. I use the rigor of tradition and craft as a conceptual conceit. The convention of self-portraiture, antiquated European painting techniques, 18th Century glass gilding, gold leaf frames and toile wallpaper are the parlance of the past. However, these outmoded forms have left a residue on image making of the 21st Century. They are at once passé and revered; obsolete and honored; familiar currency of the old guard and an opportunity to be totally unexpected.
By re-enacting the practice of the artist who once was, I attach my own intentions. I duplicate, double, mirror and repeat images over and over until they have been stripped of their original identity. This multiplying also introduces the idea of recursion. Recursion is the process of repeating items in a self-similar way. For instance, when two mirrors are placed facing one another allowing an image to reflect infinitely between them. This recursion allows me to deconstruct ideas associated with what is supposed to be “original” or “authentic.”
There are also numerous meta-relationships that occur as the work begins to refer to itself, to the artist(s) and to the process of being made. For instance, a common trope in early European self-portraiture was for the artist to depict herself sitting at her easel in the process of working. Ostensibly, the viewer is to believe that the back of the canvas depicted in the painting is the canvas on which the painting is painted. So, both versions (real and represented) are presented to the viewer in an infinite loop. This loop is interrupted when another version of the painting is made. What’s on the front of the canvas depicted in the new painting? Is it still a self-portrait when another artist paints it? If so, whose self-portrait is it? By raising these questions I hope to obscure the borders between the world within the work and the world outside.
Rimbaud continued his ruminations on the formation of the self, writing about “the wood that becomes a violin” and “the brass that awakes as trumpet”. He speaks to the inevitability of change and of one’s ability to turn into something new and unexpected. It is in this spirit that I set forth making my work. I insert myself into the dormant, acting as a change agent, creating contemporary meaning and molding the existing work into something new. In doing so, I try to leave enough of myself behind to inhabit and change the context of the work. Much like Duchamp inserting himself into Boccioni’s photomontage, I want to occupy the obsolete and create layered paradoxical relationships, which belie the viewer’s expectations.
“For I is someone else. If brass wakes up a trumpet, it is not its fault. This is obvious to me: I am present at the birth of my thought.” – Arthur Rimbaud
Lives and works in Brooklyn.
2001 MFA, Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT
1999 BFA, The Cooper Union School of Art, New York, NY
2015 MATTHEW HANSEL, Wasserman Projects, Detroit, MI
2010 WITH FLYING COLORS, Yuka Contemporary, Tokyo, JP
2009 HISTORICALISH, The Art Center, Martinsburg, WV
2008 MATTHEW HANSEL, Cerasoli Gallery, Culver City, CA
2007 YOUTH IS WASTED, Jack the Pelican Presents, Brooklyn, NY
THEIR MOUTHS ARE FILLED WITH EARTH, Grizzly Grizzly, Philadelphia, PA
A VARIANT FORM OF LUST, Fine and Raw, Brooklyn, NY
POP-UP BROOKLYN: Three Brooklyn artists showcased in Detroit: Kent Henricksen, Doug Young and Matthew Hansel, Wasserman Projects, Detroit, MI
SEEING STORIES, Q.E.D., Queens, NY
HELP IS ON THE WAY, Wasserman Projects, Detroit, MI
PAGE 179, ARTFORUM, Brennan & Griffin, New York, NY
HALF.LIFE, 241 Suydam, Brooklyn, NY
UNIVERSAL, Brooklyn Fire Proof, Brooklyn, NY
ANGELICA 01, Yuka Contemporary, Tokyo, JP
TOKYO ART FAIR, Yuka Contemporary Booth, Tokyo, JP
CURLY Q, Jack the Pelican Presents, Brooklyn, NY
395/NADA ART IN/VISIBLE SPACES, Brooklyn, NY
OLD SCHOOL, Jack the Pelican Presents, Brooklyn, NY
GIFTED, Cerasoli LeBasse Gallery, Culver City, CA
AQUA ART FAIR, Cerasoli LeBasse Gallery, Miami, FL
SPLASH, Cerasoli Gallery, Culver City, CA
SCOPE ART FAIR, Jack the Pelican Presents, New York, NY
DEEP POP, Iona College, New Rochelle, NY
BREVITY’S RAINBOW, Cinders Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
SCOPE ART FAIR, Jack the Pelican Presents, East Hampton, NY
VIRGIN MOBILE RE*GENERATION, Skylight Studios, New York, NY
FOUNTAIN ART FAIR, Jack the Pelican Presents, New York, NY
DEEP END, Aidan Savoy Gallery, New York, NY
DRAW, Fuse Gallery, New York, NY
UNDERTOW 2, Roq La Rue Gallery, Seattle, WA
SUMMER RESIDENCY EXHIBITION, The Cooper Union, New York, NY
UNDERTOW, Aidan Savoy Gallery, New York, NY
2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Grant Recipient
2006 The Cooper Union Summer Residency Program, New York, NY
1998 Yale Summer School of Music and Art, Norfolk, CT
”(100 under 100) The New Superstars of Southern Art”. The Oxford American June 2012: 54-96. Print