Public action. Performers (from left to right) Kiran Joan, Keerthana Chandragiri and Hannah Raisin.
Hannah Raisin is a video and performance artist from Melbourne, Australia, whose playful and subversive work focuses on the female body and its representation. In 2016, she was an artist in residence at 1Shanthiroad studios in Bengaluru for two months, where she was able to expand upon her existing work and collaborate with local artist and fellow residents. James Edwards, from Asia Options, spoke to Hannah about how the residency influenced her work and the cross cultural dialogues that she engaged in.
What led you to undertake your Asialink arts residence in Bengaluru, India?
As a video and performance artist, I was really excited about the residency in India to continue my research into adornment and the female body a site of social and political representation. Initially, I was particularly drawn to Hindu animal-human iconography as a lot of my work engages imagery of hybridity and trans species appropriation.
I had also done some research into performative contemporary art in India and 1Shanthiroad studios in Bengaluru seemed like an ideal organisation for a practice like mine to begin locating itself within this completely new cultural context.
How was the experience of being an artist in residence in Bengaluru?
A lot of my time was spent developing new relationships with local artists and curators, many of these creatively driven friendships are continuing to blossom since returning to Australia. From early on in the residency, I recognised the importance of listening, looking and absorbing the new environment I found myself in. Of course, some experiences and understandings presented themselves in unexpected ways and I soon realised how critical it was to be aware of my new surroundings in order to create any work of significance.
What changed about the way in which you made or conceptualised art while in Bengaluru? How were you influenced by your surroundings?
Over a period of two months, I developed a series of new costume, performance and video works. When I first arrived in Bengaluru, I was interested in the local animal species, but quickly realised it was more interesting to examine my own awkward foreignness as an Australian and also, in some instances, as a woman in a number of male-dominated spaces. For one work, I created a series of hoodie inspired costumes of Australian water-based animals with unexpected gender roles. I wanted to wear the costumes in a local ‘men’s only’ cricket ground near the studios. The pitch was dry and arid, despite it being monsoon season. I tested the first costume in a performative gesture where I entered the dusty cricket ground, cut and drained a five litre container of drinking water onto my head (pictured above).
I quickly realised that rather than operating in isolation, I really wanted to be connecting and having discussions with local women about feminism and life in this environment. Although I had never worked with others throughout my performance practice, I invited a couple of young artists to be part of the work. This opened an amazing dialogue and opportunity to share our individual experiences of life as women and some of the different feminist and class-based issues across our cultures. Creating the work together felt like it opened up new ground for my practice to develop in unexpected ways. I am now considering the potential of shared public gestures and adornments to be a methodology or framework for cross cultural feminist dialogue.
Hannah Raisin, Untitled 2, 2016
Avoiding cultural appropriation and being culturally sensitive is really important for artist going to India – a point Mohini Chandra provided valuable advice on in our previous interview. How did you balance being influenced by your surroundings while being conscious of avoiding cultural appropriation?
I was in constant dialogue with my evolving network of creative practitioners and tried to engage with as many different people and perspectives as possible. As I mentioned earlier, collaboration with fellow artists residing in Bengaluru was really important as it helped ensure my work was a two-way dialogue. I asked lots of questions and shared a great deal about where I was from, being both open and critical.
At all times, I was aware of being a visitor engaging, interpreting and learning about this place and the cultures of my new friends. I also talked through my ideas as they were forming. In one instance, I was showing a friend some costumes I had brought over from previous projects at home – he was very excited by my faux cow fur synchronised swimming costume. The fact that cows are such a sacred animal in India initiated a great conversation about how I had used the costume in Australia, but it also made me quite aware of the complexities of using this particular piece publicly in India.
Being in India incited a vast spectrum of sensations, experiences and observations. It absolutely informed the work I made on the residency. One such work was a circular video projection of a durational performance that I showed upon returning earlier this year at MARS Gallery (Melbourne). In the work I am adorned in a white flower fabric synchronised swimming costume and arrange a bed of white flowers over coloured pigments collected from both the flower and city markets. I then lay on top of the flowers and move around, the gestures disrupt the flowers, allowing the powdered pigments to gradually emerge through and stain the white flowers, my body and the costume. As a large-scale video projection the work speaks to the colourful vertigo I felt in India – a constant oscillation around diverse, exciting and unexpected colours, smells, sounds and sensations.
What was a typical day like living and working at 1Shantiroad studios in Bengaluru?
During the residency, I lived onsite at the studios with 1Shanthiroad’s amazing director and coordinator. There were also lots of other artists from all over India and a few international practitioners whose residency periods coincided with mine. It soon became apparent that 1Shanthiroad is a central arts hub of exhibitions, performances and talks with lots of artists dropping in for these events as well as less formal discussions, screenings, artwork sharing and tea drinking.
There was always someone new and exciting to meet and engage with so it was very beneficial to stay at the studios. The days always started with coffee and a delicious food experience (often masala dosa) before morning work in the studio. Then a late lunch would be the main meal of the day and an opportunity for residents and visitors to come together for a beautiful home cooked meal. After a post lunch siesta everyone worked until late into the evening with a smaller evening meal and sometimes the option of going out to eat. Logistically everything was quite different to working in Australia. Shops and markets were open late into the evening and it was very exciting to discover fabric markets with tumbling mounds of glorious fabrics and contained suburbs of small shops that specialised in tech equipment, or building materials.
I was thrilled to discover Bengaluru is a city full of emerging artists and exhibition practices. So many young artists are pushing the boundaries of their institutions and achieving exciting collaborative relationships and networks. It was great to see them creating opportunities to share their work and challenge ideas and conventions.
What advice do you have for others applying for the residency?
Like everyone seems to say – you get out of residencies what you put in. I find it really important to go in with plenty of enthusiasm, an inquisitive attitude and a very open mind. Also, bring gifts that are culturally significant to you, it is a great way to reciprocate the generosity of people you meet along the way. It can be helpful to share and be open and honest about your own home and culture if you want others to be generous with theirs.
If it’s your first time in a new country make sure you allow yourself time to settle in and comprehend (as best you can) your new environment before you put pressure on yourself to start generating new work. Be prepared for exciting new challenges and for everything to work differently to how you expect or what you are used to – it can open up new possibilities and I think this is one of the true joys of working in a new place.
In terms of applying for residencies, it’s really important to have a good purpose for undertaking the residency and to show why it is critical at this point in your practice. Also, I can’t recommend the value of the support artists receive from Asialink. The Asialink team were there for me whenever I needed and were immensely valuable on a practical level, connecting me with vast networks and supporting the creative development of my practice.
Fellow residents at 1Shanthiroad studios
You can find out more about Hannah’s work and follow her next exhibitions or performances at her website.