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Camilla Hanney is an Irish artist living and working in London. She is a Graduate of Goldsmiths University Masters of Fine Art programme (2017-2019) and also Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (Visual Arts Practice 2010-2015). Since moving to London, her work has been exhibited by a diverse range of galleries including the South London Gallery in conjunction with Bloomberg New Contemporaries, No. 20 Arts, Muse Gallery, Dora House and The Rosenfeld Gallery and Cromwell Place Gallery. Camilla was the 2019/20 recipient of the Sarabande foundation studio bursary. She was granted the UK Young artist of the year runner up award at its inaugural award ceremony which was held at the Saatchi . She received the ‘Committee’s Choice’ prize at ‘Exceptional’ an exhibition of recent graduate work at Collyer Bristow Gallery and was recipient of the zealous: Sculpture stories prize. In 2020 she was selected as one of the Gilbert Bayes Sculpture Award winners and was granted the 2020 Irish Visual Arts Bursary Award. Camilla received a Glass lab
award in 2021, providing her with a 3 month residency and continuous technical support at the Cotswolds Glass foundry. She is recipient of the 2022 Newbury Trust Craft Excellence Award in conjunction with Cockpit Arts and was chosen for the 2022 Artist initiated projects in conjunction with the Irish arts council, granting her a funded solo show at Pallas Project Gallery, Dublin. Her work has been featured in articles by Crafts Magazine, Elephant Magazine, wallpapermag, Showstudio, Mission Mag and Harpers Bazaar.
Artists Q&A with Camilla Hanney
by Dr Claudia Milburn
Q. What first inspired your practice?
My work has always sought inspiration from the female body and its representation because it is the framework that best describes the body I inhabit. I’m also interested in the malleability of the body and its social constructions, the fluidity of gender and the destruction of former representations of women that have been portrayed through art, myth and western religion. I tend to subvert quite traditional, genteel crafts in my work, and I do this as an attempt to transgress and contemplate conventional modes of femininity.
Most of my recent work has utilised the medium of clay, specifically porcelain, to discuss and challenge issues concerning the borders and boundaries that have been placed onto our bodies to conceal its impurities. Porcelain as an art form has traditionally been about dainty perfection, but as wet clay it’s bodied, earthy, and changeful. The work I make attempts to use clay as a material to embrace the messy, grotesque and macabre, reclaiming the real and visceral body of a human being in the porcelain. I feel working with ceramics can provide a deliberate fusion of high art and low art, providing entry points through a material that is often mass produced or functional but presenting it in an unfamiliar context, evoking new reactions and feelings towards it.
Q. What has been your background / training and how influential has that subsequently been?
I graduated from my BA in Ireland in 2015 where I studied visual arts practice, I then took two years out from university during which I participated in group shows and residencies before deciding to relocate to the UK to pursue my studies at Goldsmiths University.
It was during my BA that I came to find my voice in art and understand how sculpture can be used as a visual mode of communication through which pertinent issues can be addressed using a language of texture and materials.
It was only during my masters at Goldsmiths that I first discovered clay, in particular porcelain. It provided me with freedom of form, enabling me to work more intuitively. This became a significant milestone in my practice as clay has ultimately become my primary medium of choice.
Q. Can you tell me more about your subject matter and the motivation for your work?
In much of my work, I use history and allegorical references as a means of exploring and questioning notions of embodiment – how bodies are controlled and regulated, what causes us to feel shame towards our bodies or feel afraid of them? And why are some more vulnerable than others? I often create hybrid, sculptural compositions of the figure merged with animals, domestic objects and aspects of the natural world to discuss and challenge issues concerning the borders and boundaries that have been placed onto our bodies to conceal its impurities. Society has conditioned us to believe our bodies must exist within the boundaries of culture to prevent them from returning to their natural, primal state. I’m interested in challenging this notion.
Q. What is the inspiration behind the specific works in the exhibition and how do they sit within the context of your work to date?
All my artworks in the current exhibition have an overlapping theme of the female body and its representation throughout history. There is a tension between desire and disgust that weaves its way through the series of sculptures on display causing both curiosity and discomfort. Many of the works reference particular historical moments but are subverted and placed under a contemporary light. to reveal a more nuanced version of the female form.
Q. Who or what has been your greatest influence as an artist?
I tend to gravitate towards a lot of female Irish artists – Dorothy Cross, Alice Maher and Daphne Wright have been huge inspirations to me. I love their clever use of materials, their placement of the female body within nature and their reference to myths.
I also find ceramic artists such as Rachel Kneebone, Carolein Smit and Ursula Burke to be hugely influential, I feel they are all pushing the boundaries of what clay can do and proving that there is a definite place for ceramics in contemporary art.
When I’ve hit a barrier in the work I’m creating or am searching for new ideas I often find museums a great source of inspiration for researching new works. The collections at the Wellcome trust, V&A and The Natural History Museum have all proved to be influential in the work I create, there is usually a sense of antiquity or times gone by in my work that presents itself in both the materials and hidden histories I choose to focus on in my work. I suppose I use this as an entry into discourse around the archive and forgotten or lost histories.
Q. What is the most challenging element of your practice?
Ceramics are a very unforgiving material to work with. The work I create in clay is often slow and quite labour intensive so it can be frustrating when pieces crack or break during their final firing in the kiln.
I also think realising that all artists experience as much, if not more, rejection as they do success, and being able to pick myself up and stay motivated during moments of doubt has been one of my biggest challenges. However, experiencing failure has been important for my own self growth as an artist and forming a tough skin.
Q. The works in this exhibition encourage the viewer to think about the female form and the politics of the gaze. Can you expand upon this from your perspective?
The work explores a history of female containment, asserting the ways in which women’s desires have been denied or inaccurately portrayed within art as a result of being depicted through the male gaze. In my practice I often revisit women’s histories and underlines the absence of women’s own sexual appetites, desires and perversions in attempt to escape the male gaze and liberate it from its past.
Historically, women have been presented in a very particular, and passive, way. Both art and religion have contributed to the construction of iconic, virtuous feminine ideals such as Venus and the Virgin Madonna. I often reference icons and imagery of women that have been portrayed through the male gaze and shed new light on them to demonstrate the multifaceted nature of women.
Q. Can you discuss why the body as object has become the main vehicle for expressing your ideas.
I think the body is the most relatable object an artist can present. Everyone who inhabits flesh can understand the pain and pleasure of being a body, often feeling no control over their bodies and behaviours. It’s the familiarity of the body and its visceral beauty that made me feel most drawn to using it as an instrument to describe the issues I discuss in my practice.
Q. The tension between vulnerability and empowerment is a unifying theme between the artists’ works presented in this exhibition. Can you talk about this in relation to your practice?
As a material, porcelain can be seen as a symbol of fragility, vulnerability and brittleness, but it also It represents things that are protective and strong. I feel it’s the perfect material to describe the paradoxical nature of women. Porcelain in particular carries a lot of dated and inaccurate connotations surrounding feminine beauty as being fragile, delicate and transparent. I try and create work using porcelain that can counteract or reject these connotations of femininity, hopefully providing the female form with a sense of empowerment in doing so.
Q. What issues, in your opinion, are female artists facing in the contemporary art world?
It’s a good question but also a difficult one. I can’t answer on behalf of all women artists. I think women experience very different and individual difficulties in navigating the art world depending on their access needs, race, caring duties and economic background to name a few. I think the more universal issues that women experience in the contemporary art world would be finding a voice and feeling heard in an environment that is largely dominated by men of a certain demographic.
I think female artists will often use media such as textiles, ceramics and other ‘low art’ forms in their work when discussing issues around womanhood, because there is a history of these art forms being associated with women’s work. I feel art of this nature that is stereotypically feminine and ornate isn’t always taken as seriously as other art forms in the contemporary art world.
I think even just choosing to speak about the female body and the issues that surround it can be viewed as a professional risk. I create work that speaks about the female body in quite a direct way which often inserts the work into a bracket of feminist art – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don’t reject that title being placed on to it but really, I make work that best discusses the body that I inhabit which is the body of a woman, an Irish woman. It’s in no way self-confessional art and doesn’t really speak directly about lived experiences, but If I’m presenting an argument or making a strong statement in my work I like to try and keep it a little bit open ended most of the time. I never want to bombard people with my opinions, I think it’s more interesting to allow viewers to find something in the work that speaks to them, and if it’s not the message I intended I don’t think that’s necessarily always such a bad thing.
Q. What are the latest developments in your work?
Babble Gurgle Flow’ (The water fountain work) has probably presented itself as the latest development in my work. ‘Incorporating water into my ceramic sculptures was a very new development and presented its fair share of challenges. It also created sound and movement within my work which was a new territory for me, and I felt helped the sculptures feel less posed and static, maybe even hinting at some of the rhythm and noise that can be observed in the studio during the process of its creation.
New Contemporaries ‘More than Just Meat’ November 2019
SHOWstudio ‘New Exhibition at Sarabande Celebrates Womanhood’ March 2020
Wallpaper ‘Sarabande Reframes Femininity’ March 2020
Elephant ‘Why These Artists Brutalise the Female Body’ March 2020
Elephant ‘Pick of the Essential Artists to Watch in May’ May 2021
Parapluie ‘Friday Focus: Camilla Hanney’ January 2022