Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Hilary Riem, a fifth year photography student in thesis.
In this series, Hilary and Morgan talk about the subjectivity of archiving, decontextualizing political imagery and influences of commercial practices on your conceptual art work.
Who or what are your main photographic inspirations?
Because so much of my work is research and theory based, most of my inspiration comes from reading and researching the writings of thinkers. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben is a huge inspiration for me, and his writings on gesture, particularly those from the chapter in his book Means Without End entitled Notes on Gesture has become the basis for my thesis work. He talks about gesture’s immateriality, where nothing is being produced but rather supported, and the way in which images both support and destroy these notions by reproducing that which cannot be quantified, which i reference heavily within my work. That being said, I have also been looking at the work of Sarah Cwynar, Walid Raad, and Josephine Pryde.
Hilary Riem, Pointing Map, Inkjet print, 2017
What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?
For the last two years I have been focusing almost exclusively on gesture and body language, the social and communicative aspects of gesture, and how this plays out through means of mechanical reproduction like images and film.
How do you think using archival images in your art practice challenges or broadens notions of photography?
I think pulling from photographic archives can function in both ways, and challenging the subjectivity of the archive and the selective history it creates also creates a conversation around what photography looks like in a post modern condition, as well as what images mean within an image saturated society.
” I think especially in the political climate we exist within now its important to consider how incredibly poignant nonverbal forms of communication are.”
What body of work are you working on right now?
I am currently working on my thesis, which explores themes of gesture and body language, specifically pointing gestures and their political, social, and communicative functions in relation to notions of documentation, memory, and the photographic archive. I’m really focusing on the political function of pointing, and it’s role in the development of perceptions of political identity, leadership, and nationalism.
I’m also currently collaborating with another artist on a project that explores ideas of borders, boundaries and other forms of obstructing views, and how that affects our understanding of space and the landscape.
In your thesis work, you reference the influence of these archival images in relation to their gesture and body language and how it claims power, leadership and insinuates nationalism. How do you attempt to decontextualize or bring attention to these images and their constructed histories? Additionally, why do you find these images and their context important to examine?
My current explorations employ conventions used in media publications, primarily halftone processes, to both decontextualize the images and reference the context in which they have been disseminated to the public. By making reference to the actual context in which we consume these images while providing no textual information to contextualize them, the viewer is left to navigate what these gestures mean and the role they play in our understanding of national identity. Conversations around politics generally focus on what is being said, and even within things like political debates little attention is paid to the ways in which political candidates or leaders body language and gestures are affecting the publics perception of leadership, and how that plays into the perceived competency of a political leader. I think especially in the political climate we exist within now its important to consider how incredibly poignant nonverbal forms of communication are.
How closely has research been tied to your practice, and what do you think are the relationships between research and production for you?
Research is an integral part of my practice and always the beginning point for me when trying to work through ideas or questions I have about what I want the work to be about. If I hit a roadblock when I begin production, or if I feel that the work isn’t saying what I want it to say, I always look back to my research or begin to research another aspect of the concept in order to answer whatever questions I may have about the work.
Hilary Riem, Means and Ends 1, Inkjet print, 2017
You seem to work as a conceptual artist as well as a commercial/documentary photographer. What do you see as links between both of these streams and how do they inform your art practice?
My documentary work is often the jumping off point for my more concept based work, and a lot of times going out and observing and shooting helps me work through the unanswered questions that arise in the research phase of my conceptual work. Conversely, I find that the concepts that I work with in my commercial work usually come from ideas I work with in my conceptual work, and become a way to produce these thoughts in a less nuanced and more aesthetic way.
You have worked with archival images in numerous projects and I am interested to know your thoughts on how the archive constructs what we see and don’t see as ‘history’ and how the archive constructs subjectivity. Do you see the ideas of the archive and archiving as a practice relate to your practice or your current body of work?
I’m fascinated by the question of what constitutes an archive. Institutional archival practices began as a completely objective way to preserve records, and historically relevant information in order to look back and be able to understand that period of time. Of course because of the inordinate amount of time and resources it took to build and maintain these archives, information that seemed irrelevant or unimportant to the archivist slipped through the cracks, and this subjectivity is where archives became more of a constructed or idealized depiction of the history it preserves.
Hilary Riem, Pointing Map, Inkjet print, 2017
Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?
I never think too much about working with anyone particular, and my practice tends to be very solitary and introspective. That being said, I would love to get into doing archiving and preservation work within a specific archive, because I think that understanding the technical aspects of archival work would help me gain better insight to the functions of these archives and their role in relation to ideas of collective memory.
Are their any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?
Gabi Moser’s photo theory class which I took in third year was where I began to become interested in photographic archives, and was where I really began to think critically about what photography makes visible and invisible.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?
Use the incredible amount of resources available here, and explore as many mediums and processes as you can, especially those outside of photography. Once you graduate it will be infinitely harder to gain access to these things so take advantage of it while you can!
Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.
Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams
About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.