Conversation with Aimee Good
Director of Education and Community Programs at The Drawing Center, New York
Aimee Good: Having grown up in Northern Maine on a potato farm - conservative, rural and wild - craft, thrift, resiliency, adaptability, storytelling, radio/music key factors in coping and growing up there. In my artistic practice, I currently manage a small organic grains project within our larger operation - I bridge the Maine rural with NYC urban and totally appreciate the zone, scope, depth and articulation of your work. The beauty of the drawings is astonishing.
Yes! Weeds! Pesky and amazing plants. Earth's self-healers and self-defense plants. Listen to the weeds as they reveal what is out of balance and work to bring into balance. We think perhaps the following weeds/plants are in your drawings: please verify!
Common Bed Straw (Have gotten the worst skin rashes from weeding my garlic plot due to Bed Straw.), Canadian Thistle, Yellowdock/CurlyDock/Burdock, Dandelion, Crabgrass, Milkweed, Arrow Root, Dill, Fennel, Mustard, Thistles/Burrs, Yarrow, and the big amazingly nasty Giant Hogweed.
Hipkiss: We're definitely coming from the 'self-defense' angle with the plants we've chosen - though, it has to be said, they are pretty mixed up in some cases (with aspects taken from our imagination rather than accurate representations). Most of the species you see are very familiar to us; we're big on umbellifers, and the Hogweed is one of our all-time favourites :-)
We used to have one (not the Giant, but the regular type over here - Heracleum sphondylium) growing outside our front window in the UK and - for reasons too convoluted to go into - named it 'Sean'. It was still blooming every year when we sold the house (whereupon, no doubt, it was unceremoniously dispatched). The one that's readily identifiable in one of the towers is actually more of a cross between a Hogweed and an Angelica, which is beautiful and everywhere here in SW France. There's also Wild Carrot and Narrow-leafed Water Dropwort, which we find in our garden.
Milkweed, Crabgrass and Canadian Thistle are plants we've not seen but, of course, they are not unfamiliar, and it would be nice to think that students (or, indeed, anyone) can see in our plant-portraits any species they like. When we started out with the towers series, they were more industrial, and part of the intention with this installation was to move away from that, going direct to nature, so to speak, and bringing a little of it into the extreme urban environment that is NYC. You can relate to that, no doubt!
There are plants in there that weren't on your list - Poppy, Sunflower, Hedge Mustard, Melancholy Thistle and Thorn-apple (Nicandra physalodes), for example - that serve as inspiration. In terms of our relationship with flora, Chris has been a keen amateur botanist since childhood; my [Alpha] mother was very nature-orientated, so I grew up with a 'folk' knowledge and, since many of our expeditions as teenagers revolved around seeking out certain species, a bit of the academia has inevitably rubbed off too, though I'm still more into the aesthetics. I'm also (like you, if not on the same scale!), a gardener, so have more knowledge in the sense of culinary and medicinal uses. But in short, we spend a lot of time with plants.
As for Common Bedstraw - or Cleavers, as we call it - the chickens love picking at it, which means it doesn't get to grow up too much here. We even tried it in a wild salad ourselves, which is not to be recommended; I can still remember the rasping in my throat after all these years. . .
AG: We see unusual combinations of plants. For particular properties? What are properties of chosen plants that you wanted us to know? (ie Burdock-cleansing and good for liver.) Relationship of plants in relation to each other? The combinations seem very potent. Inverted nature?
Hipkiss: The combination of plants is not exactly random, but not chosen to make a neat set either. As said above, we chose plants mostly for their self-defense - even poisonous - properties as part of the design of the show; they are a group of female archetypes, sent (as our own Liberty statues) to stand in solidarity during these 'troubled times'. When we first discussed the project, the words that kept coming up were 'spiky', 'thorny', 'robust'. But we also wanted contrast within the group - to represent the thinkers and the theorists, if you like. Hence the more abstract tower, almost completely made up of pale, tiny Carrot flowers, and the (23 carat-) gold-crowned spiral one. But they are all the same height, and they stand in a line, together.
When we started out as youngsters, our politics came out in more obvious ways; our humanlike figures were deliberately androgynous, more punk, Riot Grrrl - forthright and straight-up confrontational. But they were also often misconstrued - particularly by an audience that presumes masculine intent and objectification on the part of an artist who is perceived as male.
So there are two aspects at play here: firstly, we have got older, and in our late forties and fifties, portraying what were always, in many senses, alter-egos as 'wild young things' began to feel incongruous. In other words, we grew out of it. Secondly, we wanted to stop fence-sitting, talking 'androgyny' when we both have a very strong gut instinct telling us that the answer to the world's problems lies in women taking their rightful, equal place within the power structures of society - putting the yin back, in simplistic terms. Encouraging the viewer to get side-tracked by portrayals of any kind of ostensibly-female 'objects' has always been antithetical to our ethos, but ever more so in recent years. As L'Histoire de La France pour les Nuls puts it (referring to bell-ringing calls-to-arms during The Revolution), 'le tocsin sonne'!
Not sure how - or if - you can translate all this for students, but we're working on the basis that giving you the background, you can take what you want!
AG: Will you please share any narratives or coding behind the drawings so that we may share with students? S.E.A ? E with circle - is it a sound, a shape or an acronym?
Hipkiss: The words and letters in the works are a bit easier to explain. The works sit in the middle of our living space for the entirety of their creation. Our two cats sit on them - or add their own 'thoughts' with muddy paws - and we sometimes write random notes from the TV or discussions we're having about anything and everything, including future works. Sometimes it's just a doodled letter. Our next project - 26 towers split into two groups - will be based around plants of the land and sea. So yes, 'S.E.A.' was probably doodled during one of our idea-pong sessions.
As an aside, we were watching Angel during the creation of Bulwark, and there are a couple of quotes from that. Much to [director Brett Littman]'s apparent disdain, we are big Buffy fans and have cycled three times through the box sets over the years!
AG: Please speak to the numerology in the work? 13 drawings, 7 circles. 13-Numerology of the Eastern Coptic Calendar?, 7 Chakras, 7 days of the week?
Hipkiss: We've dabbled with chakra-based meditation, so the idea of 'chakra portraits' is neat; but it is also serendipitous. In designing the set of plates we're making with a small company in Limoges, we decided on six 'dinner-sized' plus a serving plate. In the original design, the bottom - seventh - circle is therefore bigger than the others. But that's where it started.
Whilst we're non-religious ourselves, a lot of the symbolism and superstition of various faiths and traditions inevitably rub off. Threes and triptychs crop up a lot in our work, for example. Thirteen just seemed like the right number for the sense of dissonance and foreboding we hoped to imbue in our Liberty battalion, but it comes - no doubt -from the notions we've internalised during our lives. We didn't even have to discuss it between ourselves. We usually almost consciously endeavour to avoid overt symbols, but often they are there, like it or not!
While we were in the process of the creation, it certainly occurred to us that there is something of the Shinto flag (nobori) in the way the drawings hang, and Brett pointed out the Moorish aspects of the designs within the circles themselves. But all this was happenstance (or subconscious, at least).
Another point of interest - to us, but perhaps others: we are keen birders, and keep records of the species we see in and from our garden. Just before the show opened, we counted our 91st bird (Hen Harrier - Circus cyaneus): 13 x 7 = 91, i.e. a circle for every species. We suspect that we'll be waiting until August 13th to see our 92nd! [N.B. We're still at 91 as of 9 Jan 2019].
AG: Transcendent and Ascension quality. Sacred Feminine. Sacred Geometry. Birds eye View? Symbolic metaphors for people?
Hipkiss: This has probably been covered in preceding answers. We certainly wanted the figures to be larger than life, but again, there is no specific religious or spiritual message that we're trying to impart; that said, we regard them as talismans, and in an astrological way of thinking - Saturn's lessons, for example, or Pluto's upheaval - harbingers of a brighter future after an inevitable period of struggle.
This email conversation took place (on 12 Apr 2018) as part of the education program connected to the 'Hipkiss: Bulwark' show at The Drawing Center, spring-summer 2018.