INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE HAMER BY DR.KENT WILSON
KW: A significant portion of your imagery deals with signs. Quite literally road signs and textual signs. And you work in a medium that is not commonly utilised in contemporary art, a medium loaded with certain attributes and therefore becomes a sort of sign itself. Did you choose hand-stitching to communicate a particular message? What attributes does this medium have that aids in your work?
MH: I come from an architecture background and have always been interested in materials and the way space is defined -including by language and signage. The perforated plastic grids I work with have always driven the materiality and thus the pixilation. Stitching is one way I can work with these grids and I like the way it challenges ideas around time and manual-digital pixilation. The slowness of the production of my work contrasts with the instantaneous and everyday moments they depict, it forces me to be truly present in these moments.
KW: That’s really interesting, as the content of your imagery often implies a navigation through space, and the physical creation of the work then echoes this in a pathway through the plane of the imagery – through, around, back, over, through. You touched on digital implications with pixels, and the nature of grids, so there’s quite a unitary and uniform underpinning to the work, and yet there’s redirection, detour and subversion of this with the image content. The actual text in the work also reflects this. How do you go about selecting the text for your work?
MH: I’m interested in the way language reflects societal edicts, aspirations and the difficult moments in-between. Sometimes the text quite specifically marks moments in time, often its things I find amusing. While I take the photos spontaneously (I always have a camera on me) the selection ends up being quite a curated process because I end up with a lot of images to select from but from within them I’m drawn to exploring a particular idea which ends up underpinning a series.
I am interested in the way language can be misappropriated or reappropriated to understand larger issues. With some of the works on paper I highlight words within the words that further allows subversion of the content.
KW: Is the materialisation of your photographs important? The way you take light (photo) and translate that into fabric – is that something significant? The objectness of the image?
MH: By stitching/developing the photographs they become their own object, the creation of image as object and the slowness of my processes forces me to be truly present in each moment of the image. Being so present reinforces the everydayness of my work, which is probably somewhat ironic given the quality of light and complexity of colour of each pixel is rendered individually.
KW: With the current series on display at Nicholas Projects. Was there a particular image that kicked off that work? How did that series come about and come together?
MH: Nicholas Projects is slightly different presentation of my work as it is a re-curation. Together with Ben and James, we decided to show Love knows all barriers for the first time so then it became about finding other works I’d already made to complement it. It was very much about using works with a push-pull in the language and image. Aesthetically it is also a more subdued palette which allows for the vividness of the orange debris/construction mesh and the finer mark-making of the ink works on paper.
KW: Can you tell me a little more about Love knows all barriers? It’s a powerful piece and it seems more of a sculpture than previous works.
MH: I don’t tend to know how to classify my work so it didn’t occur to me that it was sculpture until Bruce Esplin AM (opening speaker) mentioned it. I’ve been interested in playing with the scale of my practice for a while and, driven by my interest in materiality, I discovered the polypropylene debris mesh. Simultaneously I was becoming more interested in the language of barrier tape so stitching it through the mesh became yet another way to explore themes of boundaries, limitations and everyday language. Working with the mesh as its own object allows play with the shadows and for me to work both sides of the piece. The scale also means that the text is easily read and thus its easy for the eye to assume its reading the text yet actually half of it is backwards so its our perception that pieces it together.
KW: I like the sound of the language of material. Do you see your material choices evoking a specific language? Or your choices of text evoking materiality?
MH: Possibly a bit of both but perhaps the material choices, particularly in regards to the barrier tape, are more deliberate. In Love knows all barriers the ‘caution’ tape is specifically used for the reverse/past text and the ‘danger’ tape is specifically used for the front/future text. Its embedded and thus becomes a pattern and thus more material.
KW: Time is another aspect evident in your work – you mentioned being present through process. Do you see a value in the intensity of labour injected into artwork – in regard to your own work and the artwork of others you admire?
MH: I definitely see a value in the intensity of labour injected into artwork or projects. The time/labour is fairly evident in my work but it isn’t always as immediately evident in art. I admire the challenging and limits of an idea and time spent exploring that, whether it is immediately seen through a single piece or through a body/lifetime of work.
KW: What’s next on the horizon then for you? Are you working on something at the moment?
MH: I’ve got the 2nd and 3rd iterations of my ‘There are no words’ project happening in Ballarat and then Swan Hill and I’m also looking forward to creating new works in response to the Australia Council research trip I’ve just returned from which involved exploring language around border zones. ‘There are no words’ is the biggest project I’ve worked on, taking 4.5 years to make 230 pieces including several workshops and many people involved. Each public program produces a time-lapse video to be projected in the exhibition, so its an ongoing and evolving project.
Dr. Kent Wilson