Hanna Haaslahti Interviewed - Part 1 by Claire Mander

CM: Who are the artists, thinkers, theorists from any field of endeavour that you most admire and which have had the greatest impact on your thinking and your work? 

HH:  Many people influence my work and thinking as research is an important part of my working process.  At the moment, Timothy Morton, an English philosopher who writes about object-oriented ontology (OOO) is of particular interest. The idea that objects comprise both surface and essence – the surface/appearance being easily comprehensible while the essence can never be seen or known is somehow magical and endlessly sought after.  
Discovering gestalt psychology was a revelation for me. It explains how brain processes our perceptions of the world by filling in missing gaps and creating whole forms, before our cognitive mind has a chance to intervene. Our minds are constantly produced by our brains.   I am also fascinated by studies around the psychology of the group and phenomena surrounding the ‘herd mentality’.  
Malevich is an artist whose work and manifestos, are for me an iconic turning point in thought and image.  The utopian architectural constructions of Haus Rucker-Co made in the 1970s at a time of increased fear of environmental issues incorporated plastics into their pneumatic air structures interest me for their use of material and for the way they wanted to provide creative solutions to environmental and social issues.  Today we do not have room for utopias – we are the generation that has to clean up the trash from the past and move on.  I also admire Bjőrk for her energy and her imagination. 

CM: You have created work which responds to historically important places in the past for example Sincere Lies, 2013 at Sinebrychoff Museum of Old Art in Helsinki.  What aspects of the historic appeal to you?

HH:  Certain ideas are associated with certain historical periods – there has always been a manipulation or control of what we know, what is passed down, what is revered and what is not discussed and in this sense history is a perceptual formula. I am interested in the ‘back streets of history’, not the official line.  Our age, the digital age, is characterised by a flow (or flood) of information stated quickly and simply – which does not describe a true or fair view of the complexity of an event. I am interested in presenting the possibilities of alternative narratives – not necessarily based on research or re-presenting facts – new information does not help – after all information is not communication. I am talking about different ways of perceiving the world.  The images you see every day in the media make you blind and powerless, but sometimes you catch a glimpse of something revealing. Take the image of the new Chief Executive of BMW who dramatically fainted at the conference – an image which went viral.  The pose is almost religious, the fall so out of place, it revealed human fragility so carefully hidden inside the machineries of power.  

CM: Tell me about the importance of digital technology and the possibilities it opens up in the visual world?

HH: Digital technology introduced instability as the unexpected side-effect of high-tech society.  Objects are no longer solid and enduring, buildings are made to last a decade rather than millennia, events seemingly take place here, on the other side of the world and on various platforms simultaneously as do images of ourselves.  Instantaneous, ephemeral, speeded up digital world – we are not sure how to understand this new dimension of immateriality.   Concepts of physical presence and absence have dissolved – now we are present all the time in different ways in different media – images of ourselves are on social media, sent back and forth, selfies everywhere.   Our paranoia about surveillance cameras seems to have disappeared and now we suffer from FOMO; we throw ourselves into the proliferation of images and now we live with our own digital images constantly.  Next year I am embarking on an art+science research project in Aalto University, Helsinki called ‘Life as an image’ to explore new technologies around image making and 3D sensing and their social reverberations.  The relationship between human perception and computer vision – how computers see the world - is fascinating.  3D sensing technology adds another element to the RGB of image creation - the D of Depth – also called point cloud - which dispenses with traditional perspectival systems of vision.  3D sensing moves around the object and builds up an image from all angles.  Liberating image making from the chains of perspective is exciting and contains many possibilities. 
I am positive about digital technology - we cannot turn back the clock and it is here to stay so there is no point being negative about it or yearning for analogue technology.  But we can and should try to take control of it.  We are in a honeymoon period of intense love with our social screens, creating a generation of young iPhone zombies as we say in Finland but I am hopeful that technology might lead ultimately to a new understanding of time, presence and materiality. 

Written by Claire Mander

Oase no 7, Fridericaianum, documenta 5, Kassel 1972. Photo: Hein Engelskirchen

Oase no 7, Fridericaianum, documenta 5, Kassel 1972. Photo: Hein Engelskirchen

Hanna Haaslahti,  Sincere Lies , Sinebrychoff Art Museum of old European Masters, 2013, image courtesy of the artist

Hanna Haaslahti, Sincere Lies, Sinebrychoff Art Museum of old European Masters, 2013, image courtesy of the artist

William Mackrell Interviewed - Part 2 by Claire Mander

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

William Mackrell in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

ZK: As chance encounters and happenings appear to be such an important part of your practice, what kind of preparation and planning goes into each of your pieces?

WM: Preparing involves rehearsing the context of a site or situation. With the upcoming public performance being worked towards for September, Gaps, glitches and speed bumps, the singers will have nothing to follow or fall back on, responding instinctively to how their bodies mould with the fluctuating movement of each journey. As my work often tilts speculatively between the possible and the unlikely, chance tends to enter into the work and carries the piece beyond its original intentions. It is this extension of the work by the unexpected that can break the work out of a singular construct or pre-intended point of view. Being able to adapt quickly to change and work out solutions is to keep moving, keep something alive, that’s inherent to everyday living.

Last June when Deux Chevaux was performed in London, in order for the work to fulfil its funding agreements it became utterly engrossed in licences, permissions and negotiations to a point that cocooned the activity of the work from its own precarious being. In some ways it was an interesting learning curve as I didn’t realise in advance the extent of the administrational work, which would amount to some 800 emails and 100-200 pages of police and local authorities documents carried on the day of the performance, particularly for something which in terms of its action appeared quite straight forward and common place just over one hundred years ago. By the end of the Deux Chevaux performance, the paperwork had so dominated my experience of the work I included all the documents in the final exhibition, Steam Horses at The Ryder as a swarm of paper stuffed onto a pin board.

For Gaps, glitches and speed bumps, I have tried to keep the administrative element to a minimum, with the intention to keep the performance as loose and fluid as possible within the everyday scenario of the city’s public travel network. The focus will be entirely absorbed in the very second when the bus is jolting along and the affect this will have on the singers’ vocal responses and line drawings made on each journey.

ZK: What is the importance of the audience experience to you and how do you hope your work will impact on those who witness your performances?

WM: Considering your audience is necessary, as the live element of the work hinges on how you invite or position the audience within a live dialogue. Whether the work will be liked or not is something I cannot decide, but how they might reach the project, begin to enter into it, has to be thought about and for Gaps, glitches and speed bumps being the most precarious and unannounced live work I’ve attempted, I have to consider a range of responses I might receive from the Public.

The key thing is really that the audience can step into the work quite quickly from a visual or sensory perspective. I am not looking to push a particular ideology or message onto the work, or onto the audience. It’s about letting the audience come to the work and then letting them run with the idea. I like there to be elements you can grasp that are just about everyday experiences, how the work highlights their own space, their journeys, and the motions they go through within this familiar but transitional space.

ZK: You recently performed a series of works titled ‘In an Instant' at FOLD gallery which involved you leaving a series of marks on the walls with black lipstick. What is the relationship between the marks, or on other occasion’s objects, you leave behind after your performances? Are they simply a form of documentation of the action that has taken place or do you see them as independent works in their own right?

WM: This is a very interesting point to me right now, as I am trying to find new ways to work through the relationship of live action, documentation and aftermath. When I first started making works that did leave physical marks I just thought about them as traces and residue, but now I think you have to consider them more carefully than that, before they end up being a slightly nostalgic left over object which will label the work in a certain way. I am also trying to consider works to be more of a thought than a concept. It’s also great when a work doesn’t equal itself or complete itself too much.

I feel that in the more recent work I am keeping the residue active beyond a finite mark and I like that even after the event at FOLD, the marks continue to hold a new tension or possible re-action.

Or with Deux Chevaux again when presented at The Ryder, the reigns draped down over the car bonnet onto the floor after the horses have departed signal the potential of the work to become something new or about to happen, the sculpture I think retained this propositional form I’m after. 

As to documentation, I am always recording and gathering sound, notes, and photos of everything I do. Even when I practice an action in the studio I like to consider how it looks from the Other’s perspective, the angles, the speed and balance of the piece. Most of this ends up being a private record for further research. For me documentation isn’t so important for recording something that’s happened but has more significance in enabling something new to take place.

ZK: Your recent piece Soprano for route no.141 included a live musical element as will your forthcoming Sculpture Shock intervention. What is it that appeals to you about using sound and in particular the unaccompanied voice in your work? What do you feel it helps you convey to your audience that actions alone cannot?

WM: With sound like time, it is the fragile and vulnerable qualities that attract me, its immediacy is an exciting prospect that leaves no trail of it’s self, but embodies the presence of memory by inhabiting a space for a moment. Like the smell of a club or music venue the morning after or a gallery the morning after a great opening, sound has this incredibly sensory power you can do so much with. In many ways I also find music more open, more democratic than ‘art’ in the Fine Art sense. So Gaps, glitches and speed bumps will attempt to work off music’s relationship to line drawing.

ZK: How has Sculpture Shock assisted you in the development of your practice and what are your future artistic ambitions?

WM: The assistance and support has come at a crucial time. This year has been quite busy with 2 solos, 5 group shows, and recently being selected for the Jerwood drawing prize. The residency has added a lot to the momentum to my work. The constant activity in and around the studio has been great, conversations, studio visits, photography of studio process, it has felt good to be part of this busy programme.

With the spiralling costs of studio rent and living expenses in London, to know this is supported through the Sculpture Shock award for three months has been a big chance to pursue new work and work towards a large final project in September. It will be hard to get me out of here, I love the studio space, whether the day is going well or not, it feels good every time to be in here.

Written by Zana Kingwill

Lynn Dennison Interviewed - Part 2 by Claire Mander

Lynn Dennison in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Lynn Dennison in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

ZK: In your Finalist Slam talk in January you stated that your work is particularly informed by Michel Foucault’s theory of Heterotopias as discussed in his 1967 lecture Of Other Spaces (Des espaces autres). Focusing on sites which “have the curious property of being in relation with all other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect” in Of Other Spaces Foucault describes a heterotopia as ‘a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live’. Can you elaborate on the importance of this theory to your work and how it has shaped your practice?

 LD: Although the different ideas of spaces in Foucaults hypothesis is broad and seems as if it could include many places, I am drawn to his sixth principle; the idea of one space where several others converge, and where the juxtaposition of several supposedly incompatible sites meet in a single real place. It’s this idea of bringing together different worlds that don’t normally co-exist in a single environment and arranging them so it appears as if it could be possible that I really focus on in my work. I like the idea of creating a space which is simultaneously real and unreal. By making installations constructed in man made environments in which I am juxtaposing images of rural spaces, I am hoping to bring into question our relationship with the surrounding world.

ZK: Are there any other philosophical or aesthetic principles you are attracted to such as Robert Smithson’s theory of the non-site?   

LD: Well the idea of nature and culture converging has also been suggested by Bruno Latour, who maintains that modernity creates two separate poles; nature/science and culture/society. In ‘We have never been modern’, (Nous n’avons jamais été modernes) published in 1991 he suggests that, as hybrids such as global warming and deforestation increase, it is no longer possible to keep the idea of nature and culture separate and we need to rethink these distinctions and recognize the relationship between nature and culture. He stated that, ‘The unthinkable non place becomes the point in the Constitution where the work of mediation emerges. It is far from empty: quasi-objects, quasi-subjects, proliferate in it.’ 

You mentioned Robert Smithson, and yes I think there are parallels, especially with his non-site works because like him I am bringing one site into another. There is a certain degree of ambiguity as to where the new site has come from, although it’s suggested it’s never fully disclosed. The journeys he undertook were central to his practice as an artist, and his non-site sculptures often included maps and aerial photos of a particular location, as well as the geological artifacts displaced from those sites. I also consider walking to be a very important part of my process and I use my recordings of this process in my work. We both share an interest in the sublime and the picturesque, and his ideas about Olmsteds Central Park and the layering of history and human intervention in the site is something I have also explored in a recent collaboration in a work about Greenham Common.

ZK: Our relationship with nature, experience of the landscape, and its potential to be a violent and destructive force is at the heart of your practice. What do you hope to inspire in your audience by using this subject matter and what experience do you hope it will provoke?  

LD: My preoccupation with nature’s power to be destructive, and our inability to contain it, stems from my interest in the sublime really and trying to recreate this experience. I am hoping that by bringing landscape into unexpected places, the viewer will look again at their surroundings. There are so many glossy representations of nature that don’t seem to have much to do with the real thing. The idea that nature is just beautiful to look at to me is disregarding its potential for destruction. Even through our efforts to control nature by designating areas of natural beauty and choosing other areas to build over, we are still unable to control, or even predict, the weather. Storms, floods and earthquakes wreak havoc, often with little warning. It is not only this fear of our world becoming a hostile environment that I explore in my work, but also an anxiety that may be closer to home, the struggle to reconcile ourselves with the natural world around us. Kathleen Jamie asks in her book ‘Sightlines’, ‘….what is it that we’re just not seeing?’, suggesting that somehow in our dealings with nature there is a disconnect. By questioning our responses to landscape and creating situations which challenge expectations of the surrounding world, I am trying to discover a connection.

ZK: Water is a repeated theme in your work. Why does it hold such resonance for you?  

LD: I suppose it is the sublime element of a vast and dangerous sea or mass of water that resonates for me, but I am also interested in the romantic ideas surrounding the idea of water and the sea in particular. The idea of a world under the sea has long held a fascination for me, I grew up spending a lot of time by the sea and spent many days in and around the water fantasizing about these things. It still fascinates me that there are underwater towns and cities such as Dunwich in Suffolk. The power of the water to cover our world in that way is both fascinating and frightening. 

I use water as a metaphor for memory and the passing of time, as if things are buried beneath it, but I also use it as a surprise element–cascading down a set of stairs or filling up a building. 

ZK: How has Sculpture Shock assisted you in the development of your practice and what are your future artistic ambitions?

LD: I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I can definitely say how Sculpture Shock has helped me because it has been a fantastic experience. You have given me this commission to make a work in a space which is totally different to any other venue I have worked in before. There have been challenges, but every new building that I work in presents a new set of challenges, and it has been really interesting for me to work out how to use the space. it is a much bigger space than I have worked in before and it’s been a huge learning curve to work in a space that size. It’s also been great to have this studio to work in, a space to try things out and focus completely on the installation.

Written by Zana Kingwill