Week 8 at Falmouth University MA has been about the Gallery and Display. I was delighted that the artist Sophie Hedderwick agreed to be interviewed about her work and her current exhibition
Swift as a Shadow 17th March 2017
Hedderwick has exhibited in London, NYC, Tokyo, Milan, Venice and now Birmingham at Argentea Gallery. She welcomed the opportunity to talk about her work and how the show, entitled Swift as a Shadow, a quote from Shakespeare, is part of a lifelong journey through performative, materiality, light and photographic expression.
The introductory leaflet to the show quotes Barthes in Camera Lucida and the “kairos of desire” as a photographic critic’s setting for what is seen hanging on the walls.
I interviewed the artist in her local coffee bar in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter in March 2017. She conveyed her thinking, practice, performance and photographic precesses, family, motherhood and feminism during the conversation.
Her heady cocktail of degree, masters and a newly launched PhD are interspersed with a genuinely rich mix demonstrating her philosophy and output as a multimedia artist.
How did you get to now?
What was revealed through the conversation was the constant if evolving themes that run through her work. From experimental textiles, majoring in pliable weaving of electroluminescent wiring that included the making of a chair and a corset for older daughter. She then drew upon drama, film, editing film radio documentaries and recording social histories. Much of her visual work she archived via photography as “frozen capture of things static, moving and blurred”.
She exploited the patterns of nature in a Fibonacci series of lighting attached to dancers’ bodies. Working with Dancexchange in Birmingham in 2009 she made stills and film of the movement with light. In an installation of choreography, with the composer Jonathan Girling, she showed in New York. Her work created a fertile ground for capture and she discovered through experiment that photographic still imagery on long exposure gave better outcome than video as one frame gives streaming movement, she first displayed this output at a Dutch film and design festival in 2009/10.
Sophie was keen to show me her digital/film hybrid via an Impossible company app on her phone which, via Bluetooth, controlled her Polaroid 1-1 camera. This appealed to may tech’ intrigue. She is able to control multiple and long exposure images using the kit to experiment with multiple exposure. There is a 20 minute development time of the prints. There is a delayed reaction and the anticipation is a notable part of the process. We spot that recent images on the iPad included her early work in the form of the woven light chair.
We talked about her purchase of a 3D scanner. She plans to use the 20 second scanning facility to scan models, evoking the still poses of 1839, and then manipulating the body parts. This may lead to a virtual reality headset project. Sophie often mentions the wish to engage more with younger people and sees this as a possible vehicle for that.
We explore the perception that gallery goers, owners and operators are too often white and middle class but thankfully less male now. She enthused about working with Jenny Anderson, the owner of Argentea, and their shared vision for the show. Anderson was “supportive and shared a voice and wrote the text, it was very much a two-way process”. The conversation began after a gallery visit and then Anderson, on reviewing Sophie’s web site, expressed an interest in her work.
The lead up to the show involved a shoot plus harnessing some archived work, the printing onto brushed aluminium on sample sizes via the printer in Germany (Whitewall). Following a number of trials, ink is sealed by UV curing as a light process which makes for an extraordinary print. A group of 30 were tabled, then 20 selected and 10 found their way into the final show, plus some small Polaroids and a video.
A large proportion of the show is a study of her daughter moving, inspired by Degas’ Little Dancer aged Fourteen originally made in wax in1880/81 and a bronze cast is wonder by the Tate, 1922. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/degas-little-dancer-aged-fourteen-n06076
The choices of Display
We have a shared concern about the problematic display of prints behind framed glass and slight detachment and alienation plus the effect of glare. Argentea uses two lights per piece which is effective in highlighting each work and lessens any potential for direct glare because of the oblique setting.
Sophie talked at length with her buyer at the private view and the work appealed to him as he had moved into an apartment with exposed steel beams and he was seeking the metallic aesthetic. The choice of acrylic based printing for a small number of more static images posed created a counterpoint to the aluminium and deepens the colours used. The act of selling is not predictable. Jenny asked her to create a number of ‘clearer’ images, i.e. less blurred, but it was acknowledged that it would have ventured into the approach of the artist. The response was “a conducive conversation, not instructed but easy going , with an easy set up, planned together organic set up”.
The work is a very personal project and the dubious context for Degas’ Parisian culture of rather dubious 1880’s exploitation of young dancers is obviously not the generator for the study as it is captured with a happy familial setting. Her daughter, Caitlin, has performed since she was 3, and her mother too has danced from the same age. Sophie agreed that the project perhaps inevitably echoed and was influenced by her own adolescent memories. Caitlin has choreographed her dance routine which is captured in the video and in part uses a GoPro camera mounted on her head. The use of Eadweard Muybridge graphical backdrop is inspirational as it echoes the study of movement through a series of cameras back in the late nineteenth century and of course a contemporary of Degas’.
I enquired whether there were any issues with showing such personal work to the world. Hedderwick always checks with her daughter to see that she “approves of the proposed exhibition images and she would not show any that are not approved”. Her daughter, having seen the show, has warmed to the series. It is a collaboration between photographer and subject. “You capture your own children constantly anyway but you have a responsibility; Sally Mann’s work with adolescents has been awkward …for her subjects, retrospectively”
Voyuerism – the gaze of photographer is a descriptor that is understood by all serious photographers; we discussed this, but Hedderwick is collaborative and not controlling in the two way dialogue she has with her daughter. We talk about Barthes’ reference to the erotic and pornography, and agree that this work is neither, but rather sensual. There is no objectification. Conscious of audience’s translation and gaze, Sophie describes the work as “mapping the curve of childhood to adulthood”. We move to Barthes’ family and the life and death of his mother. The emotional link to children and parents is powerful, but we note that Caitlin very much occupies the image world – she is constantly capturing and exchanging images and video of her life and her dance.
And how do you see feminism right now? “having daughters it is still important to make them feel they can do whatever they want to do, be strong women, embrace it”…. I do worry about pressure of young girls making up Kardashians we need to fight against it, it is different from the 1980’s”. Is it still a battle now still? “in the context of this work, it is almost unique to work with female curator, the art world is still male dominated. There is work to do – young people learn about sex via pornography and the exposure and sharing of images – this is such a bad way to learn about sex, and there is a prevalent manipulation of imagery – Vogue shows models in their mid 40’s complete line free – what kind of images are we absorbing for young people and women?” Then words which really emphasise her feel and observation for humanity “cosmetic surgery such as botox is just hideous, if you cant frown you can’t gesture and gesture is the most important thing in interaction”.
I asked what is the motivation to show work? Her response will be felt by many photographers “we take lots of photos, unless we enquire we receive no feedback, it is important to me as you can’t work in a vacuum. Feedback and criticism is welcomed, so far feedback reaction on twitter is welcomed too as it is so immediate” plus linkages to old colleagues from student days have transpired from the exposure. Jenny Anderson is open and talks and provides feedback to artists. Photobooks have been sold too – hand made sewn bindings echo her textile precedents for making weave. So, how about showing this body of work elsewhere? “I expect this to happen naturally – where I may show photography and more film and I may show again locally in a year or so’s time”. She goes on “I would like to be more interactive next year, developing my app’ to allow people to position themselves in front of the work” as it is of course de rigour.
And finally, any advice for emerging art photographers? “Always have confidence in what you do. I am a tutor for MA students and I quell their nerves about hanging and showing their work I tell them to experiment with display – boxes, walls, you have time to play so use it” and “don’t get stuck in one format”.
Argentea Gallery http://argenteagallery.com/
Swift as a Shadow runs 16th February – 25th March 2017