SAM THORNE Let’s start by talking about your interest in Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999).
HANNAH PERRY There was a lot of video work I read about during my BA at Goldsmiths that I didn’t see until later. Leckey’s film wasn’t then online. I first came across it in a book called Electric Earth: Film and Video from Britain (1999), alongside works by Oliver Payne and Nick Relph, and Hilary Lloyd. A lot of those films I didn’t actually encounter in anything other than book form until I saw them at LUX or at screenings some time later, though I felt like I understood a lot about them just through reading. Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore had a particular cultural resonance for me, and not only because I’m from the same area of northwest England as Leckey. The connection is geographical as well as to do with certain demographics: for example, I once saw a silkscreen that Leckey did of sportswear logos, and immediately felt as though I understood what he was articulating. Distinctions of taste and aesthetics are often made through these subtle sorts of cultural nods.
ST Fiorucci… was initially commissioned by the ICA as a compilation of music videos, a format which – in terms of speed, rhythm, brevity – feels relevant to your own work.
HP Leckey recently said that those videos developed into Fiorucci… because he wanted to put himself into the work a little bit more. I guess that’s how I started too: collecting material about the things I understand; presenting myself through different forms of common or public footage. ST Could you describe your working process? It seems like you move from collecting and editing through to processing.
HP The collecting mainly happens organically. That might mean filming extremely short snippets of footage – from 30 seconds to a minute – on an iPhone. Yesterday, for example, I was working at my computer and listening to a podcast of film soundtracks whilst my friend was sleeping on the bed. I started filming him and his breathing seemed to sync with the music. I may never use it, but it was just a weird little moment. Equally, I might record a conversation with my niece in which she’ll say something funny about what she wants to do when she grows up. In fact, the final scene in my film While it Lasts (2012) is from a party in Peckham. I’ll also get stuff from old, strange documentaries in video libraries, or from biopics about comedians. Humour is a great tool. I love, for example, the way Bill Hicks entered into general discussions about society, talking about disgust or apathy. My work is often about accidental rhythms, or finding beauty in daft moments.
ST So you have a collection of material that you may or may not use?
HP Yes, and then I process it, sometimes through VHS players or by uploading things to the Internet. It’s a case of wanting to confuse the original source of the footage, so that there’s no hierarchy between something that I’ve shot and something I’ve found.
ST Like playing audio through a filter?
HP Exactly. In the processing phase, I end up examining footage over and over again until, finally, the imagery seems to declare its content. The same goes for sound. Early on, I’d listen closely to how an audio sample had been manipulated – whether that’s using reverb or delay – and would think about how it might work visually. For one film I worked on, for example, I took an R&B track by Doc McKinney and then tried to visually emulate the audio.
ST A bit like reverse-engineering?
HP Yes. I added stutter and delay, but then deleted the actual audio. So the visuals carry something like a ghostly imprint or echo of the absent sound.
ST For your recent presentation in ‘Premiums’, at the Royal Academy Schools in London, the audio component also had a visual manifestation – an animated quality – in the form of a set of subwoofers.
HP I found them online. They usually sit in the boot of boy-racers’ cars, where they’re wired up to a stereo system, but the way they functioned within that work was part-sculptural. It goes back to an exhibition I did last year at the Zabludowicz Collection in London, where I started to bring different elements of the footage out of the frame. I covered two scaffolding structures with hanging images: film stills, newspaper cuttings and photographs I had taken. In a way, the films are like a series of introductions, based upon collaged imagery or juxtaposed footage, which allows me to play around with the ‘poetics’ of the image. For me, that means locating a different kind of beauty in imagery that is not necessarily beautiful.
ST In the 1990s, beauty was a contested terrain, with the idea of a ‘return to beauty’ with which Dave Hickey is associated. For many younger artists today, it seems as though it’s a much less antagonistic subject.
HP Beauty can also imply a certain tenderness or sensitivity. It can mean having a certain sensibility and being able to process that in a specific way.
ST Locating it in different intensities or synchronicities?
HP Absolutely. One of my favourite films is Gummo (1997) by Harmony Korine, in part because it’s like a series of introductions. It has a narrative rhythm rather than a narrative trajectory, a similar quality to what I’m looking for, even though it’s cinematic.
ST Are you interested in concluding work as well as making introductions?
HP If you have a seven-minute film, there might be all kinds of things – class, gender, sex, power, lifestyle – that are interconnected in some way. They’re like small thoughts, almost. Through editing you can declare things, point to things. It’s not a case of question and answer; no conclusion is needed.
Hannah Perry lives in London, UK. In 2012, she had a solo exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection, London, and was included in several group shows in New York, USA, and across Europe. In 2013, she has shown as part of ‘Premiums’ at the Royal Academy Schools, London; is showing videos at Spike Island, Bristol, UK, in April; and has been commissioned by Create to present a performance at the Barbican, London, this summer.