We spoke with Heather Hansen about her emptied gestures performances and works. Read the interview below, see more images at ochigallery.com, or visit Hansen’s site here.
Ochi Gallery: When people ask you to describe your work how do you answer?
Heather Hansen: Currently I am exploring kinetic drawing. I make large scale pieces in charcoal or pastels using my body as a drawing tool.
Where do you see the intersection between dance and fine art in your work?
For me personally there is no differentiation between the two. I think those kind of distinctions end up marginalizing the creative impetus. When I dance or paint I have the same intention. It’s not the medium or the modality as much as it is the approach and the process involved in creating a finished piece.
What first compelled you to create the emptied gestures?
It’s the sort of thing that once it found its way into my consciousness it was already so familiar that I wondered what took me so long. It’s combining so many elements of former work into one condensed form.
Playing in the sand on the beach a few years back, I had a moment when I looked back at my footprints and marks that I’d left from doing a few ballet movements and thought, wow I really want to sculpt that. There have been many times in dance where I’m very aware of the shapes I am drawing in the space with my body, so it’s finally occurred to me that I can actually draw them as I am making them. Now I am discovering more artists who are exploring the same themes, and it feels like a bit of a movement towards embodied arts is possibly developing. No pun intended.
Do you have an idea of the pattern you’re going to create before you pick up the charcoal, or does it happen moment to moment?
I will usually decide on a general shape and then improvise within a set of self imposed restrictions. I always have some kind of dogma to play with. First of all I’m limited to one plane (so far) but in a way it’s very useful because I am able to find more freedom by having some constraints. I was in a choreography workshop in Paris with one of my favorite teachers, Nina Dipla, and she asked us to create a movement phrase. After we did she asked us to then restrict the same phrase within the confines of an imaginary cube of space. I loved that exercise because just having that one restriction gave the improvisation a form to adhere to, and a dynamic tension which was so much more interesting to me than aimless improvisation.
What’s going through your mind as you create them?
Not a lot. I mean intentionally so. It’s very much a meditation. Thoughts come and go, memories, impressions, but I try to focus on breathing when my mind strays. I am trying to shut down the analytical side of my brain. Ideally my thoughts are about the process, the sound of the charcoal on paper, and keeping a sense of the spatial patterns thru physical memory. I think all the years of Butoh training have found a new purpose for me in this work. We would paint our bodies white for performances, and the idea behind that was to “erase” the ego. Choreography tended to be more like following a meditative poem of images than which body part did exactly what, when or where.
You’re kind of a nomad. Does all your travel play into your artistic practice?
I think I have the curse of the restless gene for sure. Most of my travel has been in pursuit of art, either to see it or do it. I don’t really travel just to have a vacation, I just move in. If I get interested in a method or an artist I go to the source. I was introduced to Butoh dance in college when I was student directing The Tempest. My professor had been a student of Kazuo Ohno. after graduating, I moved to Japan to study with Kazuo and his son, Yoshito. I studied with him for 5 years when I met Pina Bausch in his studio. Seeing her work affected me so much that I decided I had to audition. I went to Germany to audition and though I did not make it into the company I met people thru that who I studied and worked with years later. I also developed a love affair with Italian renaissance fresco during that trip, and went to Florence to study the technique. I’ve lived in Bali briefly to work with my brother developing his clothing line Heathen. Most recently I lived in Paris for 4 years where I worked as an art director, and choreographer, and still have a tiny art studio there. I currently work in the film industry in New Orleans and have found an artistic home in the NoRo building, a creative hothouse in the Bywater.
Where does your inspiration come from? Are there other artists you admire?
Anywhere and everywhere. I am as fond of the old masters, as much as I am of new media. Kazuo Ohno, Pina Bausch, Klaus Obermaier, Gideon Obarzanek, Joji Otani, Teshigawara Saburo, Stefan Sagmeister, Richard Serra, Jan Fabre, Nils Frahm, Botticelli, Marina Abromovic, Erik Satie, Nicholas Jaar, Wim Vandekeybus, Eugene Delacroix, Anish Kapoor, Igor Stravinski, Kazuo Shiraga, Gerhardt Richter, Béla Tarr, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anne Hamilton, Busby Berkely, Andrei Tarkovsky, Maria Ranier Rilke, Frank Gherry, Edward Steichen, Louise Bourgeois…..
Check out Heather’s latest video, shot by Bryan Tarnowski