This was an interview I conducted with Harriet almost two years ago when The Slow Music Momement label had just launched. The lack of response to the first three releases was a bit of a shock, so I took some time out to contemplate and develop a thicker skin. Now the label is up and firing on all cylinders, with Harriet's artwork leading the visual charge, it seems like the right time to dust off the interview and shine a light on this unique artist and lovely human being.
Well there’s lots of weird & wonderful things out there to be inspired & irritated by isn’t there! Though my interests take on many forms, they tend to revolve around nature abstracted, the psyche & the absurd. In my photography I like to create new ways of experiencing the subject. Overlaid landscapes that conjure familiar feelings & memories between my two homes of Germany & Australia for instance; studies of bare trees from some of my early Berlin winters; and an attempt at painting with the lens in my blurred flower series.
Collage came about as it allowed me to combine the totemic elements I required for my Wolpertinger (chimera) portraits without resorting to taxidermy. Compiling various animal parts that represent the desired strengths & characteristics of my subjects.
From there I enjoyed exploring the absurd and word play with collective nouns in my A ..... of .... ,Fleischpflanzen and now to my Natura naturans series. Collage is perfect for that, though somewhat limiting and am now venturing with some of these ideas into sculpture.
As for the porno, I suppose you mean Palestina and the Strong Man, who was an illustration to a chapter in my friend & fellow collaborator Conor Creighton’s book Saint Frank. He’d asked a handful of artists to illustrate a different chapter. And well, I had that trunk just hanging about from my Wolpertingering & since I got the circus scene.... Conor & I later collaborated with a children’s book called The Wolpertingers in which he wrote poems to my Wolpertinger collages.
Now I seem to remember having a conversation about art with you at a gallery in Berlin a couple of years ago. I think at the time Trump was on his way to becoming president and I had probably seen one climate change documentary too many and I was rambling on about art expressing urgent existential themes rather than abstract, or what I consider to be trivial conceptual issues, whilst humanity rushes to mass extinction. A couple of your projects seemingly reflect similar concerns - do you have a few thoughts on this?
It’s frustrating to feel so powerless and at the same time complicit through our problematic lifestyles. I’m often impatient at what I feel is a too slow pace of change and that often seems like more of a reversal to solving the problems we face. But the issues we face and the world in which we live is of course complicated with people agreeing on what feels like less & less these days, with so much mis-information & with so many different interests to fight for and on very uneven battle grounds.
So yeah, it’d be a wish that we all could take more responsibility for how we live do day-to- day and engage more politically.
I’ve been trying to articulate some of my frustrations and the contradictions we exhibit through our rampant consumerism and pettiness whilst we continue trashing the planet. To balance out the pessimism I like to infuse some absurdity that they can float though.
I had been threatening you with collaboration for a while, and there was a certain serendipity when I finally got some material to release and got in touch, with a rough brief wanting something visually appealing that on further viewing raised some serious questions, that you were working on the Natura Naturans series behind closed doors. What was going through your mind when you were developing that series? Do you think we are telepathically conjoined?
I’m glad you followed through on your threat! Indeed, it all synced up very nicely didn’t it as Natura naturans had been brewing for a while already & as addressed in the previous question, I wanted to engage more with all the concerns spinning around in my head & try to make something ‘productive’ & positive of it.
I loved this term meaning nature naturing & what that could mean. And with climate change, capitalism & the anthropocene being such topics of our times, it started taking shape through collage by morphing images of consumption with the natural world into new products or deranged creatures, combining them in ways that reflect on the interwoven nature of things and our contradictory and damaging habits at a time when you’d hope we would know better.
So far there are some 50 collages, with some ideas forming easily into images that are simpler and more direct, whilst others are a little more elaborate and peculiar. And of course there are many concerns that are more of a struggle to articulate. Some sculptural extensions of the idea have also recently been taking shape using plastic detritus and stone.
I’m really happy for them to reach a wider audience alongside the great mixes in The Slow Music Movement.
You do have previous form with tough question raising art in your beautiful, until you look really closely, Fleischpflanze series that I saw on display in a nice Italian restaurant in Kreuzberg. Maybe you could explain that series a bit more? Was that done specifically for the event or was that conceived entirely by your own warped imagination?
The ‘Fleischpflanze’ or Meat flower series originated as a play on words that soon took on a critique of industrialised nature to meet our needs, but also our desires & our expectations of constant availability at low prices. Texturally and tonally the meaty and floral pieces compliment each other very well, lending to a plausibility (from a distance at least) in each new flower, I think that helped make them look quite pretty & palatable.
They grew from my ‘fertile’ imagination thank you James, and were then took part in the Food Art Week Berlin 2017 that had as it’s them that year vs. Meat, which was obviously a happy fit.
I understand you have worked with record release art before. How do you view this process - which essentially gives your work an extra sensory dimension? Do you like to collaborate or do you prefer a more solitary approach normally? Dreaming out loud, is there any particular musical artists that you would love to collaborate with?
Yeah I like how an image can take on new life in a different context. Over the years I have collaborated with electronic music duo Ducks! with photography, collage & video. We share a similar whimsy and ideas flow easily. There’s an element of responding in the moment to each other whilst still drawing from your inner approach.
Last year we made a video that started with old footage I’d taken that evolved with the song. And they too recently found images from the Natura naturans series that worked, rather uncannily, with some of their new tracks. But with their music the images take on a different context to yours which is interesting. I’m looking forward to being directly influenced by their music next & creating something in response to the music rather than fitting something already existing to it.
As for wanting to work with any particular artists, the late Ivor Cutler comes first to mind, his stories are so wonderfully fun & absurd.
So you've got quite a long rap sheet of artistic endeavour. I don't want to get you too riled up but how is life as an artist these days, and how is technology & web 6.0 or wherever we are at now, changing the way you operate? Is there still room for old fashioned thinking or is it a case of adapt or die?
I guess there are ways for every fashion. I’ve got a sporadic relationship with social media platforms as am a little reluctant to embrace it & its ways wholeheartedly, though of course its got its positives & is a necessary tool & platform these days. I’m just not too comfortable with it myself.
So thanks so much for taking the time out to give us your thoughts and wisdom Harriet. The last paragraph is all yours to shamelessly plug yourself & anyone else you want to or just say hello to your Mum. Go for it!
Thanks James, it’s been a pleasure working with you. Wishing you & The Slow Music Movement much success & hopefully more collaborations, we can share grievances sometime again & see what odd creatures might evolve of it.
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