The Wheel

Robin Hungerford’s practice examines the role of the human body in our increasingly digitised and dehumanised modern world. Working on an immersive scale, he engages hand-drawing as a human action that resists algorithmic systemising. Hungerford is interested in the ways in which imagination and the creative process exist outside of the recurrent mechanisms that inform contemporary human experience. Using pre-digital illustration and animation techniques, he builds elaborate visual allegories that denote the postmodern condition. His traditional method of drawing celebrates the imperfections produced through human physicality. Slow-moving, measured and meticulous, Hungerford’s process consciously opposes our fast-paced technological existence.
In Hungerford’s latest exhibition, The Wheel, the artist depicts chaotic production lines and cyclical rotations of activity in reference to the Sisyphean logic of late capitalism. He constructs dystopian scenes of modern labour annotated with social commentary such as “the market demands you be ground to dust” and “the sound of vast machinery slowly locking into place”. Playing on the comic associations of traditional cartoon animation, Hungerford’s drawings offer a satirical connection between the unrelenting, punishing loop of our societal structure and the medieval torture device the ‘breaking wheel’. His compositions tactfully relate the impact of cyclical labour with the trauma inflicted through this apparatus. Through the use of visual narrative and humour, Hungerford’s exhibition illustrates the patterns and power structures of the world around us.
Composed of twenty-four individual drawing ‘cels’, Hungerford’s looped video work Geist (The Wheel Part 2) depicts a mouse running endlessly on wheel. In the corner of the moving image are red hand-drawn numbers that cycle repeatedly through from one to twenty-four evidencing the animation’s loop. The registration of this circuit shifts the way in which the rodent’s momentum is understood, bringing the viewer to an awareness of an inescapable repetition. Displayed alongside the video animation are each of Hungerford’s twenty-four hand-drawn ‘cels’ which in contrast to the infinite exercise of the animation read as static frames of time. By revealing the individual hand-drawn movements that animate the mouse, Hungerford calls attention to the labour involved in this method of animation. For Hungerford, engaging in this creative process resists our post-industrial preoccupation with efficiency and time.
In Spirits (The Wheel Part 1), Hungerford expands further on this notion of repetition to address the complex systems that shape our lives. At the centre of the illustration sits a grand tower composed of three large heads and an intricate network of industrial machinery. Young men, women and children labour to sustain the mechanism at play as text blares from the mouths of the God-like figures demanding “rent is due” and “grist for the mill”. Despite the seemingly arduous labour depicted throughout the composition, Hungerford’s drawing fails to render any apparent reward for those who endure it. The task at hand appears to have engulfed the workers within a tireless system that exploits the motion of their bodies for the purpose of productivity. It is the figures that he has positioned high in the tower who sit comfortably, oblivious to the drudgery below.
Hungerford’s chaotic spectacles subsume the viewer within the momentum they denote. Characterised by an unstoppable motion, his drawings require a movement of the body in order to survey the scenes in their entirety. In activating this human rhythm, Hungerford’s practice takes us beyond spectatorship and into the cogs of the machine. The Wheel mobilises a scrutiny over the labour, inequity and exploitation of our contemporary world to question where within these systems we find ourselves and at what cost.
Nikki van der Horst