Dominic Hawgood Talks To Artlyst About Modern Belief Systems, Advertising, And Miracles

Dominic Hawgood

Artist Dominic Hawgood is a recent graduate of The Royal College of Art, and features in this year’s Catlin Guide, a yearly book that presents a collection of recent graduate and postgraduate artists from UK art schools, which is now recognised as an essential reference for collectors of contemporary art.

The artist won this year’s British Journal of Photography’s international prize for best series, which is now on show at TJ Boulting in London. ‘Under the Influence’ is related to two earlier projects, ‘Shrine’ and ‘The Conversation’, both of which were made in Texas. In the ‘Shrine’, Hawgood photographed illuminated roadside church signs in and around Dallas, shooting them when they were on and off. In the work ‘The Conversation’, the artist placed an advert in a local newspaper to make contact with local people that spoke in tongues.

The most recent work ‘Under the Influence’ is as much about power as it is belief, evoking the ritualistic, and juxtaposing it with the slick contemporary language of contemporary media. Bringing a kind of narrative-less documentation to principles of advertising and lighting design. Dominic was kind enough to talk to Artlyst about his latest work, and his practice, giving us an exclusive look at his new work, on the dawn of the artist’s exhibition opening.

A: “Artlyst recently saw your work at the London Art Fair on Justin Hammond’s stand – So Dominic, all the images relate to the viewer as one piece of work, taken on location, and how did you go about creating them?”

DH: “Yes it’s all one body of work called ‘Under The Influence’ which was my project to do with African churches – and recently I’ve stopped talking directly about how I produce the work, I don’t give out any information about how it’s been produced, partly because I think that the practice used to create the works doesn’t help the resulting dialogues at all. The reason why I produced the work was after my initial research, and then through spending time with the church, and various churches in fact, watching deliverances and exorcisms – the theatrical performance of that – I initially found it very hard to understand; I couldn’t work out what it was that was actually being presented to me, to what degree real experiences were happening. It’s so multi-layered, and really complex, that there’s a kind of confusion about what was being presented to me – and that was my inspiration for the work.

So the work is perhaps produced to re-create that experience for the viewer. It looks like advertising but you’re not being sold anything. It might look like a fashion shoot, or an editorial, because of its slickness but it’s not that at all. It might look like I use CGI or 3D, but you don’t know what elements are and what elements aren’t – so there’s a constant looping of this idea of confusion, an ambiguity. So it makes no sense for me to tell you, if I do there’s an extra layer that’s not required, it’s to do with my experience, not to do with telling you how it’s made.”

A: “It’s a strong Oeuvre Dominic, do you always create work in bodies, and how long did this series take?”

DH: “I guess it helps to get work out in series, but I also work on single images as well, but this series took quite a while, and had a lot of different elements, I initially did a lot of CGI work on it, then I dropped it, then I took it up again, it was a lengthy process, I mean, I think throughout my two years of study it developed – you’re looking at two years! – then frame fabrication, which was eight or nine months of work, different prototypes, re-designs, re-building it from scratch, so I designed every element of it, all the lighting design. This is the first time that I have a space where I can light the works in the very particular way required, so there are a lot of elements that I never had the opportunity to try out in the past, So quite a lot of work!

So with ‘Under The influence’ we’re looking at this idea of fluids, an obsession with fluids, and the merchandising of modern belief systems, I mean that is one of the things this is really about, how these systems are sold to you, as a consumer, as a believer. The colours, the objects, the symbols. I’ve taken this language and re-imagined it, re-made it, re-worked it into something very clean, very cold.”

A: “So you’ve juxtaposed the language and slickness of the advertising world with systems of belief?”

DH: “Well it’s already there – it is there, you know. Then there’s the obsession with fluids… and the way that is sold – there’s no difference in my eyes.”

A: “Did you feel that your presence as an artist at events of worship, or even exorcism, effected behaviours? In a sense a bit like the ‘observer effect’ in physics, the act of observation changing the phenomenon being observed?”

DH: “People react differently, I’ve worked with lots of people, they react differently to things, but part of the way I work is considering carefully how I approach things, and how I work with people, and how you do that successfully. I wrote a thesis on approaching portraiture in a very specific way, and how you create realism within environments that you are in fact controlling. Like the woman being sprayed with anointing water, [in ‘This Body Is Not Your Temple’], or the woman being exorcised [in ‘This Is Where The Darkness Lies’] – where you have the ‘evil’ coming out, again – fluids, or the presentation of objects after miracles had occurred, or [‘I Command You Get Out’] with anointing waters, ministers – it’s always to do with obsessions – through screens – the transmission of power. It’s very contemporary actually, it’s modern belief systems, and there is an integration of technology.”

Dominic Hawgood, Under The Influence – TJ Boulting – until 21 March 2015

Words: Dominic Hawgood with Paul Black Photo: P A Black and courtesy of Dominic Hawgood and TJ Boulting © Artlyst 2014 photo Artlyst all rights reserved


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