I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Sydney Phillips Hardin in person at the D.U.M.B.O. Open Studio Weekend last month, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Having traveled to the exhibition from Boston, she was displaying her work in a fabulous Open Truck which was set up to accommodate work outside the studios. I had seen her work on myartspace earlier and recognized her work with sheer delight. Thrilled with the opportunity to get to know her and her work better I asked for an interview. I will delay her answers no longer.
Q. Your work is enticing, using sexually explicit and symbolic images,
I'm very intrigued with your intent, can you explain this a bit to me?
A. It's my intent to create visual irony with my work. Every piece is inspired by images culled from mass media and advertising; at first glance, the tie that binds all of these images is their intended sex appeal. However, I only select imagery that marries eroticism with innocence in an effort to entice consumers; these are images that pitch a very specific--and dangerous--fantasy to men, women and children. Without exception, every one of the images from which I work is a visual non-sequitor; the product peddled having nothing to do with erotic innocence of the model. The mass media is, at best, reinforcing--and, at worst, creating--the pervasive cultural perception of women and young girls as vulnerable and disposable prey.
I re-present these images in an effort to elucidate the disturbing nature of these ads. By carefully constructing a world in which these girls exist divorced of their original advertising context, I hope that viewers are spurred to re-examine that which they consume without question on a daily basis.
Q. You refer to working from the context of the book: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokous, in one of your descriptions on your myartspace gallery. Can you explain this connection a bit more?
A. I've read (and re-read) Lolita many times over the past couple of years, and I’ve always come away from it feeling inspired. Nabokov's Lolita is a fictional construction with its roots firmly planted in fact; a status not dissimilar to that of my work. That said, I recently re-read it, paying particular attention to Nabokov's method of critiquing materialism in its myriad forms. While re-reading Lolita, I also became fascinated by Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades— particularly the ready-made's status as a pedestrian object, robbed of its original intent and re-presented to the viewer. Nabokov's Humbert describes Lolita as, "she it was to whom ads were dedicated: the ideal consumer, the subject and object of every foul poster." I began to see Lolita as a sort of ready-made: a young girl robbed of her innocence—her context—by a man who wishes to re-present her as a prurient construct of his own desires. Lolita is a child re-presented as a nymphet. I am currently working to re-contextualize the nymphets that populate mass media fantasies, inserting them into my interpretations of Humbert's muddled and melancholic narrative (the series entitled "Lolita 1-4" is the beginning of this body of work).
Q. How does your work relate to the roles women have in society?
The pervasive de-valueing of women and young girls in our society is an increasingly rampant problem. Nowhere is this problem more obvious than in the mass media: in advertising, popular culture and even the evening news. Case in point: In a recent op-ed column in the New York Times, Bob Herbert critiqued the media's coverage of the recent school shootings in which young girls were the intended targets: "In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids.
Or only the Jews." He's got a point: why aren't we outraged?
More and more, I see the exploitation of women beginning at ever more tender ages--we're inculcating young girls with the notion that to be infantilized is to be an object of desire and to be desired is to *be*. Quite honestly, I'm fed up with this role being shoved down my throat and I react with my art. Hackneyed or not, I do believe that silence is synonymous with surrender, and I don't speak as eloquently as I paint.
Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of you adult life?
A. Art has always been an integral part of my life. As a child, I had (and still have) an overactive imagination and a desire to create; it also helped to have an encouraging mother. By the time I hit puberty, I knew I wanted to pursue art seriously. In college, I got to know an artist who elucidated for me what it means to have art as an integral part of your adult life. I met this artist during a time when painting was rapidly becoming an obsession for me, taking precedent over food, sleep and--at times--sanity. One day, I ran into him with bags under my eyes and about 16 feet of canvas balanced precariously on my shoulder; this artist took one look at me and said, "Art is a virus and you've caught it. From now on, you won't have a choice, your life will always revolve around art." And, he was exactly right. Four years ago, I couldn't have imagined choosing art over sleep or food, but now it's a choice I make on a weekly basis. And I couldn't be happier.
Q. Is your work from past experiences or of true life situations close to you?
A. Oh, a little of column A, a little of column B. Past experiences have certainly made me more attuned to the exploitation of eroticized innocence as a ready-made fantasy. In the past, certain experiences left me feeling powerless over my then-nascent sexual identity. I'm certainly not alone; quite honestly, I don't know many girls who haven't become unwilling ready-mades at one point or another. I've undertaken this examination of mass media images in order to better understand--and regain control over--the situations in which I felt forced into serving as a ready-made in someone else's fantasy. At last count, it's a hell of a lot cheaper and more productive than years wasted in a therapist's office. And unlike the aforementioned scenario, I have a chance to reach others and raise questions in their minds about an issue that remains important to me.
Q. Do you have an interest in other mediums besides painting?
A. While I have worked in other media, I find painting to be the most direct and clear medium through which to communicate my current themes. I do draw, though I have to practically hold a gun to my own head to make myself finish a drawing, rather than to convert it--half finished--into paint. Perhaps, as my concept evolves, I will experiment with other media. For now, my current content and style simply beg for the slick immediacy of latex enamel paint.
Q. Do you see your work in different settings or visualize it as an
A. I definitely visualize my work in different settings. I work very hard to ensure that each piece can stand on its own (though not always successfully). I tend to work in series; developing and refining an idea over the course of 5-10 paintings and then casting them aside to begin a new iteration of my chosen theme. That said, I am very interested in working more with the notion of a body of work as an installation; my current Lolita series is an attempt at just such an idea. Time will tell if I'm successful...
Q. Do you have an upcoming exhibit? If so, where and when?
A. I have an upcoming exhibit at The Arlington Center for the Arts, in Arlington, MA. The show is entitled "Little Women" and it's a group show, curated by Kate True, exploring the enduring power of girlhood as a subject matter. It will be up at The Arlington Center for the Arts from 11.11.06 -- 12.29.06. There will also be an artist’s panel discussion on December 10th, from 1-3 at the Center.
Q. Where can we find you on myartspace.com?
A. I can be found under "sydney"--I currently have three galleries posted and I hope to add more as soon as I document the work languishing in various nooks of my studio. You can also view all of my work, my artist's statements and my c.v. at my website: www.giantvagina.com.