Hanna Kay: Interview for Art Reveal Magazine, Jun 2017
1.When, how and why started your art practice?
My artistic career has been marked by journeys of significance - a trajectory that took me from Israel, where i was born, to Europe where I studied art in Vienna, to New York where I practiced my art for a decade, to Sydney, and finally to establishing my studio in the midst of 5 rural acres in the Hunter Valley in Australia. In 2012, I had the opportunity to travel to China to exhibit as part of an artistic exchange. It was a fortuitous event which added another consequential link to the trajectory.
I’ve returned to China several times to develop, research and exhibit in various part of the country.
My visit to the entombed terracotta army in Xi'an, triggered a sequence of reflections on my life in Israel, in particular my desert experiences as an active soldier in the Six-Day War. These past experiences were crucial to my decision to become an artist, and have shaped my subsequent thinking and the choices I have made, especially the decision to live in a self-imposed “exile” from my place of birth.
My practice has been suspended between poles of transience and permanence, and the artworks, which draw on the natural world, are maps of memory and experience, exploring the landscape and its relationship with culture. This exploration took on a new dimension after my China trip, which had prompted a process of thinking about histories and searching for traces that connect ancient and contemporary lives. As a result I have undertaken a PhD project in fine arts at Sydney University, using the artworks inspired by my China experiences - Shifting Horizons - as the creative component of the project.
2. Who or what has a lasting influence on your art practice?
I find that influences come and go. Some artists have inspired more than other, but I have found that two issues have continued to affect my practice - violent conflicts (wars, and refugees) and the care we take of the natural environment. I prefer not to use my artworks as banners for political statements, thus the issues that push me to make art are a tacit undertone.
3. Do you think of yourself as a conceptual artist?
In my artworks I draw on elements and fragments from the natural world as a vehicle by which to explore concepts and ideas that interest me, so I guess i could be considered a conceptual artist. Having said this I prefer not to be categorised. I paint, I draw. And recently I have added making objects to my practice. I use images to think, and hope to evoke a meaningful experience in the viewer.
4. Tell us more about "Cline" series.
The rice-paper sequence entitled ‘cline’ - a term that possesses both biological and linguistic connotations of continuity - is part of the Shifting Horizons exhibition. This body of work, comprising both two and three dimensional artworks, is inspired by artefacts found in the burial pits in Xian.
‘Cline’ (2015) - consists of 34 long vertical compositions on rice paper, juxtaposing fragments of nature with images of ancient Chinese burial sites. In some instances, the presence of natural forces is hinted at, as in the ambiguity of the panels depicting eolian processes, and is contrasted with the images reproduced from photographs I took in the pits. In other panels, distinct parts of landscapes such as mountains, sand dunes, grasses and forests are intercepted with the figurative imagery of the terracotta army. Slivers of forest and branches emerge out of darkness. Mist rising between ghostly trees. Dust and desert dunes are contrasted with entombed soldiers. There is no attempt to replicate here a particular vista. Rather the parts of landscape present personal remembered experiences of nature.
The band of scrolls, extending over 20 metres long, offers a journey across time, to a foreign past and across generic aspects of the landscape. The viewer follows a pictorial journey that unfolds through aspects of nature and the march of the terracotta army from visibility to invisibility.
The photographs of the clay warriors embedded in the artworks introduce additional dimension to the content of the artworks that a painterly response to the same subject is lacking. In addition to highlighting the different mediums - painting and photography - the direct reference to clay warriors emphasises the cultural distance between Eastern and Western traditions.
The artworks spring out of my conviction that cultural forms and practices exist in relation to nature. They are an aesthetic response to the interrelationship between nature and culture, which permeates social and political discourses. They offer the viewer a dialogue between past and present, between cultures, and between states of being, and can be seen as instances of cycles connected to natural processes of growth and decay.
A series of three-dimensional works - Repository - act as a place of historical repository and contemplations. They recall the Han Dynasty sculptural tomb pottery pieces that symbolised items the deceased person would need in the afterlife. Another 3D object is the repetitive angel. Similar to the terracotta warriors, the Army of Angels present a multitude of analytical frameworks and possible meanings. Hundreds of small raku-clay angels make up this army. The figures, which are blackened in a Saggar firing technique, look as if they have come out of the fire of hell. Instead of evoking the angel as ephemerally and gently passing through feathery clouds, or breezing through tree tops, they are cumbersome messengers and warriors impeded by the earthy material of which they are composed.
5.How would you describe the art scene in your area?
Australia has a vibrant contemporary art scene. However, I live in a small rural village away from the art scene of any major city, and what happens in my area is unfortunately mostly recreational and amateurish. Having said this, the local regional public galleries and museums regularly bring quality shows from the cities and other regions as well as stimulating artist talks. On a personal note, they have offered me many opportunities to exhibit in their spacious spaces, and tour my work across the country.
6.In your opinion what does art mean in contemporary culture?
I think that more than ever art is essential in reasserting our humanity. Without the voice of the artist we are left with a life saturated by an overload of images which do not question their genesis.
7.What is the most challenging part about working with traditional media?
In these days when the artworld is more concerned with the finished product than the process, I think the handwriting of the artist is instrumental in affirming the urgency of the artist’s voice. Personally I have not encountered any challenges regarding using a traditional painting technique. And in a way, the more the traditional mediums are being marginalised the more I am convinced of their merit. Furthermore, being an artist is an activity one performs mostly in solitude, so enjoying the process is crucial for a continuing commitment, regardless of an audience's’ reception.
For me the slow process of making my art allows new ideas to emerge. The interaction with material and the actual “doing”, leads to a deeper understanding of the conceptual framework that propels the work.