Interview with Sam Hutchinson

I USED TO THINK YOU WERE NORMAL

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INTERVIEW

PR: How and why did you become an artist?

 SH: I have no idea how I became an artist, I’ve always enjoyed making, sculpting and painting since being a child, and the mediums I work with now are a natural progression of years of experimenting with different media and working out which I feel the most comfortable using.

PR: You are very interested in Kant’s idea that there’s no objective property of a thing that makes it beautiful.  Can you say a bit more about this in relation to your own aesthetics?

 SH: I am very interested in Kant. My graduate work (The) Anarchy of Aesthetic & Judgement was a large study loosely taking items from Kant’s Critique of Judgement and studying certain aspects of them. I strongly feel that everything exists as an abstract concept unless it is put into context, and in terms of aesthetics, everything can be re-arranged and re-contextualised to produce different ideas; using images as a creative language that can be manipulated ‘for’ or ‘against’ whichever side you come from. A large part of this is taking into consideration how we process images too, and this leads on to how they can be manipulated for our own benefit. As a predominantly image based artist, I like to test how we process the differences between the physical and the constructed and make decisions about what we see within an image. There are a lot of inbuilt and natural responses to images that work without logic or reason, and my work acts in ways like a study of these situations.

 PR: Can you say something about the camera you prefer to use and why?

 SH: Cameras and equipment aren’t important to me. Personally I just want to obtain the image, so the camera is really only giving context to my work. I like the fact that a phone image looks like a phone image, or that the work in I Used to Think You Were Normal can be reduced to bare pixels when the images are seen at large-scale. This gives the images various depths, and can draw you back into realising that what you are looking at is made up from these small squares of colour. With this work being photographed off a curved, glass screen, the bars of light projecting the image on the screen are very visible, and I like to see the entire body of work as being interchangeable. All images can exist as crops of themselves, and appear multiple times in different forms.

PR: How do you select, edit, process your images and then decide on a final sequence and order etc.,?

SH: Depending on what I feel like showing, the mass of images can be seen as purely texture, or objects, portraits, or studio based studies, yet it all directs you to the same outcome. Some are more visual than others, and I like the idea that each time this work is displayed it can take into consideration those I am working with, and let others influence and manipulate how the final edit will be. Rather like the manipulation of the mind when it comes to influencing children and adults, these factors depend on its agendas for broadcasting, whether they will be hidden or not. This is also another part to the work that I see as a main concept, in that like a performance it can be adapted and changed in meaning rather than exist in concrete.

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 PR: What was compelling about the subject matter, the 90s TV quiz show, and your medium?

 SH: A lot of this work stems from trying to understand what influenced me as a child, not only positive influences, but trying to understand my rationale for my judgement and where this came from. I think a lot about ideas which I used to hold without reason – as my younger self I was trying to comprehend the meanings of the world and what goes on, and especially when you’re consistently learning, I feel you can make judgements that you hold onto for a while until you start growing up, then you begin to question these.

I don’t watch too much television anymore. Since being born I constantly watched TV, and I became very interested in looking back to how I understood what I saw on the screen. It has always seemed like a different world, like a non-reality that you understand as being real. It’s just that little bit harder to visualise that the people on the screen are like ourselves, it’s always struck me as a bit disconnected. It’s like how you assume that a photograph depicts reality whereas it has been directed as such, and manipulated by the photographer to depict their vision of the content.

Gameshows and the related programmes are the most bizarre in that they use the contestants as the entertainment, in fictional scenarios and settings that are either made to look authentic or made to look completely alien. There isn’t much in-between. I liked the idea of taking these out of context, as well as the locations being very visual and sculptural. The human element is interesting in that the contestants are acting as players to win a prize, a game, money, a holiday etc., – all of which are presented like treasures or sacred artefacts. Yet they are also playing for entertainment, and for the entertainment of the audience.

PR: To whom does the “I” and “You” refer in the title?

SH: These pronouns I feel I like to use come from the way in which the TV as an object comes directly between the viewer and programme, ‘them and us’. So onto the title of the project, ‘I Used to Think You Were Normal’, the ‘I’ refers to myself, and the ‘you’ refers to the whole TV itself as an object, but also that of the countless programmes in which influenced me to understand their content as something very ‘normal’ as a commonplace practice, as if all adults would be gameshow contestants at some point, that it was something ‘we’ all did as humans. As if what I saw on the screen was ‘normal’!

PR: Would it be fair to see your work as questioning or distrusting the imagination as well as judgement of yourself as a child?

SH: I feel that the work questions the imagination as well as judgement, however I don’t feel that it really is directly critical of any of any of these ideas, rather determining an understanding of how it can predetermine judgement and its outcomes. So maybe distrust isn’t something I would encourage, instead a ‘question everything’ approach, being logical about judgement and our understanding of what we see and process. I do also see television as a form of religious object, in the sense that so much blind trust and belief is placed into the screen, this could be again linked to how staged and detached from reality television programmes can be, being young and naive I always felt that it had to be fact what was fed to me, yet I now realise anyone can have an agenda.

PR: Is there some regret that your imagination was disrespected in some way by the world of television?

SH: I feel no regret by my imagination being manipulated as I feel the aesthetics are really something, certain sculptural elements to these TV shows have always amazed me, I guess the human element is the bit that slightly troubles me. It’s more thinking about the set design and the fact that these locations are completely one of a kind and designed to replicate something real, that they only appear within these games. It changes our perception of what we are looking at. I guess these elements interest me a lot more. Especially in the way that they link with photography, for example, the way in which the TV film camera composes the screens to hide the edges of the set, its a contained representation of what actually exists outside of that composition, just as if it were a photographer framing an image. I think technology has the ability to make these environments possible. To me they appear as studies into looking objectively at these locations and re-contextualising them to give them a platform to be analysed for their visual forms and similarities. It is a questioning about the way in which we understand reality.

Poems for further reading linked to some of the ideas in Sam Hutchinson’s work:

The Synthetic A Priori   Kathleen Graber http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/241276

The Vacation   Wendell Berry http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org/columns/425.html

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird Wallace Stevens http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503

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 ESSAY

I Used to Think You Were Normal was exhibited in Gallery 3 upstairs at The Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool and the ‘You’ of the title refers to television generally, and to game shows in particular. Sam Hutchinson’s work is a meditation on the constructed worlds of game shows and the power and illusions of television. The photographs are in colour but are fractured mosaics on Harman gloss paper; they are fixed to the wall with sturdy brass pins, some placed nearer to the ground.  They show the distance and strangeness of television in still moments of an invented world.

Sam Hutchinson studied hours of television game programmes from which he selected most of the images for the exhibition. There is intimacy and regret in the title: I Used to Think You Were Normal. We can consider in these images the evidence on which Hutchinson’s doubt rests, for these are close up images, so near to the separating television screen that we can see the individual red, blue and green pixels that make up the larger picture.

This is a world of mystery and faith; we have a woman in supplication, her eyes and face raised heavenwards, there is a vertical image of Concorde leaving the earth, a large black screen image speckled with spots of light which looks like a construction of a night sky. Another picture appears to be a moonscape and is separated from the observer by a clear acrylic screen hanging from the ceiling by metal thread. These consumer objects from the 90’s that have a strange aura of defunct curiosity – a black tower hi-fi system next to an image of the system with a red-sleeved human arm patting it, touching it as though it is a sacred object.

Hutchinson’s work also includes an image of a man looking down as though in regret or sadness, a fractured image of a woman’s eye inside geometric kaleidoscopes of grey and pink. What is he considering in these strange visual archives? Part of his study is to go back to the strange ubiquity of the visual world he accepted and enjoyed through television as a child and consider what that world depicted. It is presented to us as fractured colour, in outdated objects of desire, strange crystal currencies and invented rituals in a place where men and women voluntarily submit to humiliation in order to attain prizes.

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Sam Hutchinson describes his interest in this subject in the following way:

Gameshows and the related programmes are the most bizarre in that they use the contestants as the entertainment, in fictional scenarios and settings that are either made to look authentic or made to look completely alien. There isn’t much in-between. I liked the idea of taking these out of context, as well as the locations being very visual and sculptural. The human element is interesting in that the contestants are acting as players to win a prize, a game, money, a holiday etc., – all of which are presented like treasures or sacred artefacts. Yet they are also playing for entertainment, and for the entertainment of the audience.

As a new kind of audience we look again at the images that we could not see in the original television programme. This is slow contemplation, a kind of forensic examination of the complex visions, worlds and ‘realities’ constructed by television.

Pauline Rowe

With thanks to Sam and The Open Eye Gallery who provided the opportunity for this interview through their Pieces of You exhibition (2016) and the LiNK placement with the University of Liverpool.

Find out more here about: Sam Hutchinson

 

 

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