Hugh Hayden’s practice considers the anthropomorphization of the natural world as a visceral lens for exploring the human condition. Hayden transforms familiar objects through a process of selection, carving and juxtaposition to challenge our perceptions of ourselves, others and the environment.

Raised in Texas and trained as an architect, his work arises from a deep connection to nature and its organic materials. Hayden utilizes wood as his primary medium, frequently loaded with multi-layered histories in their origin, including objects as varied as discarded trunks, rare indigenous timbers, Christmas trees or souvenir African sculptures. From these he saws, sculpts and sands the wood, often combining disparate species, creating new composite forms that also reflect
their complex cultural backgrounds. Crafting metaphors for human existence and past experience, Hayden’s work questions the stasis of social dynamics and asks the viewer to examine their place within an ever-shifting ecosystem.

Hugh Hayden was born in Dallas, Texas in 1983 and lives and works in New York City. He holds an MFA from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University. He has had solo
exhibitions at The Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey in 2020 and at White Columns in New York in 2018. His work has been included in numerous group exhibitions including Sculpture Center, New York, NY, USA (2021); Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2020); The Shed, New York, NY, USA(2019); Pilot Projects, Philadelphia, PA, USA (2018); Sundance Film Festival, Park City, UT, USA (2015); MoMA PS1, Rockaway Beach, New York, NY, USA (2014); Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, NY, USA (2014); and Abrons Art Center, New York, NY, USA (2013), among others. He is the recipient of residencies at Glenfiddich in Dufftown, Scotland (2014); Abrons Art Center and Socrates Sculpture Park (both 2012), and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (2011).

Brier Patch, Madison Square Park Conservancy’s 42nd commissioned exhibition, Hayden is fabricating tablet arm desks that sprout a tangled mass of tree branches, which will be presented across three different lawns in the park. The largest group of 50 desks, arranged in a grid pattern, will be sited on the Oval Lawn; another grid of 25 will be situated on Sparrow Lawn across from the playground in the Northeast corner of the park. A final group of 25 chairs on the Veteran’s Lawn will be presented without branches, enabling visitors to sit at the desks.

With its grid of repeated desk forms, Brier Patch alludes to the typical classroom organizational structure of row upon row of desks or even the regimented arrangement of tombstones in a military cemetery. In Hayden’s installation, each desk, like a tombstone, can be seen as a stand-in for an individual. The chaotic branch structures disrupt the intended placidity of the formation, uniting individual elements to form one interconnected community. The project simultaneously signifies intellectual development and stasis—dual outcomes of an education system where some excel and others are left behind. For Hayden, the symbolism also extends to the financial entanglement of student loan debt incurred in the pursuit of higher education.

These and other interpretations are echoed within the concept of a brier patch for which the project takes its name, an environment that is difficult to inhabit, where only a few can truly thrive. In deploying this reference, Hayden also draws upon brier patch tales found in folklore traditions around the world, including Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories, now widely condemned for their apocryphal depictions of idyllic Southern plantation life.

Bio source: Lisson Gallery


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