Thursday, June 16, 2016

Exploring Hannah Newman's Cloud

Hannah Newman, #LivingWithTheCloud, 2016, Images courtesy of the Artist.

Hannah Newman’s work was recently featured in the Re/Solve: MFA in Craft: Practice andInnovation Thesis Exhibition at Soltesz Fine Art Gallery.  I was struck by her playful use of materials to discuss interactions with technology and social media. One of Newman’s pieces in the exhibition entitled, “#LivingWithTheCloud”, utilized balloons and Instagram to visualize the interactions and relationships individuals form with technology and in this case, smart phones. Her work investigates the abstracted and intangible realities of the digital world and how those interactions become manifest in the physical world.

In “#LivingWithTheCloud” Newman challenged herself to visualize her phone cloud with a collection of balloons. She carried these balloons throughout her daily life for seven days and documented the experiential process with her phone camera. The images were posted on Instagram with, LivingWithTheCloud.

Kennedy: Was the #LivingWithTheCloud more of a specific curation of the Instagram profile?

Newman: I go back and forth on how successful that was. I had to figure out how many images people needed to understand what was happening. The duration was important. So I ended up with about 60 photos and I posted around ten per day for seven days. The most important images are the ones in the beginning because the balloons are really full and it looks really fun. And so I struggle with that.

I presented the Instagram feed using a phone placed on a podium in the gallery. The phone was a good way to put the images into the work and also make viewers interact with the work and physically do the actions I’m talking about. I thought that was the best solution that I could come up with. But what I don’t like about it was that the Instagram account became this really curated thing when the images were not posted at the time they were taken. It was more of a culling of the images and deciding what fits best and also putting them all up at once as opposed to posting them in real time. 

Kennedy: What was the span of time and why was it important?

Newman: It was one week and I knew that it would take at least one week for the balloons to start dying. I felt like three days would be too short and I’ve been thinking about the necessary amount of time for durational projects. How long does it need to happen before it becomes redundant? So I felt like a week was necessary to have moments of closure. By day six I was questioning whether I needed to continue, but I felt like the commitment was important. If I did do it again I think that I would change the Instagram account and have live updates. That way people could follow it as it was happening because I feel like that’s interesting too. Then I would have to be a bit more conscious of what images I’m going to take and then post.

K: I did notice that you have been using balloons a lot. How are the balloons significant to you?

N: I’ve been using balloons quite a bit and I see them as a visual parallel to the human attention span. Balloons represent moments of celebration in our lives. You can physically see when the celebration is in full swing and everyone is excited. As the events devolve into normal life you can see the balloons deflate. It’s also important to me that my work doesn’t necessarily last and it mimics that lifecycle. It plays into how the technology that we use is changing so fast. For instance, last year I did a project involving the Itunes agreement and that has become less relevant and its lifecycle is almost over because nobody really uses Itunes anymore. Not only are the things I’m using cycling pretty fast, but also the things they are about are changing or becoming obsolete. I think about that with the Cloud because it seems permanent, but is it really.

Hannah Newman, Always + Forever, 2016, Images courtesy of the Artist.

K: With your Instagram cloud, were you referencing the cloud in general or was it more your phone itself?

N: I started the year thinking that I was going to try to find a way to depict every single file on my cloud. I started counting all of the files that I have and then I needed to consider how to quantify those files. I felt like it made more sense to just focus on one device. So yes, I used just the apps on my phone. 

Hannah Newman, #LivingWithTheCloud, 2016, Images Courtesy of the Artist.
K: The cloud project captures the feeling of excitement with a new object and how it consumes your life. You can really see that in the beginning. I felt like as it progressed and the balloons died you become less aware of this device in your life and you see how much it takes over. Each moment it becomes more involved in your life. Is that what you were going for?

N: Well, that project turned out differently than I thought it would. When I started it I thought that the duration would become irritating. I anticipated that I would be done by day five, but as the balloons shrank it got easier.  Most of my work so far has started with other people’s texts and finding ways to bring those into the physical realm. I feel like this was the first piece that I started enacting my own texts and it became an embodiment of, “One becomes accustomed so quickly”(one of Newman’s text pieces, “Becoming”). I just got accustomed to it and it wasn’t a big deal anymore. It will be interesting as I start to pull from more texts to see if I will be enacting texts that I have already enacted. I think that would be an interesting direction for my work. I didn’t anticipate that direction for the piece, but it got less troublesome as the week went by and as the balloons got smaller.

K: Was your piece more of an observation of those moments or critical?

N: I would say both; I definitely had the same experience. I feel like my work is both an observation and a critique, but I see myself implicated just as much as anybody else.

K: What were the reactions you experienced with the balloons?

N: A lot of people wanted to take pictures. It was interesting that people wanted to participate with their phones. I mostly received a lot of questions from people and curiosity. As the project moved on and the balloons got smaller people didn’t talk to me very much. I think it was a lot harder to tell what they were or they were also weirded out. For the most part I didn’t acknowledge it unless other people did. I let them take the step to decide what they wanted that interaction to be. By about day five people didn’t want to acknowledge it and so we just ignored it.

K: Was it your intention to have that interactive element with the project?

N: One of my primary thoughts about the project is that it has a performative element, but not overtly. I did a lot of research into social practice to see if I wanted my work to be involved with interaction. I feel like for the most part it felt stilted and awkward. It didn’t feel like people wanted to participate and mostly people were being polite. I felt like one of the questions I asked myself was, “is this performance art, is it social practice, or a long extended photo shoot”? I don’t think I would call it social practice because I’m more interested in my own experiences. That’s what I can talk about and what I can present to a viewer confidently. I’m interested in my interaction with the digital as a social practice.

K: You mentioned the importance of text in your work. I noticed a few moments where you felt the need to hand write digital texts. What about text and handwriting is important for you?

N: I think of text as being a parallel to the digital and I think of performing text with my hands as a way to mirror performing digital things in this silly way in real life.  One of the things I feel I experience in life is that I spend so much time on the computer and I just want to do something with my hands. I think that there is a lot of unconscious thought that happens when you do things with your hands. Doing that with both language and digital formats is a way for me to make myself spend time thinking through something with my body. A majority of the time its more testing the limits of my attention span. How long can I stay engaged and what does it mean to try to reverse that in your work? A lot of my work is about endurance. Not only is it about my attention span, but it’s also the viewer’s attention span.

When you’re presenting multiples you need to know how many is enough and how many is too much? At what point is the content lost in the multiples? I think each piece has its own tipping point. A lot of my work is repetitive and experimental, but the viewer doesn’t see that because a lot of the times the repetition is just for me. I need to experience the repetition to process my thoughts and what I want to tell the viewer. 

You have to be okay with not showing all of your work. To me that’s important. A lot of times you see artists that have a romantic view of hand labor in opposition to the digital. And it’s really beautiful, but does that really matter? And so that’s something that I try to keep in mind to prevent romanticizing my own labor.

Hannah Newman, Emails By Hand, 2016, Images Courtesy of the Artist.

K: Do you see yourself continuing along the same thematic trend?

N: I think so. I believe I was thinking about a lot of the same things earlier, but making ceramic objects that were not communicating those ideas. So I came to grad school to figure out how to make my objects communicate my thoughts.

I’ve been thinking a lot more about how I use language to explore the digital. I read somewhere that you can only understand old technology when new technology comes into being.  So I say that I’m trying to explore the digital through language, but maybe I’m trying to explore language through the digital. For instance, what will be special about email that we don’t see now or other applications that are moving so fast? Will we have time to understand them or do they get lost? I think it’s a very generative place to make work from. Right now it feels sustainable, but we’ll see.

Hannah Newman, #LivingWithTheCloud, 2016, Images Courtesy of the Artist.

Make sure to keep an eye out for Newman’s upcoming exhibition, A Portrait of Place, at Portland Community College’s Cascade Gallery in August. I look forward to seeing the exhibition and how her work develops in the future.

Related Posts:
Polina Tereshina at Soltesz Fine Art Gallery
Danielle Wyckoff: Emerging Dissolving

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