Over the past ten years, Wellington-based artist, Eugene Hansen (a.k.a VJ Rex) has explored the ever increasing prominence that audio and visual media has in our daily lives. Often working collaboratively, Hansen creates immersive visual and sonic installations that critically reflect on the constantly evolving media landscape that we inhabit. Due to their collaborative nature, these installations are also significant of the collective networks and individual visions that create our vast global media-scape.
In RootMeanSquare, Hansen makes a significantly new and ambitious development on this body of work by taking over all three of Te Tuhi’s main galleries with a sprawling sound-scape. Collaborating with seven artists from Auckland, Wellington and New York, Hansen creates a number of isolated but interconnected works. Present throughout all the galleries are wall works involving Simon Morris and Dr Kron. Morris' work Sound Line systematically demarcates the parameter of the gallery spaces through a yellow ochre line that decreases by 80mm at each doorway. The result is a stepped line that highlights architectural idiosyncrasies and creates a forced perspective between gallery spaces by emphasising an illusion of depth. In a cacophony of bold pop imagery, Dr Kron’s vinyl graphics both act to invade and complement Morris’ line and other artworks. Ranging from Tibetan temples to swarms of flies in Space Invader like formation, and from cartoon sculls promoting safe sex to a My Little Pony licking a condom, Kron’s work Image Caption draws on imagery from 1980s youth culture to create a sprawling virtual landscape of life, death and chaos. Jenny Gillam’s Future calls the dawn and Frank Rocks both consider the intersection of human and animal cohabitation. Future calls the dawn consists of numerous robot bird alarm clocks programmed to tweet at the crack of dawn in cities around the world known for their contribution to electronic music. Frank Rocks features a series of video works picturing the artist’s Fox Terrier Frank trotting about empty gallery spaces upside-down. However, while Frank’s K9 investigations seem natural they are all simulated in front of a TV studio green screen and superimposed over a still image.
In other works, Hansen initiates collaborations via custom made plywood speaker boxes as both sculptural objects and functional high-fi systems for generating sounds or playing recordings. Peter Trevelyan’s Monophone investigates the ideal geometry for speaker enclosures through a range of complex triangular forms while also considering the technological mechanisation of sound. Rasta Blasta booms repetitive disjointed beats, performed and recorded by both Dan Shaw and Hansen, through large crate-like speaker boxes. Accompanying the tracks are also numerous cans of the energy drink ‘Miss Helen’s Massive Melons’ and ‘Rasta Blasta the Ganga Masta.’ In Fieldwork 2, Andy Thomson and Hansen mix recordings of flies, footsteps, trains, water and other sound-scapes to be experienced spatially via a quadraphonic sound system made of plywood speaker baffles and valve amplifiers. Godzilla and a futuristic samurai faceoff in Analogue, a complex interactive interface, built by Hansen so that push button sounds trigger visuals created by Mike Heynes. The work is powered by two analogue synthesisers, together with a PA and computer system, that allows gallery visitors the opportunity to create endless music or noise.
While the exhibition features many autonomous artworks RootMeanSquare is more than the sum of its parts. Considered as a whole, the exhibition experience resembles everything from a night club to a 'spacey parlour’, from a hi-fi club to a hardware hackers convention. Rather than adhering to the conventional role of the artist as a single author, Hansen likens his practice to that of a producer, DJ or musician who curates, mixes and jams with likeminded practitioners. A role that finds new relevance due to rapidly burgeoning web-based networks and modes of production. Such innovative practices, including crowd sourcing, file sharing and open source licensing, all draw on the expertise of innumerable individuals to contribute to a whole. However, while drawing on elements of these practices, in contrast Hansen's overall approach is very much grounded in the low-fi. Sourcing vintage speaker drivers, choosing to build his own synthesizers and amplifiers, are all significant of anti-consumer practices. Practices that prioritise free knowledge and creative adaption of the techno-gadgets that permeate our lives. A position that seeks to have administrator control rather than blindly accepting closed systems dictated by the agendas of multinational companies. Therefore, Hansen's RootMeanSquare while being many things creates an emergent understanding of the technology and all encompassing media-scape that defines our contemporary situation.
‘Getting to make a show of eight audio installations, with seven collaborators, spanning (almost) the entirety of the gallery remains one of the highlights of my practice. It allowed me an opportunity to explore collaboration on a scale, and to a depth, I had not previously been able to and helped me cement some of the fundamental strategies and concepts that remain core in my work today.
I’m still investigating the primacy of audio, and the role that popular culture plays in the construction of contemporary society. The world we inhabit might still be best described as a ‘recombinant mediascape’: a ceaselessly adapting field of moments shared with networks of likeminded individuals.’
– Eugene Hansen, 2020