Hayden Fowler, „Broken Romance“

On the back
The clouds
The stars
The biggest. The farest.
On the belly
The smallest.
Insects grass
And drewdrops

To lay in the grass means to perceive elements of the world whose existence I am not aware of in everyday life.

Copyright: Hayden Fowler, Fotos: Vinnie Liazza

In Hayden Fowler’s exhibition room there is an imposing metal structure supporting a grass area with small fir trees. Is all this real or is it made of plastic? I get closer and the smell of fresh damp grass whispers: it’s real. And I immediately observe the whole thing like a fascinated, curious child lying on the grass. The flies, the dew drops, the earth and all the details of the small world under the grass. This is the „Romance“. I observe everything from above with pleasure. I stand in front of a fine, fragile cosmos. Also the fir trees are so small that I feel very big in comparison. I’m in an exhibition room and although I’m not lying in the lawn, I look at the little earthly agitation with the same curiosity and in the same dominant position as if I were in nature. Through a poetic metonymy, an ecosystem is turned into an exhibition object, and my way of dealing with this environment is also actually exhibited as such. My attitude towards the world is reflected by this installation and represented in space. On this day I am alone in the exhibition, but I wonder what it would be like if there were other viewers inside. I would certainly tend to observe their own attitudes.

The second element of the exhibition is a virtual reality film. I put on the mask and see the same exhibition room, but there is a dark sky above my head and there are no more fir trees on the scaffold. Instead there are impressive stumps of trees and colorful plants. White swans regularly fly above me, from back to front. They fly slowly and relatively close to me, but I cannot see where they come from and where they fly to. The whole thing seems cold and dark, but the celestial dance is irrevocably beautiful. A quiet and graceful choreography takes place around me. It frightens me and has something peaceful as well. Through the virtual reality I lose contact with the real environment and am disoriented. In this strange space I feel an oppressive loneliness. I can’t feel anything except the depicted intangible world and my own relationship to it.

In both exhibition rooms, the real and the virtual, I am the viewer of a similar looking nature. But the sensation is quite different depending on where I am: In real space I feel great and stand in an overwhelming position towards nature. The installation makes me question my usual comfortable relationship to my environment. Whereas in the film I have a very immersive experience where I find myself in a disturbing atmosphere. I’m still a viewer, but I can’t get that close to the objects anymore. I can’t interact with them and I feel like I’ve lost power. There I am, smaller than the other elements. And precisely because these elements are different, larger and intangible, I describe this experience as unpleasant. That is the „Broken Romance“.

I would not interpret the film as a dystopian illustration of the future. In it I see much more a reflexion on our relationship to the environment and on the Cartesian understanding of man as master of nature. While the material installation offers me the comfortable and usual viewing of an ecosystem, the film transports me to a different position, where the viewing takes on a different form and triggers different feelings. So these two different positions complement each other. In this sense, I see the confrontation with the two different spaces as a subtle and committed offer to fathom our attitude and our perception of the world.

Cover: Copyright: Hayden Fowler, Fotos: Vinnie Liazza

Julia Ben Abdallah is an art historian and co-founded the collective for art critique POKUS - Poetische Kunstkritik Berlin in March 2019. She aspires to an accessible and independent art critique. She writes about exhibitions and artistic works in Berlin that she finds particularly inspiring, without restricting herself to a particular genre or discipline.