Beach of the Bizarre: Living Surrealist Sculptures
In this modern age of business and commerce, it is not uncommon to see dozens of men wearing suits and ties, trundling off to work with their briefcases in hand. However, it is slightly less common to see a dozen businessmen strolling into the ocean while perusing a newspaper. Even more unusual is to listen to a performance by a concert orchestra with waves lapping around the tuxedoed performers' ankles. Welcome to the Surreal world of Andrew Baines, one part Magritte, one part madness. These spectacularly bizarre and intriguing sculptures were featured in an article by on Dark Roasted Blend and they definitely deserve to make the rounds for art lovers everywhere to enjoy. Baines' living sculpture installations are set in unusual situations, normally a beach, and show improperly dressed people doing improperly placed activities.
The figures in Baines' living sculptures mirror many of the figures that he originally used in his paintings, which is where his career began. His paintings typically depicted men in bowler hats and suits standing in a dreamscape, perhaps walking on water, holding an umbrella or a briefcase, starting into the eternal distance. They were haunting, Surrealist paintings that initially connote the work of Rene Magritte, but the artist was actually inspired by a childhood memory of walking through a crowded London Underground station and seeing that everyone looked the same. Businessmen in every nation have that same anonymity, nameless professionals scurrying off to nameless palaces of power.
The memory has stuck with Andrew Baines, and his artistic style speaks to alienation, loneliness in a crowded room, and the endless struggle that some people fatally engage in to get ahead and be "successful". His painting career was taking off when the global recession knocked him back on his heels, as well as some of the galleries which represented him. The irony, of course, is that his subject matter had been the emptiness, frustration, and desire to escape from the corporate world, and the collapse of the banking industry is what eventually wrenched him back into the reality of the world.
As you can see, his paintings have an impossibility to them, much like the impossibility that most of the world felt in terms of a global economic collapse. When his painting career was set on the back burner, Baines decided to take his social commentary to a more tangible level, and began creating living sculptures that were very similar to the subject matter and aesthetic of his paintings. His initial attempts were received with a mixture of confusion and amusement, but across the beaches of Australia, he has begun to develop a reputation, and Baines has even landed some big names to participate in these living installations, including Australian premiers, former senators, and various other politicians.
The effect is definitely eerie, and for passers-by and art lovers who have been lucky enough to witness these strange beachside phenomena, it is like walking into some strange Dalinean universe where nothing is real and dreams walk on the sand. To a large degree, onlookers might not understand the exact intention behind the installations, but the banality of modern life has been a growing point of discussion in philosophical circles, and the uniformity of not only the activities, but also the outfits of these participants is impossible to miss. Juxtaposing these scenes with beaches, which are often associated absolute freedom or liberation makes the painful reality even more obvious to those art fans with a keen eye for meaning and significance.
The installations challenge concepts of modesty, consumerism, vanity, and happiness. Perhaps these men wish they could strip off those suits and go swimming like they did as children. Maybe they long to throw off the bonds of their adult responsibilities, but are too scared of the repercussions. Thus, they start longingly out to see, only entering up to their ankles or knees, always close enough to come back to shore, but far enough out to experience some feeling of freedom. It's also possible that Baines is commenting on the lonely and empty existence that many people feel in this oxymoronically hyper-connected and disconnected era of human interaction. The emptiness of the ocean is reflecting their own alienation from society, even though they are told that they are such an integral part of it.
The two pieces above, "Up To Your Neck In It" and "Coalition of the Constipated", are less pensive and profound, but they are certainly socially commentative in a more entertaining and humorous way. Dozens of people reading the newspaper and sitting on toilets with their backs to the ocean contains a wealth of symbolism. There is perhaps no stranger juxtaposition of being trapped by your own body than constipation, and to bring a newspaper with to the washroom is the expectation of experiencing that uncomfortable situation. All of these people, dressed for work or a formal evening out, are unable to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings because their faces are stuck to a newspaper, and their butts are stuck to a toilet.
In "Up To Your Neck In It", dozens of people are buried up to their necks on a stretch of beach, which in ages past, was a version of torture or execution in various cultures. They are trapped, at the whims of the outside world, whether it is a dog who comes close for a sniff, or the unpredictable decisions of Mother Nature. Although we like to deny it, the majority of the world is at the whims of the corporate world, and the machinations of politics and commerce. Most people might as well be buried in the sand, since they are unable to control their own destiny, or perhaps businessmen are similarly confined in their own self-constructed prisons?
Some of Baines' other work is more whimsical and purely Surrealistic, without the blatant commentaries on society at large. Seaside Symphone is a magically fascinating installation that invited trained musicians into the ocean for a symphonic performance, formal attire was required, of course. These pieces invite more of a discussion about art, rather than of culture, and once again pose the question of where does art end? Installations in the ocean are clearly not very common, and neither are orchestral performances, so is this Baines' way of showing that he can push the boundaries of installation art off the map, or does he simply want to let his creativity lead him on a natural progression of surrealistic situations that make for truly stunning art?
He is clearly a philosophical guy, and the time required to collect the participants, stage the beach scenes correctly, and document all of it with video and photography is extreme. He is dedicated to his craft, and even when the recession made him change his artistic game plan, he found a way to not only continue to create even more dynamic and popular work, but to take a few swings at the powers that be at the same time. His Doorways to Potential is an existential installation, or an extremely literal one, depending on your perspective. Either the doorways represent the unlimited directions you can always take in your life, or it can represent the meaningless of the rat race, since walking around the doorframe and thinking outside the box would get you to exactly the same point, only faster.
Whether you find his installations amusing, disturbing, or thought-provoking, there is no denying that Andrew Baines has certainly hit on something that speaks to everyone in a different way. In these troubled, confusing times, many of us are overflowing with questions, frustrations, and the feeling of helplessness as we are swept along in the tide of history. Baines' art speaks to those emotions in a powerful way, and can potentially provide a cathartic, laughter-fueled release for those people willing to open their eyes to see.
If you want to explore all of Andrew Baines' art installations, paintings, and portraiture, then visit his website!
Special Thanks to Dark Roasted Blend for the eye-opening nudge in the right direction about this talented artist!