Alex Hartley: The Houses at Victoria Miro, Mayfair

‘The Houses’ is a stunning monochromatic series of works by British artist Alex Hartley. Hartley’s work addresses complicated and sometimes contradictory attitudes toward built environments and landscapes. In 2004 Hartley discovered Nyskjaeret, an island about the size of a football field, in the archipelago of Svalbard, a Norwegian territory in the Arctic Ocean. The island had been revealed from within the melting ice and Hartley was the first ever human to step foot on it. Hartley’s work shows viewers new ways of experiencing and thinking about our constructed surroundings. Hidden in the depths of ‘The Houses’ are conflicting ideas of the modernist ideal and progression - architectural, culture and societal.

These atmospheric monochrome works on display are created by laying hand painted elements over a photographic image, which is then directly applied over a layer of semitransparent acrylic. This method creates a hypnotic optical illusion for viewers as the works appear to come to life as viewers move around them, viewing them from different angles. 

The houses featured appear dreamlike, and perhaps melancholic in their delicate grey tones, while also containing a romantic feel as the subjects are incredibly picturesque and peaceful. The houses are surrounded and swamped by trees and plant life, which creeps in from all angles, pawing at the man made structures. While still intact, the buildings are only preserved through the efforts of human intervention. 

This exhibition is incredibly airy and modern, offering viewers a delightful cocktail of both nature and man made creations that have been dropped into the heart of the natural world. The works give the impression that, left untouched, the houses will soon be ensnared and taken over by the trees and vine that climb the sides of the walls, taking back the elements that belong to nature without the interference of mankind. Viewers are left curious for the uncertain and ambiguous outcome of these buildings.


'The Houses' is on display until 28th July at Victoria Miro, Mayfair. More information may be found here.