Kevin Harman

Kevin Harman Interview - By Steven Cox

Kevin Harman and HUNTED PROJECTS have been developing this interview for 5 months where sections were developed in various locations as diverse as his studio, during working hours in his previous workplace where he helped run a charity shop, over social beers in Edinburgh pubs and in the relaxed surroundings of a particular cafe where sausage sandwiches were compared to the cardboard tasting baguettes that were served.  This interview has literally been a long running discussion, as well as a journey for that matter.  The interview itself has required some significant editing though what is presented here is a fascinating insight to the workings of one of Edinburgh's burgeoning artists over the past 5 months.

Kevin Harman is currently represented by Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh.  He completed his MFA Sculpture from Edinburgh College of Art in 2010, as well as his BA in Sculpture from Edinburgh College of Art in 2008. 

To begin with, can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS about yourself and your creative background?

KH: A bit about myself…2 older brothers, one younger sister and a mother and father.  I was brought up on a council estate in a suburb of Edinburgh called Wester Hailes.  My creative background related to this…well, being a kid I wanted to dig around, make things and make time go past…and always wanting to become better at drawing than my brother Norman.  I was more attracted to living in a fantasy world and seeing how it developed and changed.

Was your brother Norman a natural influence to you as a kid?

KH: Yeah he was a big influence to me, he was the Christopher Columbus of the family as he was the first to go to university and that intrigued me.

What was it that got you into making art?

KH: When I was told I was making art

What do you mean by that?

KH: I think, I was looking at things that interested me; Asterix, Obelix, Tin-Tin, and I re-drew them as I really liked them and enjoyed the pages.  The closer my drawings got to what the comic characters looked like, the better I thought I was. I was a really good shader and didn’t go over the lines.   People paid me 20p for drawing a letter D on their arms. The D was the same D from a baseball team – it was on a baseball cap and looked ornate; I copied it religiously. In primary school, I would sit outside and I would make 60p a day.  I would draw D for Dean, Danielle and anyone else with a name that began with the letter D.  I knew I had a talent making mock tattoos and when I was being told to stop doing them by the teachers.

I want to discuss the most recent performance work and month long project you did for the 2012 Edinburgh Art Festival, titled 24/7.  Can you tell me where this idea originated?

KH: I like to give myself confines to work within.  These confines I work within are time, a material limit, and it needs to be live and have a live audience.  So, the piece 24/7 included a set time. I set myself to accumulate stuff from a concentrated environment, ASDA, which was open for 24 hours. 

I put myself within an immersive environment for 24 hours, and this environment transferred into an experience. Then, I built a responsive environment for people to come and experience.  From the ever-increasing familiarity we have with supermarkets, I created an environment, and that environment was an organic process from my own thoughts and interactions.

24/7 was a work that was built with a diverse range of interconnecting individual works. The end of the exhibition concluded with an auction, the work ironically ending as a market, back where it started with ‘products’ or things.  People were buying bits that were in fact fragments of a thing, and that thing was an experience of ultra-consumerism. 

What was the date that you were in Asda for 24 hours?

KH: 29th July till the 30th July, 2012

This is an experience I am sure many would enjoy.  What were the most amusing parts of the experience?

KH: The most amusing part of the experience was within the photo-booth, as well as being within the changing room.  I was hidden from security cameras, though I was documenting what was effectively private.  It was naughty, or mischievous.  I felt like I could get away with so much, despite someone being a few foot away and I was doing some bizarre activities.  Also, it was 20 hours into the project (2am Monday) before anyone within ASDA had noticed that I had been in the store, when in fact I had been in since 6am Sunday.

Can you tell me about the creative processes that you used once having all of your purchased items within the exhibition space that was below the Roxburgh Hotel on Rose Street, Edinburgh?

KH: I think we started with a problem once we had all the material, this problem being that we had a small amount of time to actually create a show. I had been commissioned by Edinburgh Art’s Festival to create an exhibition, some sort of thing for the Art’s Festival.  There was a loose idea about the project, but it wasn’t until it was activated that it fully became a problem.  I had all these materials, and how was I to use only them to build a whole environment, on what was a personal experience, to be relayed to other people but not to be geared at being solely about myself? And that was achieved by building something while people were coming in – I was there making work throughout the exhibition, influenced by conversations I’d had with visitors?  I wanted to give an experience to everybody so we could all have some sort of conversation.

So an environment had to be created. I applied a Mickey Mouse Fantasia approach.

Did you categorize the materials into ordered piles or were the materials put into one large pile that was mixed together?

KH: As the materials were arriving at the space, I had an assistant who would receive the goods. I also sent along little instructions in the bags informing them to lay out the bags in certain ways.  So before the bags had arrived at the space, I had a loose grasp of what I was buying but I knew this could all change.  Whilst the goods were being sent off, the sketchbooks I was working with inside ASDA were filling-up with potential things or works that could be made.  These ideas were being developed whilst walking around with my trolley listening to things and looking at how these bits and pieces could go together.  I had a time restriction of only 3 or 4 days before the opening to give something to the viewer when they arrived.  Though I could not give everything because I very much knew that it was going to be a work-in-process all the way through the exhibition.

The first thing to consider were the walls, so amongst the first things I was buying was fucking loads of newspapers and magazines and getting them sent back to the space where my assistants were cutting and pasting these to the walls with the wallpaper paste I had also sent.  They started cladding everything, and by the time I had arrived at the space from being in ASDA for 24 hours, my assistant had done a great job on 2 of the main walls, but I was aware that there was still a mammoth job ahead.  After I had been for a sleep, other assistants started arriving and they were asking me what they should do, and one of the best people who was there was my brother Norrie, he sort of arrived a day late though he asked me “what is it that you are building Kevin?” and I said back “I don’t really know, I think its going to be some sort of market of curiosities that will have to be hung on those walls and stand on these floors”, so we started to speak about the paint that we bought and thought, “do we want the space to look like a supermarket? Fuck it, yes!  Let’s start making it look like a supermarket, why not! That’s where everything has come from”, so we started with the tin-foil floor, which was a magical moment.

How long did it take to lay the tin foil floor?

KH: It took four assistants, 3 days; very much right up to the opening of the exhibition we were still putting down the final pieces.  These assistants were not even written into the programme.  I thought I would only require one or two, though at one point I had a team of ten people painting the walls, wallpaper pasting shreds of paper outside.  Though when the exhibition opened, we had this room that we had created, I still hadn’t had time to step back from it, to look at it.  I was standing there at the opening, in my George outfit, thinking, “What the fuck am I going to do with the rest of this stuff that’s back stage?” and what else to do than build a show?  Build stuff!  So I went back to the sketchbooks where I had these loose ideas and continued developing what these wee things could be.  All my art experience came into action; the reactionary works which I really thrive on, like going through skips, taking door mats and manipulating them, and responding to pleasant or aggressive behavior – i.e. police confrontation when things go through windows!  Everything came into play!  I had to orchestrate everything that was there into some sort of thing.

Did you find it difficult having to create works from materials that were essentially household items that are not regularly used to make artworks?

KH: Oh really difficult, it cost £1 for a litre of poster paint, and you know that this paint isn’t going to last, as soon as it is hit by the air it starts shrinking! You know what I mean?  I knew I had another 3 and half weeks to use these materials, so the materials I started using were changing even a day later.  It was like a concentrated, evolutionary process of making things, things I made would then fall to bits – I was using the cheapest of household goods from ASDA.  Items were disintegrating in front of me! (laughs)

Did you take into consideration the aging and deterioration of certain works, such as the layered cake work?  Did you think about how the works would last even after the exhibition?

KH: I did; I drew upon flashes of things I knew.  I remember when I was a student we had a cake in my flat that we never threw out – it just sat there and it didn’t even develop any fungus or anything.  It just remained a cake!  So I knew that if I used this material, it would last!

Initially, the exhibition was open 24 hours a day, so I didn’t take into account the drunks who came in and started taking chunks out of the cakes in the exhibition just because they were hungry.  So to react to that sort of evolution of the work, I got aggressive with some of the drunks that were in.  I was like “Don’t do that! What are you doing? We have opened this exhibition, please respect the works!”, and then when I thought about the question and what they were doing, I apologized before they had left the exhibition! I was like “look sorry I got a bit annoyed there, I didn’t know I would feel upset about you guys doing that”, and I suppose I reacted in a bit of a silly way as it was 3am and I should have allowed for this kind of behavior to happen! Though, this was falling upon drunken ears, but you could see they sort of respected what I was saying and perhaps what I was a bit annoyed about, though we remedied the situation there and then.  So, that evolution was one of the more unexpected ones!

Of the foodstuffs that I had purchased, one item was a melon.  I put a few pencils into it and stood it up.  It held its form beautifully for, say, a week and a half, two weeks, though it then hit melting point and just collapsed as the inside of it began to rot.  I knew, whilst I was in the supermarket, I didn’t want a big smelly show so I stayed away from most foods.  Though I did get a lot of tinned food. I also bought jelly that cost only 6 pence!

How important is the documentation aspect of your work, could your work exist without it ever being documented?

KH: It could, though the documentation is evidence.  It becomes part of the piece itself. So if I did something, like took a photograph, the photograph or video footage exists along with a few other components which could be the physical thing which might be the thing that exists within the photograph, like the pole (from Brick) which will sit next to the photograph…so it’s a sort of evidence gathering experience for the viewer, because I don’t want to give them just a story.  The story of smashing the Collective’s window exists - people who haven’t seen the footage or exhibition, know by having heard about it.  It could have existed alone as a story, though I am more interested in physical, hard evidence. For me, the documentation is part of the piece and not just a snippet of the past.  I don’t take a photograph for it to be an accurate representation of something that happened. The photographs that get taken are alongside everything else that makes up the work and are just as important as the pole that’s sitting there, for example.  I keep going back to the Brick piece: all is relevant, the photographs of the past, combined with the pole, along with the legal letters, it all’s as important!

Could your work be purely mythical, to exist without your own documentation, though continues to exist through others documentation of your work?

KH: Yes…Skips.  I have a really hard time documenting the skips, because I prefer and enjoy the rudimentary photography that happens around it.  The passers by will take photographs of the work, and I know that those photographs exist, so I can then get on with the job in hand.  For me, the photographs that I do take of the skips sort of bug me.  90% of the work is the making, and then 10% is documenting.  The story goes through those who have taken personal photographs.  These images become available and online!   It ends up online because the skip works are something a bit unusual.  My documentation is really myself just being there, doing something and having conversations.  I don’t record the conversations, despite the fact that’s one of the most fantastic parts of the work!

There was a documentary made of one of the Skips, which was a great way to record what happens during the making of the work.  Though, that’s someone else’s documentation, not mine.

So you are more interested in others’ documentation of your work?

KH: Well, I have photographs that no one else will have, but I’m not really that interested in them, it just feels like something I should do.  Though that leads me into questioning why I took the photographs?  Is it to do with legacy? Is it permanence that I am trying to attain for myself?  What is that? Why would I do that?  Is it for myself to look back on and see the form of one work and to try to not repeat that same form and to do something else?  Is it ok for myself to create something and take a photograph of it and then present the work as a photograph?  Can the work exist purely without the photograph?  And the story can actually become bigger and more important than what it is that you are doing?  It can exist as both I suppose.

For example, in 24/7, documentation is a hugely important part of the work because I could buy a camera.  Of course, I also wrote about the experience with pencil on paper, and use the receipts as a document in itself - that shows just as much about what happened as a photograph could, or written observations.  The cctv footage I got from ASDA is also the evidence or documentation of the experience.  The documents, I suppose are something that I become part of, as I did buy a camera and the photographs taken were developed in ASDA.  And so, I suppose, the first part of the work was about documentation.  The second part was about pulling this documentary of events together, like David Attenborough going around ASDA doing all this stuff, and putting it all into the exhibition environment which people are invited into and are part of.  Even the audio, which I forgot to mention, was made using the dictaphone that I bought there. It’s all about documenting a thing, then its gone!  We sold it all, everything!  All the documents are now all over the place.

You own none of the documentation surrounding 24/7?

KH: No, nothing! I have the memory, but everything is gone, even the sketchbooks are gone!  I view the images of the work online, as I don’t even own any of those!

When a Tree Falls was the title of your first solo exhibition with the Ingleby Gallery, which opened in November 2012.  Now that the exhibition is over, can you tell me about how you planned the works for this exhibition?

KH: I had a couple of ideas about advancing a particular work; for the exhibition at Ingleby, I wanted to take things to a different area. I had been working on apiece called Everything which is a padlock through a window. It consists of two holes drilled through a window with a padlock put through.  The work is more complicated than that! (laughs) Though, that is what you see!  I really enjoyed its quiet confidence, by nature of the materials that were used.

Transparency, glass, security, the glass the divides you from the outdoors, a window allows you to see in, sometimes you are invited to look in, sometimes you are invited to look out.  For instance, a shop window is different from a ground floor flat window.  It’s not very cool when people keep walking by and looking into your flat window, though thinking about a shop window, you have products on the inside so the passer-by is meant to look in.   I just loved thinking about the window as a portal; it sort of acts as a dividing barrier or boarder. 

So, I put a padlock through it to combine three realms together – not just the indoor and outdoors, but everything in between, joined and to celebrate them as one thing.

I was working with a padlock and examining what it does and what it is, what the history is and how it evolved and then I started to think about how inevitable it is, the meaning of me and my position within making these works. Undoubtedly, I create these things, these happenings and events!  I was showing at Ingleby Gallery; I, Kevin Harman was showing at Ingleby Gallery and so I was aware of that; and what I don’t like, sometimes, is that my name is there.  I like the idea of the work being there, some days, depends what mood I am in, but I didn’t want it to be about me!  I want the work to be about everyone else and so I just started to think about materials, me and you, and how I could make something that we were all somehow familiar with, yet that challenged us.  So, I was actually in a café at the time, and I was writing notes as usual, and I looked at this mirror, I looked at myself in this mirror: beautiful! (laughs) but I started to question what it was I was looking at, though I was looking at myself in this mirror and then I changed my focus to what I was looking at!  I was thinking what a giving surface a mirror is.

I am 30 years old, and I had never actually looked at a mirror, the surface of the silver oxide!  I had only ever looked at what it was giving and what it was reflecting. I started to try to focus on the silver oxide surface and I could barely see it.  I thought, what a giving surface!  How do I acknowledge this surface and give it some sort of credit?  So then what I did was create the piece called Forever.

Can I take you back? 

Sure…

The title of the exhibition is based around the philosophical question, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  Though, when you have a look at the question, the issue is that it says IF!  I was thinking, what the fuck is this, IF a tree falls?  There’s a fundamental problem here, it’s WHEN a tree falls!  There is an inevitability of things happening, like growth and time passing. The tree is going to evolve and fall!  So, its not a case of IF it falls, it’s a case of WHEN?  I started thinking about this; I started to think about it in tangent with the mirror. Forever only exists if you, the viewer, is looking into this mirror, which is you within the piece.  I needed to somehow combine it all together…

So you are stating that Forever only works if it has something to reflect?

KH: I think so, and so by putting mirrors back to back and locking the padlock through them, from one side you can see an infinite hoop, you’ve got the physical part of the padlock reflected and so you end up with this circle, and on the other side you’ve got two bodies of the shackle going into each other.  And I just liked the distance created by two mirrors facing away from each other but with the padlock closing this distance. I did the same piece again in the studio, but with two mirrors facing each other, two holes drilled, and the padlock put through it, so that in between the two mirrors, a reflection goes on forever yet is unseen. In this case, the padlock goes on forever.  But for this space, one work seemed to do the job of both – someday, however, they’ll be shown together.

Does the meaning of the work change if the work alters or changes after you create it?

KH: Yeah, it does, though I don’t have any control of this.  If I make a piece of work, progression is written into the design of the piece. The works embrace advancement. A mirror is about change – the same instant and combination of things are never reflected twice. Such change is inevitable, so my work embraces it, hugs it tight – and then it actually becomes timeless. And when I say timeless, I mean time as an invented thing (imposing seconds, hours, months).

Do you have exhibitory requirements/specifications for the re-exhibition of the mirror work Forever?

KH: I have my own thinking about this work, because after hanging it at Ingleby Gallery, I perhaps think I didn’t install this work in its best way.  I think I would lower the height of Forever by half an inch; I would like the viewer to first engage with the infinite hoop as opposed to the body of the shackle, to heighten your sense of curiosity of what you are looking at.  If you see the body of a padlock going into a mirror, you expect the hoop on the other side. But, if you were to see the hoop on one side you don’t predict what is on the other, therefore it takes the viewer on a journey and that journey is cool.  I kind of like that.  The frame that it is framed in, is hand carved from oak and it gives a sense of fantastical, snow white, mirror mirror on the wall, Narnia type of mystery.  I like that contrast to the padlock, that the padlock is the only gilded object within the work.  The brass of the lock catches your eye, takes you from the unfinished wood frame right into to this chrome and gilded padlock.  I also want the viewer to see the padlock above eye level; it needs to be top right hand side, for the padlock to be engaged with, for I think its more sublime.

What do you mean by top right hand side?

KH: The top right hand side is where the padlock is in the mirror and where your eye should be lead up to, and the reasons for that are, if it were lower down, it would be earthing it more, it would be closer to the ground, making you sort of look down to it, but I want the viewer to look up to it.

The work must also hang in the room, not to be attached to the wall.  There were also so many options to choose from when it came to hanging, there was cord, chain and we also looked at wire, though for me the wire was the best option.  The viewer would deal with the hanging apparatus right away and this allows the viewer to get on with viewing the piece of work.  If I were to use the cord, which is the same type you use for sash case windows, it would give the piece a dynamic in which you could envisage the work being raised and lowered, but did I want that?  No not really…did I want the chain? No, It was a bit clunky.  The chain is a link, and so the chain sort of takes away from the link of the padlock.  The padlock is the only link I want in the work. So we went with the wire. But that decision took months writing and thinking about.

I am also interested if the meaning of the work would change if the quality of the mirror’s edging were less grand? 

KH: I think the work would change and I have thought about every component in the work, down to every last detail.  The frame is obviously a catastrophically big detail within the work, I could have used a sort of more generic mirror which wasn’t hand carved, perhaps machine made, in multiples, though the decision not to go with that was because I wanted the work to be fantastical.

If I were to use a plain frame, the viewer would associate it with being on a wall.  I went to see hundreds of different types of frames and each one I kept seeing on the wall.  The piece wasn’t to be hung on the wall; it was to be hanging in the middle of the room.  So, I needed to use a mirror that gave a dresser table-esque shape, which wasn’t to be horizontally symmetrical, it was to be arched at the top, and when I think about dresser tables, I think about beautifying.  It is definitely a place where you sit in front of and look at yourself whilst getting ready. 

You sit at a dresser table whilst you are getting ready to go out?

KH: (laughs) I don’t personally, but when I look at them, I think of them as being quiet…its not a passing moment, its more of a concentrated look at yourself rather than walking past a mirror in the hall, so by using this shape and material, it gave time and gave that sort of princess-type of feeling….I mean, the shape takes it away from the wall and it hangs there quite bizarrely yet harmoniously.  You sort of look at it and think it looks quite normal, despite being in the middle of the room.  If I went with something else it wouldn’t have been so much, we would end up talking about a whole different thing.

Was there an ideal way in which you would have liked to see your works being both interpreted and responded to? 

KH: I want the viewers to have their own interpretations, definitely.  Someone said to me that it left quiet where other works leave noise.  I sort of enjoyed that because I had thought about the exhibition previously.  When Ingleby Gallery said that I would be exhibiting with Harland Miller, I looked at Miller’s work, and it’s loud! It’s got some harsh language in it, the works are meant to look like a book cover, so it’s quite loaded.  So in contrast to Harland Miller, I went quiet, though over time (fingers crossed) Forever has a good discussion with the viewer!

Do you plan to have this work re-exhibited anytime soon?

KH: Yeah, I would like it to be exhibited; I am very excited by it.  Because, for the material it is made from, it will be different anywhere it is shown. I look forward to hearing discussions about the work, and I look forward to having discussions about the work with other people – the more discussions I have about the work, the more I learn about it. I think that’s where the excitement about a piece evolves, through discussion.

Can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS about your artwork The End?

KH: The End, is a book.  When this work began, I went around charity shops and bought a lot of crime fiction novels, the titles of which would give something to the action of what it was I was doing.  | took all of the final pages from the crime novels and ended up with 35 end pages.  I then wrote a little message in each book I’d cut the pages from, saying that the final page from that crime novel had been taken to form part of another book, I then editioned each of these altered books, 1/35 etc., and signed them.  I went round all the charity shops from where I bought the books and put them back on the shelves for sale.  I took all the final pages to a really cracking good book binders and got them bound into a black hardback book with THE END embossed onto the cover; it was really simple.

I will tell you the thought behind the piece; I think, as much as it is nice to be involved in the fantasy of the ideas, I like the reality.  For me, to take someone from a crime fiction novel and then reintroduce them into the realm of what they are reading, into this injustice of denying them the book’s end, and for this mystery and journey to continue…I really enjoyed doing that.

It’s an interesting read as well, just to read THE END, and to think what the books might have been.  The titles of the original books on these collected final pages are fantastic also, such as Been and Gone, Nemesis, or Tell No One!

Do you know where any of the 35 signed and numbered books currently are?

KH: No, though I guess they will be in Edinburgh somewhere.

Did you leave a contact number, address or website within any of the books?

KH: No, I thought about it, though I thought it might get a little bit complicated if I started getting emails from people saying “I bought this book and you took the final page out of it, and I am a bit pissed off”, you know, its like the evidence, I don’t want anything to do with it. (laughs) Even THE END is now in New York, I don’t have it.

Kevin Harman

All images courtesy of Kevin Harman and the Ingleby Gallery