July 12, 2016
Hannah Harley, a recent New York transplant, is a visual artist working with photography, collage, and mixed media to portray intimacy, femininity, and issues in modern society.
Tell me about this featured group of collages.
This body of work (called Untitled (Pornography)) is a focused analysis of the fetishizing of race through pornography. It utilizes the skin tone ranges found in non-fetish pornographic magazines. Mass media has habitually demonstrated a preference for white women and there is significant correlation between this lack of diversity in mass media and the American individual's racial preferences in romantic and sexual partners.
Their findings are backed up by statistics found from online dating services. Sites like OkCupid can track racial preferences in their users, and they note that race is a determining factor for the attractiveness of an individual. Their research found that individuals tend to display biases toward women of color more than any other ethnicity or racial group.
The pieces I prepared for my solo exhibition, Contemporary Intimacy, was comprised of over 25 pornographic magazines including Barely Legal, BJ Babes, Playboy, and Penthouse.
Your work seems to have an interest and concentration in the female body, and specifically, the body as a sexual object. Where did this interest originate?
In my opinion, the objectification of the female body is a constant price that women have to pay for existing in this society. I'm aiming to turn the lens on an audience that allows this critical look at the female form.
And while I won't disagree with your view of my work, I do have to discuss the original intent and drive for the work. Yes, the objectification of women has been vital in understanding the complexities of intimacy, but I have spent a large portion of my time and research exploring shifts in intimate behaviors. (i.e. how media influences relationships or how lovers shift into memories).
This artistic exploration stems from an abusive relationship that later required me to redefine my own understanding of intimacy. This constant alteration of my perceptions of intimacy has lead me to strange places, both artistically and personally. But it has lead to a better understanding of the complexities that is ingrained in every intimate behavior.
So while objectifying women (and female bodied individuals) is a theme that I aim to explore in my work, it is the vulnerabilities and complexities of intimacy that I am most interested in.
Where are you finding ideas for new work these days? Are you currently working on something new?
I sit down with my idea notebook at least five times a week for at least twenty minutes a session. I improve past ideas, and put the plans in motion for new ideas. This process always gets me thinking about what social issues need to be addressed, both in my personal life and on a larger scale.
I'm also constantly inspired by my creative peers - specifically by giving them critiques. When giving critiques, I find myself getting lost in my own vision of my work and their work, but I think about how I would tackle the problem in a different way than they do.
I just started classes at Parsons for my MFA in Photography. I have a studio at the school, so I'm pretty excited to start making a mess there. I have a lot of ideas to play with in this new space, and I'm hopeful that New York will shape my work with the same vibrancy that Pittsburgh gave to it.
Do you collect anything?
Art-wise or life-wise?
I've purchased a piece that had significant nostalgia for me from Hannah Altman and am currently purchasing several C-prints from Selena Hurst. I've been fortunate enough to see these two artists grow in incredible ways. Selena doesn't seem to have her work on the internet right now, but she has an incredible body of work that documents the travels of a glued ball of discarded cigarette butts. The color film and her perfect technical rhythm is an absolutely breathtaking pair.
What's your art world pet peeve?
Its inaccessibility. There are a lot of people who would like to see the Mona Lisa, but they can't spare the $17. While I am so impressed with the art community's steps toward more accessible and public art, I have found that some artists will resist this. I think that we need to think of a broader world when preparing art museums.
I would also like to see the art world embrace blind or seeing-impaired individuals. The Contemporary Art Museum in Barcelona had an exhibit dedicated entirely to artwork that was meant to be an experience for the visually impaired and seeing viewers alike. It was interactive - making art more of an immersive experience.
I know that my work right now doesn't solve either problem, but I think that those are two directions we ought to be looking towards with more interest.
Interview by Krista Wright