Now Featuring Hannah Perrine Mode
Hannah Perrine Mode addresses the landscape in her work, but her methods also reveal a way of seeing. Working in series, Mode’s drawings and cyanotypes revisit natural sites again and again to unpack the ways we layer our thoughts, culture and memories onto our images of the natural word.
MH: How have the painterly aspects of your work evolved over the years? Your touch seems to have gotten lighter and lighter, moving from thicker painting to lighter gouache and linear work.
HPM: A lot of my use of materials has evolved according to the space in which I can work. As an undergraduate art major, I had my own wall in a beautiful shared painting studio that was about 10 feet wide…So I spent months making 7 foot-wide oil paintings. When I lived in a shoebox apartment in Chinatown in New York, I started my drawing-a-day project in teeny notebooks in my bedroom. Later in Brooklyn, I had more space, but was conscious of using less toxic materials, which led me to gouache and watercolor. Having studio space the past few years has opened up a lot of freedom in my practice to work larger and with more robust materials, but I still end up making a lot of work outside, in cafes, at my house, on the go–and using gouache and watercolor works well for that. For example, I spent six weeks in Iceland working on a 30 piece body of work for the 2014 season of the Brooklyn CSA+D, and I knew I needed something small and packable to take back with me. When I go on hikes or I travel, I always take my small kit of supplies with me, which makes it super easy to make art anywhere.
Aside from material and space constraints, lately I’ve become a lot more interested in the role of water in my work, in a lot of forms. A big part of my current practice is rooted in exploring the idea of documenting and harnessing the transformation of water as a subject and a medium, and thinking about the idea of ice as a precious/endangered material. I’m curious about our relationship with/in landscape, the way that water informs that relationship, and ultimately the way we cultivate community and identity.
In general, I also just love the tension between translucent space and geometric shapes, between fluidity of material and solid mark-making. As a result, my work has certainly become more visually abstract over the years.
MH: You’ve been doing a drawing a day since 2013. How do you use this part of your day? Is it a place to work things out for studio projects, empty your brain, keep your skills and instincts sharp?
HPM: This is such a ritual at this point, I can’t imagine not doing this project. It has been a great barometer of my daily life, in that I know that something is off when it feels like a chore to make time. I definitely use this time in a lot of different ways–to work out ideas for bigger projects, get thoughts on paper, put work into ongoing pieces, decompress after a long day, or sometimes just draw something silly for fun. Since I’m currently in graduate school for art, and I’m currently working in much in a much more interdisciplinary way across mediums, my recent drawings-a-day have become a bit looser in approach. My rule is that whatever I do, I have to work with my hands and not have it be a digital piece. (Since I also work as a freelance designer and illustrator, it feels important to make this differentiation.)
Lately that can mean a quick sketch of a project idea, a contour drawing of a tree out the window, the process of exposing cyanotypes outside in wilderness (drawing with light!), working on a painting in my studio, or even drawing a temporary tattoo in pen on a friend’s arm.
Really though, the best part of this project has always been the ability to share my process. I don’t think that art needs to always feel like it is some finished, shiny thing, but instead is always a work in progress and a daily creative practice. Every artist works differently, but I get a huge amount of joy out of that kind of sharing and openness.
MH: Can you talk about how you use cyanotype and other photo processes in your work?
HPM: I’ve always used photography as a tool in my painting practice, but delving into cyanotype this year has felt like a huge leap forward for me. It is just so much fun. I love that the medium is literally a documentation of time passing, of material interacting with the surface of the paper, of my own physical engagement in the process. The way that cyanotypes can act as a documentation of both space, material, and time feels thrilling to me. It feels like painting with light!
I have been taking cyanotypes out in nature with me, usually on solo hikes, and exposing them in the environment, sometimes using the environment (like snow, ice, dirt, streams, sand) to do so. I have to let go of a lot of control–I’m never sure how they are going to turn out–which is both really challenging and really rewarding….and really fun.
MH: Can you talk about the current themes in your work? You’ve mentioned water, which you’re dealing with both conceptually and materially.
HPM: I’m curious about the way people create concrete representations of abstract ideas about place. How do we connect with certain places as home, as geological landscape, as spiritual refuge, as geographical territories? How does this mold our identities? What happens when our physical space changes, and how does our sense of belonging shift in turn? What are spaces in which we can be vulnerable with each other? How can we harness human technology and strategies for intimacy to help us understand big questions about geological time, climate change, communication?
Lately I’m much more interested in distilling an experience instead of recreating a representational image. What are methods that artists use to pull the sublime closer and help us relate on a more digestible scale? Some of these methods include map-making, documentation/record-keeping, and the flattening or expanding of space through color, material, and installation. All of these strategies are rooted in navigation, ritual, and mark-making as ways to better comprehend the word around us–traditions that humans have been practicing for thousands of years.
A lot of what I do is rooted in the Northern Romantic tradition of depicting the sublime in nature. There are thousands of beautiful pieces of art that create space for the viewer to meditate on the artist’s connection to the sublime, but I’m more interested in exploring ways that I can take a more concrete, perhaps scientific approach, through documentation. How this kind of documentation manifests depends on the medium, but it hinges on the way we create record of experience.
Especially in our current political climate, I’ve been thinking a lot about how how storytelling and memory is embedded in landscape. This has been coming up a lot with water, specifically in ice; scientists use ice cores as a way to study a layered record of the environment at the time the ice formed. What if we think about this memory in a more intimate, human scale? How does our humanity inform collective memory in a landscape? I also just love the way that working with water allows for the abstraction, chance, and a certain letting go in my more recent work that has been really rewarding.
MH: How does a shared social experience, like in your Memory Exchange project, feed the way you make abstract work?
HPM: I think of my art practice as having two different prongs. The first is my solo, more introverted practice of being in nature and making art there and in my studio in relationship to these introspective, sometimes meditative experiences in wilderness. The second part of my practice is more social, and is about creating space for exchange and is more rooted in storytelling and connection with other people and community.
That said, I think that both of these parts of my art making are grounded in vulnerability, with the environment and with each other, as a way to generate empathy, and even perhaps wonder. With our current political climate, I think that finding space for this is more important than ever.
MH: You’re currently enrolled in graduate school… How do your find your work changing? What kinds of unexpected things are happening?
HPM: It has been a really intense learning experience so far (I’m still in my first year), and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity and the time to have this kind of intense focus on my work, and such an amazing, intelligent, talented community of students and professors to engage with. Although the underlying thread of a lot of what I’m interested in is the same (landscape, community, etc), my work has changed a lot–in the methods in which I’m making it and my exploration of materials. I’ve always been interested in viewership, the act of looking, and in understanding the natural world around us. I often end up pulling things apart and putting them back together again, thinking about how we can reconfigure things to see them in a different way (evident in both my Faultlines and Landmarks series). My grad school experience thus far has also been apart taking apart my own practice, examining the pieces, and then putting them back together again in new and exciting ways.
Jackie Im, the co-founder of Et Al Gallery, and a fellow Mills alumna, gave a lecture in the fall about curating and something she said totally blew my mind: that art is not very good at solving problems, but it is really good at asking questions. I think that the most significant shift in my practice has been making art, not a way to find answers or present solutions, but instead as a way to ask the questions themselves.