CURATOR Justin Paton ORGANISER Dunedin Public Art Gallery OTHER VENUES Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 8 March–8 June 2003; Te Manawa, Palmerston North; Auckland Art Gallery, SPONSOR TNS PUBLICATION publisher Dunedin Public Art Gallery, essay Justin Paton
'Ronnie van Hout is making an exhibition of himself', says curator Justin Paton. I’ve Abandoned Me explores Van Hout's career-long reckoning with the self-portrait genre—an investigation of what it means to ‘be yourself’.
Van Hout works with dummies, doppelgangers, and body doubles, models and mannequins. There are latex casts of his own head, an ‘invisible man’, extra-terrestrials, and figures buried up to their necks.
Paton tells Capital Times, 'It's a survey that resists the whole idea of being surveyed'. Van Hout's voyage of self-discovery is just as likely to point the viewer in the wrong direction. Manson/Son (1996) invites us to compare and contrast Van Hout's school report and newspaper clippings about the Manson murders.
Van Hout's self-deprecating art makes reference to stand-up comedy, B-grade genre movies, and trash culture. His Stupid Paintings 1 and 2 (1993) read 'I'm with Stupid' and 'Stupid's With Me', with arrows pointing at one another.
Van Hout toys with genres, particularly sci-fi and horror. He makes photos of looming Hollywood-sign-style words—like Creature, Stranger, and Abduct—presiding over unbelievable model landscapes, which seem to be shot in greenish night-vision. Psycho (1999) is a nod to the Hitchcock movie. A small video screen is incorporated into a model of Norman Bates's house, behind the top window, showing van Hout looking out solemnly. Nobody's home and he's a little disturbed.
I’ve Abandoned Me includes a new commission: a tableau incorporating life-size dummies of the artist and Van Hout's recurring alter-ego Monkey—all watching TV. One Van Hout 'dummy' tunes into a scene from Picnic at Hanging Rock, the other 'dummy' looks at himself on screen. Meanwhile, Monkey leans against a rock, cradling his own hand-held TV, a nod to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey perhaps. Critic Mark Amery writes, 'the monkey is suggestive of regression, of an art capable of being created by any chimp, and of a general monkeying around—as if the gallery were a zoo with which to entertain us with displays of freakish behaviour'.