Ö4 Artist: Hanna Umin
Interviewed by Yuän (ÖÖÖ)
[A barren oracle breathes in husks of cinders. Yoked in its eternal mourning, it cries for the unbounded while refracting the droning tone of burrowing entities in the transparent sky. It’s shadow is the darkest dark stretch. Its tears were dry as it poured salt into plains. A heaving pulley to abyss, an eclipsed and grinding gust of nether soot: exhalation. If keratin continues to grow after death, and one passes through this gate, they may find their extremities pulled in a centrifugal extension: hair to toes, spiraled nails, feathered arms.
Drifting through the sands like a priest torn to pieces, the strong sun encompasses the straggler. The sense of running water deep in the earth beneath their feet teases in cthulic promise. The dry wind sings from another age: a drifting cinder, the echo of a hundred fires wakened by the barking of dogs, buried now in soot. The echo of the songs stretches across the desert floor on thermodynamic currents, tethered to the earth by heavy volcanic rubble. Sulphur, honey, colors of immortal things – not a pure grain in the beard of the wind, and light like oil, from the crack of my eye to the level of the hills I join myself, I know the stones are blood-stained by swimming swarms of silence hailing from hives of heaven.]
—— ‘Barren Oracle, Breath of Cinders’ (2011)
“Barren Oracle, Breath of Cinders” was exhibited at a desert of Silver Range Island, Utah. A forsaken breathtaking scene built in the raw landscape by you, Urbain Checcaroni and Ben Sang from Final Hot Desert, Underground Flower.
What kind of era and world were you illustrating in it?
Urbain speaks in references and riddles, he is someone who can converse entirely in image and metaphor, with whom one can quickly develop a fluent kind of twin-speech. I suppose I could say the project’s genesis was this twin-speech, we were weaving images with each other over instagram chat, sharing enthusiasm over materials and bits of trash we’d found. He was invited to show with FHD and UF, and graciously extended it to me as well, for a duo.
We initially envisaged a twilight tableau, a cool netherworld of infinite mourning, a slow pivot. A kind of world outside of worlds, an apparition, and we built a set of self operating machine-spirits to generate the field. We were in consistent contact with each other as we made the pieces, with an emphasis on materials which pull light through or reflect it, accents of sky colors or ground colors, The strategy was to interact with the landscape, as if all were painted with the same brush. It served to embed the pieces within it, like when a charismatic stranger enters a room, already naturalised, and you have this sense of vertigo about how things were and what things are, confusion about temporality and the point origin of an affect.
In the group chat, this image of a wheel kept coming up, spokes spinning around an axis, as well as the grouping’s resemblance to a chorus. We decided to write the press release as a cacophony of melded voices to follow suit. Torre, Val, Ben and I wrote it together, with imagery from Urbain seeping in.
Offsites are unpredictable, the parameters shifted from twilight to daylight. When we saw the documentation, it was like some unknown force gave the wheel a push, the interrelationships were retained but accelerated into cleansing anger. Propulsion, rupture, rapture even. So the chorus chanted it.
Your artwork seems taking a grand tragic mood in the fate of mankind as undertone. Aging, dying, craving, unattainable longing, negligently solved sexual desire, they are all seeking relief in certain brutal and bulk manners. What characters have you ever fictionalised in your arts along with poetic words?
I love the work of the tragedians because it’s so contrary, and at times resistant, to modern interpretation. There is no character background or building, the emphasis is on action, cause and effect, versus the realism, the personal textures and motivations we’re trained to look for in the literature of today. It’s stylised. The more particular intricacies of a character or motive can only be inferred deductively. Emotions are rarely expressed as a direct “I feel”, they are expressed as abstract proclamations on the nature of man. It’s heavily mediated, as if they were describing an object sat beside them. If there weren’t so much poetic sensitivity in these proclamations, I’d say they were automatons. It’s more like they’ve been hollowed out, it’s not an embodied phenomena. So there’s this funny U turn where they are overwhelmed by emotion and circumstance by virtue of not having it. Not having in terms of not being centered within it, not having in terms of not possessing it.
I think of my shows and pieces as sets of objects which link to each other in a myriad of ways, heterogeneous modes of connection, such that if one were to look for a legible common thread, one would be disappointed. I want it hollow. An artwork is tethered to the something-other-than-itself which it generates, I’m interested in how one can sink that referentiality. Melodrama, particularly stylised melodrama, ups the stakes, heightens the contrasts in these relationships between material and referent. The goal is to hit a faint shudder.
I see the work titles, show titles, writing as objects in one assemblage amongst others, so utilising characters is less fictionalisation and more categorization, though my work has become more direct at times. When it’s more literal, the hope is that the work will be so heavy-handed it’ll somehow crunch into its own semantics. Humor certainly comes into it as well.
These are general categories applied to irregular constructions, they mostly fit but not entirely. The ones I’ve used most are Creon, Phaedra, and Aloeids. I use Creon for brittle authoritarian pieces, I use Phaedra for swooning, deathly, collateral sacrifice, and I use Aloeids for pieces which present a perverse threat of revolution. I suppose it’s to do with function.
You are inspired by ancient Greek tragedy and myth. Those events with marvellous finality, deathly climax, became one of the main influences to your creation. The conflicts narrative in ancient Greek tragedies are often difficult to reconcile, heroic spirits and unyielding faiths are shaken by fickle destiny, falling into an absolute disintegration and silence. While audience witnessed and felt the suffering from humanity, they are also spiralling from the exit of gods sorrow.
Did you attempt to create transition between humanity and divinity in your artwork?
Myth is a flexible cumulative thing, it drifts nomadically like language, takes on the oral histories of clans or city-states, changes with use, moves with trade routes. The tragedies momentarily freeze them as a concrete, established doxa. From that, it spurs a cascade of contingencies seated in human reality. The gods are major players, but it’s hard to put your finger on the place fate is coming from, or what the attitude towards will, determinism really is at any given point. They’re more at the mercy of myth than at the mercy of a god.
I’m most certainly interested in divinity, but it’s not the gods or a God, they’re too human. I don’t think the divine has much to do with anything identifiably human, which is handy, because there is a part of every person which is not identifiably human either. An onyx column in starless night, an impenetrable monad, or, paradoxically, an infinite regress.
It’s more of a horizontal sense of divinity, sublimity might be a better word. It’s this potential to do a warp-bend, back and forth, between enchantment and disenchantment, seductive illusion and the bleakly concrete, that warp-bend through an area of dissonance. A metaphysical? Ontological? interest in what can be found in all these oscillations. I see ancient texts as a possible siphon for this, not necessarily because of the content—though that can be a tool—but because of its resistance to conventional modes of interpretation, because of all the wide gaps you can fall through. It’s less bridging an abyss, more like stepping off the precipice!
In some of your literature, flesh and desire, sex and pleasure, seem to be a temporary escape from the misery of fatalism, but still mediate in denial and subjugation. Are there any clues that symbolize redemption in your pieces?
Sexuality, physicality, desire can most certainly be an escape, but under the microscopic gaze of hyperfixation, I’d argue the focus becomes entirely fatalistic. When I hear my voice as a writer, it’s as if through water, there’s a rhythm to it, it’s stylized, that kind of muffled throbbing, it’s a beat with this or that hyped-up content, it’s a pressed-up parallel. You can’t breathe underwater, perhaps we can describe it as asphyxiation.
‘Swayed Figure (Holderlin)‘. Courtesy of the artist.
No! No redemption! None for me, none for you. This is a world of absolutes. Uncompromising. The goal is to watch these absolutes bleed out like dye. It has to stay put for that. Hard stop. We have to resist that conventional narrative arc, that habitual impulse.
I guess that’s the formal reasoning for “no redemption”. It’s personal, too. I have a chip on my shoulder about all things “healthy”, “well-rounded”, decent. There’s this drive to frame experiences, emotional states within this narrative arc, you know, you couldn’t see light without shadow, every cloud has a silver lining. The bad only has value contextualised within the good, it only has value seen as a function for what is deemed acceptable, so you undercut. But perhaps the bad is divine. Perhaps the worm under your skin is holy. Perhaps that scab is a trapdoor to a place of unknowable magnitude. Pick it.
So there is no redemption in my work, but there is compassion. Compassion for extreme states of mind, compassion for mortal frailty. Compassion must be true; if I gave you hope I’d be lying.
There’s also joy. Or exuberance at least. Everything is spiteful, juvenile, covered in boogers. The primary mode for building these objects is a sequence of balanced structures which are intentionally offset, one wrong stagger in a pattern, an errant wire, a pair which match but should be mirrored, and on to the next. These are highly intentional choices which require a meditative sense of intensity on one hand, an intuititve rush of spontaneity on the other. There is care for these inanimate things, time, love.
Potentially too much care: it’s time and love differed. I’ve heard my work described as maximal time and time again, which is funny to me, as I think it’s largely comparative, my work is often more maximal than the contemporary norm, but not maximal as such. I see maximalism as a baroque effusion of amorphous ephemera, a point where parts lose their differentiation. This work is spaced out and regulated like a board game. But it is more maximal than expected, more maximal than necessary, I am told. I am told I could stop earlier and leave it if I wanted to. It could breathe, and I could breathe too, take a walk, I could be healthy, oxygenated, and weave this communicative freshness into a practice with breath. But here we have asphyxia.
A pivotal query for this practice might thus be: “Am I putting my love in the right place?”
What does your writing mean to your artwork? That juxtaposition trigs a feeling of a tunnel between two abstractions, a mystery to the other.
A tunnel between two abstractions, I love that! You’ve answered my question for me. Any expansion on that would be extraneous, it’s the perfect explanation. Let’s leave it here.
“Creon’s End” is attached with a text from a conversation of you and Bergman Salinas.
“The Oedipus trilogy begins with a pestilence and ends with a cave. Delany’s Dhalgren begins with an implied disaster and ends the same: caves are throughout.… ”
A psychological symbol prototype of cave can be mysterious, primitive, the collective unconsciousness of mankind.
What are your images of Cave in “Creon’s End”?
Greek tragedy took place in an ampitheatre, there was a stage, a maximum of three actors with a chorus. Behind the stage was a skene, a decorated hut or tent which served as a dressing room, exit and entry point for the actors. If there was a set at all, it was simple, with very few changes in scene. Acts of violence were never depicted onstage, instead they were carried to the characters by messengers or witnesses. It was believed that the suspense and reaction gave greater impact: it’s a spectacle of consequences.
The tragedy (Antigone) ends in a cave, in the sense that it is the site of the narrative’s conclusion, but the final scene with Creon takes place at its mouth. Much of the tragedy is about parameters, loyalty to the state or family, loyalty to the civil or the sacred, allocation of death rites. It’s a clash between law and nature, not just what is valued but the way these things are thought through and lived. It’s about conflicts which accompany the mitigation and management of the symbolic.
I see it in broad daylight. It’s a Camus moment, it’s sheared light glinting off a blade, exposure. It’s the point when a symbol is far too real.
Your solo show “Your fate” was presenting in gallery mcg21xoxo (Matsudo, Japan) on May(1-29th) 2021, any special stories behind the exhibition?
[ You were born grey.
Your fate is one eye to six sockets.
You were dropped.
Your fate is a broken—
Your fate is three crones and a circlet of SSRIs.
You are slumped cord around a spool shattered in shipping.
You lost your last tooth.
You can’t remember being young.
What comes to mind is that this was one of those situations where you plan a show far in advance, and your life coincidentally catches up with the content of the exhibition.
The invitation to show was a surprise drop into my DMs, it’s around a 12hr time difference between here and Japan, but I’m an early riser so luckily I had half a coffee in me. Taka was still online, so I caught him and we did a video chat. Quite surreal, must say, to go from waking up to vid chatting a stranger on the other side of the world for a show within the space of half a coffee! But I’d seen Taka’s work before, and from our quick conversation he struck me as someone with a methodically considered approach, strong vision, but subdued and chill. Sometimes you just have to follow your gut: I respect and work well with that personality type, so the fact that it was in Japan aside, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. Issue was— the only deadline we could schedule was only about a month and a half after a solo in New York.
“Your Fate” is one of those direct semantic crunch moves I mentioned earlier, the tone is blunt and accusatory, the central piece uses the Graeae, three crones at the edge of the earth who were born old. I usually only integrate trash which is battered or shattered just past recognition, but for this heavy-hand approach I used legible trash. It’s primarily composed of three broken picture frames, a broken rearview mirror, bent eyeglasses, and a circlet of used bottles of antidepressants. Hits like a mallet.
Naturally, I wasn’t willing to compromise my masochistic standards for the New York show, and naturally, I wasn’t willing to compromise my masochistic standards for the Japan show, and naturally, despite the pandemic I still had to work. So by the time I got to making The Graeae I was in the grips of burnout, I didn’t even have the energy to fuel anxiety, which is a rare and confusing state of being for one such as me. The numerous grey epoxy strip-like features hanging above the frames, of course, aren’t molded. They’re sculpted individually into a form, each with their own intricate fabric, intestine, worm pattern. That’s what comes to mind for me. Your Fate, exhausted with the endless woe worms.
Objects on human body are often appeared in your works, such as pubic hair, foot callus, spit vials, fingernail clippings. They may be able to create anonymous spying, distorted intimacy with audience. Are they attributed to be provocative In a sense? How do you apply these body “trash” materials?
I utilise autobiographical material in text like I do trash: it’s the closest available hypothetical. I pick it up, I use it, it’s clearly real, who knows where it came from, embalmed in illusion. The trash isn’t what it once was; neither am I. A parallel is my use of pubic hair, chunks of foot callus, spit vials, fingernail clippings in my work. Its immediate purpose is to cue something revved up, defensively, adamantly weird to the point of cliche. Mischief! But the main draw for me is a parts-and-wholes kind of thing: when you see an errant strand of hair or a glob of spit, the only thing you really know is that it’s not yours. It’s this very intimate thing, but there’s a sense of anonymity to it, removed.
Voyeurism, that’s a good point. Not just because of the personal nature of the organic materials, but because it is clearly a choice which someone made. It’s not an accidental brushstroke which assimilated into the whole. A chunk of foot skin is something you remove, save, and place specifically. Yes, there’s a sense of perverse mystery in viewing this foot skin. I’m very much stuck in this juvenile solipsistic angst, it’s all compulsive reality testing.
What do you hope to convey through your work?
A dissociative drone. An undertow.
Something which is both a clench and a release, on one part it’s pinched, on the other it spreads, an invisible part to each piece which is shaped like a mushroom cloud or a torus perhaps. When you follow the surface of a torus, from the bottom you have this curve which could expand forever, you follow it out, it pulls into walls which don’t touch, which surround a negative. A mushroom cloud has this pinch and a spread, it shoots up to convection and it sinks down, levelling. It’s hard to say wether this is a cognitive or somatic sensation, it’s located behind the neck. It’s momentary severance, unmoored selfhood.
I think that people have had trouble being fully, or at least openly ambitious with their ideas, as such things are so entwined with a perception of entrepreneurial ego. Or they are afraid of sounding downright ridiculous and pseudointellectual, as I likely sound. Wacko. So art has either shrunk away to the corner of the accessibly quotidien, or it’s tethered itself to.a sense of academic hyperspecificity. There are pockets where that’s been changing, a reactionary swell. I’d like to be a part of that, so I’m glad to be speaking with you. I’d like to be a modest self with immodest ideas.
Can you share some your recent favourite movie, book and music to us? Thank you!
music: The Deutsch Nepal album “Tolerance” is one of my favorites for working, SPK “Zamia Lehmanni: Songs of Byzantine Flowers” is also a classic. I’ve recently found Requiem In White, I love their look. Recently rediscovered Forward Music Quintet, “Glory and Betrayal”, it’s so fun!
video: Christopher Fynsk put forward an excellent video seminar on Antigone, search the European Graduate School youtube channel. It’s a healthy six hours.
tragedy: I put The Heracleidae, Euripides, to the side for a a while, as it looked a pinch dull. Turns out it made me laugh out loud, but I’d only suggest it for those nerd-brained types who get a kick out of procedural semantics. I’d say Heracleidae and Hippolytus, both Euripides, are excellent examples of the resistant strangeness in greek tragedy. Heracleidae is just flatly bizarre at the end, it leans on obscure twists in Athenian law, whereas Hippolytus is truly senseless. But an attempt to bore into either… water on wax.
ig – @xx.clytemnestra.xx
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