Pictures from a Pandemic is an article series curated and presented by Anthony Haden-Guest
By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST May, 2020
I first saw Heide Hatry’s work at the Elga Wimmer gallery on West 26th Street, Chelsea, in 2009. Heads and Tales was a show of photographic
portraits, of elegantly constructed female heads, that I found as physically disturbing as the artist intended, being that the (literally) raw materials she had used to create the features included pigs’s eyes, flesh and uncured skin. The show worked, with the shock charging up the art and I took to following Hatry’s work.
Not A Rose, her show at the Stefan Stux Gallery in 2013, took her project into the vegetable world. Hatry, who has worked as an antiquarian book dealer, contrived to make near-convincing botanical arrangements, using the flesh and offal of animals, sometimes finding their sex organs useful. And Hatry’s current developments? Just read on.
Although I wasn’t really conscious of it for a number of years, I have been making work relating to death from the beginning of my art career in 2004. It’s obviously relevant that, growing up on my father’s factory-style pig farm, I was exposed to death and dead bodies as far as I can think back. It was my “job” from the tender age of 10-15 to cut dead pigs into pieces for the family freezer.
My recent work, Icons in Ash, is the most intimate. Trying to quell my own persistent grief over my father’s early death, I began making portraits from the ashes of the subject as memorial icons for the bereaved. I do so using a technique I invented which involves building up the portrait in a beeswax surface by embedding particle by particle of the cremated remains. The portraits look like very grainy photographs, and the fact that a portrait not only looks like the departed but actually is the loved one, has comforted many.
Before the pandemic, I typically made portraits for people who weren’t satisfied that a box or urn full of ashes, just sitting on a mantel or shelf, more or less unremarked, certainly not particularly celebrated or even honored, was anywhere near enough. But in the last months I’ve been receiving more and more inquiries from people contemplating their own posterity and how they’d like to inhabit the thoughts, and lives, of their families and loved ones after they’ve died, which I take as evidence that death, and with it, change, is in the air.
Being in a high-risk category due to chronic lung disease, I left New York when it looked like things were becoming dire there, and although I’m in a place where I have everything I need to work, I’m not particularly in the mood to do what normally I love most. I am even somehow lazy, an experience that, as the child of a farmer, an aspiring Olympian gymnast, a mother, an antiquarian bookseller, and an artist, I’ve never really known before. I’ve spent hours and hours gardening and studying Spanish, (an effort I’d already put off for the fifteen years during which my daughter has lived in Spain but which I now engage almost obsessively) and I’ve been auditing a wonderful course on Heidegger’s Being and Time. That too, is all about death. Heidegger lived through the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 and was probably germinating the core ideas of his great early work even as it raged through Europe hand in hand with the Great War, taking an estimated fifty million lives, and it’s hard to imagine that his work wasn’t colored by the times and the experience of waiting out the horrors, in light of which I’m tempted to suggest that life is a pandemic, that we’re infected from the outset. WM
Heide Hatry is a New York-based German artist best known for her body-related performances, her work employing animal flesh and organs, rust, various sorts of debris, and more recently, cremated remains. She’s obsessed with books, has made more than 250 unique artist’s books and four commercial art books documenting her larger projects. Her most recent work: Icons in Ash, was published by Station Hill Press, Barrytown, NY.
Anthony Haden-Guest is an internationally known writer and artist.
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