Composed of 20 sculptures created from army uniforms, military camouflage, teeth, bones, horn, bottles and boxing gloves suspended in space, All the King’s Men was the centrepiece of Wrong Way Time, Hall’s recent exhibition made specifically for the new Australian pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
Borrowing the title from the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty, the artist evokes a powerful metaphor for the irreparable destruction of war, terrorism, and environmental and economic pillage.
All the King’s Men was recently acquired by the Art Gallery of SA and will join a number of earlier works by Hall in the collection, including her vitrine-based sculptural works Occupied territory, 1995, and Cell culture, 2002, as well as her 2009-2011 sculpture Gymnogyps californianus/Californian condor, also made from military uniforms.
Adelaide-based for many years, Hall is one of the country’s most influential contemporary artists. She began her career as a photographer in the 1970s and has since expanded her range of media, crafting works from everyday materials such as tin cans, soap, video tape and beads.
Hall is interested in science and the natural world, with her recent work a response to the pressures of globalisation and politics on the environment.
“All the King’s Men is a response to conflict in our world, in our time,” she says.
“The military camouflage garments come from a spectrum of nations waging wars, presently or recently.
“The work refers to some of today’s troubled places, but it is also a lamentation that battles are our perpetual preoccupation.
“War is a very distressing phenomena. Given the recent news of the terrorism in France, we’re living in times that are more scary and having more impact than we’ve lived through globally for a long time.”
All the King’s Men will be located in Gallery 11 of the Art Gallery, along with the work of other contemporary Adelaide-based artists Catherine Truman and Sue Kneebone in Galleries 9 and 10.
“Hall has a forensic, studied and meticulous way of seeing the world,” says curator Leigh Robb.
“I think that framing of things and her study of the human condition comes through from her early practice in photography.”
Robb was on the selection panel that chose Hall as the representative Australian artist at the 2015 Venice Biennale and has been close to All the King’s Men from its inception.
“There’s a labour in the work that you can see,” she says. “There’s something surreal; they [the figures] are both the hunters and the hunted.
“Viewers have described Hall’s work as a transformative experience.
“The feedback from the public in Venice was extraordinary, that the work is confronting but also uplifting, powerful and ultimately positive.”
In early November, All the King’s Men will reappear as part of the gallery’s upcoming Sappers and Shrapnel trench-art exhibition (also featuring the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, Tony Albert, Richard Lewer, Ben Quilty, Sera Waters and Baden Pailthorpe), which will open in time for Remembrance Day.
“It’s not the first time our world has been under severe pressure from warfare,” says Hall.
“I don’t think that artists can actually change the world in terms of the directions of political outcomes, but I think artists are cultural game-changers in other ways, like litmus paper or barometers, responding to the social issues of the day.
“And when we look back at art from previous eras and see the social issues they reflect, we can say we’ve been down this road before.
“If we can’t overcome these issues, we can at least acknowledge them and think about the different states of play the world undergoes with conflict.”
All the King’s Men will be located in Gallery 11 of the Art Gallery of South Australia from July 29. Hear Fiona Hall in conversation with Art Gallery of South Australia assistant director of artistic programs Lisa Slade on July 30 at 11am.