In 2019, the Botín Centre celebrates the 25th anniversary of Itineraries, the annual exhibition that displays the work of the artists awarded the Botín Foundation’s Visual Arts Grant each year, which has been running since 1993.
Alex Hartley is a UK based artist whose work destabilizes ideas of both iconic architecture and nature by exploring our understanding of utopian ideologies. Hartley has taken his work into the public realm expanding the context with ambitious works of land-art, employing his practice to test our notions of utopia, the individual, and the critical relationship we have with the environment that questions how we occupy the world’s wild places.
His practice is wide ranging, comprising wall-based sculptural photographic compositions, film-making, climbing, artist publications, room-sized architectural installations, participatory site-specific works, and it often involves him travelling to remote places as a trigger for his work.
His early work focused on the white cube of the gallery space; testing the parameters of the containers of art. This has evolved to explore iconic modernist architectural forms as the work considers buildings as social experiments manifested in both the built and natural environments. Hartley’s work always encourages us to consider how we experience and think about our constructed surroundings – through surface and line, scale and materials, locations and contexts. While modernist architecture has been a constant touchstone for Hartley, amplified in recent work is a sense of narrative, of the viewer having arrived at a situation of ambiguous cause and uncertain outcome.
Alongside Hartley’s gallery practice, he has developed a series of challenging and engaged works taking place in the public realm. The ongoing work Nowhereisland has evolved over a 15-year period and resulted in a new nation being formed from a previously undiscovered island which Hartley had searched for and found in the High Arctic. Durational works such as Dropper, Vigil, and The Clearing (with Tom James) have all involved the artist and groups of volunteers living within the artworks.
Hartley’s work has been a sustained investigation into dystopian architecture, secular habitation, communal living and the construction of sanctuary as an inherent drive to form refuge from the world. Architectural emblems of the counter culture movement are reconfigured or presented as ruins in large-scale installations that confuse place, purpose and context. Similarly, in the wall-based series The Houses the idea of the boundary – between interior and exterior, private and public space, manmade and natural environments, two and three dimensions, object and image – is subject to constant re-evaluation. Narratives of entropy and decay are ever present.
Hartley is represented by the Victoria Miro Gallery.