INTERVIEW :: ANNE HARRIS
The zines ‘Lovingly Interrupted’ & ‘Expressions of Love II’ were created to accompany an exhibition of the work of Anne Harris and Kim Schoenberger. Since the exhibition, the zine has taken a life of its own, becoming a new way for Harris to share her voice and her unique pieces of slow-art with the world. Upasana Papadopoulos spoke to Harris about the exhibition, lessons learned from zine-making and the evolution of her work.
UP: Could you tell us a little about the Lovingly Interrupted & Expressions of Love II, exhibitions in 2014?
AH: Lovingly Interrupted was my first exhibited body of work, I was very fortunate to have an established artist, Kim Schoenberger (Expressions of Love II), mentor me and share the exhibition space. The work is a dialogue about my journey as a mother, artist and woman. It contains stories about family and the connections created by love.
UP: Could you tell me about the title ‘Lovingly Interrupted’?
AH: This notion of interruption is two fold. An interruption arose from my own frustration of trying to find a voice for my artwork that I could combine with my role as a mother. My artwork is the last thing to be picked up and the first thing to be put down, during the daily demands of family routine. I also wanted to bring into this, another poignant reminder of how our love transpires. There are stories about women who have left us too soon and about how our roles as women can change, for instance when age or illness brings a mother into the care of her child.
UP: How was your first exhibition different from what you had originally imagined?
AH: It was such a fantastic learning- experience on so many levels. I have learned a greater acceptance in regards to my own art practice, and a better way of dealing with all the self doubt that goes with putting my work on show.
Also I learned a lot about the practicalities of curating and hanging my own exhibition, like the logistics of marketing and PR. It was like a practical assessment of a self-created project.
Having Kim as my mentor helped me to develop a level of professionalism and attention to detail that I will treasure in my practice, going forward.
UP: Did completing your first exhibition change the way you work now?
AH: Yes, it gave me the confidence to follow my own direction, and to focus on making what I feel most passionate about in the moment. It also helped me conceptually re-examine the decision about what I include in my art practice. Really immersing myself in all of this, made things seem simpler and my art practice clearer.
UP: In the zine, you tell the story of an installation-piece which you called ‘Unresolved’. You beautifully describe the initial disappointment you felt at unrolling the finished work and knowing that it had not come out as you had hoped. You then write: “By the time I am writing this, the energy is shifting and I am seeing new possibilities…” How did that situation resolve itself?
AH: Yes, I had a bit of a disaster with the final piece, and because of the slow-process I used to produce the work, I was unable to redo it in time for the exhibition. I had to rethink it completely and find a way to make it work and still tell a story that was relevant. The best thing about that situation was that, although the work didn’t make it into the exhibition, the zine gave it it’s own valid reason to exist.
‘Unresolved’ was eventually chosen as a finalist in The Churchie National Emerging Art Prize in 2015.
UP: In your zine, you write about the decision to move away from glass and wood as working mediums, and the change in mindset required to do so. You also discuss moving towards “traditional methods of women’s work” in order to better balance your art-making with being a wife and mother. I am interested in what you wrote about the stigma of working with traditionally feminine mediums. Where are you in that dilemma at the moment? Do you see a lessening of the distinction between high and lower art forms in contemporary art?
AH: Ahh! I like this question! Now that I have worked through my next body of work (Notion of an Ordinary Yarn) and been able to attend some more master-classes with traditional craftspeople from different countries, I have a deeper understanding of myself. My confidence has grown. Maybe it’s about growing into your own skin and finding a voice that is completely your own. I no longer have issues about the validity of my chosen processes. The way I articulate this now is, I am a process- based artist, I use traditional and experimental craft practices to make narrative and conceptual work.
In the last 12 months as my children get older and I am able to work more. I have extended my practice more to incorporate wood and fibre, whilst still keeping the women’s-work aspects. I think I am also fortunate that craft- based art is having a resurgence in popularity, which also helps to reinforce a sense of acceptance – timely for an emerging artist.
UP: Could you explain the concept of slow art?
AH: ‘Slow art’ involves processes that are created by hand, or that have no way to be sped up by current technologies. For example, natural dyeing requires about 4 weeks for the fabric’s preparation and up to a few months to dye the work. You have to wait for each process to dry or occur. I guess this is similar to layers of oil paint: you cannot rush that either. I also like the element of chance, from the selection of materials, using what is in abundance or given to me, through to the results that unfold, which are never totally in my control. This makes me let go and I have to continually look without preconceived expectations of result. The results are what they are, and I have to find a way to make them tell the intended story.
UP: Can you imagine producing another zine?
AH: I have just finished another one for my next exhibition, Notion of an Ordinary Yarn. It is available in limited edition in print, and there is also a pdf online version available though my website.
I found the zine an important part of the exhibition process; it gave me a way to continue engagement with the audience once the body of work was completed. The zine is like the final document that holds the story in its entirety. It keeps the story of the body of work intact even after the work has been sold and dismantled. It is a place to share my process and to incorporate an aspect of the hand-made. The original Zine was hand-bound, this new one has a hand-made paper cover.
UP: Could you share some of your artistic influences?
AH: India Flint, and her process of eco dyeing initially opened the door for me – hers was the first process that engaged all my senses. Ross Annels and Tamsin Kerr of the Cooroora Institute have both had a big influence on how I use craft-based work to tell a story. I’m also inspired by Dorothy Caldwell’s recording of place, and her use of earth-pigments. I also like the simplicity of stencil street-art, the ability of an image pared down to its basic elements that can convey a message without words.
Tim Johnson, a UK-based fibre artist, once gave me some great advice about developing my work. He said “just make what resonates with you, until people cannot question whether the story and process are yours”
And also, everyday-life influences me. Celebrating the beauty and the ability to be in my place. Being satisfied that who I am and what I have is enough, and that the stories about the ordinary every-day are worthy of sharing.
UP: It sounds like you have lived in a great variety of Australian environments: Arnhem Land, Sydney and the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Do your work and artistic inclinations change with your location?
AH: I am really just beginning to understand what connection to land is. In the past I have lived and moved and searched for somewhere that I thought I wanted to live. But now that I have settled in the Sunshine Coast, and immersed myself in my art practice I finally get what it is to belong somewhere.
When I leave my place and go more than about 30km away, I begin to feel like I don’t know that place anymore. The plants become foreign, the soil changes… it smells different. I feel like I don’t have any knowledge of the area. I feel inspired to start working, but I also know that any work would be tokenistic. I would need to spend quite a lot of time, and make numerous visits at different times of the year for years, to really get to know that land. So I remain a visitor then, and can only make a scratch in the surface of that other place’s knowledge.
UP: I see that you have had a second solo exhibition this year. Could you tell me about it?
The body of work is called The Notion of an Ordinary Yarn. It explores and celebrates the beauty and rhythms within the stories of everyday life and is inspired by the places and people that are part of my surroundings. In this work I have used pigments, fibres and compounds using techniques such as eco dyeing, weaving, wood-work and traditional textile skills.
I have utilised craft-based practices here, to help create literal and metaphoric links between people, places and the artistic process.
UP: Do you have a large vision of what you most wish to do and achieve as an artist and maker?
I love making, experimenting and exploring. My next step is to take one plant and to take time to explore its properties. I have become the custodian of a 6 tonne, 200+ year-old Eucalyptus Tereticornis tree that fell down on a nearby road. I want to spend the next 2 years getting to know the properties of this tree: its leaves, bark and wood. Its literal and conceptual properties, both seen and unseen.
I hope to engage my local and extended community to work with this tree and to explore its cultural and heritage significance. It is a way for me to slow down, and just bring my attention to one thing, although it will still have far reaching narrative, as I engage and update the online community with the project. Audiences globally will be able to see how we can use creative practices and celebration of environment to connect, share, learn and respect our stories.
For more information about Anne’s work, exhibitions and publications, you can visit her website at: http://anniesworkroom.com.au/
This interview was conducted for the Verge Gallery, Sydney, website.