One day in the 1990s, I received a new credit card in the mail. My old card had a printed border on it, a frame running around the edge, and the card details were inset from that. But there was no border on the new card. No longer resembling a promissory note, the unmarked surface ran all the way to the edge, a plastic object of exact proportions to be precisely slotted in some machine. A piece of gold, a precious stone, had become something else entirely.
Andrew Hurle has charted the shift from material physical exchange towards an information economy through various graphics as they pass into obsolescence. Hurle’s own credit-card and bill designs are testament to the slow, inexorable transformation of monetary value, “always in the process of being replaced by the guarantee of its own existence”, one sign system replaced by another, as it accedes to a pure redundant symbolism. Serial numbers, heads of state, patterned crosshatching, watermarks, a particular numerical value, or the unmistakable font ‘E-13B’ used for electronic character recognition since the 1960s – everything is redolent of money’s once-persuasive, now-dissipating power.
In some of Hurle’s banknotes the background patterning has been extrapolated into geometric grids and mesmerising abstract configurations, the surface buckling and writhing with embellishment, a layer of lenticular glass sometimes exaggerating the effect. Our tantalised eyes are left to ponder the flurry of line and pattern in a dead-end semiosis; these are empty ornamental relics, as Hurle says, “recovered in the wake of money’s movement towards pure numeracy”. Indeed, these are the last days of cash.
An abstract blank ledger reveals the structure of commerce – ruled lines and double entries – as it tallies and accumulates, an outmoded pre-credit narrative structure for balanced books: what we owe and are owed, our life a constant reckoning. The decorative seals certifying the contents of cigarette packets or spirit bottles, official Nazi Party deportation forms, and complex assembly instructions and technical manuals: Hurle scrutinises the graphics for each of these edicts and directives, seeking its authority and explanatory power in the finer details of its design, distilling the essence of each formal designation in the layout of contents, the text size, the paragraph break.
Notes left from the public domain (stuck on a neighbour’s fence, the windshield of a car, or posted on the web), homemade bongs found in the empty blocks behind your house, antique postcards, discarded photos, or unwanted photocopies are all intriguing signs of other lives, which Hurle has also collected and searched for their intent. Sometimes he has typeset handwritten messages or designed official communiqués (a fatwa prohibiting the use of paper money, for example), or he has emptied out typography altogether, leaving only the format. Yet the banal, dull allure of others is constant, and we wonder at the handwriting, the peculiar self-expression, the composition, the meaning, the motives, the kind of person who would write such a thing.
Hurle arrests pornographic images, too, in their endless frenetic circulation in print and online, from the ridiculous prelude (a neighbour arrives unexpectedly at the front door while you are showering) to the disembodied, almost unrecognisable close-up. Hurle uses digital means to achieve an impossible proximity to a subject we wish to see more explicitly, such that we enter the very pixel or grain of these illicit thumbnails, or he plots an ultimate platonic version using jpeg compression to render a smooth pink blob or rounding curve, approximating the folds of flesh leading to a perfect hole.
But notice there are no ‘money shots’ here, no actual bills or coin, no fraudulent activity, no real spying or voyeurism. Rather, Hurle diverts our rising desire in the recognition of familiar graphic forms towards another purpose altogether, which has no end but to reveal the act and motivation for looking. His work is tantalising, a trap for our rutted cravings, which are slowly, pleasurably spent on his beguiling copies. And ‘reprography’ is the perfect method to reveal the slowly dissembling original, the last dying moments of its final significations, before its verisimilitude fails and our furtive desire for money, sex, power, whatever, alights and moves on to other graphic forms in its constantly fleeting course.
Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.