Matt Hinkley’s miniature, delicate works made from polymer clay challenge preconceived notions of sculpture and heighten awareness of how we look at and engage with works of art. We live in an age where entertainment spectacles strive for the sublime and the gargantuan, where movies and concerts offer immersive and hypersensory experiences; and to be inspired and wowed, we must experience something bigger and better than what was previously offered. Hinkley’s sculptures are very modest in scale and hold traces of the artist’s presence, creating a quiet mood within the chaos of everyday experience.
For the 19th Biennale of Sydney, You Imagine What You Desire (2014), the artist’s sculptures were installed in the expansive space of the Industrial Precinct on Cockatoo Island. In the same place at the previous Biennale, Peter Robinson’s enormous polystyrene chain links filled the space; artistic director Juliana Engberg created a humorous juxtaposition of scale and challenged expectations surrounding the display of artworks within particular spaces. Amid that vast and visually busy location, Hinkley’s sculptures were like strange debris or the remnants of another event. The necessity to actively discover the artwork is an interesting test of patience and perception. Pinned to the walls like insects in a pseudoscientific collection, the works invite viewers to closely inspect their complex and intricate surfaces. The small size negates the amount of information an object can carry. Hinkley’s sculptures are a circuitboard of organic, repetitive marks that narrate the process and surface the material has interacted with. The clay’s fleshy diluted colours and hardened form are reminiscent of masticated chewing gum, eliciting a visceral response from the trace of some form of human interaction with the material.
These subtly coloured pieces of polymer clay are delicately formed; they reveal the imprints of a textured surface. Hinkley makes textured plaster casts which the clay is then pressed into, resulting in a reversed embossing. His handmade process is meticulous. Conceptually, the making is as important as the finished sculptures are – it reveals the imprecision and irregularities of the handmade. As an exercise in looking, Hinkley’s sculptures allow us to consider small details we may often pass over.
Hinkley’s practice shows an ongoing interest in intricate and uncanny objects which challenge a viewer’s sensory and perceptive engagement. With this series of untitled clay objects there is the sense that because they have absorbed a mark rather than left an imposing presence in a site, stumbling across them is a chance encounter that may not be available again.
Text by Rebecca Ward for the exhibition catalogue A World Undone: Works from the Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery, 2014.