Was it Warhol who said that “art is anything you can get away with”? Maybe. I suppose it doesn’t matter. He probably stole it anyway. As I enter Société on a cold, grey afternoon in Berlin it’s the only sentiment I can think about. Bill Hayden’s current solo show at the gallery smacks of this childish insolence, and yet somehow I am not angry about it. The site-specific installation features oversized black vinyl letters wrapping the words DICKFACE.ME around the corner of a room. Accompanying this wall text is a haphazard sculptural element comprising electrical wiring, lightbulbs, wood blocks, fake fur, bracelets and random kitsch, and a sound component staged with the aid of a small animatronic chicken playing the Muzak version of “Yesterday” by the Beatles with a saxophone. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
I don’t like to use the word “irreverence” anymore, but it seems all too appropriate here. Hayden appears to be aware of his slapdash approach and the installation is rife with hormonal teenage urges and witty repartee. The font of the vinyl text pieces sets the exhibition’s mood – it’s a whimsical, curvy script that takes the form of the body part it references. (The wall text itself is basically an advertisement for the typeface, aptly called “Dickface” and available for purchase at www.dickface.me). The phallus weaves its way through the rest of the installation as well, appearing again as a lone yellow light bulb dangled amidst a tangle of electrical wire.
Crossing the threshold into the second gallery, I navigate through the suspended structure and my eye catches a paper tag loosely tied to one of the wires with string. The text on the tag mimics the ever-familiar language of safety warning labels on purchased goods. It warns against fire and water hazard and amusingly instructs the buyer to consult a "professional artist" when installing the recently acquired work. Hayden’s humor gets me here, and I find myself meandering through the installation with a more open perspective. Not everything has to be so heavy.
At first glance, the hanging is gaudy and garish and fits nicely into a category I like to call “bro-art”. Hayden takes his considerations to the next level, however. He seems deftly aware of these possible interpretations and—with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek—capitalizes on them to humorous results. The furry mechanical chicken, jauntily perched on one leg and slightly squeaking as it rocks back and forth to the beat, serenades me while I exit the gallery. I grab a free poster on my way out: a graphic, cartoon-like drawing of a grotesque creature with a penis for a nose, standing in a pool of blood while holding a hacksaw. I can’t help but laugh and think that the joke is on me for taking this all too seriously. I can’t help but think that I have been slapped in the face with a… well, you know.
(All images: Bill Hayden, installation view at Société, Berlin, 2013; Courtesy of the artist and Société, Berlin / Photos: Grisha Schmitz.)