History, Suicide, Fishing and Taxidermy
Neil Hamon's work evokes a variety of distinct ambiguous and implicitly dubious feelings. "In general terms, I'm interested in our relationship with loss and how we are lured into creating fictions or narratives in an attempt to overcome it," he states. Based on solid research, meticulous construction and more recently presented in a cinematographic approach, his main mediums are those that lay claim to being authentic reproductions: taxidermy, historical reenactment and documentary photography.
Hamon began in 2006 with a solo show in São Paulo, Brazil, at Galeria Leme, where he showed his series of photographs "Suicide Self-Portraits;"Overdose, Hanging and Ransburg, a colored hand painted photographic diptych; a sculpture piece entitled Dark was the Night/ Cold was the Ground. In the following interview, Neil talks about his creative matter, research process and references.
Eduarda de Souza: What is the first historic event that comes to mind?
Neil Hamon: It’s not so much an historic event but place, Jersey where I grew up is covered in remnants from the Second World War. [Jersey was occupied by the Germans in WWII] I’ve always been particularly interested in the bunkers the Germans built some of which have been refurbished into tourist attractions and some of which have just been left.
When you’re a kid it’s the bunkers that haven’t been restored that are of most interest, they seem to have more presence. I suppose it’s a presence that marks an absence something that you can’t get away from when your around architecture that ends up being repositories for memories.
It’s strange when you’re growing up amongst this physical evidence of such a huge historical event but your main experience of it is through fiction, in particular film, I think it distances you from the real thing and you begin to look at them as stage sets, (but stage sets that have an aura because they blur some boundary between fact and fiction.)
Its been oddly comforting working at Galeria Leme because it reminds me so much of this type of architecture from my childhood.
Which medium do you prefer?
At the moment I’m concentrating on Photography and Sculpture but that’s just because it’s relevant to the subject matter. I enjoy it when the medium is made part of the subject matter in the work.
I think that by combining taxidermy and photography, for example, you can bring into question the aims behind both processes. Although I dislike working with taxidermy, as it’s a horribly unreliable material to work with, I also find it one of the most interesting. Of all acts of representation it’s the only one, which necessitates the death of the very thing it seeks to represent.
How would you describe your relation ship between your photography and sculpture?
Essentially in terms of process they are the same thing, i.e. both photography and taxidermy are attempts at arresting the subject in time. Then there’s also a questioning of authenticity with both these mediums because of their reliance on indexicality to their subject.
Yet the way we experience these mediums is slightly different, with the photographs you can project onto them and begin to imagine place, time, narrative Etc. With sculpture you can’t do that in the same way it invades your space and therefore its much more difficult to project onto, its very much grounded in the here and now. That’s why I often combine the two mediums, if you get too lost in photographs then the sculptures are always there to pull you back and make you re-question everything.
In terms of production the photographs are made in a controlled and deliberate way, there’s no shooting from the hip. I tend to do lot of research before and during the construction of the sets and try to plan the look and lighting so that everything will run smoothly when it comes to taking the pictures.
The recent suicide self portraits were more of a challenge as each piece is made up of a group of images and I had to try and imagine how each image would fit within that group on the shoot.
With the sculpture I’m more flexible and allow myself not to get too tied to a plan. The work’s are much more organic in their production and I often change things around during the production process.
How do you conduct your research?
I generally work on a few ideas at one time which then homogenise into one or two more focused areas. I often use the Internet as a starting point and then get more involved with a particular reference as I’m working.
The Suicide Self-Portrait series came out of a fascination for crime scene photography from 1920’s America. Because of the lighting and equipment used at the time as well as the photographer’s eye for the aesthetic, the images fall some where between documentary and fiction.
One of the most shocking things that came up in my research was how some war photographers had re-arranged dead bodies in order to create more aesthetically pleasing images.
Is recreating or restoring the past the best way to criticise current issues?
It’s not about criticising current issues but rather displays our relationship with the past. Often our attempts to restore or re-enact something our intentions get skewed. For example a restored piece of sculpture is not necessarily more authentic than one which is untouched, there are many differing factors to consider such as the restoration techniques at the time or at which point one ‘stops’ the restoration.
I used to work as a sculpture restorer and much of that type of work was actually repairing or updating previous attempts at restoration.
I think when things do get skewed they can sometimes be of more interest and reveal more about our compulsion to preserve and remember.
One of my favourite exhibits at the Natural History Museum in London, for example, is the info panel for the woolly mammoth, which describes how the original skeleton was put together incorrectly. When the skeleton was first exhibited its tusks were positioned to curve out sideways as it was believed that the animal would use the tusks to hang itself from trees when it slept.
Which do you believe to be the recurrent themes in your work?
In general terms I’m interested in our relationship with loss and how we are lured into creating fictions or narratives in an attempt to overcome it.
Obviously one of the main areas of investigation is into representations that lay claim to being authentic reproductions such as taxidermy, historical re-enactment and documentary photography.
I often take these mediums to their logical conclusion by making the piece of taxidermy actually appear lifelike [albeit to play out its own death] as in ‘Lure…’ or by representing the re-enactors back into the photographic world from which they draw their references.
More recently I’m becoming interested in the idea of forgery both seeing my work as a form of forgery and in the aim’s and processes used by forgers in their work
Do you find yourself in the position of questioning arts role in contemporary culture?
Art has many guises, on the one hand it’s an elitist sport complete with hunters, gamekeepers and trophies and on the other it’s simply an interesting and thought provoking way to tackle contemporary culture.
I think it’s an interesting time to be a fine artist as there as so many options and directions one could go, more so than say film or music which, although more affective in a popular sense is more rigid and formulaic in its genre’s.
Which are your favourite artists?
I’m not sure that I want to single anyone out but there are certainly a few influential individuals or works. The works, which once experienced seem to shape your thoughts. I suppose I’d include Étant donné by Duchamp in that as well as Orwell’s 1984, Chris Markers La Jetée and in terms of bodies of work Nauman and Paul Auster. It’s work that you keep coming back to like way markers that you somehow use to navigate yourself.
Any influential film directors or films?
I’ve already mentioned Chris Marker but I suppose also Tarkovsky, in particular Solaris and I’m also a big fan of Hitchcock, I love the way his films are structured. I think that’s the most interesting thing about film at the moment, the way they’re structured. Its become common for there to be a fractured non-liner narrative which reflects how much more sophisticated we are at viewing the moving image. You could say that this way of viewing is essentially cubist as you get to see the same scenes from differing viewpoints like in Gus van Sant’s ‘Elephant’for example.
I wanted the Suicide Self-Portraits to appear cinematic and emphasised this by using the differing viewpoints to make up each piece. I think you could read into the work a suggested narrative but its intentionally left open in an attempt to make the viewer more implicit in the work.
Does your work have a direct relationship with music?
No not really, although I often listen to music in the studio during the production stage of the work. Having said that though a couple of the works titles are influenced by music. ‘The City Lights Shine brightly in Their eyes’ is a bastardization of some David Bowie lyrics and ‘Dark was the Night/Cold was the Ground’ is a title taken directly from a Blind Willie Johnson song, but I don’t think its necessary to know that when reading the work, its just a personal reference point really.
You often use fishing flies in your work why?
For me the fishing flies are like a key to the works. If you think about how a fishing fly has to function: firstly you have to consider the climate and conditions of the environment in order to choose the correct fly, then you have to present the fly convincingly in order to seduce the fish. Its when the fish bites, when the hook pierces its mouth that there is a moment of realisation and its this process that I relate to my practice. It’s not about the notion of the artist as revealing ‘truths’ but about the complex relationship between imitation, presentation and seduction.
© Eduarda de Souza - NY Arts Magazine 2006