In our polarized climate, we live in a world of borders. They’re everywhere, used to demarcate geography, property, identity, and ideology, to hold some people in and keep others out.
They’re also top of mind for Hugh Hayden. The artist’s first show at Lisson Gallery, “Border States,” was inspired by the ways in which borders—be it geopolitical barriers or more domestic ones like fences and doors—separate people today.
In a new video produced in conjunction with the show, the young New York-based artist explains that the sculptures in the show were created from woods indigenous to Southern Texas (Hayden’s home state), around the United States and Mexico border. Many of them— including Eastern Red Cedar, Ashe, and “Texas Ebony”—are often considered “trash trees” or “invasive trees,” he says, because they “tend to excel when other vegetation struggles.”
“From a cultural-political level, I’m interested in a tree having that identity of something that has a rightful place and belonging, but also being despised and not wanted.”
Using these materials, Hayden constructs his own objects of division—a door, a fence, a crib. They look functional, yet each has a series of jagged branches or thorns sticking out, imbuing them with a sense of malice and danger.
“In a lot of the locations, there were thorny vines growing around these trees, especially where the cedar trees came from,” Hayden says. “A vine is a plant…that’s competing for light and grows up on the support of other trees, but also, to protect itself, it has these thorns as this other sort of expression of resistance or defense. For me, the thorns are just another expression of that difficulty to inhabit a space. Which I feel—today and always—is a manifestation of these barriers that we create.”