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Exploring queerness through sculpture

Written by
Harry RM
Published date
04 December 2019

Hannah Skinner is a Camberwell BA Fine Art Sculpture graduate and winner of this year’s David Troostwyk Matt’s Gallery Studio Award. The annual award provides a bursary and rent-free studio for 12 months at Martello Street Studios in London Fields.

Sarah Kate Wilson, who teaches on BA Fine Art Painting at Camberwell, spoke to Hannah ahead of her exhibition at Camberwell Space.

Embellished metal, 2019. - Credit: Hannah Skinner Caption

Sarah Kate Wilson: Hannah, you invited me to write about your work, instead, I asked to interview you. Reading interviews with artists can feel similar to the act of eavesdropping, intimate and tantalising. Like a fly, on your studio wall, I have been able to buzz around your work and ideas, and hear things I would otherwise, have missed. Thank you.

You refer to the kinetic sculpture as a seesaw, which is curious, a seesaw relies on a relationship. Without a partner sitting opposite you, you would just sit there, stuck, with your bum near the floor. So, is the seesaw a metaphor?

Hannah Skinner: No, but, because the sculpture spins, bounces and is controlled by airflow it can look as though the 2 ends are fighting against each other. The piece certainly does not exist in harmony with itself, even though the balance of the work requires both sides to be evenly weighted. In my mind, it exists as 2 feather-light, gyrating legs that dance in opposition to each other.

Kinetic Sculpture, 2019. - Credit: Hannah Skinner Caption

Sarah Kate Wilson: Can you tell me more about the various fabrics your works are made with?

Hannah Skinner: A word that I think of when exploring my material choices is opulence, for me, this connects to queerness, intimately. I have an affinity for old queer glamour icons such as Cher, Ginger Rogers, and Barbra Streisand.

For the kinetic sculpture I’ve paired blue duchess silk with lavender ostrich feathers. Ginger Rogers wore a feathered dress in ‘Top Hat’ (1935) when dancing ‘Cheek to Cheek’, I was inspired by the way the feathers emphasised her movements and also the airflow around her.

Sarah Kate Wilson: Heaven. I’m in heaven! When I think of opulence I think of movement, and poise, of occupying a space and holding someone’s eye.

Hannah Skinner: I love that idea in relation to opulence. After putting all the individual parts of the kinetic sculpture together, I was underwhelmed with the result. I like to think that my work has life, but the sculpture just gently drifted around. It was an anticlimactic moment.

However, later on that day, the wind picked up meaning the work span faster, and flailed around. I became excited again! As a result, here, in this exhibition at Camberwell Space, I have created a flow of air that simulates the wind, this allows the work to occupy more space and hopefully hold the viewer's eye!

Handmade Machine Embroidery, 2019. - Credit: Hannah Skinner Caption

Sarah Kate Wilson: You say your work explores themes of queerness through materiality rather than structure, can you expand on this?

Hannah Skinner: The faction of queerness that I explored for this exhibition was campness. In making these works I considered my aesthetic choices with Susan Sontag at the back on my mind, who said:

'The hallmark of camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of 3 million feathers'.

This helped me push my material choices and evaluate them in a way I have not done before. Campness and opulence are terms that relate intimately to my existence as a queer person and how I think of the perception of my queer self or what queerness is to me.

Find out more about Camberwell BA Fine Art: Sculpture.