Hannah Fitz’s exhibition Doggie Eyed Stare, which featured at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios last month, ambitiously captures transient, wavering forms through a series of chalky plaster-coated sculptures. The exhibition comes at the end of her year-long graduate residency in Temple Bar Gallery and Studios. The work comprises a collection of objects that bear the marks of their making; the surfaces are scratched, crumpled, bulging, uneven, and covered with a thick skin of pastel paint. Though entirely figurative, the sculptures contort around and infringe upon each other, their perimeters flickering with uncertainty.
A stone-grey figure of a dog greets you at the entrance. The animal is frozen halfway through an attempt to step over a sculpted patchy rug, which folds up to fill the negative space in-between its legs. The motion of its wagging tail is described through five separate parallel renderings.
Nearby, an oversized stool hosts a cornflower-blue pot overflowing with a thick mass of bulbous yellow and pink peonies. The plant’s heavy leaves spread and fold into themselves ominously. A patterned blanket reclines upon a long, boxy bench painted in warm sandy shades, a corner of tasseled edging drapes thickly over the brim. It holds itself just above the surface that it appears to rest on, a nod to the rigidity of its form. We caught up with Hannah to discuss the nature of her medium and the importance of boundaries.
When moving through this assembly of sculptures, you get a sense of being in a sort of congregation. Can you talk about how the sculptures have their own internal dynamic?
Hannah: I build them in series so that I can set up the conditions for viewing them, the individual sculptures work by falling in and out of relations with the rest of the group. Actually, the closer I get to finishing work the more I think of them as a gang, they get more and more exclusive, and some sculptures don’t fit anymore. I also think individually the sculptures don’t assert obvious value, they are clumsily made but heavily worked on, and easily appear out of place. So gang also implies an assertion of purpose, an alternative and small network that works in spite of the conventional system.
Each object seems to have an effect on another, repelling or attracting, or subtly moulding each other, for example: in Light, Beam, Chair, the legs of the chair appear to buckle under the weight of this huge light beam emitting from the lamp.
H: The chair bends into – or buckles under – the light because the chair is made with the light ‘on its mind’. Each form is shaped by my telling it to be a certain thing. I’m starting from scratch and pushing quite basic materials into recognisable shapes. At a certain point I’m hoping the sculpture will start repeating back that intention like: “I’m a chair, I’m a chair, I’m a chair”. So I’m hoping the chair shape is performed in a way that seems self-conscious of the fact that it will be met with this long chunk of yellow light.
When any of these different objects touch, their surfaces become merged, and the boundaries between those objects are painted in such a way that they leak into each other.
H: I don’t think there’s any rule that’s applied to the group without at least one exception. But yeah, this is something I like in cheaper moulding techniques, a lip or undercut is flattened and relies on a line of paint on the surface to make out the boundary. Boundaries and edges are the reason I like calling things sculptures. I think sculpture is quite basically about boundaries and edges; no frame is supplied so the lines drawn to mark the edges of what you are doing are important.
In the sculpture of the fruit bowl for example, all the apples and bananas and pears are conjoined. Then across the room, this lonely apple sits half-peeled on the table, with its white flesh inside exposed, it’s as though some intervention has happened into its ‘wholeness’?
H: I expand and leak all of the sculptures, this is apparent in the fruit bowl, and the apple but all the others are expanded as well. I build them up layering composite materials starting with a jaunty wooden armature, until the outer layer seems at full stretch over the bulk of the shape. I used to think of this as a sort of image shell or painted sarcophagus. In this series I think the sculptures are more live, they are holding on to the negative space around them, fingerprints extrude from the clay rather than imprint it, as though the shapes are expanding to claim that territory. Even the floral ‘carving’ detail on the legs of the table is drawn in a lumpy expansion. The apple sitting alone on the table is merged into the table’s surface, with a painted-on boundary line between the green and brown. I cut into this apple skin to mess with the other stuff. So I carved into it, which of course mirrors a totally mundane gesture, and then painted over this new surface.
Can you tell us about the exhibition title, Doggie Eyed Stare?
H: Doggie Eyed Stare is derived from the sentence ‘Look at the dog with one eye’ which contains two possible directives: does the dog have one eye or do you? I want to be able to make work that contains that sort of duality. These sculptures fidget between soft and welcoming, or aggressively exclusive. I wanted to double up the gaze this time, and undermine the gaze of a viewer. I wanted to see if I could make sculptures shaped by a sort of self-conscious gaze, and a group of sculptures that seem to look mainly at each other.
Hannah Fitz is currently developing a new video installation for Gallery 3 at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, which will be exhibited Monday 11th to Friday 15th April. Doggie Eyed Stare will tour to The Dock, Carrick on Shannon in July.
Words: Eimear Walshe
Photos: Kate Bowe