Intimacy is key in the work of Hadley + Maxwell. Since 2001 the duo has been working through a series of close encounters with curators and collectors of art, accumulating personal information about aesthetic preferences and passions that is then interpreted into installations in their interlocutors’ homes. Yet despite the sculptural experiments that have shaped The Décor Project—as the series is called—what remains are photographs, not so much documents of the installations, but evidence that what is at stake is a sculpture for the sake of photography.
The photographer is neither Hadley nor Maxwell but a third party, the commercial photographer Sven Boecker. His presence acknowledges the industrialized art-making that marks much of Vancouver photography and video, and signals an attempt by Hadley + Maxwell to become intimate with this tradition and with the picture said to have started so much—Jeff Wall’s The Destroyed Room of 1978, which confronts the viewer with a room that serves as a repository of an act, an event or a series of events, a narrative that remains a mystery because something or someone is missing. The rooms photographed by Hadley + Maxwell are not visibly destroyed, but there is an element of the undead about them in that a hovering dynamic of personal relations haunts their construction. The objects we see are ghosts of an encounter; with its uncertain status as both object and image, photography serves as a crucial and fitting representational tool.
Hadley + Maxwell’s latest experiment, Horizontal Construction, is self-reflexive in this respect. It is a photo work whose core image shows a dining room with a mirror on the wall. The image then replaced the mirror and the room was photographed again, to make a series of what appear to be receding mirrors. The camera reflected in the mirror serves as an anchor for a blue string that seems to traverse the mirror, the photograph and the actual dining-room space, linking the various dimensions in an optical trick reminiscent of a Fred Sandback.
The piece was done in the home of the costume designer Karen Matthews and the playwright Tom Cone, who, in answering a survey created by Hadley + Maxwell, mentioned Sandback as an artist whose work they admired. The piece premiered last June at one of the experimental-music salons that Matthews and Cone host in Vancouver. Installed, it seemed to absorb the dining room in which it was hung. The effect was disorienting. The couple have since moved Horizontal Construction into their living room. The move has accentuated the original matching yellow frame on the work, transforming the photograph into a more sculptural object and setting in motion another play of boundaries: image into object, flat into three-dimensional. The ambiguity suits artists who are questioning how to give form to all the things that do not seem to have substance, but move us nonetheless.