Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Charlie Hillhouse - Printed Matters - The ARI Effect - INTERVIEWS

Charlie Hillhouse is a Brisbane-based artist passionate about digital manipulation. Paul Andrew chats to Charlie about his work and exhibiting in ARI's in Brisbane and Melbourne.

Tell me about your art studies Charlie?

I studied at the Queensland College of Art in photography. I started out in visual communication design but changed after my second year into photography. I think the most important thing I learnt from studying was treating being an artist like a proper job. Going to university taught me to have the discipline to keep going once that structure had finished, because I think the hardest part of being an artist is actually finishing your ideas. 

You have recently held exhibitions of your work in several artist-run initiatives?

True, two Brisbane ARI’s I have exhibited in recently are Witchmeat and A-CH. Witchmeat was a small artist space in Highgate Hill. It was run by two artists Michael Candy and Anna Carluccio from inside Michael’s house. The second space was A-CH gallery in West End which at the time was run by Brisbane painter Archer Davies and his sister Freda Davies who is also a painter. 

The exhibition at A-CH largely comprised of photographs of what I call man-made cliffs, which is basically how it sounds, cliffs of some form that have been created by humans. As well as the photographs of cliffs I had four other photographs which I believed held the same sentiment as cliff works and a large text piece which read “Sometimes one must stand on the edge of a man-made cliff.” 

For the show at Witchmeat, I created six large photocopy photographs that had been manipulated, paired with a small framed photograph. I had the idea of showing large photocopy works and thought that Witchmeat would be the perfect place as it encourages more experimental practices. 

Tell me about your thoughts about the benefits of emerging artists exhibiting new work in ARI's like these?

I’m not sure what the benefits were of exhibition these works in an ARI as opposed to a commercial gallery, but especially in terms of the show at Witchmeat I enjoyed being able to experiment with a medium - such as photocopy - which didn’t have an inherent value, something maybe commercial gallery wouldn’t be as interested in.

Early this year you had an exhibition at a Melbourne based ARI, Bus Projects?

The exhibition at Bus Projects was called Parts of Cars. It was five photographs of out of focus bright green card bonnets with 4 Risograph prints of the letters FAP in different fonts. The letters FAP were taken from a car registration plate spotted in Brisbane. I wanted the Risograph prints to influence the way the viewer felt about the colour fields which the bonnets had produced because the photographs were so out of focus. 

What is important for you about exhibiting interstate at an ARI like Bus Projects?

The main reason I wanted to show interstate was to widen the audience viewing my work. Brisbane is a great city but the art scene is fairly small so it’s a nice thought to think new people could potentially be viewing your work for the first time. I think the internet can only get you so far, it’s really satisfying to see your work in a foreign space.  

Do you think your Bus Projects exhibition helped raise your artist profile in some measure?

That’s a really hard question to answer if the exhibition raised my artist profile. I had some really great feedback and I did get to meet people through having that exhibition. But sometimes the immediate benefits are hard to see. I think  you can never tell which opportunity you take is going to be the one that leads to more opportunities. 
Do you think it's important for emerging artists to specifically exhibit in ARIs, local, interstate or overseas?

I think it’s important for emerging artist to show their work, however that may be. ARI’s usually offer a good opportunity to be able to do this for artists who are just starting out because the barriers are a lot smaller for getting your work into a gallery. 

Digital Photography is one important aspect to your work?

Well digital photography isn’t so much a big part of my practice but digital manipulation is. Most of the abstract work I make is based from photographs, either film or digital and then manipulated usually with photoshop or through printing processes. What I like about this digital process is the possibilities, they really are endless and you can always come up with new ways to change your image. This may be a simple change of colour or a huge change to completely destroy something that was figurative.  

What do you find most challenging about photography as a medium?

The challenges are also the options. Sometimes it’s hard to remain clear with so many options. I try to resolve this by doing one process and applying it to lots of different images. Hopefully this creates some kind of cohesion in the end. 

Are you equally interested in pre-digital photography?

I’m not sure if there is much of a distinction between digital and pre-digital photography. I think most photo based work hasn’t changed much, there is just a new way of going about making it. In my practice I really like to use each medium and they both serve different purposes for me. When I'm taking photographs with no set idea yet I like to use film because I like to be able to carry a good camera in my pocket. Also the process of not being able to immediately digest these photographs e.g going home and having them immediately on my computer is a necessary process for me. I like the slowness of film and being removed from the immediate situation the image was captured in. For other work where I am rephotographing stuff or have an idea I want to experiment with I like to use a digital camera.    

You are also passionate about self-publishing?

Yes I really like books. I’m not sure when it really started but it was a great way for me to be able to compile my photographs into physical objects. What I find really captivating about books is that you can have this idea or body of work that’s small enough to carry with you and that it’s affordable so you can trade it with people. I really love being able to just make small no fuss books that you can simply do whatever you want in them. 

In April you are travelling to the US for a study and research trip to extend your practice?

Yeah I am going to New York for three months to work in an artist book store called Printed Matter. They have been going since the late 70’s buy and selling and collecting small artist made projects. There ethos is about providing affordable art objects but they have worked with or stocked many works from top contemporary artists of all forms so I am super excited to be able to be there for three months. 

Photos: Courtesy the artist:

Top: Installation Bus Projects, Melbourne February 2014
Above: Green Bonnett, 2013


Printed Matter NYC:

Bus Projects Melbourne:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Artist-Run Initiatives Queensland - The Remix Effect 1980-1990 - INTERVIEWS

Artist and Arts Writer Paul Andrew is currently researching an Australian 1980-1990 ARI digital heritage project. The Queensland Remix includes the untold stories, the 'archival-best-kept-secrets' and testimonial accounts of more than thirty Queensland-born or Queensland-based creatives.

"Making Art Stars, Art Xtremeist Jay Younger East Village, 1988". Artist Paul Andrew

Artist-Run Initiative (ARI)

noun. An artist-run initiative is any project run by visual artists to present their and others' projects. They might approximate a traditional art gallery space in appearance or function, or they may take a markedly different approach, limited only by the artist's understanding of the term. ...

 "Artist-run means initiating exchange; emphasizing cross and inter-disciplinary approaches to making art; developing networks; through curation, putting creative ideas and arguments into action"

Catalyst Arts (1996), Life/Live, Paris: Musée d’Art Moderne, p. 45

The Queensland Context - 1980-1990...

During this decade Queensland was known for many things-the Joh Bjelke-Peterson Government, its inappropriate police powers and police brutalities, its state-sanctioned disavowal of civil liberties, its vehement disregard for racial diversity, for transgender politics, for homosexuality, feminism, migration, refugees, for an ancient indigenous heritage at the core of Queensland arts and culture history and for the promotion of a Disney-like Expo 88 which produced widespread urban renewal, roads and infrastructure development and gentrification at the expense of diverse and formative inner city arts and culture precincts and their ongoing sustainability.

Fortunately it is known for other inspirational things including the early inception of the Southbank Cultural Precinct and The Fitzgerald Enquiry which brought justice and favour to Queensland from both inside and from the outside the state once again. Less well known however is its wealth of indie artist endeavour spanning all cultural forms from poetry, music and bands to festivals, fashion, zines, self-publishing and literature past and present.

Set against this lively, difficult and inflected 1980s social and political backdrop Queensland Arts and Culture witnessed an unprecedented and vibrant proliferation of Artist-Run Initiative (ARI)activities or Artist-Run Spaces or Not-for-profits as they were collectively termed in the day. 

These DIY activities were premised largely by the shared notion- and collective discontent-at the time that 1980s Queensland was a 1950s cultural backwater, a place with little or no institutional support, a place vastly out of step with current developments in the visual arts and crafts zeitgeist and even more disheartening, that 1980s Queensland was a place that demolished its unique cultural heritage, a place that endangered artists sense of belonging, their well-being and livelihood.

Significantly, this 1980s proliferation of ARIs and ARI protagonists included exponents of diverse social, economic, gender and cultural backgrounds, exponents who in turn have contributed in immeasurable ways to the ongoing viability, vitality, inclusivity and sustainability of the enriched Queensland Arts and Culture we know today. 

However for the greater part, these ‘ordinary’ artists, their untold stories, artworks, early artist interviews, sounds, performances, 1980s happenings, installations and private ARI archives of ephemera produced during these years remains invisible from the public record. 

The key motivation of the Remix collective is to curate a selection of this material and represent it at This is a useful way to awaken QLD arts and culture from its collective amnesia, to re-imagine and preserve this unique and distinctive ARI heritage for the present day digital environment.

1980-1990 – Queensland ARI’s at a glance (working draft only including "circa" dates):

1979-1980 EMU, Artists including Georgina Pope, Luke Roberts, Ross Wallace, studios, performances, installations.

1982-1984 Redcombe House, Artist Studios.

1981-1985 Jewel Palace Studios, Artist Studios.

1982-1987 Belltower Studios, Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley: including Chrissy Feld, Lindy Stokes, Margaux and many others.

1981-1987 Zip,  Artists including Terry Murphy, John Willsteed, Irene Luckus, Matt Mawson and Tim Gruchy.

1983-1986 One Flat Gallery, both South Brisbane and George Street ‘branches’ many artists and co-ordinated by Jeanelle Hurst, Adam Boyd, Russel Lake and Zelico Maric. Over 160 artists exhibited.

1984  A Room Gallery, Co-ordinated by Barbara Campbell, Tedd Riggs, including artists Brian Doherty, Di Heenan, Bronwyn Clark-Coolee and others.

1985–1987 That Contemporary Art Space, Co-ordinated by Paul Andrew, That Collective comprising many artists including The Queensland Artworkers Alliance, John Waller, Dianne Heenan, Jay Younger, Jane Richens, Robert Kinder, Wayne Smith, Sally Hart, Rebecca Chapman, Dale Chapman, Sue Palmer. Over 200 artists exhibited.

1985-1986 The Observatory, Collective including Robyn Gray, Anna Zsoldos and Lehan Ramsay.

1986 CLOUT Tim Gruchy and others.

1986-1987 JUMBO, Adam Boyd and others.

1987  Breathing Concrete, Hiram To, Adam Boyd, Virginia Barratt and others.

1987-1990 Arch Lane Public Art, Co-ordinators David Holden and Belinda Gunn, and many exhibitions, performances and events. Approx 200 artists

1987 Crux, Donald and Scott Clifford events.

1987 InterFace, "The City of As A Work of Art", Jeanelle Hurst Co-ordinator, public art projects including 30 artists.

1988 AXIS Art Projects, Los Angeles, New York, London, Brisbane: Jay Younger, Lehan Ramsay and Paul Andrew and many others.

1988 Bureau Art Space, Co-ordinators:  Jeanelle Hurst, Jane Richens, Angelina Martinez, Hiram To, Wayne Smith and Paul Andrew.

1989-1992 Brutal-Studios and Galleries, Fortutude Valley, Co-ordinators, David Stafford andd Rebecca Stafford.

1989-1990  A Glass of Water, Luke Roberts, Scott Redford and Hiram To and many others, exhibitions, events and performances.

1992-1993 Boulder Lodge Project, Fortitude Valley, Co-ordinator Joseph O'Connor.

Follow the 'behind the scenes' blog about The Queensland Remix here:

Artist-Run Initiatives links:

Qld Present Day ARIs 2014:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

World AIDS Day 2013- Brenton Heath-Kerr- Same Sex ELDERS Tribute - INTERVIEWS

This documentary portrays the life and death of performance artist and AIDS activist, Brenton Heath-Kerr. Through his repertoire of performances, costumes and photographs, Heath-Kerr challenged perceptions, dominant sterotypes and myths which he thought underpinned the gay communities and notions of gay identity. An emigre of drag and a gender misfit, Heath-Kerr understood that often holding a mask up to society had more political impact than holding up a mirror.

Paul Andrew 1998

See this link for a low res version documentary about the art, life and death of Australian Performance Artist and HIV AIDS activist Brenton Heath- Kerr. Writer/Dir. Paul Andrew, Prod: Kath Shelper. A Scarlett Pictures Film. NSWFTO 1998. Copyright 1998 All Rights Reserved in All Media Paul Andrew

Trove Public Archive Copies available here:

More info:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Artist Hannah Furmage - INTERVIEWS

Performance and Installation Artist Hannah Furmage talks to Paul Andrew about the challenges of presenting truth and "authenticity" in an era post 9/11.

Is there an early childhood experience or memory when you knew you wanted to become an artist?

There was not one childhood experience in particular.  There are a couple that stand out as setting foundation for reoccurring motifs.
I don’t remember the incident because I was too young but my Mum said that after I found my pet rabbit mauled by the neighbours pet Alsation that I drew a nightmarish series of drawings depicting the attack and bloody aftermath.

Perhaps this was a way of coming to terms with my personal horror. This is at the core of my artmaking, to investigate things that are disturbing and unsettling in an attempt to understand the brutality, senseless violence and insanity of the world. Not to turn a blind eye. If we don’t come face to face with these things they will end up haunting us.

Many years later in High School as a teenager I painted a woman giving birth for my art major work. I was not allowed to show my painting in the annual art exhibition with the other students. I had to show it in this separate room with a disclaimer urging children and sensitive viewers to "stay out".

My intention hasn’t really changed. I believe now as I did then that one of the most important roles of the artist is to agitate the status quo. To confront, discomfort and challenge.  It is an intuitive knee jerk reaction.

Tell me about your tertiary studies Hannah and how performance/installation has become your creative focus?

Performance/installation was always my intended creative focus. However there was no major in Performance Art so I studied sculpture at UNSW COFA because it was the faculty which was the most interdisciplinary and would allow me to experiment with performance.

My process has never been technical or skill based. I never learnt any of the tools in the ceramic or wood rooms. I was more interested in the process, researching ideas and brainstorming with collaborators rather than creating finished art pieces with a commercial value.

After art school I became involved with Pact Theatre in Newtown and did a few ‘theatrical’ performance pieces at Performance Space. This kind of ‘theatre’ seemed disembodied to me, too fake. As opposed to ‘acting’ I am more interested in actually being. As opposed to recreating a scene why not just present the actual scene. I am interested in presenting what is real. Not conjuring up these magic shows that require a suspension of disbelief.

Tell me about your most recent artistic influences?

For me, a lot of contemporary art seems so impenetrable and snobbish.

However having said that I like the work of German multimedia artist Christian Jankowski who works with video installation and performance. I like Santiago Sierra too, a Spanish artist who is critical about Capitalism and the institutions that support it. I enjoy the work of contemporary Mexican artists such as Yoshua Okon, and Joaquin Segura. Who are like these super sophisticated and intelligent art hooligans.

When I was living in Mexico I was very influenced by the anarcho-punk energy of the contemporary art scene on a very street level. Artists making a wide range of socially and politically provocative works with no budget and a stolen video camera.

What entices you about these artists, artists who share a dislike for Capitalism. What do you find compelling in their work, urgent, intriguing, perplexing?

I think there is a real need to free art from the artworld pedagogy. To reclaim it back from the academics.

What I like about these artists works is that they are democratic and accessible to people from all walks of life not just the art elite.

I am interested in artists that are taking genuine risks. Not this benign ‘creative risk taking’ that most artists will only ever rhapsodize about from the safety of their studios. I am excited by the idea of artmaking as a Guerilla act, a criminal act, a terrorist act.

Yes, there is a long tradition of artists who use artmaking as a transgressive act. Like Fluxus and their anti art and anti capitalism tendencies or radical feminist Valerie Solanos who wrote the SCUM Manifesto and famously tried to kill Pop Artist Andy Warhol. What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face now as an artist?

The biggest challenges for me artistically is to get a little bit of money and exhibition opportunities to allow me to continue making my art. In Australia it is increasingly challenging for me to make the kind of brash and defiant artworks I want to because of ongoing artistic censorship.

There is this new kind of artistic censorship in Australia that has been created in response to recent occupational health and safety legislation and as a result of this a change to the corporate and government funding of the arts and artists.

When I speak about art as a guerrilla act it is because I feel that today everybody in the arts is playing it safe for fear of losing their financial support or possibly their jobs.  It has created this sycophantic pandering of artists to government bodies and the widespread production of the most mediocre and insipid art.

Government arts funding bodies are setting the bar of what is acceptable. Arts projects must include these regulated buzz words and tick boxes such as ‘community engagement’. When was this ever a prerequisite for making art? When did this become the benchmark for good art? Who decided this? Did German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys or Mexican painter Frida Kahlo have to consider this in the production of their work? I think not.

I think the government and the arts are getting too close. We have seen the extremes of this in communist countries such as Cuba and China with government sanctioned art. What is scary is that artists don’t seem to be questioning this and except it as the norm.

The most recent feedback I got from The Australian Arts Council by way of example. “The panel found your proposal interesting and provocative but they had concerns with the ethical and legal implications of the project".

Once artists begin censoring their ideas at their conception based on morals and ethics that are imposed like this, they are in your head and they have won. My artistic challenge is this; how do I continue to develop dissident artworks in the face of this increasing neo conservatism in the Australian arts? What acts of resistance are still available to me artistically in this climate?

How are you negotiating these challenges, how is this resistance manifested?

While there is this romantic integrity in being a rebel artist in actuality it is quite lonesome and frustrating.  It is tiring and demoralising listening to these wimpy art directors and curators saying ‘Sorry but your proposed project is a liability risk we could jeopardise our funding’.

It is a dilemma. If you adapt your ideas to the fears of arts curators the work gets watered down. If you don’t you get labelled as too difficult to work with and blacklisted. I am trying to create this nomadic and autonomous art practice. I am forced to work overseas because I can not present the work I want to present inside Australia.

Yes. Tell me about your recent death/ resistance installation work in Mexico?

It’s a wild story. I was living in Los Angeles. I was arrested on the border of Mexico and California and got sentenced to a jail in Texas. Consequently I was deported and banned from The USA. My boyfriend at the time, Danny a chicano from LA.We decided to move to Acapulco, Mexico.  As a result of our combined legal problems Mexico was the only country where we could be together.

We settled permanently in the southern city, Oaxaca. I approached a contemporary art gallery La Curtiduria to have an exhibition there. Everything about life in Mexico is tinged with this brutal beauty and extremes. None more so than loosing Danny in Oaxaca to drugs and suicide.

The installation was called, ‘Death Drive’ (Pulsion de Muerte). I exhibited a car from the police impound that had been involved in a fatal traffic collision. The blood of the victims, a mother and her small child, was still splattered across the windscreen and seats, their personal effects strewn through the car, a baby’s toy, a make-up case, a shoe. The authenticity of the wreck and the knowledge of the deaths that occurred in the car was a source of both fascination and disgust.

The audience unexpectedly responded to the work by laying tributes of flowers and candles on and around the car. It became a shrine.

Describe the cultural and political backdrop for that work?

The work came about as I was struck by the very Mexican characteristic to ponder images of horror. It is part of the day to day life there. The mutilated statues of saints in the churches. Day of Dead celebrations.

In fact, there is a section of the daily newspaper called ‘La Roja’ which presents graphic images of death, murder victims, car accidents and intersperses them with porn. A severed head in a pot on one page and then an image of a woman sucking a cock on the next. It serves to highlights the titiliation and physical arousal of this macarbe voyeurism.

In ‘Death Drive’ I was interested in breaking down the ‘spectacle’ of the media and creating a space for a more direct and human contemplation of the scenario.

Clearly there is a radical political tendency within your work?

I am a clumsy anarchist. I believe that the human spirit should conceptually move unhindered throughout the universe.

In my work I am interested in staging random acts of poetic sabotage and  provocation. Creating these temporary disruptions and interruptions that highlight how social control and power operates and how it reacts to creative resistance.

I am sick of this socially conscience art that focuses on inclusion and ‘cross cultural dialogue’ for political change.  I am more interested in instilling an ethics without morals into the order of things. If you are serious about change go out on the street and overturn a police car and start a riot. Don’t create these objects that can be brought and sold.

And your recent installation work at Alaska Projects featuring a group of bikies?

The work ‘God Forgives. Outlaws Don’t’ was created for a feminist group show Janis at Alaska Gallery. I wanted to present this authentic representation of a crass male stereotype that was completely abhorrent and offensive to traditional feminist’s sensibilities.

I presented a group of bikies sitting in the gallery space on their bikes and revving their bikes and filling the space with noxious gases from their exhausts. I wanted the work to be a physical assault. For the fumes of the bikes to suffocate the audience and the sound of the roaring Harley engines to deafen them.

As with a lot of my work it is a visceral reaction. About letting these demons loose in a gallery setting. The feminists, academics and critics can attempt to explain them and tame them. I don’t see that as my job as an artist.

And to my way of thinking the equally humourous recent installation at the MCA in Sydney?

The work was called ‘How To Blow Up The MCA’ and was created for The MCA Art Bar.
I wanted to present the ingredients of a terrorist bomb. Bags of ammonium nitrate and cans of diesel fuel, packed into an unmarked white van parked in the gallery space at The MCA.

Was this work censored in some way?

Yes. The work was questioned and censored every step of the way and with every possible excuse.
They finally agreed to show the work if there was no car, the ammonium nitrate bags were emptied and filled with sand and the diesel containers filled with water and red food dye.

They paid an employee from the MCA to watch me fill the bags and fuel containers so as not to switch them with the real substances at the last minute. It was absurd. Maybe because I have this reputation for authenticity.

Obviously part of the nature of my work involves an ongoing recontextualisation in regard to the governing regulations. The question is where do I draw the line? How much am I prepared to compromise?

If we continue to comply over and over again we will eventually lose our voice and spirit.

Arguably photo documentation is an important aspect to an artist working with temporal means, whether it’s for the sake of prosperity or the sake of having proof that something happened, or is it Hannah? 

Documentation is the last thing that I think about when I am devising a work, It is not a major concern of mine. My work is action based and ephemeral by its nature. Any attempt to document it is pointless. Like catching spiders, putting them in a jar and then watching them die. At best documentation serves only as a record of the event.

What authentic artful resistance are you planning next Hannah?

I am currently revisiting a project I devised during a four month artist residency at Sydney Olympic Park, which is located directly next to the Silverwater Prison.

During the residency I began talking with male prisoners in their cells at night through the prison fence. The conversations enraged the prison authorities while agitating and enlivening the inmates.
Also participating in the residency was the Russian painter and video artist Vika Begalska. Vika began video recording the conversations and resulting confrontations with prison security guards. I am currently looking at ways to develop and exhibit the project.


Hannah does Janis - check it out
MCA Art Bar "Wierd Science"
Hannah in Real Time

PHOTOS: Hannah Furmage

Friday, October 04, 2013

Hannah Bertram - Artecycle 2013 - Upcycling Series

Artist Hannah Bertram won this year's Environmental Art Award for her new installation work Evolving From and Evolving Towards Nothing. Paul Andrew speaks to Hannah Bertram about her practice of "repurposing" everyday materials and the particular alchemical challenges she faces in the throes of transforming dust into art.
Hannah thanks for your time today, tell me about your art education background?
My education history is a bit all over the place. I left school after year 11 and went to TAFE to do a certificate in Visual Art.
It was a dream to be spending everyday painting, drawing, talking and learning about art. After a year there I was accepted into RMIT where I quickly learnt that I knew nothing about pretty much everything.
I was painting figuratively but nothing I made seemed to convey what I wanted it to. It was a pretty miserable time. It wasn’t the right time for me to be at RMIT, so I left as a way of preserving my drive to be an artist. A year or two later, after I had my daughter, I went back to TAFE.
It felt safe there and my development needed a slower gestation period than perhaps some of my peers. After that I spent the next 5 years, painting (still pretty unconvincingly) attending lots of life drawing classes, reading, traveling and studying art history through Open Learning. Eventually I went back to RMIT to finish my degree. This time I had a bit of life experience, my knowledge of art and general history was broader, but mostly I had a clear vision about what I wanted from it.
I gave up painting and figuration and made two commitments to myself; firstly that I would be open to every medium and method available in order to find my voice, and secondly that I would give myself ten years of serious commitment to my practice, and if at the end of those years I had nothing to show for it then I could give up art.
What did your teachers instill in you at the time about recycling/upcycling?
I don’t remember any specific classes on recycled materials, but my teachers at TAFE taught me how to see. I think that foundation of attentive looking is significant for me, not just in the way you train your eye to look and your hand to translate that, but in a much wider way you start paying attention to and contemplating the world around you.
What I remember from RMIT in both my undergrad and Masters, was the focus on critical thinking. I started to understand that materials can provide meaning - they are not benign but can contribute significantly to the content of artwork.
How did you become aware of the Incinerator Moonee Ponds Annual Artecycle event?
I can’t remember specifically how I became aware of it, but a few years ago my studio assistant Lisa Franklin was shortlisted for it. I remember talking with her about the development of the work and going to see the exhibition.
At the time it was a prize for artists mainly working with recycled materials. For some bizarre narrow minded reason I was getting a bit frustrated with being pigeon holed as an ‘environmental artist’. I felt like my work investigated more diverse issues than recycling. So during the earlier years I didn’t apply
What inspired you to participate in the 2013 Artecycle?
A couple of things changed for me. I became aware that the reason why I didn’t want to be labeled an environmental artist was because of fear. I was afraid of being called a fraud. I thought I lacked enough political involvement in environmental issues. I was worried that should someone start scrutinizing my life they might find that my footprint was too large.
I guess I got to the point were I reconciled that I do what I can, and my political action occurs through my work. It’s therefore important to exhibit within the context of sustainability and environmentalism as a public action.

What siezes you the most about the Artecycle exhibition?
One afternoon recently at the incinerator site I was collecting dust, ash and dirt and I was fortunate to have a tour with one of the gallery volunteers. It turns out that the rubbish that was brought into the site and burnt in the incinerator was then mixed into the asphalt to seal the local roads. I love stories like that.
I had a very rewarding experience while I was installing too. This story isn’t really an answer to your question, but I’ll tell you anyway. I was at the gallery for three days making the piece and during this time there were a lot of comings and goings while the rest of the show got installed.
Three guys had been employed by the council to help out with a cherry picker, I think, and from time to time they would traipse through the gallery and stop and watch me working. One day I stopped to chat and it turned out that these guys worked next door at the Transfer Station (which is the fancy name now for a tip). So here are three men who see everyday the volume of waste from our over consumption, and they were really excited about the work. They started talking about some of their own projects - making things for their homes out of recycled materials and we all lamented that people can’t take stuff from the tip anymore. It was an exchange that felt very direct, less nebulous arty arty.
Tell me about your work over the past decade, you started exhibiting in 2003?
For the past 8-10 years, I have been exploring the ambiguity of value, by creating decorative ephemeral installations out of worthless materials. I use worthless materials, decoration, absence and temporality to question preciousness.

Materials such as dust, ash, scrap paper, dirty water and grime are salvaged from the overlooked remains of life in motion. These are then transformed into complex decorative installations, which exist briefly and are then swept up, washed away or otherwise disposed of.

Ornamentation, the decorative or the ornamental - is a recurring theme- what specific artistic influences do you draw from?

The types of ornamentation I look at gets broader and broader as I continue making work. It started with both an aesthetic and socio-political interest in lace, but I started to understand that decoration exists in all cultures and is present throughout the history of mankind.
Now I look at architecture, textiles, jewellery, weaponry, tattooing, design, furniture, masonry, religious artifacts, the list goes on. At the moment I’m interested in Islamic tiles. The patterns that they use are endlessly repeatable and actually elude to a sense of the infinite and to timelessness.  
You have talked about the poetics contained in your work, particularly the installation work in artecycle pictured here, tell me about what you consider to be distinctly poetic about the imaginative reorganisation of dust and detritus?
Hmmm. I guess a definition of poetics is required first. For me poetry occurs when something holds a contradiction, its sense of something rather than a clear definition of itself or has a complexity to it that requires very slow contemplation.
I’m not sure if this is the general understanding. The term ‘poetic’ is a bit like the term ‘beauty’ it’s very, very difficult to define. I think I’m going to avoid this question actually, because its more than just the reorganization of detritus which is poetic, it’s the longing and loss experienced through it’s temporality, and the simple separate contemplation of what dust is that contribute to something poetic emerging.
Dust is often comprised of discarded skin cells- tell me your thoughts about this fact?
That’s true dust is partly comprised of skin, which is, even for me, slightly unpleasant. In fact the physical properties of dust incorporate the final deterioration of all matter, from the microscopic debris of our built environment to grains of sand and soil caught in weather, from specs of burnt meteorites as well as skin and hair unknowingly shed from our bodies.
The process of collecting dust and refining it through sieves is quite abject. There are a lot of filthy grimy fragments that have to be removed before resurrecting it into artwork.
I don’t have specific dust I prefer I more concerned with using materials that are relevant to the site where I am making a work.
Dust interests me because of its worthlessness. In addition to this, intrinsic to the production of dust is time, it evolves/devolves over days, years and centuries, accumulating slowly and quietly. So it’s a material that is discarded and yet is the visual articulation of time passing.
When I first saw one of your works about three years ago now - in an installation documentation photograph- it reminded my of the Man Ray Duchamp collaboration: Breeding Dust 1920, that fabulous work that happened after Duchamp discovered dust on his Bride Stripped Bare?
I have a deep arty reverence for Duchamp. And of course I love his ‘Breeding Dust’ with Man Ray. My love of this though doesn’t assume a lineage between their collaboration and my work purely through a common material.
I get excited by this 1920 work because it accepts randomness as a significant element in art and also because it captures the wonderful moment where rather than cleaning the work they saw this layer of dust as something of interest and wonder. I’m doing some experiments in the studio and at home at the moment - placing stencils on boards and pieces of glass then leaving them for months so that dust can settle on them.
Already everyone is saying “Oh it’s just like Man Ray’s photos of dust” and of course it is, but it came about because I was thinking about a more gentle approach to making work, a way to have work almost generate itself.
The use of photography is an entirely separate issue. And perhaps the way to talk about that is to say that I have a very problematic relationship with documentation. I am frequently frustrated by the way that documentation becomes not something which stands in place of an ephemeral work, but the work itself.
It begs the question ‘If a work of art is intentionally ephemeral and its content is dependent on its fleeting nature, does the production of enduring object-based documentation undermine the work?’ And does this act reinforce the value that is placed on permanence over impermanence?
If the answer is yes then is there any potential for ongoing access to ephemeral works for a continually growing audience. Or in other words: what, if at all, is the possibility of perpetuity within an ephemeral art practice?’
I’m struggling with these questions.
" Dust to dust" - working with dust like always evokes death and transience?
There are traces of all of that and some other things too. Some people draw parallels between my work and Buddhist Mandela’s or Indian Rangoli or Kolam, some people bring their own spiritual and religious readings to the work, and others still will be reminded of their own immortality or the death of another. This is fine, I sometimes think about these things too.
You use the term worthless, others like UK artists Paul Hazelton and Serena Korda have variously described dust as a nuisance- tell me about your feeling about what we value, or don’t value when it comes to the subject of/ materiality of dust- what makes it powerful and vivid as a metaphor in addition to what you have just been saying?
I think Korda and Hazelton’s works still refer to the overlooked and the discarded which for me sits under the umbrella of worthlessness in the sense that we have no use for it. It is beyond any function that it may have ever had.
I have probably focused more often on the term worthless because I have been interested in the ambiguity of the term value. In part it is linked to aspects of art history that have questioned the value of the object, and in other ways speaks to our overconsumption of materials and the ease with which we discard things.
I think it’s not simply the dust that activates a dialogue about value, but its dust which appears to be ornate. Decoration has many of its own references to status, reverence, preciousness, but when the dust is transformed into something decorative it superficially appears to now be something to consider.
Memory is also another aspect innate to your use of dust as a material?
Well, I think smell and music invoke memories more concisely than dust. I’ve tried to work with both of them for this reason and also because of their ephemerality, alas nothing great has come of it yet.
As for dust perhaps it has the ability invoke a speculative future memory, if there is such a thing. It may be that when you meditate on the properties of dust there becomes an awareness that that you and the world around you will in some later time be gone. It’s a way of looking at the absence of ourselves in the future.
Back to Duchamp and Man Ray for a moment- the idea of readymades that inform so much contemporary art?
Duchamp is clearly the most influential artist of the 20th Century. He radically changed art with his readymades, so it’s hard not to bring everything back to him. But I’m far more influenced by performance art at the moment. The current dialogue about reenacting and restaging of performance works is certainly informing my research, particularly in relation to some of the questions I mention earlier, such as “what, if any, is the possibility of perpetuity within an ephemeral art practice?”
Tell me about two of the contemporary artists who inspire you Hannah?
Wolfgang Laib’s pollen works are of course hugely fascinating to me. His process is remarkable - collecting pollen from individual flowers by tapping. I’m also reading a bit about Robert Smithson’s thoughts on entropy, oh but wait, he’s dead.
So contemporary… my mind keeps coming back to Tino Seghal. I only heard about him out about him a couple of years ago and I was very excited when I found out that he never documents his work, there are no photographs, no texts, no instructions diagrams - nothing.
When he sells the work to museums everything is done verbally.
I even went to TATE Modern and Documenta last year specifically to experience first hand two of his live installations, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. But during my day at TATE I noticed that most of the audience was either filming or photographing the performance.
I had expected to see signs saying you couldn’t record the work. When I got home I did a quick Google image search and found millions of images, sound files and films of his works. I felt so disappointed, I’d been researching him all year and had believed the writers and critics when they spoke about the eradication of all material trace, but it turns out it is documented by the thousands of visitors that go to see his work.
Is that an inspiration of sorts?
As for my other creative contemporary inspirations… I listen to a bit of experimental music. I won’t say I listen to a lot ‘cause that might assume I know something and I really know very little, but I have a few Jazz albums, and a few albums by an American composure John King, and some of David Sylvian’s albums and some percussive albums by my friend David Evans.
I listen to these a lot in the studio because I think that there is something unexpected that occurs in them which is similar to what I’m trying to do with my patterns at the moment. I want to create patterns that come undone, that appear to be repetitive and each reiteration is a new version itself or patterns that morph unexpectedly. I guess it’s about disrupting the expectation.
Process. Tell me about how you gather dust and something of your process particularly for the Artecycle installation?
Firstly I have to collect the materials. This is usually an unpleasant dirty activity involving sweeping or vacuuming dust from some pretty filthy places. I then go through a process of sifting it through different sieves.

The first sifting is to remove the large particles such as hair, food, litter and other more revolting detritus. The next sifting separates out fine from course. As an example the white flecks of ash are finer so the first sieving separates this from the grittier black ash. I then pound the larger particles of ash in a mortar and pestle. Once I have a black and a white I can mix a pallet of grey shades.

The design for the installation is usually researched and drawn to scale in the studio. I then go through a process of tracing the design to establish the individual stencils. These are then transferred onto card and I cut them out. This Artecycle work took a day of collecting and processing, then three days to install in the gallery but overall it takes about a months work in the studio.

More generally your approach is also emblematic of a current tendency in artmaking towards representing the mundane, the everyday, evincing the phenomenology of the everyday if you will? And from an art historical point of view there are so many terms circulating about this style of approach that artists are using in different ways – selection/selectivity, readymades, recycling, reification, upcycling, bricolage and so on- tell me about where you feel your work fits in to the art hictorical genre 'priors'.
I like to use the word repurposing.
There are a couple of genres that my work is in dialogue with and continues to build on. Because the preciousness or value of the work is lifted from the object and placed in the ephemera of experience it could be seen as an attempt to readdress the traditional status of the art object as collectable and saleable.
Therefore links can be drawn between my work and Conceptual art ideas from the 1970’s onwards such as process based art, dematerialised objects, interventions and particularly to Arte Povera and its use of commonplace materials. But like I mentioned earlier my work owes a lot to the vast history of ornamentation.
To my way of thinking there are a number of distinct approaches employed in the artecycle exhibitions-  artists who use waste to hold up a mirror to society as if to say look at the truth as it really is, artists who employ waste for its transformational and poetic possibilties, artists who use waste for a particular political motivation or ideology about waste and excess consumption and artists who use waste as an evocation of shared human (collective) memory (Artists like Claire Healy and Sean Cordiero and/also perhaps someone like Song Dong's Waste Not fuses many of these tendencies)  I am curious about your thoughts are about this sphere, this realm of wasted possibility?
I think these are all true aspects of the way and why artist use waste material. But I want to add one more reason, the Mount Everest of reasons - “Because it’s there”. Artists throughout time have used materials which were ready at hand and so as an urban practitioner waste materials seem to be a natural choice. It’s exciting to see so many artists reworking the detritus of our day-to-day existence. But I’m kind of still foolishly surprised that it gets so little public recognition by comparison to traditional media.
The question of kitsch.Texas dust artist celebrity Scott Wade - in a strange variation on the theme of chalk art/pavement art and so on- makes artworks on dusty car windscreens ( an interesting space for art in fact) - his work refers to art history, cinema history ( Mona Lisa, Marx Brothers and so on) and his work seems to be hugely popular both on the street and online. According to many an art critic his work is base or kitsch, nonethess an artist like Wade, mindful that a rain shower will eventually wash away his artwork, also has something 'deep' to remind us about impermanence - your thoughts Hannah?
Did you have to put this last Paul? It feels like this may be a test of my egalitarianism.

I have seen Wade’s work – in fact I get emails from people all the time saying “You’ll love this!” and it is surprising to see the first time, and he has, as one of my colleagues puts it a ‘good look and put’ ability. But to me it’s weak in terms of content. I haven’t read anything about him, but I’m fairly sure it’s not really about anything, it’s merely a fantastic technique combined with crowd-pleasing recognizable images but nothing much else to say. I don’t know that his intention is to remind us of our impermanence, even if people do read that into it, I think it equities to an arrogance of skill and a lack of substance.

For me there are plenty of other artists working in the public domain that provide ‘deep’ as you put it, consideration of our existence in this world.  

Photos: Hannah Bertram