Everything is not as it seems. The materials and attributes we thought we ‘owned’ by right of their tight experiential association with certain familiar objects (e.g. the cardboardness of a cardboard box or the polystyreneness of a polystyrene one), are cast by Armanious into a different reality and our trust in our own understanding of things is thrown. Indeed his facsimile copies of each component of his various sculptural assemblages are so lifelike that we as viewers are cast into the ‘valley’ of the exhibition’s title. Uncanny Valley is a robotics term that describes the threshold crossed when a robot has become so lifelike in its appearance as to be almost indistinguishable from its human model, precipitating a sudden drop—on the graph—in the hitherto increasing levels of empathy of the human toward the humanoid. Waxing empathy switches quickly to repulsion.
Focussing again on the sculptures at hand, a second double-take takes place for the viewer in another example of the slippery dynamics of human recognising ‘human’. The particular combination and arrangement of parts of Armanious’ sculptures—all fastidiously re-cast by the artist from otherwise overlooked objects e.g. part of a freezer door, ball of elastic bands, polystyrene wig stand—gives voice to a strange and persistent anthropomorphic figure. Seven objects in the exhibition share a common denominator of resemblance to the mythical figure of a sphinx. Large reclining cat with human face from ancient civilisation (Egyptian, Greek) that tests our acumen through a process of riddling, whose interrogation of us basically boils down to, ‘What is it?’…
In Armanious’ case, ‘it’ is something of incidental value that has transmuted into something as precious as gold through the process of its own painfully faithful remaking. The new reality that he pulls from the mould, the alchemical template, keeps us guessing. Meanwhile, other objects in the room comprise a rudimentary architecture, cornerstones, temples. Essential foundations that stand in for the standard gallery pedestal, akin to the no-longer humble boxes, crates etc that support the likes of Armanious’s big cats and other inscrutable figures.
Hany Armanious has exhibited internationally for almost two decades. Most recently, he had a solo exhibition at the Contemporay Art Museum St Louis, USA, curated by Anthony Huberman (2008); a major solo survey exhibiton, Morphic Resonance, at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, and City Gallery Wellington, curated by Robert Leonard (2006 & 2007). A substantial catalogue was produced to accompany the exhibition. In 2006, Armanious was included in the Busan Biennale in Korea, an international group exhibition Uncanny Nature at ACCA in Melbourne and Adventures with form in space, the Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Project, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In 2001 Armanious had a solo exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. He won the Moet and Chandon Fellowship in 1998 with a sculptural group that consisted of a series of upturned wine glasses and coloured hotmelt casts and was shortlisted for Contempora 5 in 1997. Armanious exhibited in the 1995 Johannesburg Biennale (curated by Kendall Geers), the 1992 Biennale of Sydney (curated by Tony Bond). In 1993 he was selected for the prestigious Aperto section of the Venice Biennale (curated by Achille Bonito Oliva). Armanious recently had his first solo commercial exhibition in New York which received a extremely positive review in the New York Times from Roberta Smith. A feature article soon followed in the UK art journal, Frieze. Uncanny Valley is Hany Armanious’ fifth solo exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.