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Hanna Haaslahti Interviewed by Claire Mander - Part 2

CM: How did you approach your Sculpture Shock residency and making the work?

HH: Not in front of a computer screen.  Chiswick House and English Heritage have been very supportive and I have spent many days at the Temple, in the archives and in the grounds. The history of the Ionic Temple is fascinating and many layered.  As with all historical research, as many things are hidden as are revealed. Just as the obelisk that stands in front of it, the Temple itself is a monument and monuments are selective in their statements about past deeds. 

Certain aspects of the Temple caught my imagination: the empty niches in the interior; the armless sculptures in the grounds and the idea of building a bridge between the past and present – of invigorating a space which is not open to the public. 

The two empty niches in the Temple once contained copies of classical sculptures now in the main house. Replicas of these stand in the gardens outside the Temple area. They have lost their arms and hands – their gestures – and without them the sculptures have lost their means of communication.  I wanted to study gestures of classical sculpture to link past and present by incorporating them into the installation. The concept of ‘heroic nudity’ invented during Archaic period resonates strongly with contemporary anxieties surrounding beauty and the toning of muscles.  These same gestures reappear again and again in sculpture over the millennia and now they float in their contemporary incarnation on the surface of the mirror pond. Certain visual effects just keep repeating themselves throughout history.  
Much of the apparent richness of the interiors of Chiswick House is due to its carefully gilded surfaces. This interested me as I primarily work with light which creates a similar type of surface effect.  Gilding, though, is a way of making materials look more desirable and expensive – creating this rift between the surface and the essence.  I decided to invert this treatment and re-cover the solid materials of the Temple with a contemporary non-precious, artificial looking material.  So much of the contemporary world is made up of cheap fake things mimicking old precious things – like cheap vinyl oak-looking floors or fake marble tiles which I wanted to make the viewer think about.  I wanted to create an installation which highlights the disjunct between the solidity of this grand building and the instability of the contemporary world. 

CM: How do you hope your Sculpture Shock intervention for the Ionic Temple at Chiswick House will be read by its audience and what impact do you hope it will have? 

HH:  The audience is the key link between the building and my work and between past and present. The interactive light work will ensure that visitors are in the spotlight, if only for a moment. They will be the fulcrum of the work – actually generating and moving the light.  The audience is not passive – they will not just stand and watch – their function is to challenge the border between installation, viewer and site.  I hope their perceptions will be altered and they will be animated by the space as much as they animate it themselves.

CM: How has Sculpture Shock assisted you in the development of you practice and what are your artistic ambitions? 

HH:  This program really opened a new perspective in my artistic practice. I had labeled myself as a media artist and now I have a broader sense of what I do.  Why do we have to have these divisions anyway?  As an artist I want to be able to always do whatever is necessary.

12.11.2015

  • Ionic Temple, Chiswick House

  • Collage of Gestures

  • Hanna Haaslahti in the studio. Photo:Anne Purkiss