Lou Hubbard is a Melbourne-based artist who works primarily with video and installation. Her art uses everyday domestic objects – brushes, clothes, cups, dolls and so forth – which she submits to odd, often-violent procedures, recombining them in unexpected ways.
Montage and collage were techniques at the centre of early surrealist practices, deployed to produce shocking assemblages from the detritus of the bourgeois world: Max Ernst cut up Victorian magazines and encyclopaedias to produce books such as La femme 100 têtes (Woman 100 Heads); Man Ray cut out a black-and-white photograph of a woman’s eye and glued it to the pendulum of a metronome, calling it Object to Be Destroyed; in Luis Buñuel’s notorious film Un Chien Andalou, a woman has her left eye cut open with an old-school razor. Since antiquity, blinding has been symbolically identified with impotence – à la Sophocles’s self-harming Oedipus or Homer’s Odysseus, who plunges a fire-hardened stake into the single eye of the giant Polyphemus – but also with sanctity: let’s not forget Saint Lucy’s eyeballs on a plate. In The Story of the Eye, Georges Bataille tells a horrifying tale of bull-goring, castration and eye-gouging, where the removed parts receive further unspeakable abuse from the perverse teenage protagonists. The erotic and political assaults of surrealism were not only ‘in the service of Revolution’ but also directed against the integrity of the body itself, above all, the female body.
Hubbard’s work reuptakes this masculine European tradition from the situation of an Antipodean feminism. In these five short video pieces she severs, squeezes, squashes, splits and slices a succession of confectionery eggs – marshmallow filled with caramel – that have been dressed up as real eyeballs, complete with pupils ringed by yellow, blue and even red irises. In one video, an eyeball is placed on a bent, hairless knee in a bath; as the knee shakes gently, the sticky sphere rolls erratically down the calf. In another, two eyeballs are squished behind silver-rimmed glasses onto the top of a different, rather hairier, knee. When one eye rolls off, it is seized by pincers and its glutinous cornea pitilessly excised with a scalpel point before the cornea is thrust brutally back into the gap from whence it came. Other videos inventively proliferate assaults on the hapless little balls. When all five screens are going simultaneously, that’s a lot of partial objects to take in.
The word ‘video’ derives directly from the Latin for ‘to see’, so there is a conceptual reflexivity to these works from the start: you see eyes being mutilated and mistreated before your own eyes. The title of this work, EYE OPS, a near homophone for ‘Cyclops’, not to mention Psy-Ops, places Hubbard in the position of a surgeon. It’s a sinister joke. What is an eye surgeon? Somebody who operates on your eyeballs. What is an artist? Somebody who operates on your eyeballs. The identification is immediate and parodic, the work enchanting and grotesque.
Still, what sort of artist cuts up the very organ with which you look at art? In an essay titled ‘The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility’, German-Jewish critic Walter Benjamin comments that: ‘Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, whereas the cinematographer penetrates deeply into its tissue.’ For Benjamin, the surgeon-camera-operator did the greater work in a world saturated with technology, just as Hubbard literally picks the eyes out of contemporary art.
Text commissioned by Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) as part of
50 artworks from the Monash University Collection
 Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, M.W. Jennings et al. (eds), E. Jephcott et al. (trans.), Belknap Press, Cambridge, Ma. and London, 2008, p.35.