The Sunday Age, Sunday April 30, 2006
© Ashley Crawford
Ian Haig seems to relish all those subjects most of us prefer to avoid; zeroing in on exactly what goes on inside the human body. Needless to say, although Haig avoids literal biological illustrations, the picture ain’t pretty.
In a day and age when so many people seem obsessed with the body beautiful, with organic foods and going to the gym, Haig tells a rather savage truth. No matter how good we might look on the outside, a big hunk of the inside remains a mass of putrefying crap.
In this meticulously conceived grouping of drawings, sculptures, video, sound and graffiti, Haig takes us on a dark journey to the inner bowel. While there may be an element of schoolboy toilet humour in this obsessive articulation of the fate of the faecal, there is also an intelligence at play that makes his work all the more unnerving.
Haig proves he is far from alone in such investigations in the more matter-of-fact work, Google Body Ailment, a listing of the kinds of bodily malfunctions most sought after on the search engine. It makes for uneasy reading – indeed the list of problems the human body seems to face in terms of digestion and bowel functions is overwhelming.
Haig’s drawings are reminiscent of such American artists as Mike Kelley and Raymond Pettibon, with their partial inspiration from the comic strip style of illustration. Kelley would be a particularly apt point of comparison, for the Los Angeles-based artist has also explored the world of detritus and faecal matter. (A further group of Haig’s drawings is showing concurrently at Conical Gallery in the city.)
But it is in his sculpture that Haig articulates his obsessions most powerfully. These large structures are coated in and filled with that supposedly bowel-friendly cereal, corn-flakes. But for all their golden goodness, the flakes here resemble the dried overrun from a blocked toilet. Indeed, in two of the five sculptural works actual toilets are joined to the structures via pipes and other unrecognisable linkages.
The structures tackle all elements of the workings of the human body. Taps are attached to some, indeed in one work, Colonic Cornflake Pressure, the numerous taps are marked with such labels as Lung, Kidneys, Bowel and so on, as though each of these organs could simply be turned on and off at will. In a rather gothic way it resembles the kinds of arcane machinery one sees in the emergency units in a hospital, but Haig’s appears far from sanitary.
In his accompanying artist’s statement Haig goes into some of the motivations behind these works, including an encounter with a tape worm from Mexico City. But for all the garish and gruesome subject matter in Dirt Factory, there is a distinct humanism at play. While Haig may not be gentle with us, he is far from condescending. Dirt Factory may border on the nauseating, but these glowing, golden corn-flake hued monsters win us around with their humanity.