Louise Haselton

Over twenty-five years, South Australian artist Louise Haselton has established a largely sculptural practice in which no material is off-limits. By forging intuitive connections between seemingly disparate materials, she recalibrates the value and perception of overlooked and outmoded objects. Artist Profile chatted to Haselton ahead of her solo exhibition ‘like cures like’ at Adelaide’s Samstag Museum of Art, the feature show of the 2019 South Australian Living Artist Festival (SALA).

In your sculptural practice, you often combine precisely and technically crafted objects with the assemblage of found materials. What — conceptually or formally — interests you about this interaction of design and happenstance?
Using things with a predetermined function that leads to a particular form interests me. Starting with existing ‘by-products’ of activity/intention from the natural or industrial world seems fruitful to me when making works. For a while I worked with shells, mainly large spider shells and helmet shells. I was drawn to the way they look – formed to carry and protect their inhabiting organism, their appearance is based on their function. When their original context no longer operates, they become outmoded things ready for re-use in the wider world. Combining such a specific object with something of a different origin can enliven it, allowing it to be re-valued.

This process of reusing and re-valuing objects aligns with the idea of animism…
Yes, the idea of animism – broadly, the perception that all material phenomena have agency – is relevant to my work in that I often work with cast off materials/objects with the idea of ‘resuscitating’ them. What we might usually consider dumb and inert is animated and alive – this is very motivating. In some ways it’s a process of re-categorising or reordering. I’ve spent time in India where, in some states, natural objects – especially rocks and trees – are considered to have agency. In some instances, rocks and branches were totally bound with thread or fabric which gave the impression they were being revered and needed to be controlled as well. Sometimes the materials being revered seemed at the mercy of human agency; this tension was compelling.

You mention your time in India, which occurred in in 2005 during a residency at Sanskriti Kendra, Dehli. And in 2017, for Fremantle Arts Centre’s ‘In Cahoots’, you collaborated with Papulankutja artists. What difference do travel and collaboration make to your thinking and art-making?
Travel and collaboration are both good ways to loosen up my routine and allow me to recalibrate from time to time. Being very focused on work in the studio can be a trap. Spending time in a new environment has the potential to be liberating – engaging with different architecture, natural ecosystems/climates, social interactions and routines invites a reappraisal of one’s thinking. Working with a group of artists at Papalankutja in Western Australia was a rare opportunity to collaborate with artists whose working practices and motivations are different to mine. The slow process of getting to know each other’s practices and approaches opened insights into other ways of understanding the role of art.

You often use materials that we recognise from our everyday lives. How porous is the boundary between art and life, for you?
The two are very connected. I regularly approach the environment with the thought of new works in the back of my head – not necessarily consciously, at the forefront of what I’m doing, but generally there is part of my brain that is engaged with the next work. I teach in a University contemporary art program which necessitates engagement with current art and theory, so I spend a lot of time in galleries or reading about art as well.

Are there any materials you find particularly challenging or rewarding to work with?
I’m always gathering materials, and many are stored away until I can find the right context for them. There are a number of materials that I’ve been attempting to use but they’ve remained elusive – I bought some lengths of latex in varying colours from Berlin a couple of years ago and have tried at several starting points with them but soon abandoned them. Maybe latex is too specific and too broad at the same time for me to bring more to it. These latex rolls are very seductive. Some works take a long time with many stops and starts before they feel finished. I have been working with denim jeans recently, such a ubiquitous and loaded item brings very specific associations and personal histories with it, making it a material that needs careful consideration if it is to be included in an artwork.

Your forthcoming exhibition ‘like cures like’ at Samstag Museum features new works that draw together the enduring concerns of your oeuvre. Can you tell us about a couple of these new works, and the meaning behind them?
As with many of my exhibitions, ‘like cures like’ assembles various materials and objects, including mirrored perspex, denim jeans, cast bronze, Mt Gambier limestone, a tatami mat, a damaged safety barrier, a ball of sisal.

The show includes three large-scale sculptural works employing Mt Gambier limestone as a starting point. I’ve used this material as it is what the house I grew up, in country SA, was built from. I was given generous access to a disused limestone quarry near Mt Gambier and was able to glean limestone that had been cut decades ago and has since been sitting outside in the elements. It’s generally considered a poor building material due to its porosity, but in these works it has a central role stabilising the works, both physically and visually.

I’ve continued my interest in the formal and pragmatic concerns of sculpture while drawing attention to the histories and inherent qualities of the materials. Vagabond, a sculptural work suspended in a very high central void of the Samstag Museum, uses weighty materials including bronze to draw attention to the formal qualities of balance, stillness, poise. Fence for friends employs a damaged safety barrier, reclaimed from the roadside, to act as support for some bronze pinecones, functioning as both barrier and support.

What ideas or attitudes do you hope audiences take with them after viewing this show?
I’d like the exhibition to convey a certain ‘atmosphere’ that an audience can carry with them. I hope the audience considers the potential of each material object, and to re-appraise the way the physical world around us is categorised.

You’ve been making art for over twenty-five years. What does art mean to you?!
Making art is an activity that satisfies the need to observe and order the world I’m in. It’s an activity that satisfies an intellectual need as well as an impulse to physically gather and make things. Artmaking is also a social activity for me, the process of contributing to a conversation about cultural production with my peers is important. I get great satisfaction from learning about art movements and artists from other times and societies as well – it’s reassuring to know that this impulse exists so persistently and has been so broadly and fundamentally supported.

Louise Haselton: like cures like
2 August – 27 Sep 2019
Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide


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