Wilkins Hill: interview

Aaron Seeto

Aaron Seeto: When I first came across your work I did not realise that Wilkins Hill was not one artist but collaboration between two people. And then when I began to get to know your work better, Wilkins Hill sounded like a brand or some type of company in which the name is an amalgam of partner's surnames. When we met in Sydney , you were telling me how you had both decided to abandon individual practices as you were leaving art school. Can you tell me what were some of your motivations for working collaboratively and why did you decide to develop this strategy?

Wendy Wilkins: Initially we were tying to use collaboration to give us both more objectivity in relation to our individual ideas. But now that we have been practicing together for almost six years it is much less objective.
Wes Hill: For me I look back now and see that my motivations were probably related to a liking of being detached from something I have created but I don't know if that was what I was thinking in the beginning. Using appropriation and sculptural ready-mades has obviously influenced my thinking about art; collaboration might have been extending upon these concerns. But we aren't ideological about collaboration; we don't see it as that different from the numerous collaborations (whether recognised as such or not) that occur throughout cultural production.

AS: I know that you do not like making artist statements and sometimes you hesitate when talking about your work. In other interviews that I have read about you there was a kind of deflection of your intentions. I also see deflection elsewhere in your work. Is this a conscious artistic strategy?

Hill: It is impossible to talk about deflection, however I think your question points toward the difficulty that we have in saying something in words which we have already articulated through objects.and why bother trying? Of course in this instance we are responding to your questions which we always find a bit easier than talking without being prompted.
Wilkins: As inevitable as it is to some extent, we don't want to undermine or influence the audience's inner narrative with things that are superfluous to the work.

AS: Perhaps the previous question about deflection also ties into the issue of sincerity and banality. When we met in Sydney you were saying that your work is quite banal, that you don't seek to create work that is emotionally expressionistic but yet you also see your work as being sincere. Can you explain this idea of sincerity and banality a little further?

Wilkins: I don't believe sincerity and banality are directly oppositional; it is quite possible for there to be sincere emotionlessness in artwork. A sense of sincerity, or lack of it, presents a range of possibilities for engagement.
Hill: I don't remember saying our work is banal which I believe is a odd term, but we are definitely sincere. I agree that our work isn't emotional. It is expressionist but perhaps not in the traditional sense. Sincerity, as I understand it, is meaning what you are saying, valuing it. We may seem detached but we are complicit in an artwork's values and meaning.

AS: What do you mean by expressionist in this context?

Hill: Conceptual art still acts as expressive in the same way that a Ken Done painting is. It reflects a certain type of feeling, idea or value that we hold.

AS: Narrative is very important to your work. I think that there are two aspects to this. On one hand there is 'narrative' (as in a story) and there is also narrative as in the method of communication, (perhaps the story telling). How do you go about developing your stories, and what kinds of things influence the strange juxtapositions?

Hill: For me, a narrative always implies the medium of its expression, the story (as in the composing) always seems to be intrinsic to its resultant expression and its comprehension will be dependant on the mediums in which it is expressed. It's true that the didacticism that we use can be both transgressive and self reflexive.

Wilkins: Structural form is integral to these narratives. Juxtaposition may be generated to serve formal concerns within the installation. These things are developed in the same manner as any other element in the installations - through dialogue and association.

AS: As an observation of the work 'Sunny' that you presented for the Late Sessions at Hoyts cinemas in early 2006 I felt an overwhelming awareness of how the narrative was constructed as well as transmitted and received. The video you presented was about 19th century Australian explorers treated in a stylistically psychedelic way. It had a computer generated voice-over and the long dissolves were sometimes nauseating: concentric circles, never-ending swirling patterns, and garish colours. The effect was that I became really aware of sitting in a cinema. A lot of your other work is made for museums, do you intend for audiences to become aware of their surroundings and of the museum itself?

Hill: Not particularly. We aren't minimalists in the modernist sense and I disagree with you when you say that most of our work is made for museums, it's intended for all sorts of purposes. Also, I actually think narrative might be the wrong word as we aren't that interested in narrative per se. We think of it as incorporating different sorts of structures (sometimes didactic) from across the cultural spectrum. These visual codes have a physicality to them in expression, if you are made aware of them it is because their sculptural properties are being explored. It is also about generating a dialectic which perhaps relates to your question about banality. How do you measure these ephemeral things except through thinking about oppositions or contrasts?
Wilkins: The intention is not so much that the audience becomes aware of their surroundings whilst engaging with our work, but we do take into consideration and sometimes utilise their embedded awareness of it when developing and arranging the elements of a work. But this aspect really falls into the broader concerns of general site specificity which inform our arrangements .
AS: If not narrative, what word would you use instead?

Hill: Narrative implies that our work is largely fiction or story based which it isn't. I think we are more concerned with abstracting a kind of didacticism which can come in a variety of forms.

AS: The title that you have given the work in Primavera "The Plague of Inheritance" is loaded with possible meanings. In the plans for the work, there are other symbolic things happening, such as the shape of the installation and the audio. Can you describe what it is that you are doing, your research and some of the investigations you will undergo in order to realise this work?

Hill: We are big on planning months in advance but we never ask why. I think the most important thing is the belief that we have in something inherently metaphysical about art. Ideas drive the practice.

Wilkins: I think it is problematic to discuss an installation that is under development due to the plastic nature of ideas and their expression within our practice. By the time this goes to print any comments will no longer be relevant to the work exhibited and would only thwart potential engagements.


Published in Primavera 2006 exhibition catalogue.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia.














© wilkinshill 2014