Hollie Miller in conversation
15 April 2020
Post Performance Installation Shot ‘Four Women Four Walls’ (2018) Photo courtesy of the artist
In your work, there seems to be a strong tension between the immediate present of performing and the materiality of the elements rotating around it. As a performance artist, what is your approach to the material aspect of creation? Is your body a medium in itself or is it support?
I am interested in what remains after my performances and how my affect has left residues that can continue to haunt the space in my absence and resonate with late viewers. In ‘Four Women Four Walls’ and ‘We the Living’ the material traces, sculptural objects and discarded clothing now potently charged, continue to transform in an exhibition format: clothes drenched in honey seep and sweat, or people kick up the dust left on the floor as they walk around. I’m also interested in how the photo and video documentation of my performances have their own autonomy and enigmatic quality that offers another layer of abstraction and subsequent reading of the work. My body is my primary medium and it is the meeting point of body-site-material, where these elements start to affect each other and create layers of poetic meaning.
Is there a particular symbolism behind the natural elements you use in performance?
I often use organic materials and everyday objects because of their rich universal symbolism and relation to the human body. I’ve worked with materials such as mud/ clay, menstrual blood, brick-rubble-dust, ice-water: materials that have their own autonomy and are malleable and receptive to touch. In ‘To Melt/ To Crystallize’ I lie naked on ice to melt it with my body heat, and build a pillar of ice that is reminiscent of a spinal column. Often the clothing I wear is pre-owned or inherited, I love how history and body memory is worn into fabrics and cloth as comfort. Politically I work with what materials are at hand and accessible, to find meaning in the everyday and the mundane can be really powerful.
Video Still: ‘To Melt/ To Crystallize’ (2019) Photo courtesy of the artist
Duration and repetition are really present in your work. What is the role of time in your practice? Does this notion of temporality and reiteration embody a critique and reference to female labour?
Doing a repeated action, being still or moving slowly over a long period allows me to listen to my mind - body relationship. I’m interested in performing interiority and how this quietness draws attention to subtle details. In ‘Stigmata’ I stand on the palms of my hands in stilettos in a sort of self crucifixion act for several hours, whilst small tremors start to emerge and sweat drips off my brow. I’m interested in how a performer can look like a painting or sculpture and seemingly manipulate or suspend time. I think this intensity of focus allows those witnessing to actively observe a body undoing itself and share an intimate and vulnerable enquiry.
'Stigmata' (2016), Photo: Nigel Rolfe
Which feminist practices or movements are at the core of your work? Which other historical or artistic references are important to you?
My background and training in contemporary dance and somatics informs how I approach my body based practice as a performance artist, Bronislava Nijinska’s ‘Les Noces’ was a huge inspiration for ‘Four Women Four Walls’. I also studied Butoh and I think this physicality is evident in my embodiment in ‘Animus’. I’m interested in how the documentation of 70s feminist performance artists has been crystallized into single images that have become so iconic. This stems into my fascination in second wave feminist film and photography that has caused me to rethink my live art practice through a cinematic framework. I’m really interested in how women have explored their own subjectivity throughout art history and how I can contribute to this ongoing conversation.
Video Still: ‘Animus’ (2020) Photo courtesy of the artist
At the moment, you are working on a longer film and Sonic Archetypes that you will soon show at San Mei Gallery will be a short adaptation of it. Can you tell us about this ongoing project?
This new video work (currently untitled) contains a series of movement centric conversations with myself, in which I am constantly shedding my skin to undergo a process of metamorphosis that borders on abjection, disembodiment and disbelief. I’ve been playing with latex, making my own masks and prosthetics to wear in performance that can be peeled off and exhibited as hollow flaccid body relics. At San Mei I will perform ‘Sonic Archetypes’ that will unpack some of the ideas I have been exploring to camera in front of a live audience. This is a collaboration with sound artist Craig Scott who is currently scoring the film and will perform a live score at San Mei.
Video Still ‘Untitled’ (2020) Photo courtesy of the artist
Can you talk about your collaboration with Craig? Could you explain the introduction of sound in your practice?
Craig has scored three of my films ‘Take Wing’, ‘We the Living’ and ‘To Melt/ To Crystallize’. In our collaborative performance ‘Animus’, he manipulates my voice and the sound produced by my movements captured through hydrophones. He transforms the live audio feed, blending it with pre recorded samples through his customized electronics. We work together to explore how sound can add layers of meaning, atmosphere and tension to reinforce or contradict the visual narrative. In ‘Take Wing’ there is a shot where I’m crouched holding a clay ball as a head and Craig has superimposed the sound of birds diving and pecking at a carcass. It’s this pairing of sound and image that enhances the visceral nature of my images to create something guttural and raw.