Hadley Howes and Maxwell Stephens — professionally known as the dynamic artist duo Hadley+Maxwell—live in Berlin, Germany, and exhibit their integrative, 3D work all over the world. In early spring 2016, they delivered an artist talk at OCAD University, where their thoughts on employing diverse media to rework iconic images and traditional forms galvanized my interest. That first encounter with Hadley+Maxwell’s energetic blending of pop culture, politics, history and aesthetics left me craving more.
Most recently, Hadley+Maxwell have ventured into the public domain with their latest project Garden of Future Follies. This major public art commission is installed along Toronto’s waterfront (Front St. E. and Bayview Ave., North-West corner)
Hadley Howes casting To Serve and Protect
Photo by: Cristina Saban
The Garden of Future Follies is “based on the idea of the fanciful gardens and landscape ornaments of 18th- and 19th-century France and England,” explain Hadley+Maxwell. In this project, the artists deploy their signature Cinefoil process, which entails pressing a thick aluminum-foil material against an object to take its shape.
The overarching goal of the Garden of Future Follies is to bring aspects of public works down to street level. In this way, audiences can engage with past histories and reconfigure “reified ideologies” expressed within public works to present a new way of thinking and living.
Hadley+Maxwell and artist assistant Alex Achtem casting the iconic fireplace at Osgoode Hall Library
Photo by: Sara Malabar
Individually titled Modern, Memorial, Atlas, Caryatid, Gargoyle, Threshold and Monument, each piece of their installation serves as a physical remix or mash-up of what has come before, and presents itself as the new ideal, not only within the art world but within Toronto’s larger social and cultural makeup. Expected to be completed in May 2016, the 190 aluminum impressions are currently in their final stages of being cast in bronze, polished, treated with patina and fitted with posts for installation.
Recently, I drove out to Artcast — a premiere art foundry in Georgetown — to see how Hadley+Maxwell’s project is progressing and to gain more insight into how these artists shifted their thinking in order to create for the public sphere. Here is part of our conversation.
Time and space
Jill Price (JP): Up until this project you have been working within the gallery system. What have you had to think about differently while creating an installation that many people will interact with each day?
Hadley Howes (HH): We learned that we were more nervous than what is warranted. We expected many more restrictions. Time also became a bigger concept: regardless of the work now being constructed in bronze, the question arises, what does permanence really mean? Deterioration is still a time-based process; we are just dealing with a different variation of longevity in this case.
Maxwell Stephens (MS): Even the process became an organic research project about what is a successful public art project. We had to consider engineering and aesthetics simultaneously, safety, sharp edges, pinching, etc. We also needed to think how the context around the work might change.
Interpretation and aesthetics
JP: Did you have mentors that you could turn to during this process?
HH: We approached and looked to creative people who have had experience working on this scale and in this realm. Dan Young, Ed Pien, Antonia Hirsch, Liz Magor and Fast Worms are all artists who we looked to for their sense of play. We also looked at the work of architects such as Carson Chan and Alex Schwader (a New York architect who has become an artist and has translated his practice from interior to public spaces).
MS: Historically, we also looked to great old-school public art by artists such as Picasso, Jean DuBuffet and Alexander Calder. They all considered surface versus interior; abstraction; adaptation; the difference between back and front; and the aesthetics and politics of collage.
Hadley+Maxwell contemplating the addition of a lion door knocker to balance the columns of Gargoyle
Photo by: Jill Price
JP: Have there been benefits to working with extra parameters or expectations?
HH: Overcoming or working on the temptation to be swayed by public opinion has demanded a lot of personal growth. When we realized there would be an overwhelming expression of public opinion, I had to ensure that I became very centred, developed a real conviction about our work and did not give in to the ego stroking or breaking that can happen when exposed to the public sphere.
MS: I have been excited to be able to make this work and take up the challenge to make for a broader public who are incredibly intelligent. The project has also served as a natural extension of our past projects, and has helped us continue our learning process as artists. Additionally, we became very excited when we saw some real opportunities for additional process or abstraction at the wax stage of the mould-making process.
JP: Do the two of you ever arrive at an impasse and, if so, what strategies do you use to move through those moments?
HH: Pouting! (LOL) We typically put everything on the table—historical context, constant questioning. If we are butting heads, it may be because we aren’t listening to the material and its history.
MS: We do take informal timeouts, but often the last word goes to the third element, the material. We share a respect for the material we are working with, whether it is the language of a poster or the aura of bronze.
Interpretation, interaction, integration
JP: Knowing that your works will be venerable, what do you worry about most?
HH: I think my greatest fears are indifference, static interpretation, no interaction, no questioning.
MS: I find all forms of interaction exciting! I can’t wait to see how they will become integrated into the community and how they will be utilized or altered in different ways.
Advice for new public-commission artists
JP: What would be one piece of advice you would offer to artists who want to venture into the world of public art commissions?
HH: Do not think that you can do it on your own. Budget for help in your proposal. Also, immerse yourself in your making! We don’t really value traditional research methods, but we learned more than we ever expected simply through direct interaction with the sculptures.
MS: Yes, throw yourself into the material process and the ideas and meaning will follow. We had more people come up and teach us about what we were working with than we could have ever imagined.
See more of Hadley + Maxwell’s work online, and follow the Garden of Future Follies on Facebook.
Jill Price is the curator and education officer at Quest Art in Midland, Ontario. She is currently a student in OCAD U’s Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design (IAMD) MFA program.