In their ongoing work entitled "The Décor Project," the Vancouver, BC-based artists Hadley+Maxwell re-imagined the homes of curators, gallerists, and other artists, playing interior decorators for their subjects' subconscious desires. With an interview that surveyed their subjects on matters from their taste in art ("If you could own any three artworks, what would they be?") to the history of the home ("Has your house been broken into?"), Hadley Howes and Maxwell Stephens transformed practical living quarters into sites of aesthetic spectacle. "The Décor Project" sounds like an odd combination of situationist theory and Trading Spaces, but what it importantly suggests is Hadley+Maxwell's interest in psychologically investigating their subjects. Once they've collected data about their subjects, the artists even slip into the personae of the project's subjects themselves.
In summer 2006, the pair created a project on the Reed College campus, in which the principle concerns of "The Décor Project"—that desire to know, to penetrate another's subjectivity—resurfaced. In the resulting mixed media installation, Hadley+Maxwell used the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970 to comment on how we futilely connect with one another and, more broadly, how we view history. More specifically, the installation considers the event's representation, as the two re-create, in drawings and moving images, the iconic photograph of a student standing over his slain classmate, slumped and face down on the campus ground.
Entering the installation, Hadley+Maxwell present a series of three graphite drawings based on the photograph. In the center image, the scene of the riot is most clearly defined. A woman crouches between them, screaming, while students scatter across the quad behind them. The sketch-like drawings bear a light touch and the figures in the background are so delicately rendered that they seem ghostlike and threaten to disappear. And, in the drawing to the right, they do; only the murdered student and the observer to his right appear against an unblemished white background.
The image on the left preserves this scene, but the two subjects have changed. The standing observer is no longer wearing a fringed leather jacket and cowboy boots, but a sweater, jeans, and sneakers. The projected film in the adjacent gallery reveals that the two figures are the artists themselves, slipping into the roles of victim and bystander. In this drawing, a series of whirling lines is laid over Howes and Stephens, implying movement between the two positions (standing and lying) and a symbiosis between the two.
This theme continues in the main gallery, where Hadley+Maxwell re-create the photograph in a projected film. At one end of the darkened gallery, a concealed film projector casts images of the two on tiny cut-out silhouettes less than two feet from the projector. Perched on a stack of library books that include texts by Herman Melville and Frederick Engels, the cutouts hover in the dark like holograms, bearing the artists' likenesses. On the opposite wall, the remainder of the projection—the campus lawn setting—shimmers, barely moving and out of focus, and with black shadows where Howes and Stephens would appear. As the artists periodically switch positions, a recording of Howes singing a hauntingly beautiful song called "Gloomy Sunday" plays from a pair of speakers. Written by Rezsô Seress in 1933, the lyric is sung from the standpoint of a mourner who dreams of rejoining a lover in death. Thus, as Howes sings over spare playing of an acoustic guitar, "Angels have no thought of ever returning you/Would they be angry if I thought of joining you?" the Kent State image as a symbol of political upheaval and violence is complicated, becoming a more universal signifier of disconnection and longing.
As Hadley+Maxwell re-create the Kent State photograph with the film, they are literally projecting themselves into the scene—as if that act would help them access more insight into the experience. This insertion of themselves into a moment in history cannot reveal anything about the event's participants to them; rather, they can only use it as an exercise to learn more about themselves. In a knowing acquiescence to the futility of their investigation, their presence is denied in the film they create, where shadows stand in for their projected images. Interestingly, shadows figure as a kind of echoing of the past in "Gloomy Sunday," as Howes sings, "Gloomy Sunday, in shadows I spent it all." Through memory, she revisits the shadows of her deceased lover. And while they seem to bring her closer to him, they are mere traces of his existence that never bring him back to her.