Camilla Hanney on the catharsis of solitude, Sarabande’s motivational energy, and “challenging the act of forgetting” in her art.

By Mission.

“I make work that best relates to the body I inhabit,” says Camilla Hanney. Irish-born and based in London, Hanney’s art is a challenging blend of the beautiful and the grotesque. Hanney discusses these tensions and more, including the forced dichotomy of femininity and her frustration with male-dominated art history, in this installment of Mission’s Sarabande series.

Tell us about your background.

I’m from Ireland where I studied visual arts practice at an undergraduate level. I came to London about 3 years ago to continue my studies at Goldsmiths University. I work mainly with ceramics, sculpture, and installation and my practice explores issues surrounding time, gender, tradition, and the corporeal, often referencing the body in humorous and challenging ways.

What drew you to Sarabande?

I was fortunate enough to receive a studio bursary from Sarabande in conjunction with New Contemporaries, which has provided me with a studio for a year. It was Sarabande’s mission to support early career creatives that appealed to me. As a graduate, fresh to the London art scene, I felt Sarabande offered a safety net, granting me time and space to continue my practice.

Can you talk to us about the role of the female body in your work?

I think we’ve reached a refreshing time where people are beginning to think about/accept gender as something malleable and fluid. It’s a social construct, performative even, so at times it’s difficult to speak about the ‘female’ body without feeling as though I’m excluding people, which is in no way what I want to do. I make work that relates to the body I inhabit, and at times address the stories of a generation of Irish women that came before me. I don’t make self-confessional artwork, but the work is part of my identity, providing me with the agency to discuss said issues.

Often my work embodies and mocks age old ideas around female lust as being hideous and corrupting. I feel certain aspects of womanhood are actually quite grotesque and this doesn’t need to be concealed.

You toy with what lies between beauty and repulsion, curiosity and discomfort, desire and disgust. What do you find appealing about working within these tensions?

I’m interested in challenging our perceptions of what beauty can be and searching for ways to blur the boundaries between the beautiful and the grotesque. For instance, the inclusion of tentacles in my work challenges the viscerality of the gelatinous, fleshy masses that can cause us to recoil, into an object of glistening beauty. In the past I’ve included unconventional materials in my work such as bones and dried blood and reconfigured them into arrangements that are quite ornate and beautiful.

What role do you think the artist plays in society?

I think it’s important to create work that informs viewers, that challenges the act of forgetting. I feel an artist has the unique ability to challenge the formalities of the archive as we know it and transform it into a more morally complex, visceral repository, obscuring and blurring the lines between fact and fiction, that usually rigidly encase our understanding of the archive and its purpose. I think it’s important to fill in the gaps of women’s histories to provide the formerly silenced and oppressed with a voice.

Your work seems to have visual ties to the past, especially your sculptural pieces. How does history inform your work?

There is a sense of time gone past in my work, that occurs in both the materials and references I choose to employ. I use this as an entry into discourse around forgotten histories. I often feel frustrated as a woman artist dealing with a history of art that has been defined through the male gaze. 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 Boticelli’s Venus and the Virgin Madonna. Through my practice, I examine ways to deconstruct these dated representations of women and instead celebrate the more unruly aspects of the maternal body that society and culture have conditioned us to believe must remain concealed.

How has your time at Sarabande influenced your work today?

Sarabande has provided me with invaluable opportunities to exhibit and sell my work in their gallery space and external events. Since arriving at the studios, they have arranged collaborations between important members of the creative industry, facilitated workshops, engaged in a panel discussion, expanded my network, granted me commissions, endowed me with ongoing guidance, and promoted my work extensively. The studio bursary provided me with the peace of mind conferred by resources to explore new creative ground, it gave me confidence in my work and a sense of support.

The Sarabande studios are ripe for collaboration. What was it like having access to other artists and designers working under the same roof?

It’s a very active studio which creates motivational energy. I enjoy the diverse range of work that spans across the studio members, who range from painters to shoe makers. I’ve been involved in two different exhibitions during my time at Sarabande, providing me with wonderful opportunities for collaboration and the cross pollination of creative ideas.

How has isolation affected your artistic practice?

I feel fortunate to have been able to continue my practice between home and my studio and remain motivated throughout the pandemic. In some ways, my practice is isolated at times, involving long hours in the studio alone, so solitude isn’t always necessarily a bad thing for me. I feel there is a certain level of catharsis in the ritual of my own practice that keeps me stimulated (and sane!) when times are strange and uncertain.

Images courtesy of Sarabande Foundation