Interview: Siena Hart

Siena Hart is an interdisciplinary artist primarily exploring simple interventions of the everyday through digitally mediated performance and installation. With a focus on outward manifestations of embodied experience, vulnerability, anxiety, and the dialogue between the real and the imagined, she invites audiences to challenge the architecture of their own identities, perception, and memory.

From 28 August to 3 September Siena showed us a glimpse of her work and introduced some upcoming projects on our Instagram @inresidence_ari. Interviewed by Sarah Louise Thomson.


Sarah Louise Thomson: Your work primarily takes the form of “digitally mediated performance and installation”. What appeals to you about combining very tangible yet ephemeral mediums (performance and installation) with more intangible digital forms? Does this function as a two way process?

Siena Hart: They absolutely inform one another. For me it’s about that dialogue between the internal/external. I always struggled with the representation of that space between them, and that tension. I struggle with depersonalisation, and initially I used performance as a way of situating myself, real, within a constructed environment. Effectively it functions for me as a way to objectify my own experiences, and hopefully, understand them.

SLT: Your work often features your own body or representations of your body. What interests you about using the physical body in the virtual realm?

SH: I feel like when you place the body in a virtual space, you essentially codify yourself; Your body becomes a symbol of itself. And I’m lucky, or unlucky, enough to be the owner of a particularly historically loaded symbol, so to speak. So when I use my physical body in these spaces I think of it like an avatar, more physically ambiguous, and able to explore or subvert the narratives surrounding it. Even in my most autobiographical works, the body is never represented whole. There many parts of myself; My pussy, my naked body, my eyes, my mouth. My body becomes a language I can use to interact with the world. The body acknowledges the audience’s gaze as a part, a digital avatar, a silhouette never a whole.

SLT: Could you tell us some more about your current postgraduate studies at the Queensland University of Technology?

SH: At the moment I’m re-learning coding, which is a very slow but rewarding process. I’m really excited about artificial intelligence at the moment, and part of that is learning to create primitive algorithms that mimic interaction. What I’m really interested in though, is implication of these technologies, and the ideas surrounding them, on physical embodiment, and especially what this means in terms of perpetuating gendered online/networked environments.

Hi! Thanks to the incred team from InResidence for having me this week. This was the first digital avatar I ever created. She has already appeared in part of a larger video collage, but in the coming months I will be developing her into something much more whole. I've had an obsession with sci fi from a very young age, but it has only recently found its way into my practice. Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto has been a huge influence on my approach, and I am especially interested in the application of her theories to our contemporary entanglement with technology. I'm particularly interested in the idea of freedom and agency in digital spaces (especially games), the creation of the 'second', or extended self within these realms, and their relationship with lived experiences. This digital gal is modelled off myself!

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SLT: You mention in one of your posts your interest in Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and that your current studies are looking at the ‘contemporary cyborg’. How do you think Harraways’ concepts can be applied given the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc. and the way we use technology now?

SH: The vast majority of her ideas are eerily applicable to contemporary relationships with technology, gender, and binary taxonomies, but I guess that’s a hard question. To me, the cyborg is a question that gets in between our relatively limited understandings of consciousness. I suppose that’s not really an answer, ha! But I think that’s because the concept is relative to what you’re questioning; The cyborg metaphor is the tension between binary designations, that deconstructs each and all.

SLT: You’ve recently launched an online exhibition space S0S0. How did this project come about? What do you see as the role of virtual exhibition spaces given the scarcity and costs involved with finding a physical gallery to exhibit in?

SH: Spaces like S0S0 are becoming increasingly important avenues as physical spaces become more and more financially prohibitive. We wanted to create something that existed outside of the realm of physical potentialities, but also as a site within in a network, something constantly in flux and totally identifiably reliant on the dialogue with artists, works, and contexts that are part of the network.

SLT: Artists who work with digital mediums have to consider how their work will be physically installed in an exhibition space- via a screen, projection, VR headset, etc. What do you hope an entirely digital platform will offer artists and audiences?

SH: Hopefully, a space to experiment with the limitations and opportunities that arise when working within such a malleable environment. I’ve had issues arise in my own practice where I’ve realised that something I’m making really doesn’t fit anywhere but the online setting. There’s some kind an elusive dialogue that occurs when the art is the medium is the art is the context is the art.

SLT: I felt a real personal connection to an online work that you mentioned in your takeover, Mouchette. As someone who grew up with web games like Club Penguin, Habbo Hotel, and Neopets then onto blogging platforms like Blogspot and Tumblr in my teens, it seems like elements of my identity were constructed/influenced by and through digital experiences. Could you tell us more about your interest in “online artefacts of identity” and how these manifest in the real world?

SH: Some strange self objectification happens in expressions of the ‘self’ online. I don’t say that in a bad way, at all. That distance from the ‘experienced self’ is an incredibly potent space for understanding. That said, the internet is a wild and wooly place. But so is growing up. My personal interest in these expressions online came from a completely escapist place, but it was also a way to seek and affirm an identity that didn’t rely on the way I looked, my situation, but my words, the things I created, and the things I was interested in. Growing up online still has so many negative narratives surrounding it, but those kinds of explorations are so potent, so powerful, and so weirdly belittled. We’re still so far from the utopic futures of cyberfeminism, and I think that’s got a lot to do with the theoretical distance between irl and url. Online expressions are like this condensed version of life, and as such are pretty compelling sites for understanding or subverting the world around us.

SLT: You mentioned in a post that you also make collages in the real world. How do you benefit from working off screen?

SH: I find it incredibly therapeutic, very satisfying. When you’re constantly working with technology it can feel a bit like you're labouring over this thing for hours, and you have nothing to show for it. It’s awful for my mental health. Collage acts as something of an automatic writing method for me. I can tune out and let my subconscious control the narrative.

SLT: You have also begun to create exhibitions as a roaming freelance curator. How do you approach curating compared to your own practice? What do you hope to achieve with your exhibitions?

SH: It mostly comes from a place of wanting to support incredible, totally underrepresented artists that struggled with approaching intimidating avenues for showing their work. S0S0 is a combination of an extension of that feeling, and the drive to make accessible, supportive, wide, networks that dynamically inform and reflect one another’s needs. In that way, my approach to curating is much, much more methodical than my chaotic approach to creating. It’s more about creating dialogue, than presenting ideas.

SLT: Finally, in the last post of your takeover you mentioned that your new project SSSY666 will incorporate digitally mediated performance, sound, light, and smell. Can you tell us some more about this project and it’s sensory aspects?

SH: SSSY666 is the culmination of all the ideas I’ve been exploring in my practice so far, it’s the dialogue between online and offline spaces and artefacts, the real and the imagined. Instead of trying to understand digital technologies/networks through the lens of real life, I’m approaching real life through digitally contextual means. The result is a strange sort of surreal, naive (and in this way, revealing), perspective of physical embodiment, and what that means. By speaking to the very physical senses (touch, smell, light) through this bizarro lens, I hope that audiences get to experience the absurdity, ugliness, and strange beauty that is humanity.

This will be my final post! Thank you so much to InResidence for giving me the opportunity to share some of my work with you all 💙 . These are some draft snippets from a new body of work that is equal parts huge, scary, and intoxicating. . SSSY666 is a contemporary reimagining of the Myth of Sisyphus. Incorporating digitally mediated performance, sound, light, and smell, the series of works take a critical look at strength, labour, visibility, and the tension of failure within feminine embodiment both online and irl. . This is the largest scale of work I've ever undertaken, and I'm very excited by it, so if you'd like to see where that road leads catch me over at @is_________h or sienahart.net . And, if you're interested in, write about, or make digitally engaged work check out s0s0.persona.co . 🌑🌑🌑

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See Siena's work at www.sienahart.net Submission now open for S0S0 online exhibition space. Find out more here.


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