Notes from Wales Issue 1: Autumn 2014 - Page 24

Interview with Helen Sear Profiled Helen Sear on her work, photography and what it means to represent Wales at next year’s Venice Biennale and the convergence of image and surface, perhaps a result of years working in front of a computer screen. RW: Tell us about your recent work ‘Chameleon’, what led to this piece? Helen Sear at Plas Glyn Y Weddw Ruth Wilbur: What draws you to photography? Helen Sear: Photographic practice is really diverse and exciting at the moment. Many emerging photographers and artists are embracing and experimenting with different genres and approaches to the medium. New technologies have completely altered the photographic landscape. Photographers are also returning to books as material objects and interrogating the digital image beyond the photographic. Photography, for me, involves both acceleration and slowing down in equal measures, and sometimes a surface upon which to test my own physical and emotional existence. I am returning more and more to exploring the presence of the image in a sculptural space, HS: The work is partly inspired by Man Ray’s photograph ‘Cette Espèce D’hélianthe’ and Paul Nash’s sunflower paintings. My husband grew a sunflower on our allotment that was so heavy it had the scale and presence of a human face. Through videoing the flower at night, a void appeared which slowly and imperceptibly became substance, resembling a disembodied eye returning the gaze of the viewer. I am interested in giving flora and fauna an equal status in relation to human subjects. The installation of the piece is very important in order to maximise the materiality of the image. Its place in the contemporary collection at the Glyn Vivian via the Wakelin Award last year will ensure that it will be shown in the future in the way it was intended. RW: ‘Sightlines’ 2011 is a series of portraits of women obscured by china bird figurines that act as masks. The viewer immediately becomes aware of what they cannot see, and what has been interrupted/disrupted. Do you often think about the role the viewer/ audience play in your work? HS: The camera prioritises sight over the other senses and I like to bring the whole body into the act of viewing. To do this it is necessary to activate the viewer in some way. That might involve not allowing them to see something in the picture, or deliberately covering something up. There may be different viewing positions, such as in ‘Gone To Earth’, 1994, where if you are standing a long way from the picture it looks as if you might be flying at night over a landscape with small lights far below you. When close up against the surface of the image, the viewer can see where the photograph was originally pierced and LED lights embedded. You are brought simultaneously to the skin of the image and the fur of the animal. With ‘Sightlines’ I was playing on one level with photographing paint and painting photographs, where the single painted eye of the china bird becomes like a talisman, held up in front of the face of the sitter as protection against the allconsuming lens of the camera. RW: Tell us about the art scene in South Wales HS: Sadly, the temporary exhibitions programme at Newport Museum has ended due to funding cuts. This venue provided a great opportunity for exciting curatorial interventions within the collection. Helen Sear’s photographic work has developed from a background of performance, film and installation made in the 1980s. Her work is in a number of collections including the British Council, the Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council England, Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago and Aperture Foundation New York. Helen lives and works in Wales and is Reader in Photography and Fine Art Practice at the University of South Wales. In 2013 Helen was the recipient of the Wakelin Award, which supported the purchase of the work ‘Chameleon’ for the Glyn Vivian Art Gallery’s permanent collection. Helen will represent Wales at the Venice Biennale in 2015. See Helen’s profile on Axisweb > NOTES FROM WALES | AUTUMN 2014 23