Thursday, January 14, 2010

Featured Artist: Hannah Verlin


First of all, would you please introduce yourself to our readers that might not be familiar with you and your work?

Featured artist, Hannah Verlin. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

My name is Hannah Verlin, I am currently based in Somerville, Massachusetts. I grew up in Cheltenham, a suburb of Philadelphia, PA. I moved to Boston to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts affiliated with Tufts University. I entered the school with the intention of studying painting and drawing, but after my first semester I began working in ceramics. I responded to the material and the process and made organic, darkly-fanciful sculptures with brightly glazed surfaces. It was at this time that I developed my interest in repetition and multiples. From there I explored installation art and video production. When I graduated in 2005 I culminated my studies by combining these various skills together in my projects. I have continued with this practice, tailoring my techniques and materials to each particular idea. My studio is located at the Sculptors' Workshop in Lower Allston, and I have been a member of the Boston Sculptors Gallery since 2008.

When and how did you get interested in art making?

I have always been interested in making art and was encouraged by my parents. Many members of my family are artists, poets, and performers, so my interest was nothing unusual. I am, however, drawn to many different subjects. One semester I considered leaving art school to translate Medieval Scandinavian literature! After graduation I briefly dabbled in Museum Studies. I enjoyed the course and then one day I realized that the classroom was full of women like me between 25 and 35, who loved the arts and humanities--- but I wanted to create art, not just install it. I also realized that with art I could incorporate anything and everything in my study. And that was that for me.

What do you do for fun besides making art?

Cycling with a friend in Budapest, July 2008. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Riding my bike may be my primary form of transportation, but it is still one of my favorite things to do. As soon as I get on my bike I am in a completely different frame of mind--as though I have suddenly become someone else. I ride all year round: in the rain, the snow, and everything else. I often design my projects so I can carry them on my bike. Also, when I can afford it, I enjoy traveling to different countries, gathering new experiences, sights, tastes and smells.

What type of job(s) have you had in the past?

My first job after graduation from the Museum School in 2005 was working at an independently owned copy shop-- one printer, one computer, and me. I had lots of time and scrap paper for thinking about my own work. Since then I have been a studio assistant for a number of artists; the ceramics studio manager at the Museum School; a media technician for Harvard; and done numerous other odd jobs more often for experience than for money.

Currently, what type of job(s) you do besides making art?

I currently work for the public artists Mags Harries and Lajos Héder. I assist them with all stages of the public art production from paperwork to construction. I recently traveled with them to Phoenix, Arizona to assist with the installation of their project Zanjero’s Line. The project features sculpture, seats, bridges, and landscaping along the Highline Canal. I also work for Harvard University’s media service as my night job. All the work keeps me out of trouble and focused on my art.

Please tell us a bit about your work in general. What media do you work in?

The form and content of my work varies from one project to the next, but I take the same approach to each. Every project has its own life cycle, which begins by selecting materials and determining construction techniques. I use simple, recycled, or re-purposed materials.

Often I employ a single set of mechanical operations performed repeatedly and which become beautiful through repetition. I am especially interested in temporary work that only exists in single time and place. When the art’s duration has come to an end, either it has deteriorated or been reduced to meaningless materials.

Currently, I am working on several projects that concentrate on temporality. Some of the elements that I am focusing on include the process of osmosis, crystal formation, and melting ice as well as performance and participation.

Could you tell us about your recent installations, the Wishing Well and Agro-Culture?

Wishing Well - shelves, mason jars, coins, audience participation, 2008/2009
Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

I first displayed Wishing Well for a small change fundraising show at The Nave Gallery in 2008. The theme of the show was money and small change. The installation features a grid of shelves each labeled with a wish varying from serious to light-hearted, such as "I wish ______were still alive" or "I wish I had a drink".

Wishing Well - shelves, mason jars, coins, audience participation, 2008/2009
Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

A mason jar half-filled with water sat on each shelf. Viewers were invited to add coins to the jars for particular wishes. The growing pile of coins palpably depicted the accumulating wishes. At the end of the exhibition the collected money was donated to the no-profit gallery.

Wishing Well - shelves, mason jars, coins, audience participation, 2008/2009
Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

I showed the piece again in 2009 for a show at the Boston Sculptors Gallery about transformation curated by Jane Ingram Allen. The proceeds from this installation were donated to The Make a Wish Foundation.

Agro-Culture - 400 test tubes, sod, water, 2009. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Agro-Culture was part of the Shankpainter Sculpture Exhibition held at the Shankpainter Bog Park in
Provincetown organized by Frank Vasello. The site was to be developed years ago into luxury home, but after the initial work began the town stepped in and bought the property. This was over eight years ago and the land still shows the scars of this intrusion. The installation consists of 400 plastic test tubes planted in the ground.

Agro-Culture - 400 test tubes, sod, water, 2009. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Each tube was filled with water and a plug of sod. The rows of "plantings" suggest some kind of agriculture, although they will never have the chance to take root and grow. I designed the project both to reflect the bog with the layers of soil and water and as a kind unnatural nature preserve.

Tell us about your temporary public artwork called Nesting, which was installed under the McGrath O'Brien Highway in Somerville.

Nesting, paper pulp, plaster, 2007. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Nesting, paper pulp, plaster, 2007. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Nesting was commissioned in 2007 as part of Project SUM: Sculpture Under McGrath, organized by SSP Somerville. The McGrath O'Brien Highway divides Somerville with a maze of busy roads and highway ramps. Although a number of bus stops are located in the islands beneath the highway, the space has few pedestrian accommodations.

Nesting, paper pulp, plaster, 2007. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Nesting featured 13 different forms made from plaster and paper pulp. These forms referenced wasp hives and birds nests, giving the sense of a living presence to a space so devoid of life.

What are the thoughts behind the creation of "Converge"? Could you discuss a bit your process?

Detail shot of an installation: Converge - copper wire, wax, 2009.
Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Converge - copper wire, wax, 2009. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Converge was one of 14 small installation in my exhibition Interstitial at the Boston Sculptors Gallery (2009). These installations were made of thousands of strands of copper wire dipped into wax and seeming to sprout from the walls like an infesting fungus.

Split - copper wire, wax, 2009. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Inductive - copper wire, wax, 2009. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Un­like their natural counterparts, the forms grew in formations seemingly charged with energy and emotion--converging in together or expelling outwards. A little uncanny and a little whimsical, I thought of the installation as playing with the spaces in between— between walls— between people— between human and inhuman.

Deductive - copper wire, wax, 2009. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Detail - copper wire, wax, 2009. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

The process I used to create the installations represents my approach to much of my work. I developed a series of very simple tasks: dipping wire strands into wax, inserting the strands into a board, and securing the pieces to the wall. The overwhelming repetition became part of the works' energy.

What is the most interesting comment about your sculptures you have heard from a viewer?

Penetrate - copper wire, wax, 2009. Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Although no particular words stand out in my mind, I always value the comments that I receive from people encountering my public works. Unlike art in the gallery, it meets viewers in their own context, free from the prejudices and pressures that formal art spaces often inspire. It becomes not necessarily art, but some phenomenon that intimately engages people’s sense of wonder and discovery.

Are you planning any exhibitions of your work in the near future?

I will be exhibiting the installation Buss in the group show entitled “Linear” curated by Kathleen Hancock at the Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery from March 11 to April 7, 2010.

Buss (concept drawing/ installation: string, pigmented water, lab equipment): 2010
Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Buss - "a kiss," 1570, like Welsh and Gael. bus "kiss, lip," Fr. baiser "kiss" (from L. basiare), Sp. buz, Ger. dial. buss probably of imitative origin.

The installation
Buss will explore anticipation and the passage of time using colored water and white cotton string. Hundreds of strands of string will be suspended between the ceiling and the floor of the gallery in three columns. The separate ends of the strings will be submerged in water dyed bright red. Over the course of the installation the red liquid will seep by the process of osmosis through the strings from the top-down and from the bottom-up, staining the white cotton red. Slowly the two red paths will creep together, the space in between shrinking as they approach for a kiss. They may never actually meet, but the expectation of their meeting becomes more compelling than the event itself.

Are you available for commissioned works? Representing gallery if any?

I often do commissioned work, particularly for temporary events installations and events.

How have you handled the business side of being an artist?

Hannah's studio at the Sculptors' Workshop in Lower Allston, Massachusetts.
Image courtesy of Hannah Verlin

Working for professional artists, who create major works of public art has given me some valuable incite into the “business” end of art. I have become very adept at preparing requests for qualifications and proposals as well composing a press kit and communicating with fabricators. Though my “technique” could always use improvement, the experience has given me something to aim for in my own studio practice. The gift of Quicken and some timely tax advice from an x-boyfriend has also been a great help.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

My plan for the next 10 years is to create a body of work dealing with changing landscapes, particularly Antarctica.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

Although in some ways I am just beginning a career in art myself, my advice to artists just starting out is: Persistence. Take up any opportunity to make or show art—work for other artists even if there is no money in it. The networking is invaluable. It's not a good way to get rich, but you have to start somewhere.

Hannah's top ten artists.

My artists du jour in no particular order:

Would you like to share your contact info with our readers? Do you have website(s) for interested readers to learn more about your work?

Your readers may contact me at hannahverlin (at) gmail (dot) com.