Deconstruction, reconstruction, and other “Circular Narratives” at Vinegar

6 minute read

In the center of the back wall hung a floor-to-ceiling self-portrait. Though it was a painting, the portrait looks like a photograph taped onto the canvas. The edges of the photo, wrinkled and torn, did not wrap over the canvas, but instead left empty space between the end of the picture and the frame. The painting has a soft yellowish hue, reminiscent of black and white photos. Kyle Hackett, the artist, and an elderly man beside him stands as the subjects for the piece.

Standing beside this man, Hackett presents himself as the side character. This is not to say that Hackett does not consider his own identity in the show, but rather he began the narrative considering his perspective of himself, and who takes center stage in his life. A dilapidated filter, a testament to time, and a unique setting: within this piece Hackett is giving us the basis for the rest of his show, Circular Narratives, at the Vinegar art gallery in Forest Park district this past fall. The old photograph theme means that this image has been a part of Hackett’s life, and therefore the relationship with him and this man, the way they are dressed, and where they are, all play into how Hackett will be reconstructed, and narrate his life in the show. Hackett visually demonstrated understanding his own identity by methodically breaking down images and progressively reimagining them. The show follows how Hackett created chaos out of order, and order out of chaos, looking for influences in his life, and finding the truth that remains despite changes. He uses various mediums, from canvases to paper, and colors from vibrant neon, to black and white, to symbolize his inner journey.

Kyle Hackett, “Untitled,” used with permission from Vinegar, Birmingham, Alabama. Photography by Sumlin Pate.

The show only took up one room, meaning the viewer was invited to walk in a circle to view each piece. This circular flow created the idea of the show, forming a narrative that repeats and re-repeats itself. The show flowed like a “V,” with the grandfather and son portrait as the point of the V, and the two long walls as two different reconstructions of that center piece. In this idea, the end of each of these walls (the part closest to the door and furthest from the main portrait) was the conclusion of his process. By comparing these two walls, two very different conclusions were offered.

For the V narrative there were two portraits, one of him in what can be assumed is a military uniform, and the other with his back facing the audience, provide clear markers for how each “narrative” of reconstruction goes. The narrative that included the portrait of Hackett in uniform concluded with the huge, crumpled paper taped up to the corner. This narrative emphasized an interpretation of his identity that focused on achievements. The conclusion was an unoriented piece of paper, however, both vague and uncertain of its purpose. The other line of narration was marked by the portrait where his back is turned to the audience. In this line the conclusion was a couple a landscape pieces. One is of a road from the view of sitting in the bed of a truck. The other was of the front of a house, a trailer home presumably from the architecture of the building. The progression of this wall showed the artist removing himself as the center of his identity and focusing on what was around him. The act of reconstruction in this version suggested that one can find clarity when recognizing the outside influences that form one’s identity.

Both sequences of narrative for the exhibit demonstrated the deep intentionality and lengths to which the artist went to understanding his identity. Circular Narratives created a narrative of self-discovery and understanding through visual reconstruction. Part of the show’s ability to provide a clear narrative was from the artist’s note on the show. He said in the statement that using intentional techniques, each with their own personal meaning, was a huge part of the process.

Kyle Hackett, “Untitled,” used with permission from Vinegar, Birmingham, Alabama. Photography by Sumlin Pate.

There are a few ideas that Hackett repeats and it becomes evident Hackett recognizes them as key parts of his identity. The first of these ideas is his appearance before others. On the same wall as the main portrait is a small canvas featuring the shadow of a head. The identity of the head is not disclosed but one could conclude that it is the artist’s. In comparison to the portrait beside it, this small self-portrait represented the artist as a hazy outline, vague and unrecognizable. The following self-portraits portrayed the artist in clarity, his figure in focus, and the colors clear and bold. These were the two mentioned earlier, one of him in uniform and the other of him facing away from the audience.

While the technique for both was similar, the contrast in narrative between the two was stark. The one in uniform showed him in a stance of honor and respect, his chin slightly raised and his beard neatly trimmed. The painting across the room used similar techniques and textures but created an attitude of dishonor and vulnerability. As I faced his back, I felt the distance from him, and was not allowed to see the expression on his face. He wore a clean suit, and his right hand was raised while his left slumped to his side. One could imagine that he was testifying before a judge, fully obedient to the government and the law. His honor, rights, and respect are put aside. The two paintings offered an interesting insight into how vocation plays into his understanding of himself.

As he continued reconstructing self-portraits, place became a crucial piece of understanding identity. Unlike the first two self-portraits, the following began to remove Hackett out of the scene. The portraits varied in size, medium, and colors. One was a painting, while the others were small, picture frame-sized sketches on paper, taped with painter’s tape to the wall. In each of these pictures, the artist stands in a room. He does not directly face the viewer, nor stand in front of them. His body is slightly angled towards a place invisible, which brings attention to the room he is in. He gently shifts the focus from his figure in the room to the environments he inhabits. These pieces asked me to consider how my position in places, situations, and even rooms affect identity. By gradually removing himself from the picture, Hackett visually considered how person and place work together.

Kyle Hackett, “Untitled,” used with permission from Vinegar, Birmingham, Alabama. Photography by Sumlin Pate.

Thrown in among the portraits were pieces with unique forms and mediums. They were folded and crumpled paper images that have been taped up to the wall. There were fractions of images visible on these pieces of paper, but many of these pieces are defined by shapes and colors that were familiar and like other colors in the show. This deconstructed image is clearly a part of the reconstruction Hackett is undertaking. One of the images even took up an entire corner by being attached to both walls. The pieces stood out from the wall, calling attention to their existence and visually poking into the viewers perception of the show. The crumpled paper could have been interpreted as a visual representation of Hackett breaking down and rebuilding his identity, as they tangibly represent the moment of reinterpretation.

These three ideas—personal vocation or appearance in society, place, and reconstruction—were demonstrated in a variety of ways. In fact, much of the physical attributes of the self-portraits changed, the paper he used, the sizing, the techniques, and the ways he hung the pieces, yet the little hat upon his head did not. By maintaining this consistency amongst inconsistency, he pulled out a thread of truth in his identity: this golfer cap signifies that while everything else changes, there are parts of himself that remain the same. This choice of the artist gave a visual representation of his ability to find himself more clearly when deconstructing an identity.

Hackett’s show, Circular Narratives, called to attention to the part of processing our lives that is disorganized, confusing, and painfully loud. Hackett visually and physically gave a place and means to reconstruct our own identities and lives.

Circular Narratives by Kyle Hackett was exhibited at Vinegar, Forest Park, Birmingham, Alabama, from November 4 – December 30, 2023.