Let’s Not Go Back To Normal: Sherri Hay
February 25, 2022
Sometimes Hay wonders if she should refer to her work as kinetic sculpture but that never sounds quite right. “The word kinetic sounds clinical and scientific. These sculptures aren’t at all like that. They are made of off cast materials; they are messy and a little unpredictable,” Hay explains.
Hay is interested in the concept of time. “How would a tree that lived in the same spot for a thousand years experience time? Or a mayfly that only lives for a day?” Hay feels like our experience of time is changing, “On the one hand, spending so much of our work and leisure life in a virtual world, 15 seconds now feels like an eternity. And then on the other hand we are all desperately aware of geological time and the million-year-old fossil fuels we have turned into plastic which will exist long after we are gone.”
Hay’s moving sculptures occupy a space that humans occupy. They move very slowly and ask the viewer to stop and watch them for a while. “When you become aware that it’s your body and your consciousness that are the flickering moving things”, then a relationship and potential empathy imbibes with the presence of the sculpture.
At first Hay had an idea that she characterizes as “grandiose”that the sculptures would be ‘alive’ in some way. And they do feel that way, at least a bit. “I know a lot of artists say that when you spend a lot of time with an object, you get to know it and it starts to lose its objecthood. You start out with an idea and then somehow the thing you are making starts talking back, having its own internal coherence that you the artist didn’t think of all by yourself.”
This body of work includes several still sculptures which Hay thinks of as having time embedded in them. These miniature leafy figures, for which all the leaves are cut, hand painted and stuck on, gain a momentum and life of their own. “Time spent with them makes me feel a lot of things for them.”
Also included are a series of boxed works, like dioramas, with successive layers of cut paper, painted with watercolor. These beautifully colored boxes are abstract worlds onto their own. “Looking at them, I feel like I’m looking into a tunnel passing through liminal space," Hay says.
Tussle: What are some internal / external influences that assisted in the creation of these sculptures?
Sherri Hay: Internal/external, I like the way you phrased that. Well, first of all there’s the pandemic…
And I read quite a bit, the things I’m thinking about often crystallize there. Last year I read a book written by a Tibetan monk, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche called "In Love with the World", he was talking about these things called bardos. We plod like automatons along the same old path in our daily life: ...this state is based on speed, the momentum of keeping things going. If a flaming torch is whirled around fast enough in the air, it appears to be a solid circle of fire. In this case, speed is necessary to keep up the illusion of what we are; it keeps us believing in solidity and permanence. The essence or peak point of this bardo is when a gap suddenly occurs; our speed falters for a moment and the continuity is broken. At that very instant, there is a possibility of seeing through the illusion, but this may well seem terrifying, like falling out of the sky into empty space.
And then the genius book by Clarice Lispector called "Passion According to GH". Here’s another a little quote:
“It is as if hundreds of thousands of years from now we are finally no longer what we feel and think: we shall have something that more closely resembles a “mood” than an idea. We shall be the living matter revealing itself directly, ignorant of word, surpassing thought which is always grotesque.”
And I shall not wander “from thought to thought,” but from mood to mood. We shall be inhuman — as the loftiest conquest of man. Being is being beyond human. Being man does not work, being man has been a constraint. The unknown awaits us, but I feel that this unknown is a totalization and will be the true humanization for which we longed. Am I speaking of death? no, of life. It is not a state of happiness, it is a state of contact.
Whoever gets to oneself through depersonalization shall recognize the other in any disguise.
T: Your sculptures have a performance based feeling, almost as if they are choreographed, can you tell us more about this process?
SH: I kind of fell into doing set and costume design for theatre some years ago and that part of my practice has influenced my sculptural work a lot. You’re right I do think of the sculptures as performances. In fact, at FADO in Toronto and at OBORO in Montreal there have been ‘performances’ of sculptures where an audience comes and sits down and watches them from beginning to end, these very slow non-human performers. These performances feel weirdly dangerous, of course they’re not for everyone but I think other people find the collective experience of something that is slow and subtle interesting.
T: What is your personal relationship with time/ and or how do you perceive time?
SH: Well, like there isn’t enough time, it’s a chronic condition of running behind, I’ve started meditating more consistently and now sometimes I can sit in a waiting room and hear all the hums and buzzes in three dimensions all around me. That’s such a different experience of time, fractally infinite even perhaps because it seems to expand the deeper you go into it. Not that I’ve stopped feeling like I’m always behind :) But perhaps this is the reason why I make these slow sculptures.
T: Your work is rooted in nature and your / our relationship with it and personifying it; are there any technologies that you rely on or interject themselves into your work?
SH: There is an interior logic to the work, the constraints are liveness not machineness and so there are no solenoids or hinges for example, the moving sculptures rely on a very simple differential of weight and balance.
And so, machines and nature feel like opposites to me, but I’m not sure that nature and technology are always opposites. Algorithmic thinking seems more natural (at least now). I feel like the technology of emergence interjects itself in the way I work - if that can be considered a technology.
T: How do you test the mechanics of your sculptures and what is your relationship with your work like?
SH: What’s my relationship with my work like, ha ha! Yes, it does feel like a relationship. Sometimes they seem a little taciturn and at other times we have a lot to say to each other. I know I’ve said this already but it’s a relationship that does take time to develop.
First, I make sketches on my iPad, then a scale model. There I can figure out the rudimentary shapes and balance and get an idea of what it’s probably going to be like when it’s full scale. There are always factors of engineering that change when the thing is it’s real size, and so the way it looks necessarily changes too. And the material I use is always repurposed, the material determines the form. The fact that it can need to change so much used to make me very nervous, these days it’s a source of fascination.