New York-based, German artist Heide Hatry is best known for her body-related performances and her work employing animal flesh and organs. Hatry grew up on a pig farm in the south of Germany and studied art, and art history in Germany. Since moving to NY in 2003 she has curated numerous exhibitions, shown her own work extensively and has edited more than two dozen books and art catalogues. She also has three books of her own work, published between 2005 and 2013, including the remarkable SKIN.
|From SKIN: Heide Hatry (self portrait as) Hermine Roth, 2005|
Hatry stated, “I discovered that I responded intensely to the feel, smell, and the deeply corporal overall sensation pigskin engenders. I find its effect … uniquely ‘human’.”
In addition to being the documentation of years of work with a highly eccentric art material, SKIN is a complex and thoroughly-conceived conceptual project in which Hatry plays on the fact that skin is the medium through which individual identity is most commonly received. The seven female artists highlighted in the book, each of whom use skin and meat as a medium, are in fact seven facets of Hatry herself. Art historians, critics and curators participated, maintaining the conceit and writing about each subject as unique, living artists. Hatry created a portrait for each of her individual ‘selves’ and one character, Betty Hirst, has herself become a recognizable contemporary feminist icon.
|Hatry's Violette, 2008|
(pig skin, meat, pig eyes, wig & shirt)
iskm: Your work is incredibly visceral. Does meat repulse you?
Heide Hatry (HH): Meat didn't repulse me when I first started to work with it, after all I was supposed to become a butcher on my father’s farm if he had any say in it, but it repulses me more and more. The first time I felt disgusted by meat was at Gunther von Hagens's first Bodyworld exhibition in Mannheim, Germany … I saw a person whose arm had been cut off and the cross-section looked like a piece of beef. I immediately felt sick and realized that we are no different than carnivorous animals, who, though they don't eat their own species, will eat any other ... I have had similar experiences, and since then I have been a vegetarian.
|Hatry's Betty Hirst:|
Meat Head, 2008 (raw meat)
HH: My goal is to produce work that jumps from the wall and makes its viewer feel something intense. I want to reveal that we are surrounded by flesh in our ordinary environment. Many products are made out of dead animal skin but it is disguised and the process by which it has come to be what it is is deeply hidden.
My work with a material that looks like human skin often disturbs and evokes strong emotions. That being said, I don't have a didactic goal per se: I'm really more interested in producing an awareness rather than suggesting how that awareness should be used. My interest in skin and meat as material is so intense because in it I see expressed concretely the subjects that are important to me: life, pleasure, sex, pain, injury, aging, death and any number of more abstract matters, like identity, gender, power relations, vulnerability, and the whole sphere of perception itself.
iskm: Does kate represent any of these subjects for you?
|Steven Klein's image for W Magazine, Spring 2012|
HH: I never really paid much attention to models as a general matter, and whatever function they are made to serve, they always rather strike me as materials of other people’s ‘creative’ efforts than as voices in their own right. Of course, as an artist, I can appreciate great material too, and I’m quite sure that there are things in which she has been involved that have taken shape because of what she specifically brings to the advertising milieu.
iskm: Why did you choose to utilize the specific source kate moss image that you did?
HH: I like the visualized double standard in the image of Kate as a nun … I was raised in a very Christian way and am intimately familiar with the typical contradictions that pervade religious cultures. The source image is also connected to my Betty Hirst self-portrait in that women are often perceived as something akin to meat.
|From SKIN: Hatry as Betty Hirst, 2005|
iskm: Can you contextualize Betty?
HH: Betty is the alter ego American artist to whom I gave the role of being at once more straightforward, innocent in a way, and at the same time radical or harsh in her implicit critique of female objectification. The two - innocence and harshness - are obviously not incompatible, and there is something about the American character in general, as we perceive it abroad, that is captured in my decision and her representation … In the context of the project in which she emerged, it was her persona whose role it was to photograph raw meat and skin in a way that it suggested something else ... Her character just made this way of self-presentation seem appropriate.
iskm: Has anyone indicated that they felt the image was pornographic?
HH: Betty Hirst’s portrait is obviously not a pornographic image. All one sees is a piece of beef that you could just as well see at a grocery store, but the US Post Office nevertheless refused to permit it to be mailed as a post-card.
iskm: What did you do to your chosen kate image and why?
HH: I photoshopped the image of Betty’s hand holding a piece of meat shaped like a vagina into the image. Why? The typical raiment of a nun symbolizes chastity, or virginity. That they put Kate Moss in a latex nun’s habit emphasizes that beneath the habit is a woman; a normal woman with a normal body that is being denied. The fetish clothing at once reminds the viewer that virginity is a fetish object as well and that it is, consequently, a denial of nature in favor of some human (conceptual) objective … The fetish garb deflects the sexual urge toward something unnatural, again, something second-order, outside of the realm of nature, while it emphasizes the visual sexualization of the female shape. The dialectic of thwarted female sexuality is fully in play, but it never quite allows the ‘victim’ of adventitious desires to have her own. By inserting the physical in the form of meat, I try to do that, while simultaneously reminding the viewer of what these ‘protected’ or ‘hors combat’ women mean as symbols, and that the fear of female sexuality is often the sign of men’s fear of their own appetites.
|Heide Hatry: Kate Moss, 2015 (photocollage)|
iskm: Fetish as cultural signal?
HH: Fetishism is investing the power in something that isn’t the thing itself, submerging it, in effect, beneath surface, appearance, secondary considerations; and those secondary considerations are the interests of the viewer/subject, imposed on the object. The reality becomes, his reality instead of what it might become of its own accord. Like the latex nun, Kate Moss is a cultural sign, both invested with a certain kind of power, but a power limited by the role she has been assigned to play in a patriarchal game. Contrary to my notion of the second-order de-sexualization of the nun, collaging the meat vagina over Kate Moss reminds the viewer that she is a woman, and hence a victim, in spite of the fact that she appears to have a dominating role in the advertising scenario (and in her professional life).
iskm: Was it important that it was your hand in the image?
HH: I like what the question implies, but that wasn’t actually an issue in my thinking. I wanted to make sure that it is immediately obvious that it is a collage, and I had first photoshopped her own hand to alter the image, but that somehow didn't work: there wasn’t enough contrast between the elements to make it clear that they were disparate and not continuous. Once I decided to include my hand, I did like the fact that the source of the collage element was clear, but I didn’t feel like it suggested a conceptual (or other sort of) interaction between me and Kate Moss, or the image of Kate Moss.
iskm: You have stated that SKIN addressed questions of: “identity, gender roles, the nature of aesthetic experience and the meaning of beauty, the effects of knowledge upon perception, the human exploitation of the natural world, and the social oblivion that permits atrocity to persist in our midst.” How do you see, conceptually, the link between your kate moss collage and your work in SKIN?
HH: SKIN is a template for me that can be used to discuss or address a broad range of gendered topics and philosophical issues. In a way, appropriating from SKIN is a way of grafting them into contexts in which they might not immediately feel as much at home, even in which they are genuinely foreign elements. My interest in making the Kate Moss collage was related to my sense that I was entering a different world from the one in which my work usually operates, more than, say, “tagging” a culturally specific and self-contained surface that generally rebuffs the conceptual.
iskm: Which photographers/artists would you most want to most see involved in ishotkatemoss? Why?
HH: I’d be very interested in seeing what Valerie Solanas would do with the assignment, or of course Carolee Schneemann, who for me is the first true artist of female experience. They would both have extraordinary feminist perspectives on the scenario, though obviously quite different ones ... I’d also love to see what Teresa Margolles, Tania Brugera, or Pinar Yolacan would do. Whereas I found the project interesting because I saw a way to show that Kate Moss is also a human being and a woman, I suspect that some or all of these other artists would take the opportunity to make a more political statement about the mis-appropriation of the female body to propagate deleterious perceptions and beliefs. And I’m sure they’d do it brilliantly.
You can see more of Heide’s work at www.heidehatry.com and she has an upcoming solo exhibition at Galerie Camille in Detroit from May 8 - June 6 which also will include a panel discussion. Don’t miss seeing and hearing this important and fascinating artist.
Observe. Slow Down. Shoot. Submit