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Artist Interview: Conversation with Christopher Hanrahan

Murray Art Museum Albury

Christopher Hanranah was born in Mudgee, NSW Australia, and has been living and working in New York, United States since 2013. To date, his conceptual, predominantly sculptural practice has made use of reduction, absence, slackening, language, and light to loosen ostensibly fixed forms and practices, opening them to new interpretations.

This email exchange between Christopher Hanrahan and Sophie Holvast, MAMA Engagement, took place during April – June 2023 and discusses the series of artworks titled Folk Politics which features in the exhibition No Easy Answers.

Q: Can you tell us about how as a sculptor, you engaged with the act of painting during lockdown in the US to create this series?

The painting emerged as a manageable outlet, that I enjoyed the process was a happy side-effect. I know all together; I haven't looked at enough painting (or as much as my friends for which it's their main output) and that the looking at and thinking about painting is essential to whatever unquantifiable ideas of "improvement" may be. I guess the time poured into the paintings both forced by mediums themselves - oil paint is slow to cure, helped me catch up a little... If I was to attempt to articulate what my approach is, I guess it's assemblage, kind of 2d sculpture, making objects with fluid materials!

Q: Your choice of materials in these paintings (as well as paint) includes substances, off-cuts and ingredients associated with home renovation! Beyond the accessibility/proximity of these materials and objects, can you speak about the intention behind these materials?

Availability was really the necessity of invention here, but these materials also serviced some of my impatience with oil painting, my cursory approach to mixing colours was somewhat abated by the non-standard colour-spectrum many of the products offered. Also, about 20 years ago, the painter Peter Alwast was making these paintings on all kinds of supports using caulked silicon, I have always loved these works, and though the use of the mediums and the application is both conceptually and technically different, I think subconsciously I have always wanted to rip them off.

Q: How would you describe your relationship with painting now, having completed the series?

Can't stop, won't stop - what's that old saying, painting is a great thing to look at while you're tripping over sculpture?

Q: I’m interested in folk politics – can you explain from your perspective what it is, and more specifically your experience of it.

Folk Politics is a term coined by Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams to describe (broadly) a contemporary tendency of the "left" to splinter across multiple issues, an individuation that they posit has incrementally moved much of the left away from an ambitious ideological big picture strategy/goal. This striation rendering a certain superficiality, a reactive attitude to issues. To fetishize the local over corporate/multinational broadly, without engaged consideration of the relative merits/failures of either in specific cases. It's knotty to say the least!

Here, (scattered and cursory) attendance to niche (albeit idealistic and worthy of attention) concerns, ironically, seems to have partially contributed to the left's loss of the worker and to a lesser degree collective action (though, bright spot, collective action is back baby! Is it weird to note a strong wind of the re-unionization of workplaces began in the arts/museums - kind of like galleries and studio's as the canaries of gentrification - but I digress, Folk Politics!). The ability to appear as such being diluted partially, as identity is foregrounded over class concerns and partially through the right's wedging of these issues. I guess it's also worthy to note much of the new left has skewed away from a traditional base of workers to an educated, white-collar class.

For me, living in the US, this is really acutely felt as the right with its newly captured working class, maintaining this position through a stream of culture wars - wedging the left's (perceived or otherwise) niche concerns that renders the left as radical and out of touch. For the right it's stridently and necessarily a movement away from class conversations which, at the moment, insanely and deeply unfortunately, has manifested the trans community as that wedge. So, we're living through the preferencing of marginalized lives, being turned into a political tool to harangue the left - it's so inhumane as to be inconceivable, but here we are. From afar, I think this was attempted in Australia during the last federal election - seemingly unsuccessfully? Balancing the rage that this divisive and calculated power grab inspires, diminishes one's desire for bipartisanship, but ultimately, the service of government is and should be for all... Getting back to a position that protects and uplifts the marginalized (on the left and right) feels as essential and as far away as ever. 

This is definitely a bleaker answer than initially intended, so I should note that Folk Politics as a moniker is funny and charming and perhaps posits a little of levity that might help to reunify!

We all need some levity in bleak moments – and art can certainly provide moments of solace and joy. Thank you, Chris!