The paintings in the exhibit feature dramatic, photorealist close-ups of various industrial castaways posed on her otherwise-pristine beach, waves breaking in the background. A series of natural-history style glass cases showcases some of the objects themselves: toy soldiers, whiffle balls, an orange plastic detergent jug. In real life, they look tacky and insignificant; Hackenberg’s artistic strategy is to paint them in a mock-heroic fashion, like statues in a town square, the better to spotlight their growing intrusion on the planetary environment.
Hackenberg also uses humor, double-entendre titles, and multiple intersecting references to enrich her straightforward imagery. In the 6-foot tall painting Sea Stacks, for example, she amusingly channels the Northwest totem pole tradition by arranging a vertical still life of 5 plastic animal figurines, filling the frame and seen from below, as though much taller than ourselves.
The real First Nation totems were heraldic announcements of their owner’s status, told through traditional, stylized creatures; Hackenberg’s modern counterparts are mass culture’s animated heroes, extruded by the millions and then jettisoned and forgotten (I couldn’t name a single character). Sea Stacks also refers to dramatic beach cliffs that are a trademark of the nearby national park, appearing in a million posters and snapshots, and another victim of commodification.
The exhibition also includes stand-alone sculptures, all adhering to the found-object aesthetic that underlies Hackenberg's imagery: her beach, her trash. Mounted in the glass cases are bristling intertidal creatures, spiky and colorful. The American Sea Urchin series consists of color-coordinated plastic fireworks tips embedded into white floatation foam, like a marine porcupine fetish enshrining the long-lived aftermath of 4th of July beach parties - which is when the artist collects most of this debris.
Issue-art is always tricky territory to navigate, as artists attempt to avoid the obvious traps of the overly-polemic and in-your-face at one extreme, or the artful, subtle approach that might let the viewer off too easy. Hackenberg's imagery definitely tilts towards the romantic pastoral, and is gentle on the eyes, and her posed toys, bottles, and cans don't seem so much out of place as peculiar and amusing. The cumulative effect, however, of her methodical approach to collecting, categorizing, and re-purposing her local, manmade flotsam and jetsam, is ultimately elegiac; a farewell to seeing nature as refuge, or the realm of the pure and the elevated. Hackenberg brings us her report from the front, and the good guys are losing, bested by an endless stream of toy soldiers, orange detergent bottles, and their assorted assembly-line cohorts.