ABSINTHE §1 Interview – Alia Hamauoi
February 2019

Originally published in the ABSINTHE §1 Catalogue, published by Kronos x Elam Publishing, produced to accompany ABSINTHE §1, curated by Billy Fraser, Charlie Mills and James Capper, 23/02/2019-11/05/2019, Spit and Sawdust Pub, Elephant and Castle.

Hector Campbell : Despite recently completed a BA in Painting from Camberwell College of Art, your work has moved away from traditional painting on canvas in recent years. How did you find the art school experience, and how did your work develop over the three-year course?

Alia Hamauoi : I started the course wanting to be a real ‘painter’, oil on canvas kind of works - to me that seemed the pinnacle of being an artist. But I found that this language did not really support my ideas at all. I still like to consider my work in the expanded field of painting, as it does mostly deal with the surface and two dimensionality- so I think the course gave me a really good grounding in how to pull away from painting. I think my work has always been collaged based and really layered but throughout the three years it became much more inclined to deal with physicality. I loved the art school experience, it was just great to be in the studio the whole time and to be around people excited about doing and making things.
H.C : ‘Future Artefacts’ and ‘New Media Relics’ are terms often used when describing your work, which combines traditional craft materials (tapestry, ceramic tiles etc.) with digital imagery. What are the conceptual ideas underpinning these works?

A.H : At the moment I am interested in thinking about how we connect to our memories. By memories I mean not only on a personal level but also on a collective level. Often this is through objects, artefacts, souvenirs or images that are connected with a specific space in time. This happens both in a domestic setting (through things like souvenirs and trinkets) but also in the museum- a space where fragmented objects are often displayed in order for the audience to be transported to a specific historical moment. So, I have been thinking about how that corresponds to our digital era, where we now take lots of snapshots of moments in our everyday life, and how these become our personal relics. I guess I’ve been trying to combine fragments of these elements by thinking how I can use craft techniques, with more digital, snapshot, stock photo-esque imagery, as well as using contemporary materials and printing techniques to engage with both these ideas.

H.C : Your work simultaneously contains strong emphasis on both physical and visual representation. How do you approach the selection, and matching, of images and materials?

A.H : Sometimes the process of selecting images is very organic. I just scroll through my photos on my phone and decide what I want to use as a starting point. I then have to actively search out for images to then think about how I want to tie things together more.  My work often combines images and references from really disparate places, it’s interesting how the context is almost stripped from each image by combining it with another image.

The material choice then adds a completely new layer of context, framing the images in whatever the material choice is associated with. The material and image choice is sometimes based on a metaphorical language, in that I try to use a material that is going to pull out an element of the image that I want to evoke. For example, an image depicting a steamy room printed onto mesh that creates a moiré effect, making it look like the image is shimmering. The material choice is also a way to provoke a sensory response from the audience.

H.C : I’m particularly intrigued by your sculptural constructions involving soap, a considerably non-traditional artistic medium. How did you start using soap as a creative material, and what are its attributes that appeal to you?

A.H : Originally, I started using soap because I was exploring how to include smell in my work, but then I became interested in the materiality of it, how you could shape it and use it as a material in the casting process. What really interests me about the material is how it is extremely reactive to the conditions that it is in, It sweats when in hot and sunny conditions, and condensation forms on it in cold and wet conditions. I think that reaction to a space is very important as it simulates a sense of life in the work.

Soap is also extremely haptic, it is something we all use daily and universally to some degree. I really like that when a viewer knows it is soap, they are always inclined to want to touch it, as it’s a natural response to hold soap in your hands. As a lot of my work plays with two dimensional images, an impression of a thing, and I really wanted there to be an element within the work that evokes a more sensory response from the audience.

H.C : You’ve previously exhibited in experimental curatorial projects such as Extended Call (curated by Absinthe’s Billy Frazer)  and B(art)holomew Street Collective, what draws you to these projects? And can you give us an insight into the work you’ll be exhibiting in Absinthe?

A.H : In a way these kinds of shows make me think more, as I can’t just be thinking about the work I make in the studio as a single entity. Instead, it has to respond or react to a very specific kind of space, and that poses new challenges. I don’t naturally make work that is site specific, but by being involved in these shows, it takes me out of my own headspace and forces me to engage with a new kind of constraint, which I really enjoy. It’s important to think about the place of art in our current climate, how it can be pushed or crammed into the little holes that are left outside of the white cube. 

For Absinthe, I have made some work that is functional and usable made from soap. I wanted to make something that seems like a cultural artefact while allowing the viewer to engage with it in a haptic and sensory way. I have also made a wall based work that considers connectivity in a different way, looking at how crests/insignias are a symbol of how people group together and connect.