“Peter Hennessey’s project – to reconstruct technically complex, often large, objects in exacting detail – inspires awe. His intent, however, goes beyond the desire to leave his viewers spellbound. His sculptures are vessels that carry forth the equally weighty ideas that preoccupy him, ideas that revolve around social justice and the political systems that dominate our lives.”
— Samantha Littley, Curator, UQ Art Museum
Curator, Peter Hennessey: Making it real
Ahead of the opening of his first major survey Making it real, which opens at UQ Art Museum in March, contemporary Australian artist Peter Hennessey has been artist in residence with UQ’s internationally renowned HyShots team at the Centre for Hypersonics. We chatted with Peter and Head of UQ’s HyShot Group Professor Michael Smart about the intriguing intersection between art, creativity and hypersonic aerodynamics research.
Peter, as an artist with a passion for the science of flight, space exploration and its technology, it must have been quite a thrill to work with the HyShots team.
Absolutely. To see how cutting-edge research feeds into the testing and engineering of technology like the Scramjet has been both fascinating and inspiring.
How have you approached your time with the students and academics as artist in residence?
Initially I spent time with the Hypersonics researchers, observing their working methods and becoming familiar with the data generated from their studies. I’m particularly interested in how mathematical models help researchers see events that happen at enormously high pressure and timescales. During my residency, I saw first hand how testing and intuitive decision making drives the creative leaps required for the HyShots team to break new ground. That was exciting.
How have you found your interactions with the HyShot students?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a group of very smart, dedicated and motivated students who’ve been so welcoming. When you think about it, it must be a bit strange to have some art guy float into your laboratory, but they’ve been so open to engagement and I’ve had some fascinating conversations – it’s affirming when someone external from the work takes an interest in whatever you’re doing, so in that regard, I think the benefits have flowed in both directions.
In your work, art and science are a natural pairing, but some may struggle to see how these worlds intersect. What are your thoughts?
For an artist, I think there’s really interesting conversations to be had if you find a way to strip away some of the complexities, start talking about the way things happen in the world and explore the commonality between art and science, not the separation.
Professor Michael Smart leads Scramjet-related research within the Centre for Hypersonics at The University of Queensland and welcomed the opportunity to have an artist of Peter Hennessey’s calibre work in his research unit.
Michael, why were you interested in having an artist in residence in your program?
There’s a lot of creative energy that goes into good science and I felt that having an artist interacting with our students and academics would be a great way to communicate this beyond the walls of our laboratories and offices.
How have you and your researchers found the experience?
Many of the students and academics have found themselves talking to Peter about their research in a very different way to how they talk to each other, so it really helped them to get more context for what they’re doing.
What do you hope to achieve through the residency?
Creativity drives good science, so I think opportunities like Peter’s residency provide a creative injection that encourages our students to think about their research from a different perspective. Ultimately, I’d like the relationship with Peter to become a means by which we make a stronger connection between science, creativity and the public.
Peter Hennessey: Making it real is the first exhibition to consider Hennessey’s work in depth and will reflect on the past decade of his practice. The exhibition opens at UQ Art Museum on Saturday 14 March and runs through until 12 July 2015.