Brisbane artist explores the human condition

ROMAN KATO

Brisbane artist Stephen Hart has opened a new exhibition, called ‘Agency: Rare Offerings from the Museum of Spent Time’ at the Jan Manton Gallery in Spring Hill.

Stephen Hart’s sculpture The Existential Reader

Stephen Hart’s sculpture The Existential Reader (front) and artwork Crazy Mixed Up Kids (back) are on display at the Jan Manton Gallery. Photo: Roman Kato

The exhibition, which contemplates technology, humanity and meaning, will be open until September 29.

Stephen Hart, who is 65, is an experienced artist.

His work has been featured in galleries since the 1980s.

Jan Manton, who is the creative director of Jan Manton Gallery, said Mr Hart continued to develop as an artist and said his latest collection was an example of that.

Ms Manton said she first saw Mr Hart’s art in 2005 at a QUT-hosted exhibition called ‘A Silent Walk’.

Impressed by his creations, Ms Manton got in touch with Mr Hart and has represented him since.

This is the fifth time Hart has showcased his work at Jan Manton Gallery, starting in 2006.

Ms Manton said she was drawn to Hart’s work because it was about humanity.

“We can relate to his work because it talks about the human condition,” she said.

“It’s a universal story, or subject matter, and it relates on all levels and to different societies.”

“His latest exhibition looks at technologies and the advancement of technologies, and how our agency as humans is being comprised by new technology.”

“Are we going to remain separate from it, or is it going to be blended so that it will be difficult to find our human agency?”

“He’s looking into the future with this.”

Stephen Hart with As Time Goes By

Stephen Hart with his artwork entitled As Time Goes By. Photo: Roman Kato

Mr Hart said approaching this new work was like “digging a tunnel from two sides of a mountain with a couple of currents running through it”.

A picture of former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, shaking hands with a robot in Japan was a significant moment for Hart’s latest collection.

“There was a photograph of Turnbull who was ironically the then Prime Minister, he was in Japan last year, and he was shaking hands with a robot,” Mr Hart said.

“It was [an] innocuous moment, if you like,” he said.

“But it might’ve also been a harbinger of very changing times for us.”

“There was something in that image – the human being interacting with the robot.”

“It grabbed my attention.”

Mr Hart recreated the image and featured it on a laptop, which can be seen in the exhibition.

“I had an old computer, pulled it apart, and gazed into the wiring,” he said of the process.

“I’m not a technological person, so it was mysterious to me but fascinating at the same time.

“I used the case to paint the Prime Minister and the robot.”

Moment by Stephen Hart

Moment by Stephen Hart was inspired by Malcolm Turnbull’s meeting with a robot. Photo: Roman Kato

Hart said from then on, contemplations concerning humanity and technology continued to engulf his consciousness.

“I’m wondering what humans will do in the future,” he said.

“Technology seems to be about replacing the humans, who are increasingly too expensive.”

“The activities we’ve known as human are being bypassed, so I wonder what the humans are going to do.”

“It’s a huge shift, and the exhibition ponders that, along with the anomalies of the world we inhabit, for example, the peculiarity of politics and international affairs.”

Mr Hart describes himself as the type of person who “always has to think about things”.

“In some ways I’m a practical philosopher, and I’m working out a philosophy through my work as I make it,” he said.

Mr Hart said he was “born a maker” and always drew and made art growing up.

“My father was a civil engineer.”

“He had a workshop, and made things for the family, and he gave me free reign of the workshop.”

“So I’ve always been making things, and drawing too.”

Stephen Hart’s In Time

Stephen Hart’s In Time is a bronze cast from original work modelled in plaster and is on display at the Jan Manton Gallery. Photo: Roman Kato

“I’m not sure if I could do anything else,” he said.

“You get so far down the road.”

“I thought about doing other things, but I’m not going to become a physicist at this stage.”

“There have been times where I wished I was someone else, but you can really only be yourself.”

“You can only do what you do, and only be who you are.”

Mr Hart said it was an uncertain time when a series of work was completed.

“It’s an uncomfortable time,” he said.

“You wonder what you’re going to do next.”

“I’m trying to manage my uncertainty by cleaning up my studio, going for my morning walk and picking up rubbish,” he said.

“The fear of emptiness is enormous.”

“You hope you can do another body of work, but you never know really.”

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