i don’t know, this could be the worse thing for you
when the pain body is experienced
when it’s tussling with you
crushing or something
out of your head and into your body (1)
There is a feeling of déjà vu in Hannah Perry’s work. A place you have already been or a an image you have already seen, often dreamlike, appears so familiar and intimate at once. Assuming the tone of a close friend’s confession, Perry’s personal history enters the work, marking it, in an almost diaristic form.
We as viewers can’t avoid but feel close to her images, participate in her stories, emphatically share loud moments and quick mood swings between joy and sadness. But there is no narcissistic stance in this act. Hannah Perry employs her own subjectivity as a starting point to unfold broader critical themes.
Working in video, print, sculpture, installation, sound and performance, Perry manipulates a mixture of visual references, friends and relatives. They are intersected with text messages, music, in order to question the role of mass culture, social media and digital communication in the formation and representation of emotional, social and political identity. Collage driven and jump-cut in style, her work repeats and transforms, from video to screen-print, expanding to sculpture and performance. Born in Chester (UK) in 1984, Perry studied first at Goldsmiths College, London and completed her higher education at the Royal Academy. The experience of growing up in the industrial North of England, and class politics inform her early works, as in Kicking My Game (2013), Mercury Retrograde (2015), You’re Gonna be Great (2015). Above all what these works mainly reveal is the experience of becoming a woman and finding one’s place in a hyper-connected photoshopped world. Themes like the female condition, masculinity, gender trouble—to use Judith Butler’s definition—along with the dichotomy of body and mind, philosophical and metaphysical, are observed and subverted, fluidly translated across different media. Perry is an outspoken feminist, whose work offers an empowering representation of femininity. The logo of Always liners is repeated, layered over images withdrawn from Perry’s archive, silk-screened onto shiny metal plates (Always, 2014). Old footage and youth scenes merge, printed on solid reflective surfaces as in All Over Your Sheets (2015). Sometimes a car subwoofer is integrated playing loud sound as in Awkward Winner Stays On (2015). The body is employed as an instrument to understand facets of identity, depicted physically or emotionally, cut and pasted, printed or engraved onto different supports. We see a gesture, a detail, sometimes a wound or a bruise (Action Film, Car Crash Sex Scene, 2016). Family bonds, friendship and emotional paradigms become the form and content of the work. The artist explores the complex role of feelings that make relationships, online and offline, so difficult to navigate.
Recently Perry has been turning her focus on mental and emotional health, analyzing confrontational themes such as depression, loss and sorrow. Centered on the experience of losing her best friend and collaborator, Peter Morrow, who committed suicide in 2016, Perry attempts to collectively explore her own difficulty coping with the event, whilst highlighting the key role we, friends, partners and relatives play in supporting others.
Gush (2018), Perry’s latest film, also the title of two recent solo exhibitions at Somerset House, London, and Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (both 2018), reflects on these issues.
DEU, Hamburg, 2019, Ausstellung Hannah Perry im Kunstverein Hamburg, Copyright photo: Fred Dott
A large and complex project, including musicians, performers and teenagers from South East London, Gush is rooted in collaboration—ideas related to the field of art therapy come to mind—exercising a cathartic function, to observe and portray grief collectively.
Shot with a 360° camera custom-built by Perry, to mimic an individual, at times shaky vision, and projected onto an immersive curved screen, the film is visually rich, sensitively shifting temper through written words, Iphone screenshots and the movement of bodies. “What is it like to lose your laugh?” we read on screen. Reality is presented as a subjective perspective, the limitation of what we see, narrowly defining our own emotions. The film is narrated by multiple voices, fragmented spoken words endorsing the changing scenes, a mixture of altered states of the self, introducing a schizophrenic viewpoint on the flow of everyday life and the hardness of mourning. Reinforcing Perry’s interest in sound composition and mixed formats is reflected in an especially created score that sets the rhythm to the images, written in collaboration with Mica Levi, Coby Sey and London Contemporary Orchestra, which was played live during the inaugural performance. Perry has translated her work into performance on various occasions, such as in Horoscopes (Déjà Vu) (2014), conceived for the Serpentine Galleries, London, and Erotic Discourse (2016), part of her solo exhibition at CFA Berlin, to name a few. Working closely with musicians and choreographers she explores her filmic ideas in live contexts.
Car culture appears throughout Perry’s practice, as general subculture and symbol of masculinity, the latter devised as toxic for both genders. Car pieces are crunched in self-standing sculptures (I Don’t Want To Go (I Would Like To Ruin Your Life), 2015) and also featured in monochrome sculptural wall works (Gas Lighting, 2015). Perry’s most recent sculptural installation, Rage Fluids (2018-2019), is a pulsating audio floating metal gut-shaped serpentine incorporating stretched car body wrap and subwoofer speakers. Expanding into space in a labyrinth-like way, the mirrored surface vibrates with the sound whilst reflecting fragmented images of viewers and surroundings, a fluid amplifier reverberating a liquid image of reality.
In J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash, published in 1973 and later also re-adapted as a film by David Cronenberg (1996), a group of people have a bizarre erotic obsession with car crashes, automobile injuries and motorway mishaps. The technology of the car is described in the book with sensually-charged adjectives. In an almost fetishistic approach the automobile becomes a human body charged with all its emotional connotations. As part of her latest exhibition, A Smashed Window and an Empty Room (2019) at Kunstverein in Hamburg, Perry explored moments of shocks and trauma and how these affect psychological states. For the occasion, she has developed new hydraulics sculptures (Bully, 2019), produced in collaboration with her father and inspired by possibilities of crashing and colliding. The sculptures are an attempt to translate movement and dance to metal forms. By tweaking hydraulics technology to create a hybrid composed by two contingent parts propelling in opposite directions, Perry has set the sculptures to create a choreography in five acts: “touch, fight, passive, aggressive, clash.” In a perennial push and pull, Bully is destined to destroy itself overtime, each part marking and deteriorating the other, hinting at the dramaturgy of love. The effect is powerful, strident and mechanic. The bold physicality of the sculptures conveys an immersive yet uncanny experience, as if we would be spectators of an epic fight, between ancient warriors. Relationships are here represented as a continuous clash between opposite forces, doomed to destruction. “To feel anything deranges you. To be seen feeling anything strips you naked,” writes Anne Carson in the book Red Doc (2014). Perry’s practice confronts both the derangement of feelings and the difficulty of expressing them. We see traces of our own life experiences reenacted in her work and embrace the catharsis that this produces, emerging from it a bit unbalanced and less alone.
1. Hannah Perry, exhibition text for Mercury Retrograde, Seventeen, London 2015.
HANNAH PERRY (b. 1984, Cheshire, UK) lives and works in London. She works in installation, sculpture and video. She graduated from Goldsmiths College in 2009 and then the Royal Academy of Arts in 2014. Perry develops a network of references, inspiration from personal experience, the testimony of others and the accelerated nature of our hypertechnological times.
ATTILIA FATTORI FRANCHINI is an independent curator and writer based in London and Milan. She is currently the curator of BMW Open Work by Frieze; Curva Blu, a residency project in Favignana, Sicily; and the Emergent section of miart, Milan. Recent projects include: the latest edition of the Termoli Art Prize, Italy; Could you visit me in dreams? as part of curated_by 2018, Vienna; and Red Lake at Point Centre for Contemporary Art, Nicosia (2018). attiliaff.com
CREDITS Cover: Gush, 2018 Installation view, Somerset House, London Courtesy: the artist