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Tom Hunter: Living in Hell and Other Stories

This is Tom Hunter’s second solo exhibition with Green On Red Gallery and it coincides with his current residency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.  Living in Hell and other stories was first shown at the National Gallery London in December of 2005.  These are carefully-composed, large-scale photographs, based on the artist’s re-staging of tabloid newspaper headlines.  Using friends and acquaintances as the protagonists, Hunter’s work compositionally reference classic Old Master paintings.  

Murder: Two Men Wanted is a photograph whose title is directly taken from a Hackney Gazette headline.  Its composition is based on Piero di Cosimo’s Satyr mourning over a Nymph which is part of the National Gallery collection.  In Hunter’s work, a woman lies sprawled across the ground in an eerily lit park, (it was shot in public parkland in Hackney which is notorious for criminal activiity at night) while a male figure, his expression shocked and bewildered, crouches beside her head.  At her feet sits an Alsatian dog.  His posture is one of loyalty and resolution as if he were guarding over her corpse. The subject may be linked to Ovid's Metamorphoses (VII, 752-65) in which the death of Procris is depicted.  

As Martin Herbert has written, “Bad news sells newspapers.” The Hackney Gazette, self-appointed mouthpiece of the East London borough where Tom Hunter lives and works, is not a free newspaper. As such it needs to gain the attention and money of its public, doing so by importing the standard tabloid formula of addicting its readership to a cocktail of horror and titillation: cue headlines like HALLOWEEN HORROR and LOVER SET ON FIRE IN BED.... The Gazette writers’ words must matter more than pictures, for a lack of photographic imagery will not stop this newspaper from running a front-page story. A curious mind will naturally tend to image the scene by itself, and such was the process that generated Hunter’s ongoing ‘Headlines’ series from the Gazette. These scenarios were isolated and turned into staged photographs, featuring friends and acquaintances and shot in Hackney.

Hunter’s work is about seduction.  We are inititially drawn, voyeuristically to the photographs to make sense of the drama, to participate almost as onlookers to an event that has already occurred.  In Hunter’s work there is a relaxed sense of normalcy to the tableau, an every-day calm and directness that the protagonists in the photographs exude.  It is only in the knowing (the titles) and the slow realisation that one has possibly seen this scene before (albeit as an earlier work of art) that the viewer comes to fully undertand the complexity and pleasure of engaging with Hunter’s work.

Earlier Event: March 30
Conor Kelly: Aerophone
Later Event: June 15
Fergus Martin: Storm