Hayley’s work whispers. But it is not the moist whisper of seduction, more the parched whisper of trauma; a trauma long past and healed but with a residue perpetually imprinted on time. Her biographical description is right, it’s “the bits that are not said” which give impact to Hayley’s paintings. The beauty of this is the mingled turning away from and facing truth full on. The equal measure she affords these two qualities brings the unspeakable to life in her work.
Jane Boyer: Your artist biography says an interesting thing, “Hayley is a lover of objects and stories, not necessarily in the historical sense but the bits that are not said. She is drawn to the enchantment of ‘place’, and the often cold reality of that enchantment.” What lies behind the shroud of the unsaid and what is the cold reality of enchantment?
Hayley Harrison: I guess loss of some kind, be it things or people around us, or parts of ourselves. There’s probably a bit of taboo and the banal mixed in there as well. I think alongside, or instead of the unsaid there is the intolerable too, in the sense that the unspeakable belongs to the storyteller and the intolerable to the listener; the burden and the unburdening.
JB: Your artist statement also says, “She is interested in how we recognise ourselves in the quiet moments that surround objects and place.” Do you feel it is the quietness in ourselves which allows this recognition or do you feel it is entering the stillness of a place that causes a reflection in which we then recognize ourselves? In other words, do the quiet moments come from the internal or the external?
HH: I think we have to be in the ‘right’ place both internally and externally and that’s when a conversation occurs. For me self-recognition through the external is experienced in its ‘purest’ form when we are here, now, rather than through our pasts or futures. We can be taken off guard by something, something perhaps poetic that throws us into the present. Whatever that something is, we just have to come into relationship with it. When we experience one of these rare conversations between the internal and external I believe we come back to ourselves, much like Jacques Lacan’s famous discourse with the sardine can. Ultimately within these moments we are looking into a mirror.
JB: Tell us about your painting, Her. Artist and writer, Paul O’Kane, commented on the breathless quality of the painting when the expectation is one of joy, exuberance and a carefree breeziness. What were you exploring in the subject?
HH: Her is a representation of a younger self. I was giving voice to her experiences. A windmill’s movement is dependent on the environment around it. I am interested in sub-personalities or even parts of ourselves we have split off from. Our acknowledgement and our changing relationship to them, how they grow or are suffocated by other sub-personalities or other people.
JB: There is a general stillness in your paintings which feels sometimes like holding your breathe. Are you looking for and exploring this quality of tension in the spaces and objects you choose to paint or is it a result of something else going on in your work?
HH: I like your reference to the holding of breathe. Holding our breath is a way of escaping the present moment. I am drawn to the moments that allude to the appearance of calm and stillness, when in actual fact disaster or trauma may have just occurred and this stillness may be a surrendering of some kind. Within the stillness I hope to imply things are not as they should be or as they seem.
JB: It’s interesting you mention ‘the unspeakable’, I’ve been doing my own explorations into the unspeakable, something that Jacques Ranciere discusses in The Future of the Image as expressible in writing as a string of perceptions which connect the storyteller to reality moment by moment. He suggests this stripped bare and raw expression is a way to get at or around what is so horrific it can’t be spoken. Do your paintings function in a similar way, meaning a focus on what is perceived in the moments of a situation? Is this a way into a larger story for you?
HH: Perhaps all these moments are the same moment. In the sense that the moment I choose to illustrate is a cross-section of a general experience. There is also a continuous balancing act of the needs of the work, the viewer and me. The unspoken tends to have an insatiable hunger to it. For this reason I think there is a need for the unspoken to be spoken many times.
We have developed a fantastic library of Suggested Reading by the artists in This ‘Me’ of Mine. Follow the links here or visit the BOOKSHOP to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests. If a book is unavailable, try the link to Abe Books.
Hayley’s suggested reading:
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl by Grayson Perry and Wendy Jones
Totem and Taboo (Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts) by Sigmund Freud
Life: A Users Manual by George Perec