Honey Long and Prue Stent

As two friends who first started taking photos together when we were sixteen years old, our artistic process sprung from a place of curiosity, impulse and desire. This sense of playfulness has become the foundational element with which we continue to work. Although precognitive at the time, we seemed to recognise a mutual desire to explore our female bodies, sexuality, and surrounding natural environment as a way of feeling connected to the space we were occupying.

We both had various ways of taking in and appreciating the world around us that differed from but complemented each other’s; we wanted to express something that could not be expressed through words. Together we were strongly drawn to the tenderness and complexity of living in a body, and the wonder and magic to be found in the fabric of life.

During this time Prue was living in Clovelly, so the surrounding coastal geography became the environment we would explore and manipulate, fabricating our own surreal landscapes and fantasies within. We would go to op shops and secondhand markets to find objects and materials that spoke to us in an almost corporeal way, then we would incorporate them into costumes and disguises which would distort and fragment our own bodies.

This ritual has been consistent in our process ever since. Working spontaneously, there is something stimulating about reconfiguring the cultural debris around us but leaving other elements to chance. These objects felt like they had a life of their own; an unknown history with the potential to become intriguing and magical.

The fact that our friendship and artistic practice have always been naturally symbiotic has allowed for a sense of intuition and fluidity in our process. What tends to emerge as a consistent theme throughout our work is the desire to connect inner and outer worlds, to connect with our bodies, their inner workings and feelings, as well as our surroundings, and to feel closer to things and dissolve some of the boundaries and binaries that keep them separate.

Paradoxically, fantasy has been a means of feeling more connected to the world around us. When we construct photos that manipulate our surroundings into dreamlike scenarios, it’s like these two realities that are usually separate but equally present in lived experience mingle and flatter each other, becoming more tangible as a result.

In our series Phanta Firma, 2019, we wanted to explore the idea that fantasy can exist both as a means of connection and disconnection between oneself and our surroundings. Inspired by the symbolically rich Siren, and the various modes by which nature has been eroticised, we utilised the female figure as a lure into the unfamiliar. Rather than existing as apparitions separate from their environment, the alluring figures in ‘Phanta Firma’ are engaged in corporeal interactions, dissolving into matter and becoming inextricable from the landscape.

The historically entangled conceptions of sexuality, the female figure and fantasy feel like eternally fertile territory to explore. While there is a lot of disconnection inherent in these relations we are curious about the connections that exist concurrently. Most of the work for Phanta Firma was made over two weeks, during which time we drove around regional New South Wales and Victoria, exploring the interior physical landscape of our home states as well as our own psychological processes.

Many of the materials and props we used in the photos from this series were things we picked up from different op shops along the way. Again leaving elements to chance and the site, we allowed the final photographic work to be mediated by the place we were exploring. Upon commencing the drive we had no set plan of where we wanted to shoot and would wait for different landscapes to draw our attention as we drove along.

Dust Flood, a work from this series, was made while driving through the outback on our way to White Cliffs, a small opal-mining town in New South Wales. A rainstorm blew in and suddenly countless channels and rivulets of orange water stained by the earth opened up along the road’s edge. There was a powerful sense of the land being shaped by elemental forces and the merging and mingling of matter.

We recognised this sublimely transient moment as a generative setting with which to work. By integrating the body into the landscape and employing fabric as a means of camouflage, we were able to establish a connection with the environment and the processes taking place within it. The human body was acting as a point of reference and empathy. By becoming a bridge between the body and environment, the fabric takes on the water the body is submerged in, exaggerating and blurring the two fields. Through this process the distinctions between subject, object and environment dissolve into one another, or rather, a relationship between these things is established based on sensual connection.

Often there is this performative element in our practice that involves letting the sensory experience of an environment put you in a kind of trance. During the making of Phanta Firma, what came into focus for us was the way that immersing yourself in an environment on an experiential and sensual level can change your appreciation for it.

By putting our bodies into environments that were seemingly uninviting, we grew a heightened sensitivity to their beauty. Our work Banana Slug involved sinking into a pit of mud, algae and rotting matter and being penetrated with its smell. It was a musky, off fruit aroma, initially repulsive, but once spent time with and embraced, it became intoxicatingly silky and we were struck by how heavy it was with both life and decay.

As well as being drawn to the sensual dimension of environments, we also like to work with locations that have uncanny features, something alien.

When we shot at Dimboola Pink Salt Lake to make Salt Pool, there was a commanding tension between the environment seeming soft and alluring but in reality being incredibly harsh. It is important to find spaces in which the dualities of life and death, soft and hard, fantasy and reality, can be celebrated visually. We are seduced by the inherent magic of birth, growth and decay; the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly, the forming of fingers and toes inside an embryonic sac, and the pervasive knowledge that death is a necessary part of these cycles. Looking at Salt Pool, it’s difficult to deduce whether the hybrid woman-fish figure is at peril or at home in her environment.

The more we continue to interrogate our ways of seeing and being in the world through creating artwork, the more we make sense of why we are doing it. Our practice has been astoundingly informative in mapping our ways of understanding and relating with our surroundings, and our process has become very generative both creatively and personally. It is exciting to observe the way our work has evolved alongside our thought processes and knowledge of ourselves and we hope to continue embodying this cycle as it regenerates into the future.  

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 45, 2019

Land of Milk and Honey, as part of Photo 2022
27 April – 22 May 2022
ARC ONE Gallery, Melbourne

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