We revisit Art Licks issue 22 with the artist Hannah Lees, to discuss her contribution 'Suddenly they stop.' and the magazine's overall title of GORSEDD.
Holly Willats, Art Licks: What is the significance of the hand gestures of each figure for you, in 'Suddenly they stop.'?
Hannah Lees: The images are from various paintings of The Penitent Magdalene where there is a focus on the hands, which are similar to the hand gesture of birds’ wings in flight. My interest was connected to removing the context and abstracting an element (the hands) in order for the artworks to express the symbolic nature of a bird in flight. There are obvious themes like new beginnings and the Dove as a symbol of peace.
It is the hands I am particularly interested in: the symbol of the two hands joined also expresses the notion of potential for new beginnings and the connection between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’. Regardless of religious belief or connections, the symbolic hands become a departure point for abstraction from the original context; in this way, the simple gesture of two hands connecting can be read as making a connection.
I recall that the original text was much longer, and that we selected extracts from it. Could you tell us a bit about the text, and when you wrote it?
The first text forms a description of a possible performance, like a scene-setting, which was later used to create a performance. The following texts are extracted from scene and character descriptions from the original Star Wars script, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave from The Republic and descriptions of Mary of Egypt.
I had been working on a script for a performance and when Art Licks commissioned me for the magazine, I thought it would be interesting to reduce the script and translate it into a print-format text work to illustrate the hand images.
I have been working with the Star Wars franchise scripts and visual aspects for a few years, I am inspired by the visual aspects of the film franchise (costumes, landscapes) and I am also interested in the pseudo-spiritual aspect of “The Force”, the way that the films manage to convey aspects of Zen Buddhist culture, meditation and ideas of the afterlife while also being big blockbuster movies, accessible to all. I also became quite interested in what would happen when any reference to aliens, outer space or sci-fi aspects were removed: how the interactions and descriptions of the scenes are very normal and convey basic human interactions, fears and joys.
I was becoming interested in the idea of self-isolation or taking time-out and was thinking about the Allegory of the Cave, and Mary of Egypt’s time in the desert. In combining these elements I sought to convey the sense of being in the wilderness and facing a prospect of when to re-enter society.
Had you worked in print before?
I have made a few print editions, actually on the same theme, using the hand gestures. I’ve also been playing around with text-based works for a few years, experimenting with Uncreative writing to create poems, narrative and visual poetry. I am interested in abstraction and loss of context in order to create new meaning or interpretations, a way to open-up space in language.
I am constantly finding new ways to explore the hand gestures and ways to display/publish the text works. With this series, I have made print editions, a wall-based sculpture of the hands cut from a sheet of copper and most recently, a T-Shirt! The text work has been translated into a script for a performance series and I am planning to make an Artist Book collating the scripts.
This issue of the magazine was co-edited by myself and the artist Miriam Austin around the title GORSEDD; a community of modern day bards—storytellers with a particular association to tradition. We wanted to consider how an exploration of folklore, ritual and spiritual tradition can provide a means to try to understand and consider current day events. This feels ever-more pertinent considering what has happened across the world in recent months. Are there any particular tales or rituals that have been on your mind in recent weeks that have provided a way of seeing beyond the immediate?
See above my answers in relation to Star Wars and ideas of pseudo-spiritual references.
I have been making fairly intensive textile works for the last couple of years and have found great solace and meditative thought in the making of the works. Whilst on a residency in São Paulo, Brazil, I started dyeing parcel string with various natural dyes from foodstuff I was eating. I would then methodically sew the string into a series of tapestries as a way to unpack and document a period of time in my existence. In a way these works became like a diary or a personal narrative. I have now completed the fourth of this series, which has taken nearly two years to complete.
I spent the last few years re-engaging with VHS Video; watching the videos and then taking apart the cassette to unravel and knit the VHS tape. Again, this time-consuming practice becomes a way to engage with the matter in a more sensory way, removing the content and abstracting in order to create a new possibility.
These slow processes have been reassuring to me during a time when my usual routines and rituals have been transformed.
Hannah Lees (b. 1983, Kent, UK) lives & works in London and Margate, UK. Hannah’s work investigates ideas of cycles, constancy and mortality; the sense that things come to an end and the potential for new beginnings. This constancy, be it in religion, science, history or in organic matter, is visible in her practice through her attempts to make sense of and recognise traces of life. Traditional processes, materials and rituals are often reworked to explore how ideas and beliefs can live, die and be reborn across times and cultures.