Through the physical and psychological practice that is both making and witnessing art, Dominic Hawgood evaluates various mental spaces. As evident in his recent grand-scale installation Casting out the Self, Hawgood has been preoccupied with the connection between a fabricated digital encounter and the natural hallucinatory experience that is induced through the consumption of DMT and Ayahuasca. 
This tension between the natural and the unnatural is equally conspicuous in his previous installation Under the Influence wherein his experience watching an exorcism, wherein one could decide whether to believe what they were witnessing was real or not. With an ongoing solo exhibition at Foam Amsterdam until October 13, we spoke to him about these pieces in depth and delved into his interest in the ‘fake documentary’ field of photography and videography.
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Cosmic Chakra, 2016 @ Dominic Hawgood
Using psychedelics as a springboard for creativity isn’t a new phenomenon in art. Why is it that you personally were drawn to this hallucinatory medium?
I’ve been interested in the human experience since I was a teenager. A family member developed epilepsy and the absences from petite mal seizures that increasingly occurred made me wonder what the moment felt like. When I later took up photography, moments became a fascination, and as my practice developed, they took on a more spiritual flavour. Psychedelics fit into a topic area that interests me, where psychology and perception meet. I’ve always been an advocate of psychedelics, and a personal experience with a specific hallucinogen brought up questions about the experience of ‘digitalness’.
Drugs are both avidly consumed by our society and banned from it. Do you feel that the laws involving drug use should be reconsidered? Have you incurred any criticism for using an illegal substance to inform your work?
Yes, they definitely require reform. And no, I’ve never encountered any criticism.
The concept of the ceremony and spirituality is something that you go back to a lot in your work. Why is this? Have you been inspired by a commercialised western world where a sense of spirituality seems to have been somewhat bastardised?
I’m interested in the way religious practice, rituals, and ceremonies are adapted to fit our environment, but not by getting caught up in a social commentary on this. When I started out a few years back on Casting Out the Self, it was the transfer of shamanism into the United Kingdom I focused on. In Under the Influence, I turned my attention to exorcism and African churches in London and the commodification of water for use in exorcism.
These projects both deal with ceremony and spirituality amongst other things, but they’re also driven by proximity; these are things happening around me. Out of these projects emerges an ongoing interest in technology, imaging, and realism, and it’s this that I feel really drives much of my practice. I keep coming back and asking questions about how we can simulate, replicate, and construct.
Do you think that the spiritual and the digital can coexist in harmony? Or are they essentially disparate elements that can only be artificially and temporarily fused while under the influence of psychedelic drugs?
I found something that I thought bordered the spiritual hidden in visual computing and digital imaging processes, and I also found something that I identified as digital within the psychedelic realm. I liked to imagine digital was something within us, and what it must be like experiencing something digital in a time that preceded any such technology. There’s something very human about it, and for sure, the spiritual and the digital can coexist – they do in my world.
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CG visualisation, 2019 @ Dominic Hawgood
Your work deals with making the intangible individual human perception tangible and visible. Do you seek to articulate your own experience or attempt to create one that is more universal? Is this possible? The post-structuralists would say otherwise!
Of course, my experience of DMT is subjective, it’s shaped through my experience of the world, but there are similarities between mine and other people’s experiences, and the psychedelic characteristics of DMT are well documented. The work on show at Foam doesn’t seek to reproduce any experience (that feels like dangerous territory); instead, it alludes to the idea of another dimension and leans on experiments within visual computing and ceremonies relating to psychedelics that have, in my opinion, ritualistic similarities. These carry a narrative about a spiritual/digital world, and my intention is that it opens up a dialogue about these topics, poses questions about perception, and looks to reveal the potential of photography.
With the rise of social media and digitised lives told and filtered on sites like Instagram, it is hard to discern what is real and fake. You’ve expressed that through your work, you explore the real and the unreal, can you talk to us a little about that?
I’ve approached this in all sorts of ways. I used to be very interested in staged documentary photography, and this led to a fascination with authenticity, the subtle treatment of realism and how things appear more real. The real was slippery and precarious, and when writing my MA thesis – The Therapeutic Real –, I was very much inspired by Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder with its interrogation of reenactment and inauthenticity, and also by Joshua Oppenheimer’s film Act of Killing, where a strange new type of realism emerged out of the documentary process.
I took these ideas and produced Under the Influence, a project in which you could never tell what was real. I recreated the feeling I had when I watched exorcisms at church. Was what I was seeing actually real? There were many questions I couldn’t answer, so I built a project that looped this question about perception – did I use actors in my work, was it documentation, was that CG, were those screens or light panels; it carried on. As the installation of the work developed, so did the ideas.
Could you elaborate more on that? In what ways did they develop?
For Photo Ireland, I built a light installation into a wall that appeared as a 2D projection and I published 3D rendered documentation of the show. When my initial solo show with Foam fell through, I rendered the entire installation in CG and exhibited the animation at a festival. The documentation appears on my site but as real. I also implemented very careful documentation of my work to blur the real and the virtual, all the time working on learning about imaging processes coming out of areas of visual computing. Now, I’ve reached a stage where the real is constantly being challenged and deconstructed within my work and things are pushing forward still.
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Infinite Wisdom, 2016 @ Dominic Hawgood
We saw a shift in the 19th century with the introduction of the camera, which although not accepted as an artistic medium in its own right, influenced the work of many painters who either rejected or celebrated it – Manet, for example. Do you see the future of art as more digital as opposed to analogue, with computer-generated art dethroning painting and sculpture?
I’m not sure it’s as simple as one medium replacing another. Where it becomes interesting for me is where one medium can assist the creation of another, just as you outlined in your question. The camera is still very influential, and what’s interesting about photography is that it’s an extremely powerful tool, only limited when you use it to take photos. If included as part of other workflows, the output is far more diverse and sophisticated, such as being used for scanning. From the assets created, one can produce 3D renders, animations, and 3D prints. It opens up opportunities for crossing into other mediums such as sculpture, for example, and here you can start making in the real world once again. Naturally, we’re moving into a digital place, but it’s how you utilize technologies for your desired output.
Your Casting out the Self project is about the way Western culture borrows from shamanic traditions. What is your opinion on this cultural appropriation debate? This being a hotly debated topic currently.
Casting Out the Self is about me smoking DMT and finding a particular digitalness in the experience, which led me to wonder how I could use imaging processes to discuss this other dimension. My work more broadly placed DMT and Ayahuasca together, and it’s really the latter that is caught up in the debate surrounding appropriation. As I mentioned previously, authenticity is hard to pin down, and often, people are searching for this, which is why they’ll travel to Peru – however, that can’t ensure it either. I like to see how these ceremonies are adapted to suit our surroundings, but cultural appropriation is a far more complex topic.
Apparently, after your first major solo exhibition of Casting Out the Self was cancelled, why was that?
My first solo show at Foam fell through even though both sides put in a lot of work. Why precisely I don’t know, but I made sure I capitalized on the misfortune. I took my plans, designs and documentation of the space and built a CG version of the proposed show that appeared as real. I think that if it wasn’t for that decision, the current show might never have happened as the virtual exhibition progressed my practice whilst at the same time showcasing my skills and concepts.
You already incorporate photography, CGI, animation, sound, sculpture and lighting design in your art. Where can you see this developing? Are there any new methods of creating in the pipeline that intimidate and or excite you?
The show at Foam essentially allowed me to accurately reconstruct 3D-rendered artworks in the real world. It’s a very strange sensation to live with a design in software and to see it take shape, then experience it in a space. You’re always wondering if the calculations were correct. I definitely stepped up the complexity of my ideas and pushed this time further into product design with the fabrication of objects such as LED light columns.
Product design features heavily in the next iteration of Casting Out the Self, which will be opening around November time at TJ Boulting in London. I’m putting emphasis on moving image for this solo show, and as part of the CG animation, have designed and fabricated a novel new stereoscopic camera with a friend of mine. The rig will capture a specular world and moves my practice into cinematography and towards science and VFX. It’s very exciting to see it come together!
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CG visualisation, 2019 @ Dominic Hawgood
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