Artist Profile: Hannah Sawtell

Hannah Sawtell, Swap Meet (Ijen Mix) Optic, 2012

The images that you show most often have digital origins, whether combined and assembled into one image, transformed into the surface of a physical object, or edited into sequence as moving image. What is the importance of using digital images (and sound, in the case of your films) as opposed to their analog predecessors? Are your sources always culled from the Internet? If so, do you gather them systematically? How do you refine the selection?

The images, textures and surfaces I reconstruct or redeploy are sourced from the ‘contemporary global arcade’. When my work considers the internet, it is to think of it as at once a tool that presents access to a commons, and also a globalised shop, the ‘autocracy of choice machine’... images/sites are bought by multinations, searches made first fall on what the engines have as priority, the majors are all linked, many of the interesting images disappear as websites go down, and there's matters of copyright and how the virtual is policed, etc… with all this in mind and the fact that as I say this, it's outdated, I follow streams to find the right tone for the work. Talking formally, the different pixel or image qualities give a porous or dense cadence to the video or collage. It’s the same with the sound in the videos. It is edited, leaving the glitches at the edge to force the screen to represent the materiality of digital production or cut and paste editing. I use what I have access to...ideas of access are obviously a moot point with regard to global social economics and therefore the possible agency of the collaborator, actor or author.

The industry and economy of objects seem to figure into much of your work.  In the Degreasor In The Province Of Accumulation series (to use but one example), the pieces are conspicuously fabricated and notably man or machine-made: Cut pieces of bent lacquered steel partner with sections of a billboard or archival print, their placement highlighting the presence of an author. Would you expand on that intention? What is the relationship between the paired industrial objects with fabricated images in the Degreasor and Optic series?  

Both the Degreasor and Swap Meet—Optic series have elements that I design, then industrially manufacture locally, and materialize in print a glimpse of the proliferate contemporary digital image. This is to propose the dialectics of manual and digital labour, specifically with regard to the surplus value concerned with sound, image, and art production. The Degreasors metal parts are cut out using templates that I download and then adjust (for example, an mp3 case, etc.). They are bent, adulterated with acid, and then lacquered; the process is undertaken by me and the person running the machine. In the Swap Meet—Optic series, the stickers utilize the zones of cultural fetishism, which are sliced as real-time collage by generic video transitions/wipes. The sculptures are adjustable, tipped and deployed as a series of mixes that collide with digital noise. For me, both these series feel like proposals of agency and a concrete desire to graphically communicate. Yes, I would say I mostly consider the politics of objects, spaces and the author as producer.

Your titles offer an entry point to the concepts and actions present in each piece. In the short film series Entroludes 1-6, shown by Serpentine Cinema, you allude to Claude Levi-Strauss' term 'entropology'.  He presents the word as a more accurate descriptor than anthropology for the study of human behavior: mankind's production results in the creation of material artifacts, and those artifacts can only tend towards entropy. Do you see certain mediums as more inclined toward entropy than others? Does dysfunction arise as artifacts disintegrate? Do you see a conceptual difference between the decline of digital and physical artifacts? 

The Entroludes videos are shorts that exist as a group of autonomous objects or modular works to be placed between other people's work as if porous interventions.

The intention is not to do with loss or decline, the reference to ‘Entropology’ was to think about production now, in Strauss’ words, the study of humans as a "process of disintegration in its most highly evolved forms”...It is not about straight anthropology in art either: in Britain in the 30’s, Mass Observation's data was detourned and used to find out what people would buy... so it's to imagine the current by altering the detritus of digital sound and image that the multitude make into a subrealist event;‘rent’ is reworked at the same time as any possible colonization. Using the screen as a lens; collecting and sharing images/skins/ideas (digital storage we define) and creating a dialectical flash in the form of a document.

Hannah Sawtell, Degreasor In The Province Of Accumulation 11, 2012




Born and works, London, UK.

How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start? 

Using the screen to record started with the video You Never Walk Alone (2006/7) to create a real-time screen movie with an accessible video transition. The generic wipe has become a constant tool for me, I also used it in the first piece of work that considered the different textures/ tones and the object of the internet as a sculpture, RENT (2008/2009), an installation. The Serpentine event of Entroludes that you mentioned was in April 2010, low-res media pushed into HD video, taking a private/low resolution reception into a place of group or high definition reception. I then started making collages with video wipes; that happened after making online posters for Entroludes; the first Swap Meet piece was 2010. 

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them? 

The type of editing that I use comes from working as a DJ and running a record label. Studying at Chelsea from 2004-7 influenced my progress in thinking about art and contemporary commons, economics of objects, copyright or access, and how the internet or screen could function.… the metal work started as I wondered about how British industrial design is now... my Uncle, Jamie Jamieson, puts the rivets in the wings for Airbus, which are then shipped to France to attach to the rest of the plane.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

Fine Art BA at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London and Postgraduate in Fine Art at the Royal Academy, London. 

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

I only use contemporary matter and media; i.e., what reveals or irradiates the current.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

I am a tutor at Reading University in the ‘Fine’ Art Department. My past life and occupations infect all of my work: my parents were/are communists and artists, writers, teachers, activists. This climate led me to work in music and organising rather than art. I left school at 16 in the late 80's and immersed myself in the rave/music scene. At the time it was all mixed up: house/acid, hiphop, indie, etc.; Manchester raves in flats and London underground venues —it became unhealthy in the end. At that time I worked in London record labels, record stores and as a DJ until the mid 90’s when I moved to Detroit where my partner and I ran an independent electronic music label and organised underground events, DJ’ed. 
Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)? 

Politically active; teach; use sound and text: DJ. 

Who are your key artistic influences?

Mike Banks and Ron Hardy are important for attitude. 

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

Currently collaborating with workers and people in various states of unemployment on a sound work for Mayday (May 1st) to be played live from the Clocktower radio station, Tribeca, New York 2012.

Do you actively study art history?

No, wouldn't say actively. 

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

I still read industrial and post industrial porn: Marx, Benjamin, Luxemburg, Foucault, Baudrillard…

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

Right now I am mostly concerned about access to art education in Britain: fees for university have been tripled. I fear this will have an effect on the work made.