For Art Licks Issue 20 (2017), artist Anna Hughes presented CODEX. We look back at the work, and interview Anna on the references and ideas that influenced her.
Holly Willats, Art Licks: Please could you tell us a bit about the title, CODEX and where this title comes from?
Anna Hughes: A Codex is the ancient predecessor to our current form of the book and eventually came to replace the scroll. The invention of bound pages meant the reader could access the text at any point. Other ancient forms of codex such as the Mayan and Aztec codices included concertinas and other forms of folding techniques.
I was thinking about the form of a book or codex as a world within a world, and these forms influenced the spatial construction of the images I made for this publication. I wanted to suggest spaces out of time and in limbo such as a portal, a void or a simulation of a room.
In the work there are a series of line drawings, they look like a language to me – do they present a code?
Robert Smithson wrote that ‘words and rocks both contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures … if you look at any word long enough you’ll see it open right up into a series of faults, a terrain of particles each containing its own perfect void’.
I am interested in these concepts of words and time, when language and the abstraction of it becomes more dreamlike and how it might both un-ravel and bind itself into the material and non-material world.
Around this time I had been experimenting with stitching into woven fabric to secure points, often on various grids. The undersides of these stitchings seemed to have an order of their own that was more mysterious. They seemed to suggest a code or language, drawing associations with constellations, ciphers or diagrams. I later started casting these into concrete tablets.
Another spread presents a text that reveals this world – it describes a scene in deep time, 'A vertical plane travelling outwards!' where remnants and objects of the past are around us: no longer ancient but the now and the future. Is this your own or a found text? Please could you tell us more on where the text is from?
At the time when I was producing the piece for Art licks, I was in the midst of writing a short story. It was based around the collaborative processes employed by Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt to delve into ideas of deep time. The text I included is an extract from this piece of writing and the quotation within it belongs to Smithson.
My work, Dreams of Robert and How I Learnt to Keep in Time Without Slipping Into It, imagines a period of insomnia suffered by Nancy Holt in the aftermath of Smithson’s untimely and sudden death. Between her waking and dreaming worlds, her experiences of time get pulled out of shape. She takes us on a journey through memory, dream images and her observations about the sensations of physical duration and timelessness in the desert that surrounds the Great Salt Lake.
With this text and its ideas in mind, I see the objects presented with greater symbolism. Could you tell us a bit about your choice of objects?
There is a crystal wine glass and a crystal rock, placed within spaces that suggest rooms, portals and vortexes. I was ruminating on ideas of ritual objects that might act as keys to access other worlds and those abstract ideas of deep time, that remain so elusive.
Had you worked in print before? Did this piece for Art Licks lead to further related work?
I have made related works in large-scale digitally printed textiles. I also produced another publication, Lexicon in which I paired concrete poems from Augusto de Campos, Mary Ellen Scott, David Barker, Haraldo de Campos and Jose Lino Grunewald alongside images of modular, furniture-like structures I had made.
I was interested in how these poems presented spatial, modular and poetic arrangements of words and how I might relate these to the poetic and sculptural considerations within my structures.
These works later became more abstract cast concrete sculptures that felt like a skeletal, ruinous apparatus of geometric forms.
Anna Hughes lives and works in London. She graduated with a Post-Graduate Diploma in Fine Art from the Royal Academy Schools in 2016, and a B.A (Hons) degree in Textiles from Goldsmiths College in 2004. Select recent exhibitions include: Greetings, Mauve, Vienna, 2019; Invasive Behaviours, Play-Co, London, 2018; Terraforms, Kristian Day Gallery, London, 2018; Beacons/Signs, Caustic Coastal, Manchester, 2018; Lotus, Bosse & Baum, London, 2017; Day of the Triffids, News of the World Gallery, London, 2017.