Interview: Hailey Atkins

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Hailey Atkins is a sculptural artist whose practice focuses on ways of navigating and articulating experiences related to ‘being in-between’. Her work explores ways that gesture, form and materials are able to express the sometimes funny, sometimes gloomy, always awkward and alien feelings that result when occupying the in-between spaces of ambivalence and ’not-knowing’ and how this is often felt as failure. Hailey is currently undertaking a three month artist residency with Kaus Australis in Rotterdam, where she’s focusing on formal and material experimentation.

Interviewed by Miranda Hine


Miranda Hine: Your Instagram takeover gave us a glimpse into your residency in Rotterdam. What role do you think the residency has played in preparing both your work and your mindset for the rest of the year?

Hailey Atkins: The second half of last year was dedicated to getting Wreckers off the ground, so I spent very little time on my own practice – I just couldn’t get in the right headspace, despite having the perfect space to actually work in. In this way, this residency has been great to actually put some ideas I’d had to work, as well as experiment and get the feel for making again. It’s great being in such a creative place – there is still a lot of joy in it but everyone treats their practice like their job. Always present and productive. And because they want to be! Sometimes I find myself a bit caught up in the box ticking part of things, rather than focusing on what I really want to make and enjoying the process and seeing what it can show me, rather than what I show through it. I feel like I’m in a good mindset to focus on just doing what I want, or at least figuring out what that is.

MH: You mentioned some limitations that the residency has placed on your making, such as having to carry materials to and from the studio on your bike. Are there some positives that have emerged from these limitations?

HA: Definitely! It’s easy to fall in love with materials, so once I’ve found something I can get a bit narrow sighted and overlook the potential of everything else. The past few years I’ve used a lot of plaster, which is great because I can work really quickly with it and it’s quite versatile. I haven’t managed to find the right type of plaster for the right price over here though and yes, there’s also the matter of lugging around huge bags on my bike to deal with. Last time I was in the Netherlands I had a similar issue and I ended up making work with paper (cheap, light and easily accessible) and have ended up doing the same this time round. I’ve also incorporated found things back into my work. It’s nice to respond to something that came into the world without your intention. There’s a dump down the road – you can’t go there and pilfer materials, but sometimes rubbish falls off the back of trailers so I go and check the bush next to the road every so often.

MH: Have you found any new materials over there you love?

HA: Yep. Loo paper clay. I guess it’s a Paper Mache/clay hybrid made out of a combination of domestic and industrial materials. It’s pretty common and I’d actually wanted to try making something like it for years (never ending hunt for perfect pastey material) but always thought it sounded too slow. When I was trying to find a plaster alternative a friend over here showed me a website of this cute old lady who’s crazy about Paper Mache and her recipe sounded like just what I wanted. I love it! It’s super easy and adaptable - it’s definitely something that fits in with my practice and the way I like to make, which is hands on, in the goo.

MH: How are you feeling about having to leave most of the work you’ve made behind when you come back home?

HA: I came over knowing that would be the case, and was very prepared and cool about it, but the closer it gets to finishing up the sadder the idea of a trip to the dump becomes. I actually like a lot of what I’ve been making (not that I usually don’t, or that I expected I wouldn’t, but I’m still surprised for some reason)! I’ve started thinking about how I can get them home in my suitcase or send them in a box. I’ve been making bigger sculptures in parts optimistically thinking I can just take the essential bits home and leave the rest. Maybe I’ll sell some of them at one of my upcoming shows here and they’ll go to good homes. HA!

MH: I noticed a lot of vessels taking shape in your new works. Has that been a conscious thing?

HA: Yes, I suppose. I’ve been thinking a lot about carrying things, dragging things, collecting things, putting things in things, setting them down for a break, picking them up later, leaving them behind. I don’t really want to make vessels, but it seems like the logical starting point for that line of thinking. I’ve also been listening to a lot of podcasts that discuss elements of material culture, about the logical conclusions that are drawn from different artefacts and the images on them and what they might have been used for etc. I thought it would be funny to imagine what someone in the future might conclude about me/us if they found my works, which are really quite useless for anything and not designed to last at all.

Residencies are good and weird. Good because you have time to really focus on making and thinking, and weird because it’s in a new environment and you basically sleep with your work. It’s been a bit difficult to get going without the usual ease of access to materials and equipment like at home. The other day I rode 4km with a back pack full of glue and joint compound, 5 x 2.5m lengths of timber balancing on my handlebars and a bucket swinging between my knees. I got lost on the way home and some young kids laughed at me when I swore as I came to an intersection and wobbled off my bike into the gutter - it took me another 5 minutes to rebalance and get going again - clearly not from ‘round here. But actually, it’s been good and meant I’ve had to become more resourceful and look beyond my usual staples of plaster and hessian. I started doing some paintings because I bought the wrong type of plaster and it took 3 days to dry - I don’t usually enjoy painting, but they’ve been useful stepping stones and good for getting into the feeling of making again. #inresidencetakeover @hlytkns

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MH: You mentioned taking up painting again while in the Netherlands. Can you see this coming back into your practice, and into upcoming exhibitions?

HA: I’ve actually never been much of a painter. I’ve always found it extremely difficult and daunting. I’ve never understood how to sum all my thoughts into an image. That’s not to say that I think paint isn’t capable of capturing something like that. I certainly admire those who are able to do so much with it, but I’ve always just found sculpture more accessible and useful for my needs. I like that it’s here in the space with me. Having said that, yes – I’ve been giving it a go. I guess the biggest hurdle is that I don’t even know what or how I like to paint. I’ve always given up very quickly in the past because it doesn’t immediately resemble what I had imagined. Which is funny, because my sculptures almost never turn out exactly as I intended either. Perhaps it’s because once they’re in built in space, I’m sort of happy for them to take on a life of their own…whereas I feel like I have too much responsibility when I’m painting. I made one painting that I quite like though. It’s on a lumpy piece of plaster. I realised that if I can trick my brain into thinking that I’m just making a ‘flat sculpture’ then it seems less scary. I’d like to continue with it, maybe introduce some elements of it slowly, as a complement to the sculptures.

MH: What’s coming up for you this year?

HA: Not sure. I think I’d like to focus on making without having a particular goal in mind. In the past, due to having various other commitments, I’ve tended only to make when I needed to (like when I had an exhibition coming up), which never really allowed any opportunity for surprises or new discoveries. I have a lot of ideas at the moment, so it’ll just be a matter of actually acting on them and seeing what happens! I don’t have any shows planned for the rest of the year at the moment, but Jack Mitchell and I usually do something together every year so I’m excited to see what that will be this time round.

To see more images shared by Hailey Atkins during her Instagram takeover, take a look at @inresidence_ari.


See more of Hailey's work on her website here.

Keep up with our Instagram Takeovers, news, events and new posts via @inresidence_ari.