• The Phantom Empire

Hudson, Graham, 2021, Show, Exhibition or Event, The Phantom Empire

Abstract or Description:


It is in the Hôtel de Coulanges, a sublime building with a wabi-sabi aesthetic, that The Phantom Empire, the latest creation by British artist Graham Hudson, guest of 3537, unfolds. The title is a direct reference to a TV series eponymous from the 1930s telling the adventures of a singing cowboy played by Gene Autry who discovers a secret world under his farm, mixing western and science fiction. “At that time, science fiction in the United States was heavily influenced by pseudoscience and the occult, telekinesis and seances alongside new “real” technologies like X-rays and jet propulsion. It was an uncertain time when there was more room for mystery. This series had a lot of influence on George Lucas and Star Wars, and for me it also echoes the book The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell, an American philosopher who mixed psychology, mythology, religion and storytelling. Campbell thought a lot about the question of when humanity was able to conceive death, beauty, its own identity. The title of the exhibition therefore evokes these ideas, also at the dawn of 2022, is the (phantom) Empire the United States, Europe, China, COVID, society? What are today's ghosts? For me, the exhibition is a gateway to these existential questions that connect us to our past and our present”, explains Graham Hudson. Fascinated by the construction and re-construction processes, in short, the construction sites, the artist undoubtedly appreciated the atmosphere of the place which seems to be in the midst of development work, with paint drips and fragmented tiles of yesteryear. He chose to occupy five spaces on the floor of the classical-style building where Madame de Sévigné once lived.

There is something theatrical about this real architectural decor in its own right, a sort of alcove that contains strange voices emanating from an imposing installation made of garden hoses, construction site lamps, vinyl records on turntables and molded bodies, fragmented, between vestiges of ancient Greece and plastic busts just taken out of their showcase…or from an archeological site. The Phantom Empire takes up the characteristic codes of Graham Hudson. Worksite objects are arranged in such a way as to divert their use by associations that seem risky at first sight. However, on the contrary, everything is perfectly calculated and controlled, such as the speed variations on the turntables where children's tales "Once Upon a Time" and "The Wind in the Willows" spin vinyl. We no longer know if these are the voices of cartoon characters or monsters straight out of a horror movie. Atmosphere. “I like to make people wonder if the sculpture is finished or broken, questioning its value. In The Phantom Empire, there are some high-value, handcrafted items that combine molding and CNC technology, and others that are cheap plastic, bought straight from Amazon, and badly spray-painted.

From this apparent tangle of elements under construction stand out fragments of athletic bodies. Bodybuilding is one of the major components of the work of Graham Hudson, himself an assiduous sportsman who recently became a trainer. The body is staged in different forms, those of pastiche antique sculptures and plastic bodies, symbols of a society obsessed with physical appearance and its metamorphosis, as well as overconsumption fueled by hyper-individualistic marketing. For Graham Hudson, this physical transformation aimed at well-being refers to that of life, whether it is a professional career, love, everything is acted by mythology. The mystery of birth, of the physical metamorphosis from child to adult, death, are for him powerful manifestations at work. “The fitness industry plays on a specific idea of ​​“transformation”. Being able to change your body is part of the myth of Ovid's Metamorphoses,” explains Graham Hudson, a theme he developed on his blog physical_culture_philosphy. "Even in Marvel movies and children's stories, there's always this mythological tale of a life-altering physical transformation. This metamorphosis of the body and of life is embodied in reality during the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century, with the first bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, to whom Graham Hudson devotes great admiration, even going so far as to participate in the reconstruction of his statue in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of London and the HJ Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports in Austin, Texas.

With the arrival of industrial machines, the work is less physical and some men fear losing their virility without physical exercise. Eugen Sandow discovers ancient sculptures during a trip to Rome. Captivated by the mythology that surrounds these bodies with canonical shapes, he decides to sculpt his own body through intensive bodybuilding, as a reaction to the upheavals of the industrial era. Constructing and transforming are at the heart of Graham Hudson's artistic approach, which approaches this process of rebirth through the body: “Since I became a physical trainer, I find it very interesting to move on to body construction. Training is based on hypertrophy, training a muscle to failure. The muscle dies and is rebuilt (stronger), there is death and rebirth. It can be considered a performance and a sculpture. It was the Victorian Eugen Sandow who first mass-marketed the idea that you could change your life, your body, your ideas, it is a modernist concept of the machine age. I like to think that as they leave the exhibition, visitors will ponder fundamental questions such as “what is it to be human?” What is the experience of reality (in 2021)? A scathing nod to our relationship to physical appearance, to its dimension as ephemeral as life, can be discovered in another space of The Phantom Empire with the installation entitled “The discovery of beauty”. Seven skulls that seem damaged by time face us, at eye level, and we leave with this undoubtedly existential question in perfect echo of Joseph Campbell: which one looks the most like us?
Graham Hudson, The Phantom Empire, until January 16 at space 3537, 35-37 rue des Francs Bourgeois, Paris 4.

The Phantom Empire35-37 Paris01 Dec 2021 - 31 Jan 2022One person show
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art > W130 Sculpture
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Copyright Holders: Graham Hudson, 35-37, Paris
Funders: Dover Street Market, Comme Des Garcons
Date Deposited: 05 Dec 2022 16:38
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2023 12:21
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5205
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