The Occupation: Installation Artist

Published:  November 5, 2011
The Occupation: Installation Artist

Having recently been commissioned to create a new space-themed interactive installation as part of ACMI’s Star Voyager exhibition, Melbourne based artist Peter Hennessey’s works are a product of his own fascination and research into space travel.

Started out: I started out at architecture school, but I quickly realised that I was more interested in the idea of architecture than the business of it. While I was studying, my wife and I started an artist-run space called The Basement, which was the beginning of my exhibition practice. When I graduated, I started Drome, a new media design practice that focused on clients in the arts. The idea was that the ‘proper’ jobs would subsidise the art. Eventually, I realised it was the other way around and Drome became an art studio and I became a ‘real’ artist.

Big break: I can’t really point to a ‘big break’ – it feels more like a series of medium-sized ones. Greenaway Art Gallery in Adelaide picked me up and gave me my first serious solo show in 2004. It was during the Adelaide Festival, so it put my work in front of far more people than I expected. In 2008, I was commissioned by the Melbourne Art Fair to produce a major sculpture, My Humvee. The piece was displayed at the entrance to the Fair and went on to reside at the University of Queensland Art Museum. In 2010, I was invited to be part of the Sydney Biennale. It’s really more a question of things adding rather than any one definable event.

Current project: I am currently working on a couple of projects for a big group show at ACMI called Star Voyager. This involves remounting some older pieces – My Voyager (2004) and My Lunar Rover (2005) – as well as creating an activity project for the exhibition. Dusting off the old pieces is actually pretty interesting, because they are being installed in a much more challenging space, which necessitates some re-engineering. However, I’m much more nervous about the activity project. It’s a kind of specialised construction kit, where the challenge is to find the minimum number of parts to achieve the maximum number of possibilities. It is exciting to let go of my own control and see what others can make of it. Visitors to Star Voyager will create something with these pieces and contribute to a growing ‘universe’ in the gallery.

Peter Hennessey, My Voyager (2004). Plywood and steel. Installed at Art Gallery of NSW as part of the Anne Landa Award Exhibition. Photo: Mim Stirling. Image courtesy: Art Gallery of NSW.

Favourite project: My Hubble, which was a project for the Sydney Biennale in 2010, was an amazing experience. I was working on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour, which is an amazing environment, with two art students and an English backpacker as assistants. We had three weeks to assemble a full-sized plywood reconstruction of the Hubble space telescope, which is about the size of a train carriage. Artworks are like children, you love them equally, but the process of producing My Hubble was unlike anything I have ever done.

What’s next: I really wish I could think that far ahead. I have a solo show next year and, after My Hubble, I’ve decided to focus on making small things. I’m quite interested in old mobile phones; I think it is amazing how much they say about the pace of technological change, as well as the environmental implications of rapid obsolescence.

Star Voyager: Exploring Space on Screen is currently showing at ACMI, Melbourne, until 29 January.

From desktop magazine.

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