Hex at SPACE. Review by Ciara Moloney
A visit to Hex’s show at SPACE feels rather like stumbling upon a come-down party the morning after a long night before. Shadows from a full-scale wall projection dance across beanbags and beats blare insistently throughout the darkened gallery. Old records and neon flyers advertising DJ nights are tacked up on the walls, in classic student flat style. This louche display is slightly spoiled by the selection of carefully vitrined materials, but more of that later.
Something of a step back in time, this show examines the eclectic and hyperactive output of Hex, a collaboration between DJs Coldcut and video graphic artists Hardwire. Dancing between computer games, graphic design, music and film, Hex emerged from the rave culture of the early nineties. Sampling songs, cut and pasting graphics from their home computers to create exciting mash-ups far ahead of the pace of conventional marketing machines, the group lay the foundations for today’s multimedia whizzkids.
The immersive nature of the exhibition well conveys this scene, where music, image and event developed symbiotically. The colourful clashing imagery is consistent from two-dimensional designed material - record sleeves and posters - to the virtual realities created for video promos accompanying Coldcut’s music. These psychotropic graphics seem like visual expressions of the hypnotic and repetitive sounds and, like dance music, valorise sensation over intellect.
Yet that is not to diminish the technical achievements of the group. Whilst the lo-fi graphics might look crude to today’s sophisticated internet-savvy audience, Hex exploited the potential of simple programs, rewriting code and excavating their computers’ systems to adapt technology to their purposes. Like many other artists, their aesthetic was defined by the nature of their materials - in Hex’s case, the most basic off the shelf technology - which they pushed to their limit, embracing the ensuing failure.
The energetic, verging on chaotic, display does a good job in revealing the group’s do-it-yourself ethic, but most intriguing is the proposition of a Zeitgeist of which Hex is but part. What does it mean to present the material remains of a vibrant youth culture in a gallery’ Depending on your perspective, the transference of a notebook (a working practice) or a flyer (invitation to a live event) to a vitrine entails preservation, elevation, ossification or indeed all three, which is most at odds with the pick’n'mix verve of Hex and their contemporaries. Such documentation can raise objects to the status of artefacts - trying to capture a moment amidst the abundance and detritus of the age.
To what end should a be under scrutiny and why it is worth looking at this ephemera in more detail’ Whilst Hex’s aesthetic and energy were singular, their significance lies more in their methods than in their products. They pioneered the use of multimedia technology and, to today’s image-saturated age, are clearly harbingers of a new means of cultural production. That aside, this show is an enjoyable look at a moment in late twentieth-century culture and simply good fun.