“Don’t let all the materials and boxes in here bother you, there are so many things from my various projects.” Hannah Heilmann is making us tea in her studio while music is playing from the room next door.
Hannah Heilmann shares a huge studio space in the Vesterbro area of Copenhagen with several other artists. Judging by the materials spread across the space, there is a lot of hard of work going on here. The atelier has a warm homely atmosphere; it is almost like visiting Hannah at home. And maybe that is what visiting an artist’s studio is all about; they open up a deeply personal space to a stranger.
Hannah Heilmann studied art history instead of attending an art school. This perhaps provides her with a different context for her own work, and by extension, contemporary art as a whole. “When you study art history horizontally, I mean, including stuff happening 1000 years before Marcel Duchamp, it grounds you. Artists depict the same human problems over and over again, and art also deals with these same problems over and over”.
Hannah calls herself a “crypto academic”. She mixes artistic work with
lecturing at Copenhagen’s Royal Academy of Fine Art. It appears that both these sides to her work seem to be intertwined. For example she worked with slideshows in several art projects, and sometimes those slides were originally meant for her lectures.
“A lot of my work is about me reacting to my surroundings. I don’t see the Subject as a solid form, separate from the environment. Instead it is constantly reshaping, spilling out, overflowing through the actions of others, or by technology. We are essentially blobs depending on each other and reacting to each other without always noticing it, or even wanting to notice. I sometimes have the feeling that maybe we are trying to be more individual then we actually are.”
Hannah continues by explaining her clear point of view on this collective feeling and the changing needs of our bodies in the ”post-Internet” era. “We are constantly sitting by the computer looking at the world through a screen. This changes the needs of the body. Our body can be still, and our mind active somewhere else.” Hannah says.
Hannah keeps a box with used contact lenses as part of this commentary. They are her own discarded pairs and have featured in several exhibitions as part of an on going work, ‘Having No Soul’. With these Hannah is attempting to translate ‘to be on the Internet’ to doing something physical.
“We are incessantly trying to define our Self and delimitate our Self as a Subject, and the flatness and floatyness of the Internet makes this even clearer.”
Hannah uses fashion as a means of illustrating this point.
”We think we are alone with a feeling, for example a weird arbitrary craving for a particular piece of clothing. Then we look at shop windows and understand this was a collective emotion. Universal. Every blob in town wanted that particular sweater because all the blobs responded to the same events and feelings.”
While Hannah’s work is about her being sensitive of what is surrounding her; she has recently worked with various ways of reacting to different situations. Allowing the work to develop and transcend.
“Somehow people tend to have these ideas about what kind of art I can make, and often I choose to embrace their projections. Like when Honza Hoeck was curating this completely trippy retrospective exhibition at TOVES in Copenhagen about the very esoteric artist Jan Bäcklund. He asked four artists to interpret one of the communities described by Jan, in a piece of clothing. I chose the Idiotidæe – The idiots. I made a one-piece silk mermaid suit, printed with my Facebook profile, and added palm tree feet. It was presented on a wooden structure with my measurements, making it a sculpture, sort of filling it out and animating it.”
About the same time Hannah got booked to do a DJ set at the National Gallery of Denmark. She made a performance of it, wearing the same mermaid dress, constantly interrupting the music by singing and reading out commercials, Plugs, that were almost like social media statuses.
”Then someone wanted to include it at the Center in Berlin, and I though sheeeit, because by then the palm tree feet had rotted. So I showed the work on a duvet, in the process of being washed out. And now it’s in a show at CAC in Vilnius where I made the dress ‘run’ on folding chairs. The curators also wanted the Plugs performance so I made a second Face Suit, this one is a bouclet-y patchwork version, sonow the first suit isn’t lonely anymore.”
This is only one example of Hannah’s way of working and ability to constantly and continuously develop her work.
“There is probably something there, all these iterations, and… and the ’me’ in online. Digital media goes analogue in a way, by me printing Facebook on an actual material that you can touch, it responds to an urge, or a longing, making it feel like the screen actually has a connection to one’s physical body.”
Maybe it is true what Hannah says, everything is reacting to, and depending on, the things around it. At a time when many are under the impression the Internet is the only media form we will have left in the end, don’t even books or magazines will remain, it is truly rewarding to experience the work of someone who is creative enough to – literally – take the Internet out of the Internet, in an artistic way. Her name is Hannah Heilmann.