Making work in the US: The ‘Rendition’ series

Posted on Sunday May 13, 2012

The ‘Stuffed Figures’ series (see previous post) really kicked my work along. I experimented using some fur on one of them, and it worked okay. Then I thought, why not try covering one with fur instead of the hessian? This didn’t work – too heavy-handed – but it set me thinking about other ways to achieve ‘furriness’. Some of the first ‘Stuffed Figures’ works looked slightly furry where the wood shavings poked out through the open weave of the hessian or where the cut ends of the hessian stuck out, and my creative lightbulb switched on…ker-thunkk-fizzz-splutter! Instead of covering the figures with a single sheet of hessian, why not cut it into strips, and wind these around the forms to hold in the wood shavings stuffing?

By the time I’d made my second furry stuffed figure, it was obvious that they came from a much darker mental place than the first ‘Stuffed Figures’ series. Their abject quality became clear – but what did they signify? Outside my studio window, I heard another heavy transport plane take off from the nearby US Air Force base. Where was it going –Afghanistan,Guantanamo Bay,Turkey? What was it carrying – arms, people? This triggered the title for this series – ‘Rendition’. ‘Rendition’ is the charming term used to describe the act of sending suspected terrorists out of the US to countries like Egypt and Turkey for ‘enhanced interrogation’, another charming term formerly known as ‘torture’.

This would also allow me to execute the figures in two planes, instead of a single plane. (That’s planes as in dimensions, not military aircraft. We are assured that suspects are not executed in those.)

After I’d made several of these figures, a colleague and I began using them as props for a series of photographs. The top floor of the building in which I had my studio had just the right atmosphere: old brick walls, worn timber floors, stout wooden pillars holding up the roof, a few windows. At day’s end, the low slanting light coming through the windows created a dramatic setting – totally at odds with the modern starkness of a military prison, but more evocative of degradation and despair.

Some of the ‘Rendition’ figures installed in the warehouse space

Friends who’ve seen the pix of the works generally go quiet for the first few seconds. Let me know what you think.