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Wednesday 28 March 2012

The Formal Language of Protest | Tina Hage: Gestalt | Tenderpixel Gallery | London

Text by Bethany Rex

Tina Hage (b. Port-au-Prince) is a London-based artist. She grew up in Düsseldorf and studied at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne until 2004 and then completed her Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths in 2009. Gestalt, Hage's first solo-show in London, opened earlier this month at Tenderpixel. We spoke to Tina about her work and future plans.

BR: Tell me about Gestalt. What are the bare bones of the project and where did it begin?

TH: My work starts with found images particularly those from newspapers and online media. I often look at journalistic images and have amassed a large collection of these, so I have become very aware of the various uprisings in different countries that have sprung up since the end of 2010.

What interests me is that all the protesters from these diverse places appear to be people on the street as opposed to seasoned activists and are self-organised. However, the actions of the UK rioters cannot been seen in the same context as the protesters in Egypt for example. 

There is clearly an unplanned movement of masses in a swarm like mentality which uses social media and networking to communicate. The result of this is an almost spontaneous physical presence on the street. The protesters are mostly anonymous; there is no confirmed leader and most of the time the faces we see in the media are completely covered.

It is important to mention that this work is not about the subject of protest, but rather the formal language that these protesters start to create. Until recently, protests were usually pre-organised with defined leaders and political agendas. The language emerging from these new protests represent a different way in which masses now form. It is one of anonymity and viral chaos. 

BR: What can we expect to see from the new work and what reaction do you anticipate from audiences to the show?

TH: When you step into the gallery space, you are physically standing inside the work. The photographic installation is made of large format prints on panels, set up very closely next to each other. The other element of the show is a book, containing images in the exhibition and additional works from the series. It creates rhythm, movement and patterns by juxtaposing the images next to each other in the page layout. Both elements are important to the show because they broaden the context of the work. The show and the book are not a political statement about protesting, I am more interested in looking closely at the anonymous individual and how they emerge as part of a movement; their gestures, appearance and actions. I would like the audience to discover a visual language that lets in their own association towards the work. I did not want to produce work which can be put into a distinct category, I always feel that restricts ways of thinking and new associations. I am fascinated by these current movements across the globe and I would like to contribute to see the individual in other aspect besides the greater political movement they are part of. 

BR: What is the significance of the title of the show?

TH: The title of the show, Gestalt,  is a quite an important aspect of the work. It is a German word and means in general to “form” or to “take shape”.  Specifically, it can mean that a figure/person is taking shape for e.g. coming out of the dark or from far away. It defines that moment when someone/thing appear, the seconds before it becomes clear what or who it is.
Not knowing who these people are in the pictures, yet the lingering sense of an idea blurs the individual into the collective. This makes them part of something greater. It is difficult to recognise the figures within the Gestalt Series as well. If familiar with my work, the viewer might suspect that it is me. In my study of the individual v. the masses, I use myself as the anonymous repetition in the work. For me, this helps to articulate the forming of contemporary protest we have been discussing above, but also brings into question the constructing/deconstruction of photographic images.
On a larger level, it also describes a phenomenon which is not yet clear. It is only beginning to take shape. I feel that the way masses operate in a swarm mentality has the potential to change the structure of society and how we interact.
BR: Where did your personal interest in this relationship between the collective and the individual begin? 

TH: I became particularly interested in this relationship when I read Siegfried Kracauer’s book The Mass Ornament, in which he describes the mass as the bearer of the ornament. The individual is very much integrated in capitalist production processes, and indeed it is through their work which contributes to these processes.  Although the book was written nearly 100 years ago, I feel that it still has its relevance and I find it helpful when trying to understand capitalist societies.

BR: What can we expect from you in 2012?

TH: The publication Gestalt I made for the show is now available at art book shops, like Banner Repeater at Hackney Downs train station and I am hoping it will be seen in more art book shops later in the year. It will also be presented at Art Cologne in April with Thomas Rehbein Gallery in Germany. I am also working on a project for a group show with the Modern Language Experiment that will be hosted at Angus Hughes Gallery; and there is the potential of another solo show later this year in London.

Tina Hage: Gestalt, 10/02/2012 - 01/04/2012, Tenderpixel, 10 Cecil Court, London, WC2N 4HE. www.tenderpixel.com / www.tinahage.com

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