Hew Locke’s Hemmed in Two is part boat, part package, part infestation, a personal reflection on the global commodification of culture and its history; the barcodes acknowledge that this art-piece is itself a commodity which can become cargo or freight as soon as it leaves the studio.
Cardboard is worldwide the standard shipping material for all types of goods, and the ‘drawn’ elements (Locke describes the cut-outs as “drawing with a knife”) reference this. Words such as ‘Export’ , ‘Fragile’, or barcodes, or symbols signifying ‘This Way Up’. During the time he was creating this work, Locke made a research trip to the Tate Gallery storage facility and became fascinated by the physical packaging, and the international shipping and movement of artworks amongst museums.
At once shambolic and magnificent, with references to Rococo, Medieval and Islamic architecture. It’s form is reminiscent of wrecks and rotting hulks, and steam engines – not just of paddle steamers – but of Victorian fairground rides. The fretwork references wooden colonial architecture, with the woven aspect and latticework specifically relating to the ‘bottom house’ of Guyanese architecture. The cut-outs echo the 1970’s concrete breeze blocks common in Miami and the wider Caribbean.
Hemmed In Two grew organically in the way of Kurt Schwitter’s Merz Barn, each time it was installed at a new venue. For example, it developed on it’s intervention into the fabric of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Inspired by the museums’ problematic history I added to the piece to allude indirectly to it’s collection. The barcodes were taken from the museum reference labels accompanying each object in the museum, selecting seemingly insignificant-looking objects such as Meisen figurines depicting the Four Continents, or the telescope of Tipu Sultan, looted from his dead body by East India Company troops.
Hew Locke was born in Edinburgh, UK, in 1959; lived from 1966 to 1980 in Georgetown, Guyana; and is currently based in London. He obtained a B.A. Fine Art in Falmouth (1988) and an M.A. Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London (1994). In 2000 he won both a Paul Hamlyn Award and an East International Award.
His work is represented in many collections including those of the The Government Art Collection, The Pérez Art Museum Miami, The Tate Gallery, The Arts Council of England, The National Trust, The Brooklyn Museum , New York, The Arnold Lehman collection, The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, The RSID Museum, Rhode Island, The New Art Gallery Walsall, The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Imperial War Museum, The British Museum and The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.
Images: Hew Locke, Hemmed in Two, 2000, Cardboard, wood, acrylic, glue and felt-tip pen. Dimensions variable , but approximately 15 x 22 feet. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Peter Norton. All images © Hew Locke & DACS