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an image of a sculpture by Hillary Matt

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Simplicity in Complexity: An Interview with Hillary Matt

by: Raechel Bonomo

Artist Hillary Matt has created a conversation about everyday discussions; how we converse with the inanimate objects we encounter daily and more importantly, what they say to us.

The multi-media works hanging in the Robert McLaughlin’s (RMG) Gallery A are a collection of recent, new and site-tailored pieces comprising the artist’s solo exhibition Chances and Dangers. Inspired by the 1881 novel The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Matt takes you through the all-encompassing highs and lows of life, similar to those experienced by the novel’s protagonist.

I spoke with Matt about the chances and dangers of her exhibit, what speaks to her and the intricacies of life in both the 2D and 3D form.


Raechel Bonomo (RB):
Take me through your process. How does your work begin?

Hillary Matt (HM): Each work is kind of like a magnet that accumulates all the ideas and feelings I have at the time it is being made. How this begins is tricky to say, as it’s completely intuitive and is kind of always happening. I would say it usually begins with a feeling and that feeling is often a response to the music I am listening to or the stories I am reading or the movies I am watching. This is then followed by Google image searches, visits to Wikipedia, YouTube, Reddit forums and the library. I have referred to this process previously as art-based research and that sounds really professional but I think it is accurate.

RB: How long has this exhibition been in the works?

HM: I have been actively making work for Chances and Dangers since April of 2016, so about seven months. Having this length of time has taught me a lot about how I work. There was many times where I thought I was finished or had planned to be finished and then another idea would come up that seemed really necessary to follow through on. I think this speaks to the fluid nature of how I make sense of this exhibition and my work in general.

RB: How has the novel The Portrait of A Lady influenced this series of work?

HM: The quote from [The] Portrait of a Lady in the exhibition write-up is something I chose to reference because I feel like the sentiment it holds reveals a lot about the guts of the work in the show, which are really quite personal are more or less about the guts of life. The work was already rolling before I became interested in the novel so it didn’t really influence much of it but rather helped me to explain my thinking around it.

RB: What does “chances and dangers” mean to you?

HM: To me, chances and dangers is a poetic descriptor of the ups and downs of life. The line comes from the quote I used in the exhibition text which is a conversation between Isabel, the main character in the novel, and one of her suitors. She is realizing that happiness and suffering are inextricable; they are in a sense one in the same. To avoid the chances and dangers of life would be to avoid happiness, too. As humans I think we can all relate to Isabel’s realization.

RB: Your work plays on the simplicity and, simultaneously, the complications of life. How do you believe this comes through in your work?

HM: It fascinates me that you perceive my work in that way. I think perhaps the only thing that simplifies my work is its flatness, the ability for all parts to exist and interact on the same plane. After that things get pretty complicated. I guess using the text from the novel is a way to point out what it all boils down, these existential questions, which may in some way simplify things for people.

RB: How would you describe the relationship between 2D language (signage) and your work?

HM: Formally, I think most of the work in Chances and Dangers reflect a conversation between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality. I am interested in flatness as a metaphor for how we interpret time, space and language. So much of how we represent and know our world is in 2D: photography, newspaper, film, painting, drawings, and yet we are 3D beings. I am always trying to engage with that notion in my work.

RB: What do you believe is the difference between sign and art?

HM: I believe there is a big difference between sign and art and by suggesting a comparison of the two with this exhibition I am trying to drawing attention to the possibility of language being just a pictorial symbol. As an artist, I struggle to use words to describe what my work is about, why I make it, or the most confrontational question: What does it mean? Breaking down and abstracting language and the written word is a way for me to confront the authority and meaning that language usually holds.

RB: You used various objects in a mixed media setting throughout this exhibit. What are some of the objects in particular used in the work?

HM: I used a piece of polished break-form steel that I retrieved from a local scrap metal yard as a support to hold up the two large-format prints in donno if it’s real but it’s what I feel, 2015. To me this work resembles some kind of ceremonial hanging banner you might find in the back of a place like the Lion’s Club. Dually, I imagine the piece of steel as the spine of a book and each print as a page in my diary. In another work titled score, 2016 I use a found towel rack presumably from the 90’s judging by its decoration that I repainted pink. I imagine the rungs of the rack as lines on a sheet of paper or on a page of sheet music. The objects I have created out of paper weave in and out. Other work in the exhibition uses textiles, a motorcycle mirror, and a plastic cable wire cover. Because I studied sculpture/installation I am forced to consider the implications of the materials I use. In using found objects I am forced to consider their past life, their role in consumer culture, and I value the challenge they present.

RB: What is one thing you hope people take away from your exhibition at the RMG?

HM: I hope viewers are inspired and take away something that is useful to them.