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When looking at her work, you don’t know if you’re looking at a photograph, a photograph of a photograph, a sculpture, or an installation. Hannah Farrell started exploring the many layers of image making because of frustration, but that negative feeling has led her to an artistic place where the borders between disciplines disappear. By using reused or unwanted objects, materials and elements like plants, rocks, and cut-outs from old magazines, she takes us to a place where the concepts of time, space, materiality and representation are no longer what we think they are.
You have a beautiful way of combining collage, sculpture, photography and still life in your work. How did you get inspired to merge all these art forms?
It didn’t come from inspiration but from frustration. There is so much photography. Everywhere. How do you take a photograph that isn’t enforcing some sort of stereotype, or isn’t telling the viewer what to think? How do you take a photograph without it being boxed off into a genre? I allowed this frustration to fuel my process by printing photographs or taking them from magazines and physically moulding and reshaping them, combining them with other objects and adding more layers.
You create installations or little sculptures with photographs and other objects to then photograph them again. Could you give us a more detailed explanation of the process? Do you exhibit the photographs of these installations or the photos of them? Why do you choose one or the other?
I have exhibited photographs of the arrangements and I have also taken photographs of the framed photographs and exhibited them. There is something unsettling about a work being finished and framed, trapped behind glass. Everything is constantly changing, so why should the life of the work just stop? I think I will adapt and re-photograph some of my works forever, they’re never complete.
In the moment you take the photograph of your installation, the print in the sculpture becomes a photograph again. Is it your intention to raise questions of materiality, time and reality?
Yes, that time between the first and second photograph is interesting. The viewer is looking at a photograph that is new and simultaneously old. Also, once the photograph is taken, the arrangement is dismantled, the objects go off to be used for something else and the plants die. This is what I like about working in this way. The viewer is looking at a photograph of a sculpture that no longer exists and when placed in a gallery setting, the photograph becomes the sculpture.

Is there something in specific that all your projects combine? Is the inspiration or the process, the concept, similar?
Dismantling and deprogramming ourselves from lifetimes of confusion about who we are, how we should behave, the notion of self, the nature of reality, the nature of sexuality. It’s about loosening our grip on what we see as solid in the human experience and in the medium itself.
You use different materials in each still life of your photographs, like organic material, metal, wood and other. How do you choose them? And how do you build the final installation/sculpture?
The materials are either free or found in discount shops. I have a great friendship with the builders who work from the same industrial estate as me and they give me loads of scraps: metal, wood, and spray paint. The florist around the corner gives me all the foliage that she can no longer sell. I choose things mainly because of their form or the energy they carry. Balls, hoops and palm fronds allude to sports and triumph but are also symbols of peace, the earth and eternal life. Copper and rock have healing qualities. Fingers point to the earth and to the sky. These objects found in second-hand shops or on a Salford industrial estate become kind of spiritual and start to reference old paintings.
The creative process consists of me listening to music in my studio and changing things around a million times until I find exactly the right arrangement – I take a lot of photographs before I get to the final one. Then I shoot on a medium format camera, develop the film and handprint the photographs in a colour darkroom. It’s not always doable but I prefer to be involved in every part of the process as opposed to digitising things and sending them off to be printed. There is an intimacy to it. I often print onto fogged paper and prefer it when things are imperfect.
There are many layers and textures in your artworks, but they have a very calm feeling to it. Did you use colour or other factors in order to create this restful atmosphere?
I think I am naturally drawn to these colours and atmospheres. My logical brain isn’t really involved in this process, it’s just a flow and it all comes together at the end and seems to make sense. I have dedicated most of my adult life to become a calmer person, so I guess that’s why I am drawn to subtle colours and soft textures.

“Everything is constantly changing, so why should the life of the work just stop? I think I will adapt and re-photograph some of my works forever, they’re never complete.”
How did you get the inspiration for the titles of your projects?
When I made Close Your Eyes and Think of England I didn’t realise that all the women’s eyes were closed until I had finished the series. I then typed ‘close your eyes’ into Google and the saying was the first thing that came up. It’s a saying that stems from the advice that mothers used to give when their daughters no longer wanted to sleep with their husbands. It was exactly what the series was about, literally and metaphorically. It was like the body of work made itself.
Precisely, your installations Close your eyes and Think of England consist of cut-out photographs from magazines. Where do you do find the images you use? How’s your research process? Do you combine self-made images with vintage ones?
During that time I was working for an antiques collector in Morecambe, my hometown, a seaside town on the North West coast of England. I came across a stash of 1970s Penthouse magazines and loved reading them and looking at the pictures. I liked the soft lighting, the different body shapes, the cokin camera filters, the tan lines, the hair, the thin paper. That was my research. The main visual representations of the female body I had lived with until then were through advertising and the Internet pornography, and these pictures were refreshingly softer. The newer works contain self-made images – photographs that I have taken of relatives, friends, strangers, men I have met on the street, in bars or at the gym.
These photographs are sensual nude photographs of women. Actually, most of them look like they’re pleasuring themselves. How come you chose these photographs to convey your intention of this particular project?
The work can be read on many different levels and I never went into it with a strict intention as such. At the time I was thinking a lot about the ways that we have been influenced by visual culture, in terms of sex, sexuality and western notions of femininity. I was also exploring philosophical notions of the higher self and the ego and examining whether there is some sort of space within us that hasn’t been taught. A place beyond concepts.

That project is mainly focused on females, but the rest of them feature mainly men. What’s the reason behind that change? Did you use women for that specific project to achieve a specific goal or transmit a particular message, or did you just want to change the subjects in your pictures?
I used women for that project because I was a woman and I connected with them. The work was quite popular but instead of carrying on with those materials I knew I wanted to photograph men. I started by photographing my seventeen-year-old nephew and loved the connection we had when I was photographing him – I realised I would never know what it was like to be a boy and this was a way that I could come closer to that understanding. I feel like all of the work has the same thread running through it, whether it contains a female or a male figure. In many ways I am still exploring femininity when I am photographing men. There is something about the connection between my subjects and me that allows masculinity and femininity to run through the later works in equal measure.
Journeying is the project that stands out from the rest when looking at your work; it doesn’t feature people, plants nor other external elements. Actually, it mainly consists of colours, textures and an abstract result. How does this project relate to your work? Could you tell us more about it? 
I felt a bit trapped in my process so worked towards exploring the same themes in a more minimal way. I expose the paper in the darkroom until it’s completely black, then I spray two-tone acrylic paint onto the surface and frame in aluminium. The materials allude to cars and experiences of masculinity but they are also really visceral and they change with the light. The image-less photograph becomes a void, similar to that space that appears when you close your eyes and fall into a dream-like state. In shamanism, the word ‘journeying’ is used to describe the act of going inwards and being guided to past events to heal old wounds.
How does your work look like at the moment? Are you working on any new projects?
 I am still photographing men and working with more and more layers. I have been enjoying testing or even destroying traditional approaches to photography by mounting onto aluminium and bending it, as well as engraving onto the glass within my frames. I have been preparing for a solo show which runs until the 20th of January at the Ryder Projects, London, so you will have to come and see!

Eva Abeling

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