Interview with Artist Cindy Hinant

My first impression of Cindy and her work was based on the sold pink square she's adopted as her online thumbnail, which also appears as the face of her website. Minimal, yet undeniably powerful, it immediately conjured feelings of irony for me.  Cindy Hinant certainly makes an impact creating provocative work that not only explores representations of women in popular culture, but also the general head space of modern western society. I appreciate her work as the transparencies of a 21st century archaeological dig  into often superficially-handled entities such as Britney Spears, Sephora stores, and Playboy Bunnies. To put it plainly, Cindy plunges into the many layers of feminism, gender roles, and women's empowerment hiding in plain sight in the mainstream. Sometimes her work has made me feel uncomfortable, sometimes it has made me curious, contemplative - whatever the feeling, her work provokes, as it should. 

I Love Money and Now I'm Loving Life, 2015, HD digital video (video still)

Can you tell us about the motivation for your visual language, how you manipulate sound, video, and color to deliver your artistic messages?

My visual language is very much informed by minimal and post-minimal practices.  I am interested in isolating or slowing down singular elements from popular culture, so that they gain time and space to be considered outside of a vast media jungle.  

Some patterns I've noticed in your work: the use of grid lines, the use of pink, and an overall inclination to abstraction - can you describe your affinity for these techniques?

The grid and the monochrome both describe an infinite space, where no point has more value than another, it’s a utopic metaphor that I disrupt by inserting Britney Spears songs or audio from The Real Housewives. By imposing rigid structures onto popular images I am also giving weight to representations that are often not given serious consideration.

I use color in different ways, sometimes with a rule-based approach, and other times I appropriate color from source media.  My recent works about Paris Hilton had to be pink as this color comes from her own branding.

Grids Next Door, 2011, Single channel color video made with Incomptech Grid Generator and audio from Girls Next Door Season 2

Paris Exposed (Arrested), 2015, Archival pigment print

When did you first discover your love for creating artistically? How did your formal training studying in art school influence your work and creative journey?

I was painting, doodling, and gluing glitter to things as long as I can remember.  I went to the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, and in my first semester I took a contemporary art history course with Jean Robertson.  The course featured a lot of women artists including Judy Chicago and Cindy Sherman, and this really began my interest in feminist art practices.  I went to graduate school at the School of Visual Arts in New York where I studied with Kenji Fujita, Marilyn Minter, and Jerry Saltz.  My graduate thesis work was on Playboy and the reality show Girls Next Door and I have been working with popular media representations ever since.  

Working with artists has been as important to me as my formal training.  I met Dan Graham soon after I moved to New York and worked in his studio for four years.  My job was to organize his archive, but we spent a lot of time listening to records, talking about art, and trying to figure out why anyone likes Jennifer Lopez.  I now work for Gary Kuehn, who like Graham could also be considered a post-minimal artist.  Kuehn’s work is very much process-based; I love to see the works in progress before they leave the studio.    

Celebrity Grid (Getting Paid to Date Rich Men), 2013 , Pen on mylar, archival pigment print

Clearly feminism is a major influential theme in your work, and in particular you've mentioned your interest in exploring post-feminist representations of women in popular culture and media in your work, can you expound on this?  

I’m interested in how the accomplishments of feminism have been incorporated into mainstream media in a way that deters growth towards gender equality.  There is a popular idea that women chose to be objectified, and that this choice is empowering.  For example, press outlets are now calling Rhianna’s music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money” “feminist.”  The video is being described as a display of Rhianna’s creative agency (which is considered inherently feminist), and some say that it subverts traditional male-dominated narratives by featuring a woman as the violent protagonist.  

One of many scenes in this video that I find disturbing is an underwater close up of Rhianna’s butt in a thong swimsuit next to a blonde woman who has been knocked unconscious and is face down in the water, not breathing.   A general response to this video has been admiration for Rhianna's 'confidence,'  one youtube commentator, Salena Saez notes, "I love when women are comfortable with their bodies."  It bothers me that this pornographic, violent, and intentionally shocking video is being twisted into a positive narrative for women. 

What specific representations in popular culture/media inspire your work? How do you uncover these representations? What do your research methods look like? Your creative process?

It’s a lot of work to keep up with pop culture.  I end up binge watching reality television and watching music videos on repeat, I’m looking for patterns and also exceptions that might describe the complex networks behind popular representations.  At the moment I’m reading Holly Madison’s tell-all book Down The Rabbit Hole and I’m interested in the tools used in the book to construct a sense of reality.  Madison is a former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner and was a star on the Playboy reality show, Girls Next Door.  I like how the book integrates dialogue from Girls Next Door into the text.  Fans will remember those scenes from the TV show, and this technique simultaneously legitimizes the authenticity of both the reality show and Madison’s writing.  I’m always looking for moments like this, which are in plain sight, but often overlooked.  

Sephora Project, 2012, Ink jet and pen on paper

Can you tell us about your Sephora Project in particular? 

Sure, the Sephora Project is a series of works made around 2012 where I performed as a shopper at the cosmetic chain Sephora while taking detailed notes on hundreds of visits to the 15 locations in Manhattan.  I approached this series like an undercover anthropologist and had no trouble blending in with stores filled mostly with young women who had a shared interest in improving their physical appearance.  I am interested in the language of cosmetic branding and how these products are offered as a solution to the various problems women face on their quest for beauty. The chain carries about 250 brands, each offering a wide range of products, thus catering to a neoliberal impulse for self-improvement through consumption and choice.  

This project also looks at the interactive qualities of shopping, what it’s like to engage with shop employees, customers, and store displays, along with the practice of receiving free products and services from Sephora.  There is a phenomenon in pathological gamblers where almost winning produces the same emotional response in the brain as actually winning.  Shopping at Sephora is like that, receiving free samples, makeovers, bonus gifts, birthday presents, and point rewards, makes you feel like you are ahead, even if you’ve just spent $50.00 on a bottle of Christian Louboutin nail polish that you may only wear once.  

Sephora Project, 2012, Ink jet and pen on paper

And what about What is this site all about?, 2012, website (screenshot)

I wanted, 2012 to highlight the how we engage with media images.  When a magazine shows two images of a celebrity side-by-side, with and without make-up, a female viewer often goes through a process of identification and rejection, where we identify with the celebrity without makeup (they look more like us without their stylist and makeup team), but we prefer the image of the celebrity with makeup, and by proxy end up rejecting ourselves.  

The images I collected were found by doing an Internet search for the terms “Britney Spears without makeup.”  On the Internet, “without makeup” is a tag used for any unflattering image of someone.  Many of the images on my site include Spears with a full face of makeup, but because she looks tired, or has acne, the tag “without makeup” is used to imply that she is ugly.    

Who are some women you look up to or that inspire you in your life, artistically and otherwise?

Jo Baer, Judy Chicago, Lucy Lippard, Lee Lozano, Lydia Lunch, Amanda Scheiner McClain, Angela McRobbie, Margaret Schwartz, and Hannah Wilke, to name a few.  

How do you deal with criticism of your work?

All news is good news, isn’t it?

What upcoming projects can we look forward to from you?

In July my audio piece Kendra, 2014, one of my works about celebrity sex tapes, is being shown at the Loukia and Michael Zampelas Art Museum in Cyprus.  The exhibition is curated by Diana Ali and will be on view from July 24th – August 7th.  

Then in September, I’m participating in a project called “Foursome” at Gallery Sensei in New York, presented by Milk and Night and curated by Coco Dolle.  It’s a four-person exhibition with Leah Schrager, Marie Tomanova, and Victoria de Lesseps with works that consider the representation of identity through digital mediums.  It will be on view from September 9th - 20th.  

Farrah Abraham, Celebrity, 2014, HD digital video (video still)

If you could collaborate with any one creator, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I have a longtime collaborator, Greg Ajamie, with whom I have an ongoing project called Paper Cuts.  At the moment we are cutting the US Senate’s report on the CIA’s use of torture into hearts.

I would be interested in working with the reality star Farrah Abraham, preferably alive, if she acquiesced.  I‘m fascinated with Abraham because she has made a career out of being an unlikable character, and she has been clawing her way to success with relative transparency.