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Robert Hengeveld frequently consults with engineers in his work, which may be a bit unusual considering he’s an artist.
Hengeveld is an installation and media artist whose works are often mechanical in nature. He often looks for help and guidance on how to bring his ideas to life.
Art comes in many shapes, sizes and forms, noted Hengeveld, an assistant professor at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland’s fine arts school in Corner Brook.
One of his creations, an early piece from 2009 titled Kentucky Perfect, is currently on display at the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga, Latvia.
He said media art installation is often subject-driven and about how the world is perceived and understood, particularly within a world in which reality is becoming more difficult to discern.
“Everybody on social media is giving a very filtered version of their life," he said. "The stuff that we see on the news is also very filtered. The natural environment around us has been manipulated and transformed in so many different ways. And I’m just curious about that.”
Gardens in front of many homes may be considered natural by some, but Hengeveld said they are far from it.
Kentucky Perfect, the first electronic piece he ever made, exemplifies what he means.
It is a simple work in some ways. It consists of a piece of lawn that is maintained by a lawn mower, a light and a watering device.
The three mechanisms are controlled by a microprocessor with the light continually going over the top of the grass. Every 20 minutes, the mower comes in and cuts the grass. Every two days, it’s watered.
Collectively, they should maintain this utopian lawn. At least, that was the intent.
“The reality is that almost 90 per cent of the time the grass dies," said Hengeveld.
The first time he showed the piece, Hengeveld was initially disappointed by the downfall.
“But I’ve really actually come to appreciate that because it’s actually a bit of the reflection of the reality in which we live," he said. "That no matter how hard we try to control things, it often fails on us, especially when we try to control nature.”
To Hengeveld, it’s also kind of poetic.
“Even though the grass is dead, the machine is still working," he noted. "It’s still trying to maintain this dead piece of grass. It becomes kind of amusing at that point.”
The piece is part of the exhibition Un/Green in Latvia.
Hengeveld said the conference and exhibition's theme revolving around nature and how it's understood and defined certainly ties into his own interests.
With help from a $1,000 travel grant from ArtsNL, he travelled to Latvia from June 29 to July 3 to present his project.
Even though the grass is now dead, the piece will remain on display until Sept. 22.