On subject/object binaries and the classification of things
Honey Long’s practice seeks to break down the rigid humanist classifications we frequently ascribe to ourselves and our place within the world, our view of ourselves as strictly rational and autonomous, separate from nature rather than part of it. She works in the mediums of blown glass, video and sculpture; she is also one half of a collaborative duo with Prue Stent. Together, Long and Stent work across photography, installation and performance.
Long tries not to pay attention to the reductive binaries and objectifying lens that women, their bodies and sexualities, are often viewed through. Concurrently, she highlights our bodies as raw materials and objects that are afloat in a dreamy world as much as rational agents. She holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts from SCA.
In a recent interview with the artist, Long commented on her enjoyment of glass-blowing: “it has so many different forces at play, it takes shape itself rather than you getting to be the master.”* Glass blowing is a very quick process, the usual goal being to get the glass as even and symmetrical as possible. Long works differently to this in her Blown Bodies (2016) series, where accidental forms are set in motion, an uneven bubble creating a warped and slumped vessel.
Presenting her glass vessels with found rocks, Long creates a contrast between the fragility of the glass bodies and the solidity of the rocks forming a kind of expanded stratigraphy. In stratigraphy, the layered accumulation of rock from different time periods registers the history and environmental processes that have occurred. Drawing on this Long fills the vessels with pink, red and almost clear fluid. The different coloured clay pigments in water form layers in the blown glass shapes, the fluids seem to stagnate inside the vessels which can create a visceral reaction in the viewer.
Drawing on the parallel between processes in the body, such as the development of kidney stones, and other mineral processes which occur outside the body, Long seeks to break the strict distinction between ourselves and nature, the inside and outside of the body. Long’s work asserts our bodies as objects and materials as much as living beings with agency and rational thought.
Traveling from the internal to the external
In our society, there is so much horror and shame around our bodies – especially our organs, flesh and bodily fluids. For women in particular our bodies and their natural processes are constantly shamed and sanitised rather than recognised for the interesting qualities they possess, such as the processes of crossing over between the domains of the internal and the external.
The idea of traveling from the internal to the external is also visible in Synaesthesia (2016),which featured in the Interlude Gallery exhibition Ideally Yes (September, 2016). Here wax and pigment were placed into plastic bags creating a skin-like material that stretched around the screens. A two-channel video work played on the screens. Born from experimentation with materials, this video also examines the artificial materials with which we surround ourselves. Plastic is at once destructive and terrible for our environment, but also possesses strange, artificial skin-like properties. Through the use of a macro lens, Long and Kai Wasikowski captured different movements and processes of the body in minute detail. These parts of the body took on a feeling of detachment from the whole and an agency of their own. Synaesthesia is a sensory phenomenon where the stimulation of one sense leads to automatic and involuntary experience in another sense. For example, it has been described as seeing a certain colour when a particular musical note is heard. In Long and Wasikowski’s video, the confusion around which body part you are actually seeing, and what it is doing, compared to what you think you are seeing relate to a kind of synaesthesia or confusion of the senses.
The female gaze and femininity
The female gaze is a developing concept that seeks to express the world viewed from the feminine, the female experience of being in the world. Jill Soloway in a keynote address at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, discussed a definition of the female gaze. She says the female gaze is “a feeling seeing,” it is “we see you, seeing us”; it isn’t simply slotting a woman into a version of the male gaze – it isn’t female super heroes or Wonder Woman movies. It is how women see the world and move through it, it is women in the power position around which narrative is framed, explored and conceptualised.
In Long’s work, especially in her collaborative practice with Prue Stent, ideas around the female gaze are explored. Recently, Long commented that her work is a defiance of restrictions placed on how you can and can’t represent yourself as a female. If you present yourself in a sexual way this has to be justified otherwise it is often dismissed and seen as objectifying yourself. In her work, Long says, she tries to not pay attention to that stuff and express herself in a way that feels authentic for her, and for Stent. It may be very sexual, incorporating elements from conventional forms of sexuality, but it is being authored by them and feels authentic. There is also a movement between more conventional forms of sexuality in their work and other, less binary forms. Long is interested in the vulnerability of nudity, now it exposes a person as an animal as well as a human.
Long expresses her desire for people to connect with Stent and her work emotionally rather than objectively or logically – commenting that: “we try to generate depth in our images and widen the scope of how ‘things’ can be viewed. This comes from making work from tactile engagement and feeling, which blends objects, subjects (body) and environment so that classifying what your looking at becomes evasive.”*
* Interview with the Honey Long, 17 May 2017 in Sydney