The exhibition brings together an alien-like and almost post-human collection of portraits that, as Katie Hector notes, were born from the idea of, “toxic people, or apocalyptic people in the future, living in an atmosphere that’s heavily polluted, radioactive and glowing a little”. Frighteningly, the apocalypse Hector describes might be closer than we think. In the context of ever-rising temperatures and a worldwide increase in the frequency of natural disasters, Hector’s work can be considered as both an experimental intervention into the canon of figuration and a thinly veiled warning, illuminating the potential future we are liable to create.
Hector’s use of colour is truly remarkable: her works are easily misconstrued as images taken by a thermal camera or the results of heavy-handed Photoshop. She comments that this obsession with colour was key to her process when making these new pieces: “Each day I was guided by the impulse to explore and push colour to the max; I really let myself indulge”. Meanwhile, the tightly cropped faces of the figures in each painting, often based on appropriated images of “dancers, athletes, editorial models or pornstars”, are intrinsically mysterious. We are given few clues from which to decipher the story behind the face. Her works are entirely void of typical signifiers of identity – clothing, objects, belongings and environments – leaving us with a nebulous notion of the human, or even the post-human. This undefined figure becomes a powerful tool, allowing each viewer to see themselves in the person depicted. For Hector, this sense of interchangeability is deliberate: “When handling these images, my job is to separate the subject from its original context and open the image up for a wider and broader interpretation”.
In her use of the word ‘cyborg’, Hector knowingly touches on a rich history of feminist posthumanism and more recently, cyberfeminism. The pieces on show quietly echo Donna Haraway’s seminal text from 1985, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, in which Haraway dismantles the essentialism of 1970s feminism and disrupts culture built on dichotomy. She writes, “by the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” In theorising the cyborg, she highlights the fact that in the modern era, such lines as those between human and animal or organic and machine have been irreversibly blurred. For Haraway, the cyborg represents the plasticity of identity and the limitations of socially imposed and fixed notions of self.
Hector picks up where Haraway leaves off: in her exhibition, we are indeed all cyborgs. Like Haraway, Hector rejects fixed boundaries and identities; her intimately rendered figures are unfixed and undefinable – “with portraiture, the viewer relies upon the face for a thousand different cues. I try to create images that can invoke multiple interpretations and remain open-ended”. There is also an element of the Cyborgian in her manufacturing methods – a kind of futuristic alchemy. When working with acrylic and airbrush, Hector dons a protective mask that shifts her embodiment to an almost hybridised human/machine. The exhibition, therefore, seems to position the viewer in a realm full of cyborgs: these cyborg-produced artworks suggest to the viewer that they too are Cyborgian in nature. If this doesn’t sound apocalyptic, I don’t know what does.
Yet, there is also hope, as the exhibition title suggests – ‘Cyborgs Never Die’. The title came directly from Hector, found in “a list of quick notes [she] jotted down in the studio while painting”. In using the word ‘cyborg’, she intends to imply a “continuum, a means by which a being or concept can exist outside itself and live on”. In this short remark, perhaps Hector suggests an alternative approach to conceptualising a positive ecological future. In blurring the organic and machine, her work can be correlated with ideas surrounding the use of technology as a possible method to preserve our planet – the notion that machines may be invented to counteract the harm we continuously cause the earth. Instead of focusing on disaster and devolution, while revelling in hopelessness, Katie Hector’s solo exhibition at Moosey thus invites us to imagine an alternative and potentially positive future, even if her vision of 2050 looks a little different than we had imagined.
Katie Hector’s debut London solo show continues at Moosey Gallery, Hoxton until the 7th of May 2023.
Art writer, curator and public relations specialist, focussed on platforming emerging talent across the visual culture sector. When not walking my dog in rainy East London parks, I can be found on my sofa writing articles for Bricks Magazine, FAD magazine, Art Plugged and Off the Block Magazine.
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