Today we have the pleasure of presenting our latest 'In Conversation' between curator Kristian Haggblom and closing artist Danielle Hobbs. The exhibition Talisman Sourcebook for the Animal Wife has now concluded and we would like to thank all involved for a great show. Don't forget, our new exhibition At Water & Leaflet 1 from LA based photographers Nathanael Turner and Michael Hernandez opens this Friday, August 30 at 5pm.
KH: I’ll start with a confession. I really like the word trinket! I’m not entirely sure why, it could just be the sound. One of the images from my PMS series is a girl burning a trinket that most Japanese people attach to their phone. These are usually exchanged by lovers so the image has some “heated” meanings for those that understand the cultural dialogue at play. No doubt your pictures also hold some powerful and not too discernable meanings. What do the trinkets you have scanned for this exhibition ward off?
DH: It is a great word, nice to say like belly or pappadam! But I think of a trinket as a disposable object of not much value, like something you would get from a gum machine or a Christmas cracker. I refer to my objects as talismans, charms or amulets as its suggestive of a higher importance to its owner. Just to clarify, the odd trinket has transcended to talisman status in my collection and although they may be important to me I’m sure others view them as trinkets.
The process of investing mental and emotional energy into an object, action or idea is something we all do and each object I scanned have varying importance to me. The signet rings belonged to my maternal and paternal grandmothers and my mother and are a symbol of the strong women in my life. The ballerina is from my first music box and although the box is long gone, the dancer has travelled all over the world with me. She is a reminder to remained composed and graceful at all times but also to just whirl like a dervish every now and then because there is nothing quite so liberating and childlike as spinning until you fall down.
There is also a number of universal objects such as wishbones, coins, a shooting star, and an eyelash collection for the purposes of making wishes, the odd fairy tale reference with frogs for hope that a gorgeous princely husband will come along. I’ve also scanned objects that have made appearances in other works of mine – the mirror and scissors I photographed my grandmother with (reflection on and snipping the thread of life) the rabbit fur from the cloak that I made and photographed my daughter wearing (protection) the vintage porcelain teeth that I used in a sculptural work (fear of bad parenting) and the list goes on…
This series is an extension of your recently completed (congratulations) Masters by Research through RMIT. Can you briefly outline that project? I know it has a wonderful title as with this exhibition. Also, I worked with you on your Honours project so I wonder how much that influenced the more recent work?
This body of work has a direct lineage from my Honours project back in 2009 at LTU. It heralded a new way of working for me. Once upon a time I would pack my camera bag, head out in the morning and not return til after dark. This methodology became redundant when I had children and my process became house bound for a few years. I took up sewing again, a skill that my mum taught me when I was 7 or 8 looking to produce a stylish wardrobe for my Barbie! This change of life situation and art practise pushed my work in a sculptural/object direction which has continued into my Masters Research project. The Black Swan and Postnatal Depression: preventive talismans and transformative garments for ‘bad’ mothers developed out of a coping mechanism that I used when I was in the depths of depression after giving birth to our second child.
In the centuries-old fairy tale of the Swan Maiden, a man sees a white swan shed her feathered robe to bathe, revealing a beautiful maiden. He steals the enchanted garment preventing the Swan Maiden from flying away so she will marry him and bear his children. The children eventually give away the robe’s hiding place, enabling the Swan Maiden to transform again into her swan shape and flee, leaving her husband and children behind. In a personal re-imagining of the tale, the swan is black rather than white, and only the mother knows the location of the enchanted robe. Rather than escaping her marriage, my version of the Black Swan uses the charmed garment to remove herself from moments of maternal crisis, as a protective measure for both the children and herself. In this research project I explored ideologies of motherhood and the contradictions and complexities of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ motherhood. I will draw on my firsthand experience of Postnatal Depression and the inherent binaries of Animal Wife narratives - in particular the Black Swan motif - focusing on the fluid, transformative spaces between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ motherhood. The project was realised through the creation of garments that suggest escape through transformation, and talismans, amulets and charms that embody the dual purposes of watching over the child in the mother’s absence and shielding the child from the ‘bad’ mother’s presence. Gosh, it makes me sound horrible!
You work across several mediums but all with clarity for an end result. Can you elaborate on what these are and how they relate back to lens-based practice?
Well, it’s funny because I actually identify as a photographer, but I suppose I’d be perceived as something quite different. I found myself moving away from photography as a single medium for the purposes of convenience, as we have already discussed, but also because it failed to tell the whole story anymore. I don’t really think too much about what medium I’d like to use but what process or materials will best express my intent. I think black and white photography has given me a reduced colour palette, I tend toward medium format photography these days for the simple reason that I like the democracy of the square, and working in a darkroom and now with digital printing photography has given me a deep appreciation for finish, a skill that I regard as highly valuable.
You had ethical issues akin to Sally Mann and, although slightly different but within Australia, Bill Henson (let’s not go there), how do you feel about that now? Is it something we should discuss or just acknowledge the fact that we are an all-too-often backwards looking country? This is of course also the Philip Lorca-di Corcia case.
Yes, as part of my project I had planned to photograph my children in a similar vein to that of my Honours project. For a number of reasons (power relationship, age of consent, secondary focus of research) my application didn’t even make it to the sitting committee. I was livid at the time, then panicked, and I artistically froze for a couple of months before embarking on an ‘unblocking’ process of scanning and a drawing-a-day workshop.
I now understand, appreciate and embrace the University’s reasons for turning down my project. Academia has the responsibility to benchmark ethical research, be it art or science, which the rest of the community can look to for guidance.
Having said that, there are a number of off spins from the process such as being forced out of my comfort zone to produce works unlike anything I had made before and finishing at the University with half a project still to create. At this point I leave myself open to criticism from the public akin to Mann, Henson etc.
I first saw this work in publication form. You know us Wallflowerians are big on books. How do you feel about the work in print and exhibition form? How do they relate? And what is your most cherished publication (you can mention 3 only)?
I quite enjoyed the process of turning the scans into prints. As you know, I only ever planned to use this process as an ‘unblocker’ so I never envisaged them as anything other than a digital file. However I prefer them in book form because they are a source material, a catalogue or a witch’s recipe book of spells and charms if you like, so they still have greater potency in this format for me. And I love the grey felt cover!
Cherished publications. Well my most cherished is a book I first discovered at the Brunswick library when I was studying at Brighton Bay (now PIC Hawthorn). Robert Frank and moving to Melbourne went hand in hand for me and after having it on permanent loan for a year I saved up and bought my own copy of The Americans. Others might be Kiki Smith’s Prints and Things, and my Blindspot collection, hard to narrow down because there is also my copy of Cornelia Parker’s book that I bought on a visit to the Tate in London…
Slightly politically charged question being a post-exhibition interview but it makes sense considering you have lived in this region for most of your life and we both work at La Trobe University (who are now an official supporter of Wallflower). Firstly, how was your experience exhibiting at Wallflower? Being local is was a very big crowd at the opening, which we – of course – like. Secondly, what role do you think the gallery plays in a regional city? Do you have any advice for the motley Team Wallflower?
Rushed but surprisingly stress free! Many thanks to Krystal Seigerman at LTU for her terribly professional assistance for getting the prints out and up in time, and the staff were very open and obliging to all my requests for access, hanging, painting plinths and miscellaneous. Being local is always an advantage when it comes to crowd numbers and local press interest, but I am always humbled by the people who make an effort to come to my openings. I see the gallery as having a twofold purpose here in Mildura. In my educators guise that they showcase international work in a small regional centre is of great value and importance not only to the artistic community but also to the students. They can see what a small contemporary gallery runs/looks like without having to leave home (but do leave home and go see other galleries in other cities please students!) and keep abreast of what’s happening in photomedia around the world. It’s also an advantage for local artists to be able to show in such a professional setting along side the likes of Thomas Breakwell and Georgia Metaxis. I also see the breaking down of a divide between the city and the country, that a number of artists who are coming to exhibit in Mildura either have or are forging connections with the region, often returning with or after a show.
Finally, as we always do – tunes, what do you suggest is good listening while taking in this collection of your collection?
I’ll confess I don’t listen to music very much and I certainly can’t work with it on. I had an epiphany recently after a trip to Melbourne. I think at heart I am an urban dweller but find the white noise of being in the city interferes with my ability to think straight (especially now that my head is filled with extra voices of children/husband) So I live in the country not for the landscape, not for the lifestyle but for the silence…
Having said that, I like to listen to music when I’m relaxing or running and have been going through my old collections recently - Archers of Loaf, Leonard Cohen, old Nick Cave. I have young children who are forever downloading horrible pop music on iTunes and have a shameful knowledge of what’s in the top 10. When I’m entertaining I like background music, and have been enjoying the jazz on Saturday evenings on Radio National. While taking in this work I think something instrumental so that there is no leading narrative, so it’s open to personal interpretation.