INTERVIEW WITH ARTIST RYAN HILL
By Ian F Svenonius
Q: So what should I write?
RH: I think the idea of this essay is basically to introduce people to some of the ideas in the show
Q: So I don't have to write in obfuscationist art speak?
RH: No. Unless you think that would be funny ...
RH: But mostly I do drawings. Most of the images from my drawings are pulled off the internet. My last show was a little more goth and it was supposedly about death and dying and decay so it had more of a romantic look. This one is a little more pop ...
RH: Yeah, trash culture but this one (points to picture from show) is Valentino so that's supposed to be high class
Q: Rudolph Valentino?
RH: No, the designer Valentino. I don't know his first name ...
So the last show was called "Everything Must Go." It was a play on the economic downturn and also on the idea that a gallery is just a store and that the art world is suffering and that you gotta get that merchandise out, but it was also about mortality and you know, the boo-hoo stuff.
This next show is "Super Facial." It's more about superficiality but also about the face; about what a face is, how faces are like products, how faces are like words, how they're not real– they are real and we do all this stuff to our face–but what does that mean? It's like a mask.
How faces are like masks ...like this piece here. Its just like a round rock, but if you drill two holes into it all of a sudden it becomes a face ... or there's a breed of butterflies that have these weird spots on their wings that look like eyes ... and why would predators think that a butterfly has eyes? So its this idea that a face is something that's made up.
Then there's the thing about glamour ... people want to make their faces powerful and glamorous and enviable ... but when there's no money around what do you do to make yourself glamourous?
So I found these things ... cheap facials ... they're cheap facials you can buy ...special therapy you put on your face with special qualities to enrich your face ... to get rid of stress; they're magical you know?
So there's like 10 main drawings in the show ... and they're facials. Hot lava facial, cucumber facial, vanilla fudge facial, honeycomb and cream facial; But I also found things like this ... like an Ancient Egyptian statue that looks like Michael Jackson ... and I also found this Shirley MacLaine face but with crazy people's writing on it ... and I went on facebook ... so I just took the word face and I went crazy.
So I started thinking "what is a face?" ... if we wanted to we could probably see a face in this; it's an animal cracker ...
A lot of my connection to my art has to do with growing up in the late 60s and 70s when people were playing with their face as a way of playing with their identity. So this show seems to deal with ideas of face painting, like face painting is coming back in a big way ...
Q: Like Glass Candy
RH: Yeah, the whole idea that you can change your identity by changing your face but after awhile I thought the objects you put on your eyes start to change your identity . Even though this is a cocoa and shea butter facial, its a really beautiful image ... I've taken all the advertising out of it so its more poetic ... I like how her face is floating in space ...
The weird thing is that you look at a fashion magazine and its all these highly erotic images but because there is money attached to it, its not sexual ...
Q: Well, it's for women so its a different kind ...
RH: Because of the sexual revolution and the media there is more and more pressure on people to outperform the actual act of sex ... but I have a friend Anna Biller who's a filmmaker who believes people were having more liberated sex before the sexual revolution and that the sexual revolution was just a way of repackaging women's desires in a way that benefited men ...
One thing I am really aware about in this show, and the last show, is that the images are all just heads and faces and I have a phrase in the show that says "looking, looking, thinking, thinking, no body home" and that's about what happens to your body when all you do is think about things all day ...
Q: The whole computer thing ... do you think people are going to give up their bodies?
RH: I think if you look at the 70s, it gets us ready for this sort of thing, like "Logan's Run" and this idea of anonymous sex as the only kind of sex and intimacy as something to avoid. Goes back to Brave New World.
Back to the body, there's that idea of singularity, and that we are contributing to an artificial intelligence that's going to surpass us that will be able to simulate a giant brain with emotional intelligence; every aspect of our brain ... and that will shift our ideas of reality. So maybe the culture of the body will be heightened.
Q: I predict the body will be like nature ... we will be so alienated from it that it might be idealized ... but I think the body will relinquished because it will seem outmoded ... riddled with disease, if you just put yourself on the internet you can move faster, fuck more people ...
RH: I guess the head is a little bit like an ovum, in the way I am thinking about it ... the head is like an ovum and its waiting to be impregnated.
Q: Faces are on coins, on dollars , fascism has everything to do with the face; Greece was all about the body, Rome was all about the face ...
RH: This video (part of the show) is an extension of the drawings ... This is Ginger Rogers; I'm doing a lot of layering ... that head body split is something I am really interested in. His head keeps rolling off ...
Q: Yeah the head / body duality is interesting ... there's this thing you hear people saying:"he looked at my tits" ... so he was supposed to look at your face. But why is your face somehow not a sexual thing?
RH: And why are your tits not a part of your identity as much as your face? Why is your face somehow a more respectful place ?
Q: The face is a very sexual thing ... staring at somebody's face is ...
RH: The way to switching it around might be to say the vagina has intelligence; like why doesn't a woman "think with her vagina"? Like maybe she should be thinking with her vagina more. Or maybe she does and no one talks about it ... they always say guys "think with their dicks."
Q: Yes they should say "she's thinking with her pussy" and making very sensible, middle class, protestant decisions
RH: As opposed to a Bill Clinton scenario, like being led around ... There's this whole thing about symmetry in beauty and there's this hierarchy of the mind ... there's a "head of state" ... but there's no "body of state." There's a head of state and the head is always this individual and the body is always this swarm or multitude. But what if the head was a multitude and the body was an individual? I suppose that would be a schizophrenic person? Or maybe just very creative . So I'm just multiplying the faces, multiplying the mind ... but I haven't gotten to the body yet. Liberating the body in the '70s was just an advertising ploy.
The way I think about art is theatrical. I am not "expressing myself" when I make my drawings. I think about them as props for something theatrical. And when you put them in the room they react off one another, and the person looking at them has an experience and yeah, I have certain material that's my own that I bring to it but I am trying to create a situation, so its not as much about my own subjective expressivity but more theatrical. Like if I really wanna paint a good avocado I really have to think about its texture and experience it in the way that an actor might have to dredge up sense memory .. so you have to use your memory in order to make things persuasive and for them to theatrically "work. " I guess I see the same things working where I think a good art show is something that's theatrical.
Q: By Theatrical do you mean "engaging" ? Or that it should tell a story?
RH: Like when you come out of a movie you see things differently. You can't see certain things the same way. I don't know if I could possibly do that but I think a really good artist can.
Good art is philosophy ... when people wanna buy or sell stuff , thats cool but I would hope that they're buying the philosophy or buying the sensibility ... that they're understanding a worldview.
Q: So every show you do is a completely new thing?
RH: I try to approach it that way ...like a concept album I guess. I try to build up a story around it
Q: What do you want out of an art show?
RH: When I go to another person's art show I want them to make me feel crazy. I like the altered states it can put you in.
Q: Why do Americans have such contempt for artists and hate art?
RH: Because artists are "lazy" and "they're not making money in the right way."
Opening Reception: Friday, May 21, 7-9pm
Civilian Art Projects is pleased to present the second solo exhibition of artist Ryan Hill. In “SuperFacial,” Hill continues his process of exploring the contemporary cultural imagination through found images and word associations, welcoming the viewer into his imagination by exhibiting a related wall collage of ephemera, photographs, drawings and textworks, and a video collaboration with DC area experimental filmmaker Rob Parrish.