Interview – Hanne Lillee

paper journal, hanne lillee

THE MARRED I & II, linoleum, nylon, glue, inkjet print on Giclee Somerset Velvet, 200 x 200 x 1000 mm, 2015


It is an aesthetic and a repositioning operation, that gives new meaning to what already exists. As Marcel Duchamp stated, “I was interested in ideas—not merely in visual products.” Hanne Lillee elaborates images from the web, editing and rethinking them – in order to consider the incessant changing process that in this very moment defines the language of photography.

Can you discuss some of the influences and inspiration behind your work?

I’m curious about what eroticism, lust and seduction are associated with and the role these concepts have today. I search for those primitive emotions that our memories, experiences and unconscious make and emerge in the most everyday of situations. By exploring the fine line between the haptic and perception, I try to bring these associations forward.

The haptic and the idea of touching with your eyes is intriguing to me. The materials I employ in my pieces are materials that I feel have an almost sensuous tactility. Silicone, wax, wool and silk are materials I regularly use. You probably know how these materials feel to touch, but still when displayed in front of you, there is an immediate desire to physically touch them. Materials can have a very strong presence, they are connected to your body’s sensibility. The fact that artworks mostly can’t be touched creates a connection between what your eyes see and the memory of how a certain material has felt like in the past.

I combine these materials with collages made from appropriated photographs. These photographs are in fact digital image files that I collect searching through blogs and Tumblr sites. I look for a feeling of something unsolved and estranged, as well as an underlying erotic tension. I then manipulate and distort these circulated and degraded images through montage and collage.

Are there any particular artists’ works that inspire you?

There are a few artists that I find myself always going back to, especially if I feel stuck or a little lost; Swedish photographer Annika von Hausswolff, Cypriot artist Haris Epaminonda, who processes found images and footage, and the paintings of Belgian artist Michaël Borremans. I guess what I feel their works have in common is a balance of estrangement and familiarity. Their imagery is often a fragment of an apparently everyday situation but at the same time they are full of questions and riddles.

If Hofmannsthal said The color is the shape of things, the language of light and darkness”, what colour – except black and white – would you choose?

Hmm, I guess I have to say red just because it’s such a powerful and warm colour! Though I don’t use red much in my work or wear it for that sake. In my work colour is an important element that tends to draw things together and if I choose the wrong colour, I can end up destroying everything! I’m drawn to dull colours like moss green, soft pink and misty blue.


paper journal, hanne lillee

EYES OF SAND, plywood, wool, inkjet print, 500 x 650 x 25 mm, 2014


What books are on your bedside table?

Right now I’m reading Creme Fraiche by Danish writer Suzanne Brøgger and Susan Sontag, The Complete Rolling Stones Interview by Jonathan Cott.

What period in history do you think you really belong in?

I think I’m quite happy in the time it is, but then again this is all I know. I guess I would have liked to be around in the 50s, 60s and 70s just because it seems to me that these decades were very rich in culture and attitudes. People seemed to be more free and less standardised and obliged by rules and laws. But I cannot for certain know that this is a fact or if it just appears like this in history.

What is your relationship with traditional photography?

For me photographs are some of the most fascinating things; a photograph is a window into something else that we can’t really explain. I have always been enthralled by images and tried to ‘understand’ them. I never stop being surprised at how certain photographs jump out at you and how hard it can be to explain exactly why you are drawn to that particular image. A great book about photographs is What Pictures Want by W.J.T Mitchell where he talks about how images have a double consciousness. With double consciousness he means that on the one hand we know that a photograph is just ink on paper picturing a moment of the past, but on the other hand it can occupy the power to make you emotional, sentimental or bewildered. For example it would probably feel weird to burn a picture of your mother. Our relationship to images and how they are capable of affecting us is central in my practice.

And with eroticism?

Eroticism is as I mentioned previously one of the core influences behind my work, and it is another thing I find quite mysterious. Eroticism is something psychologically related to our desires and fetishes and so much more comprehensive then just simple sexual activity. I’m very fascinated by how certain images, objects and materials can have an erotic sensibility. These things have been saturated by attitudes throughout time and because of these roots we look at things in a certain way today. Because of this history, images, objects and materials have the ability to affect us emotionally, and sometimes even physically. The images and the materials I choose to use have all been selected and assembled mainly because I feel they inhabit this quality, and allude to certain erotic connotations but are simultaneously absent of any sexual explicitness.


paper journal, hanne lillee

SPOILED MILK I & II, plywood, vinyl, beeswax, stone, inkjet print, variable dimensions, 2014


How can you define ‘surface’ – meaning the place where artwork takes shape and manifests itself?

That something has a surface implies that it has something behind or underneath of what is first apparent. A surface is something that contains something more. And it could be broken to reveal what’s behind, like how the surface of water disappears when touched. The art I see that gets me excited has this ability; to have a surface but also allowing you to break it and in that way enter into what it is you see.

What happens before and after the moment you create something?

I usually spend a few months on each piece. But I guess before and after is quite related, as the after moment is also the before of a new piece. In this in-between time I look for images; hours and hours I spend scrolling through blogs and Tumblr, gathering images that might end up in a piece in the future. It often is a frustrating period because it feels like I’m not making or doing much, but the material I gather needs to be processed before I can understand how to use it. I leave all my recently found image files on the desktop of my computer, so that I see them everyday and in that way process them almost unconsciously. People usually laugh and assume I’m the most disorganised person ever if they catch a glimpse of my desktop. But the fact is that this is all part of my working process and even though it might seem chaotic, it is actually in a system and in order. In fact I think I’m the most organised person I know!

 Is there something we should know about your work?

I’m very anxious about the fact that I use other people’s images in my work, and that one day I will wake up facing a fat law suit ! Even though I appropriate the images and most of the time make them completely on my own, I think that taking a photograph isn’t that different to finding one. There are more than enough images in this world and I don’t feel like adding to it, rather highlighting the ones that I find worth noticing.


paper journal, hanne lillee

THE GAME I, II & III, wax, plywood, inkjet print on paper, variable dimensions, 2014


paper journal, hanne lillee

CREAM COLOURED, silicone, plywood, cork, textile print, 810 x 1620 x 120 mm, 2014


paper journal, hanne lillee

PLAYING WITH STONES, plywood, brass, fabric print, inkjet print, 1600 x 210 x 750 mm, 2013


paper journal, hanne lillee

EVEN ON THE TRAIL THEY GOT LOST, plywood, garment, wax, magazine, inkjet print, 1100 x 850 x 400 mm, 2013


Interview by Domenico de Chirico / Published 16 February 2015