We have been massive fans of Andy Harrod for a long time now. As well as running the frankly superlative Decoding Static blog, Andy has contributed some of the most haunting and powerful exhibits to our exhibitions.
A new project of Andy’s is always exciting, and Living Room Stories, inspired by Ólafur Arnalds’ Living Room Songs (which you can download here), is one of the most perfect things of 2011. It is a series of seven images and fiction vignettes beautifully presented like a vinyl single (which you can order here).
A lot of what I love about Andy’s work will come through in the interview below, but more than anything, I think what’s special is the sense of fragility he conveys. His characters, and his images, are all on the cusp of fading form view altogether. They are sous squeezed almost dry, yet in his stripped back grey prose the colours and hopes of what has leeched away return to haunt us long after we finish reading. The emotional power comes because we know these are characters who have lost but have never given up – and they wear that struggle in each word, as though Andy’s prose is a wrinkled skin covering them. His images, too, are of spaces in half light, on the border between desert and city, between construction and decay – places and things on the verge of not being. His work is made of layer after layer placed almost on top of one another to create something of utter simplicity.
There is a competition to win the original artwork here, something that goes way way beyond being a collector’s item.
1. First of all, a little about the piece that inspired Living Room Stories
At the heart of Living Room Stories is music. Ólafur Arnalds’ released Living Room Songs, a song a day for seven days. For me Ólafur’s music is very emotive; there is a beautiful simplicity to it. His songs connect to my heart and on this occasion I decided to dive in, listening to each song for a few hours. As Fyrsta repeated, I pictured a couple. On watching the video Ólafur released alongside the song, I found my beginning, it was dark out, a yellow lamp reflected in the window, a window which dripped with rain and there she was, standing alone. I plugged into the sparse piano and sketched a moment of waiting. I re-read beginnings and felt my common themes of loneliness, troubled pasts and hurtful behaviour, but I also saw hope, for I saw her as part of that couple. Love is key to these stories. As such I wanted my next story (light) to be happy, however it depended on Ólafur’s music and luckily for me it worked out that way. On his next song (Near Light) his sister and mother played some synths, which I heard as applause; I proceeded to pour my hopes onto the paper and from then on I danced with the music and a life in seven moments was formed.
The preceding summer had been a limbo for me, I had great plans for my writing especially tearing at thoughts and Deception, but found no flow, I just staggered and stalled. So on feeling this impulse to write, I ran with it, I didn’t to stop to think, which is a good thing for me, as when I think about my writing, my self critic checks in with me, and its nattering, incessant voice drowns my hope and belief in my writing. Here I ran, I took a chance on myself and that has turned out to be a rather good thing.
2. Your work often makes use of layers, and transparencies, in particular things like film negatives. This gives your work a wonderful feeling of texture. The simplicity of the prose is deceptive as one can delve into it layer by layer and never approach the bottom. Is the use of materials a way of mirroring this?
It is, though I have never consciously thought of it until now. My writing and art comes from my search to understand who I am, which is entangled with my own sadness and fear (depression). To find my sense of self I delved through layers of ideas, beliefs and questions. As I revealed each layer, there wasn’t an answer, but a clue, a hint. Perhaps there is no answer, no end point. But that it is the journey, the here and now where we reside, which is important, but that importance is so often clouded and masked. We have to delve through layers to reach meaning, to experience a life that is authentic.
My art forms itself, it starts as a brief image in my mind, which I hold onto in a loose way, allowing my thoughts and ideas to attach themselves to the image, often forming layers on top of the original. This is represented by the layers I use in my pieces. Often the layers are transparent as they represent that sense of seeing/knowing, but not seeing or knowing. An edge of awareness. In that sense, my art offers the chance to interact with that edge of awareness.
3. One of the things I love about your work is the way you use urban landscapes. Your writing and your images seem to inhabit the spaces the light doesn’t usually reach, and rather than shining the light too hard you present the marginal spaces as you see them.
Urban landscapes can be empty, but a scratch here and a scrape there and they begin to open up, as I connect with that space I sense and feel a beauty, a uniqueness, another option. It is the edge of cities that interest me, forgotten areas, often left to nature to reclaim. It is in this reclamation there is growth.
I suffered from intense sadness and fear. My wife would sit next to me, hold me, say she loved me, but all I felt was alone. No warmth could enter. The world was cold and I still had no place in it. It is from these times of mental and physical hurt I have reclaimed myself. A few years back I felt I was going to die, not a physical death, but a mental one, I was living in a no-man’s land. Facing that place was not easy, with support I took risks. I developed a sense of self based around my creative self. I began to trust myself, embrace my responsibility for myself and the choices open to me, seeing them with curiosity rather than fear. I was offered the word outsider for how out of place I felt. I decided to embrace my difference; saw value in my alternative perspective. Over the last few years my writing and art has reflected this change, this stance. With my writing and art I wish to offer a space where I hang my perspective, my ideas. A place for the reader to interact, to take, as they wish.
Like abandoned urban space the subject matters I write about are easy to shy away from and replaced with something more comfortable until there is no memory. But these spaces exist and I wish to challenge readers with the discomfort they bring. By offering my perspective I give the subject every chance, it is not what I think that is important, but what the reader will take away. It is what affects us that change us.
4. Relationships are never simple in your work. There is always damage, things unsaid, awkwardness.
Relationships can be so beautiful and I’m very happy to be in a relationship where we dance. There is an ease to our being with each other. We have faced a lot and answered it with a depth of strength we didn’t know we had. Our dance together is richer for the struggle, the sadness; we are happy and content for we know the costs.
I am interested in the damage as by understanding it we can grow, we can be; we live a life that is real. Relationships begin with the relationship we have with our self. A relationship so often neglected. This neglect can then interact with other’s neglect as part of the relationships people form. Instead of being a place of support, love, enjoyment, relationships can become the corners of a playground, where fists fly, names are called, fear consumes. I’ll walk through town and I’ll see a father swearing at his four year old daughter, in pubs couples in silence, groups of friends and the kid at the back. It is that pain that gets to me, that I want to hear about it, that is my stories. With understanding I hope to heal.
5. I think what this collection, and your previous works, conveys most is that life is lived in the moment. There is a great sense of past, but I get no sense of future. The present is enjoyed, is so special, because it is a respite from the past, and because the future is unspeakable. Does that make sense?
It does. Your question has made me realise I think very little about the future, in part this is because I have been consumed by my past. Who I am now is shaped by my past and my interactions with it. The past has trapped me and it is from this that I resolved to live in the present. I won’t pretend I always manage it, but the more I connect and believe in myself the more I am able to do this. My past trapped me as low confidence can run rife in me, therefore something would happen and instead of moving on, I would stop and ruminate about that moment. Often a moment no one else had noticed, but for me, it proved how much of a failure I was. Due to this I felt I had to catch up, but chasing time isn’t healthy. So I’ve settled with living in the here and now and enjoy what I have. Doing this I don’t have to chase time as time slows down and space opens up.
In some of my work the future is unspeakable, for the characters are too consumed with fear and sadness. For me it is more un-thought of, it is a blank canvas. I have my hopes and these hopes are tied to my sense of self, my relationship with Rachel and I hope they come true. But for my writing and art it is the past and present where I reside, where I learn, where I become, so when that future arrives I can embrace and enjoy it even more.
Thank you Dan for allowing me to share my thoughts. Your questions pay compliments to my writing and art and have provided a space for me to interact positively with myself.