“A body belongs to the person who resides in it.”
Hue Hale is an artist from Dublin, currently living in Berlin. He recently linked up with fellow Irish creator Rebecca Flynn for a project entitled ‘Touch with your Eyes’. The collaboration looks to explore the fetishisation and objectification of a body “placed in the public arena” through photography. ‘Touch with your Eyes’ also examines “the role of the viewer and the means in which they either passively or actively consume the image”.
Hue and Rebecca explain their process of combining film photography and “hyperreal” 3D renderings, plus Hue details why his work gravitates towards the dark recesses of life.
Can you pinpoint the moment when you realised you wanted to highlight the objectification and fetishisation of photography subjects?
Hue: With the prominence of social media accounts such as Instagram, Facebook, etc, I think I notice the objectification and fetishisation of photography subjects on a daily basis. If not my close friends, or acquaintances, there’s always a news story about a social figure/celebrity being harassed on social media by malignant individuals. I think it’s an omnipresent issue.
The point in which I decided to make a project based around online objectification, and the individuals who engage in it, was when I received a particularly sexually aggressive message that made me feel extremely violated. As time went on I could put up any sort of picture of myself, nude, fully-clothed or whatever, it didn’t matter, without fail I’d receive an uncomfortable comment or message in my inbox from a complete stranger. It made me question the content of my work and why I was uploading it in the first place.
The tentacles are incredibly intrusive at times, at other times they’re simply draped over the subject. Does this represent the varying levels of objectification?
Hue: I wanted to not just visually represent the harasser in the act of objectifying their victim, but also the effects on the victim’s psyche afterwards. These tentacles that are present but not invading the body represent the thoughts in the back of your mind that someone could use your images for their own sexual desires before you even decide to post an image on your social media.
Can you take me through the process of creating these pieces?
Hue: The images started with the concept of trying to visually represent the malignant individuals in question, and I was inspired by traditional tentacle erotica from Japan. Tentacle erotica was used as a way of getting around the laws of drawing pornography that included a man and a woman having intercourse, instead of genitalia entering the victim’s body it was replaced with an octopus or squid’s tentacles, which was considered not pornography as the creature didn’t have genitalia. All of the images were shot on film in a little studio in Dublin. To push the theme of online harassment a bit further I sought out my friend and collaborator Rebecca Flynn to render the tentacles in 3D, and place them on the model after the photographs were taken.
Rebecca: Yeah, Hue gave me sketches to work off and I created the tentacles in Cinema 4D and then edited them into the original photos in Photoshop. It was a long laborious process, especially with the drippy slime and plastic to work around and just getting it all to look cohesive. So I’m really proud of how they came out.
The tentacles are described as ‘hyper-real’, reflecting social media’s grip on our reality. How can we amend our outlook on the world to ground us?
Hue: We now live in a digital age where a vast amount of interaction happens online, but in some cases I think people forget that there’s a real human behind the Instagram account and that there’s a real human in the images which are uploaded. There’s also a very good chance of them seeing a nasty comment being made which is sent directly to their eyes via a phone, this can significantly affect how a person sees themselves and how they interact with people in the future. I think there needs to be a little more awareness of how virtual undesirable behaviour can have substantial consequences in the real world.
Rebecca: The hyper-real thing is something I am fascinated with. Back in college I did my thesis on Vaporwave as a postmodern art movement and subculture, comparing it to Dada, Pop Art and punk. When I was researching I read a lot about the concept of hyper-reality. Marc Auger has a good book on non-places. Hyper-reality is an inability to distinguish a simulation from reality especially in a postmodern, technologically advanced society. So that ties in a lot with what Hue said. I also felt it ties in with the way we used a mix of film photography, an older medium where you’re capturing an image of a real, tangible thing, and then the 3D models made entirely inside my computer.
As for amending our outlook I don’t know. I think gross creeps will always exist and that sucks, but the only thing you can control is how you react to them. You can also control your privacy settings and block out those haters.
Hue, you said before that your work ‘deals with the darkness faced in the everyday’. Why are you drawn to that?
Hue: I think I’m drawn to making work about problems faced in everyday life because these issues are prevalent to me. I like to use photography to work through these problems, to resolve them in a way that I can look at differently in the future. If I can see these issues in a different light then maybe I can understand them better, work through them and move on. I’m very interested in studying my body and mind as a way of grasping an understanding of who I am as a person. I’m also very interested in human behaviour, how we interact with each other and how we function by ourselves. You’ve also mentioned before that you use your work to transform trauma into something positive.
When did you realise you could do this and how beneficial has that been for you for personal and artistic growth?
Hue: While traditional methods of therapy are invaluable towards treating mental health issues, in my experience, working through personal demons using my artistic practice has been the most beneficial to my personal growth. Previously, I made a project called ‘He suffers with his nerves’ where I documented a two-year period when I was very depressed using self portraiture. I still struggle with my mental health from time to time, but when I looked back on that particular project after completion I saw that I was a completely different person at the end, than the person who’s in the photos. It was around that time when I realised that phototherapy could be extremely beneficial to me. I’ve grown since and can deal with similar issues better now, ‘He suffers…’ serves as a reminder that I can be in the thick of it but eventually get back up and recover.
‘Touch with your Eyes’ was a very ambitious project for me. I shot it in a completely different way to how I usually photograph and I stepped outside my comfort zone technically and aesthetically. This has been substantial in how I will approach my work in the future.
It was a first in terms of collaboration; I think I’ll be a lot more comfortable in reaching out to other artists to talk about collaboration in future. Without Rebecca who rendered the tentacles, Yasmin who did the special effects make-up and Ray who is the sitter in the photos, this project couldn’t have come alive in the way it has. I think thematically the project has given me confidence to make work about issues which can be personal to me but can also apply to others in the same situation.
Now that ‘Touch with your Eyes’ is complete and out in the world some people have spoken to me about their own online harassment experiences. Hearing these stories combined with what I’ve discovered through making the project, I think I’ll react differently and effectively to any future online harassment.