Point of Departure: An Interview with Dana Harper

Sasha Dela: The title of the show, Point of Departure, refers to loss, and possibly change?

Dana Harper: This has been a very, very hard year. But some amazing things have also happened. I feel like I am dancing on the edge of a precipice.

SD: The new collage work has shifted; the images are less narrative and more about statements of texture and almost a type of abstract poetry. In fact one of the new pieces is a poem using found words, correct? What has caused the work to shift? Has the process of making the collages changed?

DH: Yes, this latest group of collages has a new dimension. The process is the same as before but I have a new rhythm in the studio stemming from a deeper feeling of creative freedom in the face of greater chaos in my life.

I have always thought of my work as visual poetry, and now an actual verbal poem, made from found words, has materialized. This poem “Two in six ships hang under a new world” is important because it bridges the great divide in my mind between verbal and visual thought.

Narrative is important yet more subtle in this group, and the compositions are more chaotic as well. The characters and the enigmas they once merrily encountered now begin to engage and engulf each other – inner worlds manifest, dwarfing and eclipsing normal reality. The enigma, or abyss, or inner world, is expressed through abstraction. In my life it is a time for big change, for personal growth, for birth and death- it’s a time for reckoning I suppose. Everything is up in the air. This is defiantly reflected or expressed through the collages. My creative practice is like psychoanalytic therapy. The work is secondary to the benefits I receive from making it.

SD: Some artists who come to mind because of the shared language of found imagery and collage are Dadaist Hannah Hoch and Neo-Dadaist Robert Rauschenberg. However you seem to have more connection to Surrealism by your interest in mining the unconscious to create imagery. Is this accurate? Who are the artists who influence you?

DH: There are so many different kinds of art that I look at and experience that must influence my creativity. Music, books, painting, sculpture, architecture, gardens, nature – how do I even begin to understand it? To talk about a few visual artists who inspire me seams superficial, but that is a starting point. I am touched by Hannah Hoch’s collection of images more than her collages. I am moved by the formal compositions of the constructivists.  D’Chirico is my favorite surrealist. Stirsky is one who’s collages I admire. Since youth I have been inspired by the paintings of James Ensor. Recently spending a year in Rome has made an impression on me – I had an unexpected emotional reaction to classical frescos and mosaics.

SD: You find imagery in old black and white copies of magazines. What interests you in the imagery and how do you avoid nostalgia?

DH: I make collages with images found in old magazines because through them sometimes I can see my own forgotten or repressed memories more clearly then if I use my own photographs. My guard is down and repressed memories and emotions bubble to the surface. It’s like being able to see certain kinds of things more clearly using peripheral vision. I’m not worried about my work seaming nostalgic. I don’t feel nostalgic when I make the work so that’s not one of the qualities that comes through strongly.

SD: In some of your new collage there seems to be a sense of humor present, although understated. In one of the new collages you built on to of an image of a sculpture by Brancusi. The base and very recognizable bottom portion of the sculpture remain and added there is a chair, an old wooden chest, a hand, stack of textile or some other material. It’s as if you have added an attic full of stuff you cannot get rid of. The sleek Brancusi becomes a much less complete and tidy thought.

DH: Some of my collages are slightly humorous, some are dark, some are more enigmatic. There are various themes. But I think all deal with self-discovery. I am mining found images but I am also mining myself. I think a lot of people, places and things get trapped inside our minds and bodies. I once took a yoga workshop called “get out of my hips!” aimed at kicking out old lovers. I think that would be a great title for my next show. My work is therapeutic on that level. It lets some sunlight and fresh air into my mental attic. I always feel a shift after a good day in the studio.


Dana Harper: Point of Departure was on view at Hiram Butler Gallery September 9-October 25, 2014.

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