Monday, August 8, 2011

Erin Hernsberger - Photographer

Honeycomb Stomach and Cow Testicle, 2011
Erin Hernsberger

Featured Interview for
Untitled 8 (August 2011)

Erin Hernsberger
Minneapolis, MN

My photo and video work is rooted in my curiosity and desire to explore and understand personal experiences of disgust associated with the body. I explore abject phenomena such as ambiguous foodstuffs, bodily organs, decay and death. I am also interested in medical epistemologies and the intersection between the sublime and the abject.

I received an MA in Philosophy and a Masters of Art Education, and I am currently pursuing an MFA degree at the University of Minnesota.

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?
My work is centered around my fascination with grotesque yet beautiful manifestations of the human body. Since my first attempt at making work, I have in some way started with this impulse. I work with materials and content that, in some way, I find difficult. And through photographing the materials, I force myself to confront my own reactions of repulsion. My newest works are still-lifes of constructed plates and goblets of animal foodstuffs and body parts, exploring food as an abject, yet seductive, force. The fabrics I use are domestic (suggesting a tablecloth or wallpaper), creating warmth alongside repulsion, saturated with an element of kitsch.

According to theorist Julia Kristeva, “abjection” elicits a psychological reaction of disgust – a subconscious reaction of horror, nausea, and fear when confronted with the loss of distinctions between the self and other, the subject and object. In other words, we view ourselves as both a subject ("I") and an object ("physical material body" dead corpse) at the same time, and we are no longer able to understand/make sense of our own identity. Kristeva outlines three categories of abjection, all of which I explore in my work – Food (certain abject forms of food such as skin on the surface of milk), Waste (vomit, excrement, corpses), and the Feminine (menstrual blood, lactation).

Abjection is the quality I aim to highlight and exploit in my photographs, and I am most interested in the intersection between abjection and the sublime – where the boundaries between disgust and beauty blur. My work also touches on ideas of artificiality vs. authenticity and the act of eating and desire.
Tell me about your creative process.

Liver and Teacup, 2011

My process usually begins with a strong impulse of curiosity. (Why do I react to certain experiences with fear? Or disgust?) I have a background in philosophy, so my first instinct is to question everything. I begin with a question or confusion or difficult feeling and then I start to experiment with materials that elicit the feelings. For instance, I have always been fascinated with food – my picky relationship with food and eating, how food is a tool for pleasure and nourishment, the relationship between food and flesh -- so I began by wandering supermarkets, picking out foods that disgust me in some way and building still-life installations in my studio. Experimentation with materials and giving myself permission to fail has been necessary for the growth of my work. I begin with curiosity and questions, but I never envision what the end product will look like until it (magically) appears in my studio. In my experience, this is one of the greatest frustrations yet greatest joys in the process of making work.

Sheep Heart and Butter, 2010

"What is Art?" is certainly too big of a question to ask here, but what do you hope your audience takes away from your art? What statement do you hope to make?
Basically, I’d like my audience to come away with more questions. I like for the issues I explore in my work to remain mysterious, ambiguous, and to be perplexing and thought-provoking yet not provide any real answers. I want to challenge the audience like I challenge myself by making the work.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
I have three:

1) “Find artists and curators who speak your same (visual) language, and surround yourself with them by any means possible.” I take this to mean: find people who understand/respond to your work, who are interested in what you are interested in, and make them your artistic community.

2) “Write the book you want to read.” or “Make the art you want to look at.”

3) “Make things = know thyself.”

(I got the last two from, which contains other awesome pearls of wisdom )

Who are some of the Minnesota artists you enjoy?
There are many Minnesota artists I love but too many to include here. For the sake of brevity, I’ll include a few very talented emerging artists whose work I enjoy:

Kate Casanova:
Andy Mattern:
Erin Hael:
Jennifer Anable:

Kidney and Curdled Milk, 2011

If I were to follow you around to see art in Minnesota, which places would we go? What would we see?
Some of my favorite places are Franklin Art Works, SooVAC, Soap Factory, and the Walker. The MAEP at the MIA is fabulous. And occasionally I’ll get a chance to drive down to Rochester Art Center.

Where do you go online for good art resources, whether to find a new artist, or to see what is going on in the art world locally and otherwise?

I am a sucker for online photography journals and blogs highlighting contemporary art photographers. Some of my favorites are:

Pig Embryo and Cottage Cheese, 2010

What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I am currently making work dealing more specifically with various medical/surgical approaches to the body.

I am currently showing work in SooVAC’s current show Untitled 8 which will be up until August 23, 2011. I am also in a group exhibition entitled “Regarding Place” in Turku, Finland at Peri Center of Photography on August 18th showing through September. In March 2012, I will be showing work for my thesis show in the Nash Gallery at Regis Center for Art.

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