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Armanious, Hany - 2012.17

Hany Armanious

Relative Nobody 2010
pigmented polyurethane resin, bronze
114 × 89 × 66 cm
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gift Program 2012

Two exhibitions set Hany Armanious apart from his contemporaries in his early career. The first was Wit’s end, held in 1993 at Sydney’s new Museum of Contemporary Art and for the most part a roll call of the best artists of the 1980s. But Wit’s end also announced the end of that era’s art hegemony; there was a strong expectation that a new generation of artists was needed. The excesses and highs of the 1980s could not translate to the precariousness of the 1990s. Armanious’s emergence as an artist coincided with the crash and flat-line of 1987’s economic implosions and the deep recession that followed. In the art scene, the fallout lasted well into the late 1990s; the depressed conditions manifestly changed art practice, as much as any other critical challenge did.

The second exhibition that set Armanious apart from his peers was Aperto ’93 at the 45th Venice Biennale, directed by Achille Bonito Oliva. The story that circulated was that no Venice curator would visit Australia, so any possible selection came to a last-minute phone call between Oliva and Leon Paroissien, the founding director of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Paroissien told Oliva that Hany Armanious was just then sleeping and exhibiting in a shop window on King Street, Newtown. Armanious had taken advantage of the bed in furniture shop window as his response to a community arts project involving schools and community groups hanging artwork in the windows. Very funny, yes, but also serious in the fact of it being literally about a place to sleep. While few people perhaps saw Armanious in the bed, this word-of-mouth story is the one that remains to explain the Aperto ’93 selection.

Relative Nobody comprises three parts: lightweight metal table legs turned on their side, a weathered chipboard sheet laid across them, and a blue ‘brick’ on top. At least Relative Nobody looks as if it comprises these things. The blue brick is an evolution of Armanious’s materialism; the blue colour and the material texture is not so different, for instance, to the Blu Tack he used in Aperto ’93.

Earlier too, there was a deracinated photograph, in which he had stuck Blu Tack on his father’s face, along with a silly mask. Later, there was jelly, snake oil, gnomic figures and mono-casts. Armanious’s sculptures have always been figurative devices, rather than literal or indexical or abstract. His casting materials are generally fluid forms; there are no ‘bones’ or armature. This has lent his work a certain ‘free form’, often a horizontal movement across the floor, the material carrying its own weight. More recently, there are pedestals and hierarchies and mimetic copies and leaning towers; for instance, the table legs of Relative Nobody are in fact solid bronze, but otherwise they are no more or less proficient than the original hollow tin legs he copies. These sideways legs provide the structure and physical height for the work, but the material conversion alludes to metaphysical ‘transference’.

The brick is like the face of the sculpture. A brick is a building block, one of many. It is also something you can throw or use as a weapon. But Armanious’s brick is very blue and not prosaic at all. It is a dense, flat, unnatural blue. This brick would probably bounce if it were thrown, or even collapse. Look closely and you can see there are indented finger marks and other apparent imperfections carried from the studio.

Jonathan Nichols is an artist living in Melbourne.