Interview with Artist Hilary White

I met Hilary White one hot August night in Philly while visiting her sister, who is one of my best friends. We met at this grungy burger joint before heading over to Fishtown where Hilary then had her studio. It was a two-story space with a gallery on top and a workshop on the bottom level. She showed us what she had been working on, and I remember being extremely impressed by her craftsmanship and the diversity of her work.

Creating pieces that are heavily conceptual and rooted in ideas much deeper than the visual can often express, Hilary is fearless when it comes to creating a visual representation of faith, of feeling, of all the things that are indescribable. Her work is vivid, bright, shiny, textured, otherwordly, and invites you to join her in this exploration of another dimension.

Your work has a very distinct energy, as well as a refined knowledge and craftsmanship. What was the process like in honing in on your visual language?

A lot of mistakes, a lot of failed attempts at doing things and long expanses of time where I think what I might be attempting visually or conceptually may not work out. I think my visual language develops through the learning process that failure and doubt have produced. Working somewhere in between comfort and complete bewilderment has helped my endurance as an artist. I usually start a piece by sketching out something I just want to exist in the world, and then I look at it and try to figure out what I know and what I need to learn to make that vision a reality.

How has your upbringing influenced themes you are exploring in your art practice?

The theme of faith and more specifically Christianity, is used as a catalyst to develop dialog within a community of varying opinions and beliefs. By utilizing the effects of specificity within "spirituality" I find that the topic addresses the individual in a much more effectual way. By being specific the individual has to either consciously engage in the topic through investigation or dismiss it all together. This can become a tool for greater reflection of how one engages their community.  We have to decide, do we attempt to be situated within the agora of the greater public sphere, or do we continue to assign ourselves to the position of omniscience and isolation? Being specific in any topic addresses bias and also creates a constant needed for potential hypothesis to develop within the work. My constant is the figure of Christ, how this figure humbles me and creates wonder in my imaginative process, and also how the individual engages with this figure positively, negatively or with complete neutrality.

My upbringing contributed to this being a theme I would continue to investigate in some unexpected ways. I was introduced to Christ at a young age while also experiencing some devastating events in my  life personally and within my family unit as a child, with the impacts continuing to affect me up to my adult life. Depression was something I was constantly battling, manifesting in various destructive forms as a means to cope with an overwhelming sense of something I can only describe as "darkness".  In contrast the healing and peace that developed even in the vortex of my personal chaos  I attribute to the grace and mercy I experienced in Christ and the community of people that came alongside me and helped the healing continue. That community has been varied and does not all share my beliefs, but there is a Biblical account that describes God as being love, and in these moments I saw God as working through all these different kinds of people. When I really became serious about my art practice I knew I wanted to create physical manifestations of that experience through art-making - I see hope in that. Hope is why I am still compelled to be engaged in this topic and attempt to engage others as well. Hope looks beyond what is and believes in what could be.

Can you talk a little bit about the themes and concepts you are currently exploring in your work?

Right now I'm really interested in community engagement. The desire to create this new project REST was to find a way to enable the work to directly work in and with the community the installation is situated in. My individual pieces work on a more intimate level with the dialog that they create because it is about the individual looking and wondering and creating an inner dialog based on what is being seen.The sculptural works operate as archaeological artifacts from another dimension, out on display in a museum as a way to investigate the unseen realm or imagine what it might consist of. The separation of time, space, cultural landscape, are very evident in these kinds of displays because the artifact is removed from it's original purpose and perhaps taken out of context. There is a disassociation with their surroundings. They stand out. I wanted to put the pieces into a space that could reflect how they might operate in the spiritual dimension of Heaven. Heaven is described as the presence of God, a place where there is no entropy, which equates to all things death-related including injustice, war, famine, and even time itself. What would this place look like in a small pocket of the world? How would it operate here and now in the middle of all kinds of death? The first thing that came to mind was to recreate this as an experience, but that wasn't enough, I think on a much deeper level the community involved in this space is what enacts it. Again it all comes back to love, which may sound fluffy, but real love takes everything you have, and everything you think you are and lays it on the line. To be honest I don't think I've ever really accomplished that kind of love, so I used Christ as a reference instead of myself. Historically even if people do not believe in him as a God figure, the story of how he lived and what he did is an incredible example of how love interacts with the world. The term "rest"  really began to resonate with me as I meditated on this. Communities of love promote rest, and by that I don't mean "rest" as in sleep but "rest" as in relief, relief from fear, relief from poverty, relief from pain, relief from loneliness, relief from inequality, relief from having to be anything or anyone else but you. Rest is what true communities manifest and what is also needed for their growth, much like the human body. The reference for this kind of rest is referred to in Christ's call to rest in him which is why it is included in the statement Matthew 11:28 "Come to me all you are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." which was a call away from the reliance one puts on themselves to be what is considered "good" or "right" or to be anything and Christ says basically "Hey, I see you trying to do this on your own and it's ok, you can't, so I'm going to do it for you. I'm going to carry your burdens so you can live freely.  I'm going to bear suffering so you don't have to."  I turned the word into an acronym as well to mean Relational Expressions of Spiritual Transcendence, which goes along the same lines as PLUR (peace, love, unity, respect) which is a kind of mantra for the Rave scene. REST is utilizing the rave format as a creative and nonverbal way to interact with community, share an experience of being in the "living body" of community in a place that promotes wholeness and wonder. I wanted the installation to be a space that people from all backgrounds and beliefs could become engaged in and let loose.

You worked with with a few musicians for REST including Ghostfields, MSNRA, Black Galaxy Entertainment, and Enochs,  Have you enjoyed collaborating with other artists for this project?

Collaborating has been one of the highlights for me with this project. Collaborating is really humbling in the best kind of ways. In the collaboration process I learn more in the process of letting go. Performance and collaboration lend themselves to constant flux inherently because of the elements involved: people and time, two things that are not in one's control. I am really looking forward to how the installation will unfold, to experiencing the performers, musicians and dancers completing REST.

Do you spend a lot of time researching and planning your pieces before beginning construction? Is this something you like doing? Is it a part of the finished piece?

For REST I did more research on ritual and performance from an anthropological standpoint to bring the context of the installation full circle. I was looking at ways the topic of god and the spiritual was used historically  as a way to promote community engagement and interaction, as well as identity cross-culturally. This was commonplace that the wonder this topic produced contributed to specific ritual that became a way to symbolize the spiritual realm in the physical and to communicate with it. Modernity and all it's many fantastic inventions have been the bridge that has brought people closer to each other in a communication sense, but also have brought us farther from our immediate connections, moments, and at times, self. I wanted to look into different beliefs and how they engaged community in this modern era. Part of this process was visiting different places of worship and  speaking with some of the people who find community in these spaces and then seeing how they might promote human connection/interaction, or if that was even a concern. This is where anthropologist Victor Turner steps in. I used his term "communitas" to explain what happens in these spaces of worship and to also compare this to what happens in arave or in spaces of spontaneous dance. Communitas is defined as  an unstructured state, apart from social constructs and ranks, a community in which people are equal, or as the very spirit of community. I wanted REST to be a space that was created out of this wonder from my personal faith but that involved, invited and interacted with a diverse audience so that it pertains to a narrative while inviting open dialog and experience. I am presenting a question with this project: can faith still be a rallying point for community? Can it tell a story and let others tell their own in the process?

What’s your favorite material/process to work with?

My favorite material is any material that embodies flash. I love reflective surfaces so anything from mirror to glitter to holographic media. The second is wood mostly because I have been working with it since I was a teen. I have the most knowledge of how it will react to specific paints and treatments so  when I get myself into engineering something I'm not entirely sure of, the material gives me a comfortable familiarity that allows me to pull these imagined structures into reality.

What does feminism mean to you?

Feminism in it's many waves have contributed to the equality and justice women experience in this era. Any movement that breaks into systems of fear and silence to address the inequalities and injustice in false systems presented as "order" in the world is needed. The dignity and rights of all humanity should be the end goal and the people who are bringing attention to these false systems in the world on behalf of other women promotes a form of rest, the relief i

n community I touched on briefly before. It's people saying to women I will help you bear this load now, so that the next generation can live in a place that promotes their well-being, dignity and freedom. That's hope. That's love in action.

Photo courtesy of Josh Hobson

Photo courtesy of Josh Hobson

REST has partnered with the Gainesville Child Advocacy Center as a way to directly address and bring  awareness to the needs within the community. The installation sites will be accepting wrapped juice box drinks and wrapped non perishable single serving snacks to be donated to the CAC for the children they work with. Please consider donating these food items at these events.

March 11th/ Gary R. Libby Gallery, University of Florida 7-9 PM

First Floor, Fine Arts Building C Address 1370 Inner Road, Gainesville, FL 32611

March 18th the musicians involved in REST will perform at Gallery Protocol 7-11 PM

2029 NW 6th St, Gainesville, FL 32609

Ghost Fields, Black Galaxy Entertainment, and Enoch from the project CYNE.