Flat Affect closing reception | Friday, Feb. 25, 6-9 p.m. | Lump, Raleigh
The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl once described how the photorealist painter Vija Celmins spent five years on a “not quite pointless” sculpture project: casting small stones in bronze, painting the casts to minutely resemble the originals, and then displaying them side by side. “No mere trompe-l’oeil stunt, the work seemed haunted by a fact of difference that the artist’s skill had pounded down to an almost subliminal wisp,” Schjeldahl wrote.
The longtime artist but first-time solo curator Harrison Haynes outlines a similarly equivocal space—between real and fake, flat and volumetric, photographic and sculptural—in the group exhibit Flat Affect, which has been at Lump in Raleigh for a month and closes Sunday after a reception with Haynes Friday evening.
Small works by nine artists, including locals like Attic 506’s Amanda Barr and out-of-towners like Manhattan’s Jared Buckhiester, are arranged on tables as if in a very tidy garage sale. They all relate to Haynes’s quest to turn photographs into freestanding objects that trick the eye from some angles and reveal their artifice from others.
“It had to be work that played with two and three dimensions,” Haynes says over video chat. “I was also interested in this objet d’art thing, where it’s sculpture of a manageable size, with a domestic aspect—a thing you live with that can move from a bedside table to a mantel.”
Haynes earned a bachelor’s degree in painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and a master’s in photography in an MFA program hosted at Bard College, and his work has been shown in North Carolina museums like the Nasher and the Weatherspoon. When he wasn’t studying or making art, he was drumming for the smart-kid punk bands Hellbender and Les Savy Fav. It was at interdisciplinary Bard in 2011 that the boundary between these compartments in his life began to erode.
“I’ve never been comfortable with making portraits of people,” he says. “I’m worried the person is uncomfortable or that what I make won’t be flattering. When my subject matter was inanimate objects, it opened things way up for me.”
He naturally gravitated to the cymbal as his primary subject. He had plenty of them around. They were beautiful and reflective but also had utility, rich with both personal and cultural memory. He spent years experimenting with what a photo might be if it were draped on a structure or drooping from a wall—“funny Claes Oldenburg–type things,” he says. These attempts accreted into his own deceptively simple contribution to Flat Affect, “Ecstatic Cymbal.”
On top, it looks like a cymbal mounted on a plain wooden base. Only the blank underside gives away that it’s really a UV inkjet print on an aluminum composite material, which took extensive time, thought, and the labor of fabricators and vector-cutters to create. Object or subject, cymbal or symbol, one thing is unequivocal: it’s the leitmotif ringing through Haynes’s life.
Growing up in Durham and Chatham County in the 1980s, Haynes’s first musical loves were whatever his parents played. In his fifth-grade school picture, he sports an Elvis Costello pin from Chapel Hill’s The Record Bar, a Franklin Street landmark that—though this is almost too depressing to contemplate—is now a Cold Stone Creamery.
Haynes’s father is an illustrator and animator who worked at UNC-Chapel Hill. He had all kinds of art books around, not to mention underground comix magazines like Heavy Metal, which inspired his son’s love of drawing. He also had drums, which is partly why Haynes chose them in the scramble for his first middle-school band.
“Also, my friends were a little more alpha than me,” he says, blinking thoughtfully through large glasses. Indeed, from his mild manner and fastidious appearance, you wouldn’t necessarily picture Haynes going to see a chaotic art-punk band, let alone playing in one.
At Chapel Hill High School in the mid-nineties, he formed Hellbender with two childhood friends. Wells Tower was his classmate; Al Burian, a couple of years older, was already at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Over the next few years, they released several albums and EPs of melodically slashing punk songs, which were distinguished by diaristic, literary lyrics and the syncopated drumming style Haynes was developing.
In our more genre-relaxed times, we’d probably just call Hellbender post-hardcore and leave it at that. But then, like it or not, they were emo, the most incoherent genre humanity has conceived. In the eighties, it was an insult you’d shout at hardcore punk bands whose music was too melodic and sensitive. In the nineties, it was a divisive underground variant defined by the likes of Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate. In the 2000s, it was a corporate pop genre that gave us My Chemical Romance and sent sales of eyeliner and flat irons through the roof.
Hellbender came along in the middle, when emo was something you either loved or hated but under no circumstances confessed to playing, Haynes included.
“I resisted it,” he says. “It always seemed derogatory.” But if he knew what his band wasn’t, that didn’t mean he knew what it was. A self-described “lazy music fan,” Haynes was mostly oblivious to modern music. Burian was the slightly older authority on all things DIY, with a sheaf of zines and a Rolodex of basement promoters; Tower was a more active connoisseur. Haynes learned from them and the bands they toured with. He was a punk drummer who didn’t like punk drumming and was more immersed in hip-hop.
“I had to relearn what punk was all about,” he remembers. “The first drummer I was ever blown away by was Reed Mullin of Corrosion of Conformity, who we’d go see in Raleigh. But super-fast punk drumming, it didn’t touch me.” As for the indie ferment in Chapel Hill, “when I went to RISD, people would be like, dude, Chapel Hill, Superchunk, Archers of Loaf! I was only vaguely aware of that through Al and Wells, but I got super into Archers later.”
Hellbender kept touring in the summers after Haynes went to RISD, and they all lived together in Portland for a year. They were winding down when they moved back to Chapel Hill around 1997. Burian moved on to Milemarker, a synth-punk band straddling Chapel Hill and Chicago; Tower eventually became an acclaimed writer; and Haynes joined Les Savy Fav, an iconic art-punk band that rose from house parties to major festivals. Though built from several strong instrumental voices, it centered on the charismatic vocalist Tim Harrington, whose performances resembled a wild-eyed Pentateuchal prophet gone to seed.
“Tim always belies assumptions about what he’s like,” Haynes says. “He’s super gentle, sweet, moral, and caring, with a lot of eccentricities and exuberance. [The Jesus Lizard’s] David Yow is a huge influence, but he’s not David Yow. We always used to call him PG GG Allin.”
When original drummer Pat Mahoney joined James Murphy’s embryonic LCD Soundsystem, leaving Les Savy Fav behind, they had already released their first record and demoed their second. They called Haynes, whom they knew from their early days at RISD, and in 1999, he fled the Piedmont countryside for the Knights of Columbus Hall in Brooklyn where they lived. He remembers dancing at Murphy’s first DJ nights at The Slipper Room and Plantain, near the start of those charmed years when the racket coming out of cheap, sketchy Williamsburg lofts (The Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) spread into a nationwide dance-punk craze.
Haynes had to learn his friend’s parts quickly before playing a show with Modest Mouse. He was inspired by the mutant disco style of their drummer, Jeremiah Green, when Les Savy Fav recorded The Cat and the Cobra soon afterward. But again, he wasn’t really up on the classic UK punk and New York no-wave bands—Gang of Four, Wire, ESG, Liquid Liquid—that formed the moment’s historical context. “I heard Les Savy Fav before those bands, and then I was like, oh, so that’s what it is,” he says.
Les Savy Fav still performs occasionally, but Haynes is in some ways back where he began: living in Chapel Hill with free time, in his first year off after nine teaching photography at Durham Academy Upper School, and playing music with childhood friends. This time, though, the friends are Nora Rogers and Jenny Waters, the band is Object Hours, and Haynes is a full-time artist with a family of his own, making the cymbal a full circle indeed.
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