Hayden Fowler_New Romantic ii_2011_colour pigment print on cotton rag paper_87 x 87cm
Why did you decide to become an artist?
It wasn’t a decision I ever made. Rather, I somehow found my way there even though knowing virtually nothing of art or the possibilities for being an artist until I was in my early 20’s - my first degree was actually in biology. From a very young age I was quite politically thinking and fascinated by history and natural sciences as well as always building or making things with my hands. So my art practice really brings a lot of things together and allows me to explore and develop all my skills and ideas.
Can you explain the process behind your work and the inspiration behind this process?
I think the central element in making my work is in the development and construction of the sets or diorama’s. This is the really creative stage for me, and totally engaging, probably because of working with my hands and the way that the hands and mind work together when you are creating something manually. The problems you face are more direct, whereas once you get into filming or photographing, the problems are often more abstract and technical, working out lighting, camera speeds, capturing the right footage etc.
Before I begin making a work though, it has generally existed in some thought form for a few years. Usually a number of lines of thought and ideas will all come together in some way during the making of a project. This is also quite interesting to me as it happens quite automatically, but also quite surprisingly in ways that different lines of thought will merge or separate or be able to exist together in the work, or ideas that have just been sitting gestating for a long time, suddenly resolve themselves and find a place within a work. This intertwining of different thought lines and ideas is what I think brings an underlying complexity to the work.
Conceptually what are the ideas and concepts being explored and conveyed through your work?
If I were to reduce my ideas right down I would say my practice is about freedom and loss. In my work these ideas are very connected to nature and our relationship to it. I have always felt and experienced the contemporary moment as one of great loss and degradation - of human cultures, beauty, ecosystems, human autonomy and self-determination. The most stimulating aspects of life for me are probably diversity, freedom and nature, which I see as being systematically erased towards some kind of empty, degraded sameness. The emotional aspects of this kind of loss and desolation remain largely unspoken and in fact we barely have language for. Through my work I am really trying to articulate and acknowledge this loss.
There is obviously also often hope and humour in my work. And in many ways I am hopeful, not necessarily for the future of humanity, but definitely for the beauty within humanity and the beauty and resilience of nature. In many ways I see what we are doing to ourselves and the planet as a natural process and have an understanding that nature and the planet will naturally swinging back against the imbalance, which is exactly what is happening through the processes of climate change. I also spend a lot of time imagining alternate realities, post-human worlds, the re-expansion of an autonomous nature or the evolution of whole new ecosystems. I develop these thoughts in the creation of much of the imagery and aesthetics of my work, using it to articulate or suggest alternate, metaphorical or parallel realities.
What are your key influences as an artist?
Earth history; cosmology; geology; science-fiction; ecology; dystopian and apocalyptic literature and film; human history; culture; art; evolution; human psychology; animals and plants; beauty; colour; sex; romanticism; nature documentaries & classical painting.
What is it that you want audiences to take away from your work?
I hope that people feel something from my work, that it somehow connects them to the grander narratives that underlie the work and which I think are in the backs of minds of most people. I guess I also want my audience to have an experience of richness and novelty, of seeing something that they have never seen before and the uncertainty of what or where the work is. People often report having a real engagement with the animal subjects in my work, which is a response that I am very interested in developing too.
Tell us about one highlight from your career so far…
A particular highlight of being an artist is having the opportunity to travel quite a lot. I am really interested history, landscape, cultures and experiencing different perspectives, which all form an important part of my ongoing research and thinking about the ideas that I am working with. During my MFA degree I spent six months in 2004, on a research trip travelling alone through Central and South America where I was visiting ruined Incan and Mayan cities and also spent an extended period in the Amazon basin. Thanks to a Samstag Travelling Art Scholarship in 2008, I was able to spend 18 months living, studying and working in Berlin. I’ve also had shorter research trips within Europe, China and New Zealand, including visiting cave sites in France and Germany to study Paleolithic cave painting, and six weeks living and working from a hut in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
What else do you have coming up in the near future and what are you working on next?
My next major project is the continuation and development of a project ‘Call of the Wild’ from 2007 where I had a large pair of extinct New Zealand birds tattooed on my body as part of an installation/performance work. I am working with tattoo artists to expand the existing tattoo to include imagery of a number of other extinct New Zealand bird species. The work is very much about mourning, witnessing and acknowledging loss, and the transformative possibilities in addressing loss. An exciting aspect of this project is that it will happen three times, in Sydney, Berlin and New York with the motivation being to take a work that has a deep Antipodean influence, to a wider international audience.