Oregon College of Art and Craft MFA graduate Hannah Newman is a multimedia artist based in Portland, Oregon. She is an Artist-in-Residence at Rainmaker Artist Residency. This interview is the third in a series conducted by OCAC thesis student Lindsay Costello.
Duplex: How did your upbringing influence your path as an artist? Were your parents artists, or did you have a creative mentor growing up?
Hannah Newman: I didn’t think much about the arts, especially visual arts when I was young. My interest in pursuing visual art didn’t surface until I began my undergraduate degree and learned that art could encompass so much more than I had imagined. Looking at my upbringing, however, I can see many things that have lead me to this point, but two things really stand out:
First, I was home schooled for most of my life, which made me realize at a young age that any system (in this case attending a school) probably has alternatives and loopholes, and what new possibilities might exist if we consider engaging those systems in unexpected ways.
Second, I was a dedicated Irish dancer from elementary school until I graduated from high school. I think dancing gave me a high threshold for endurance, and even enjoyment, within a practice of monotony. Once a week we had drill class, where would practice each minuscule section of a dance 50-60 times in a row. My friends and I dreaded drill class, but it worked—repetition allowed you to learn through your body exactly how a dance should feel. A lot of my work now has repetition or boredom somehow built into it, like writing the iTunes Agreement by hand, or stenciling the phrase ‘one becomes accustomed so quickly’ on a piece of paper every day. Irish dancing taught me the value of repetition, discipline, and enacting a concept with your body, and I carry those values into my work now.
Duplex: Your work “examine[s] digital technology and language as intangible structures that mediate our interactions with others, the world, and ourselves.” How did your interest in the relationship between language and technology develop?
HN: It’s not something we generally consider, but language is also technology—just a much older, and much more internalized form of technology. Many of the worries people have raised about the possible effects of digital technology were present when both the alphabet, and later the printing press, came into widespread use. Socrates discouraged the use of written language for fear that people would no longer rely on their memories once they learned to write. Ultimately language and digital technologies are structures humans have developed to communicate with one another. So what can an old technology teach us about a new one and vice versa? Any technology, especially ones so widely adopted, teaches us about ourselves since we are the ones who have designed, developed, and adapted it. Thinking about technology is really just thinking about ourselves.