3–27 JUNE 2015
Hayden Fowler’s Your Death is a new photographic series documenting an ongoing performance project in which the artist submits his own body in a poignant remembrance of New Zealand’s catastrophic bird extinctions. Over three sessions during Sydney’s Art Month in March this year, in an aestheticized street-front window, Fowler’s torso was tattooed with an image of the South Island Kōkako - last sighted in 1967 and officially declared extinct in 2004. In June 2014 the project was undertaken in Berlin, where the extinct Whēkau or Laughing Owl was tattooed in flight across his chest, commemorating the 100th anniversary of its disappearance. Each event was choreographed over three sessions, irreversibly transforming Fowler’s skin into a conjunction of living bodies.
Your Death continues a project the artist began in Auckland in 2007, where images of the lost Huia were etched onto his back in a high street shop window. His imagery has been pieced together from nineteenth century watercolours, fragmented descriptions, early black and white photographs and taxidermy specimens. For Fowler, these representations symbolise the pervasive and tangible absences in the landscape. Hunting, museum collection, the introduction of mammals and the industrial destruction of vast areas of ancient forests resulted in New Zealand losing half of all its terrestrial bird species. Many of those remaining exist as a type of living dead in tiny, isolated colonies on remote offshore islands. The remnant mainland forests are all but silent.
As with any wearing of mourning, Fowler’s is an acknowledgement of absence and loss. The destruction of entire species and whole ecosystems however, is an event of such significance that the mourning can never be fully completed, the empty spaces never filled. In submitting himself to be tattooed, Fowler sacrifices his own body in a ritual of both repentance and resurrection. The white, geodesic set-construction in which the tattooing takes place, prophesies a sterile future as increasing numbers of species follow the Huia, Whēkau and Kōkako into oblivion, but also hope, as these birds somehow find a way back through the cracks of human cultural history and time.
Hayden Fowler (b. 1973) originates from Te Awamutu, New Zealand and currently lives and works in Sydney. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from UNSW Art & Design (formerly COFA, UNSW) in Sydney, as well as an earlier degree in Biology.
Fowler’s methodology involves the creation of elaborate set constructions in which he choreographs human and animal subjects, producing hyper-real video, photographic, installation and performance work from within these fictional spaces. His work explores the unsettled human - nature relationship in the emerging Anthropocene, drawing on the historical developments that have influenced this engagement including Romanticism, Industrialisation and Science Fiction.
Fowler has exhibited broadly in Australia and internationally and his work is held in a number of public and private collections. He is a previous recipient of the Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship for which he undertook a year of study abroad at the Universitat der Kunst in Berlin, Germany. He lectures in the sculpture, performance and installation studio at UNSW Art & Design.