Text and Interview: Monica Uszerowicz
Photos: Olimpia Dior and Courtesy of Prue Stent, Honey Long and Clare Longley
Like three witches standing around a cauldron, multimedia artists Prue Stent, Clare Longley, and Honey Long make some strange, otherworldly visions together, reminiscent of their individual practices but representing something more transcendent entirely. Stent, a Melbourne-based photographer, has always addressed the female body as a strange place to occupy; her distorted, surreal landscapes are visceral and beautiful. Long’s work–often performative and immersive–sometimes feels like a three-dimensional version of her friend Stent’s images, sculptural portrayals of the female form occupying a funny space between the natural environment and the human skin that touches it. The two met in high school, collaborating together ever since, before meeting Longley, whose irreverent work spans collage, poetry, drawing, and the creation of spaces for strange happenings to occur.
When the three finally collaborated as a trio for for Sugar Mountain, a day-long festival in Melbourne, they debuted Flush, a project examining the internal processes and sticky physicality of being female: sometimes sexualized, sometimes grotesque, but always none of these things–just a highly adaptable form that is equally soft and hard, ripe for societal projections. Flush documents the female body, emotive, abstracted, and smothered in gooey material, juxtaposed to fish guts and so much pink that the color develops a role of its own. Recently, the three also produced a video for Gucci’s film project, 24 Hour Ace, in which various artists were commissioned to showcase the Ace shoe. Here, we see them at their collaborative best: bodies, half-obscured by soft red stretchy fabric, become part of a desert landscape, folding into it until they nearly meld together.
After culminating their residency at BuoyRR, Longley, Stent, and Long spoke to us, at length and in depth, about their process.
How did all of you meet and begin working together?
Prue Stent: Honey and I went to high school together and have collaborated ever since. I met Clare when I moved to Melbourne in 2012, and have since shared a studio and worked on many projects together. Sugar Mountain 2016 was the first time the three of us joined forces. We each have quite independent practices, but overlapping ideas and an interest in collaboration, so it was inevitable that we would eventually end up working on something as a trio.
Was Sugar Mountain the first time you collaborated as a trio? What discussions led you to creating Flush?
Honey Long: Yes, it was good to have a big project that we could combine forces on and set a clear intention for what we wanted the outcome to be. The idea for Flush kind of felt like a synthesis of all the commonalities in our work and arose quite naturally from just discussing what we were interested in exploring together. We identified that there seemed to be an inherent fascination with the internal body in our different practices, be it emotional, physical, or subconscious, which unified us. So we set out to capture our ideas of the “internal” in an art project.
Clare Longley: It felt really good to find a common ground where we all felt equally invested in the project. I think the key was taking the time in developing ideas, and creating an ongoing dialogue so that the work felt honest for each of us: something that we did together but that was also in sync with our individual practices.
Olimpia Dior photographed Prue and Clare eating raspberries—what’s that all about? Raspberries are so potent.
Clare Longley: We met Olympia for a picnic when we were visiting New York and she brought blueberries, grapes, and raspberries. It was her idea to bite into the raspberries for the photos, as she thought it would make a nice connection to Flush, as they are visceral and pink. I think we looked kind of menacing with raspberries as teeth, but they are so sweet and juicy, and we were playing in the sun as if part of an impressionist painting. It was a fitting contrast.
Prue Stent: I’m drawn to using everyday objects in unusual ways, often to dissect or reconstruct the body in some way. Olympia’s idea of using the raspberries as teeth ties into this system. Raspberries are such a sexually suggestive fruit, the color of blood and sex. At the same time they are just something you can eat without all this loaded meaning. Depending on the way objects are used they can be read in all sorts of ways, adding multiple layers of interest.
Using our art practice as a means of exploring our relationship to our bodies...has become a process of reclamation.
Your practices vary, but it seems everyone touches on the strange experience of being in a body. What drew each of you to the mediums with which you work, and what do you most like to explore?
Honey Long: Prue and I started taking photos together when we were 15, and our practice seemed to evolve from this inherent desire to develop a dialogue with our bodies and the cultural projections that were being placed upon them. Whilst I’ve rarely been the one to take photos, I’ve found photography a really useful medium in capturing spontaneous action. My practice leans toward performance and sculpture more and I work best when I can construct something with my hands or express things through my body. As a female, I’ve found myself always grappling with the dichotomy of embodiment and disembodiment. There is so much strength and power to be found in the body, but external representations in our cultural climate can be so fraught. By externalizing the internal in the images we make, I guess we are trying to broaden the scope of representation, rather than trying to claim empowerment, which comes in so many different forms depending on the person you are.
Clare Longley: I too have always been curious about physical processes and ways of experiencing the world through a body. I guess that’s something that allows us to work well together–though it wasn’t really until recently that I recognized the connection throughout most of my work, both solo and my work with Prue and Honey. I think being only at the beginning of my artistic practice makes it difficult to identify patterns and themes that sometimes emerge subconsciously. But those can be the most interesting in the end.
Although my practice is multidisciplinary, I have worked a lot in collage, as I find it to have a strong parallel with the way we receive and process experiences, memories, ideas in life. You collect all these little bits along the way and slowly filter things out and hold on to some. It says something about what we are drawn to, desire, and how we develop identity.
Prue, can you tell me about the video you helped produce for Gucci Ace? I’m wondering about how your work interacts with the subconscious. Everything is almost real, like a dream.
Prue Stent: I have always loved the idea of creating fantasy worlds–places that only exist in my mind. My work is often read as surreal in nature because when playing with the subconscious there aren’t really any rules. You can bring to life a moment or idea that seems magical, something that exists outside of reality, isn’t tangible. I think this is a powerful tool for expressing emotion.
The Gucci commission, which was done in collaboration with Honey and Clare, was a great opportunity to set up one of these dreamlike scenarios. We took advantage of having complete creative freedom to produce a piece that was both absurd and ambiguous. The purpose was to trigger a feeling rather than reveal any narrative or conclusive meaning.
For Honey: I like your human-plant hybrid work. Can you tell me about your relationship to the natural world? I love that your photographs show how connected to and separate from “nature” we really are, simultaneously.
Honey Long: “Nature” is a concept which has been aestheticised and othered within culture. As humans, yes, we are very far from this idea of nature as an untouched and idealized wilderness, but that in itself is an invention of our own making. I see us as inseparable from nature, and more a part of an all-encompassing ecology which is life itself. The sooner we are able to let go of humanist distinctions that try to extricate ourselves from “nature,” the sooner I think we can move past a lot of the restrictive binaries that see one order or class of people and beings elevated above the rest–hierarchical ways of thinking. I guess my human-plant-landscape hybrid work has tried to convey the conflicted nature of making these classifications within “civilized” society and the innate desire to merge with the rest of the cosmos. I think it is actually “civilized” man, through all of his classifications, who has ultimately othered himself, and all of us are just confused to varying degrees and trying to deal with the aftermath of that.
For Clare–I was reading about your show Nut Ice and I liked that each piece had a title that functioned like a poem, like “Orange And Guava in a Cocktail Glass in the Sun.” Are words still an influence on your practice?
Clare Longley: Yes, I sometimes find myself just as inspired by words as by things I see. I can’t claim to be disciplined in reading extensively, but I write all the time and record bits and pieces I hear in conversations, songs, and books. I like to create a kind of abstract narrative in my work, and I think the titles are an interesting way of forming associations and stories. Often my solo work comes from quite a personal, reflective place and titles for me are a way of connecting the work with something more relatable for other people, a reference point for viewers when experiencing the work, a kind of poetry.
All three of you are often asked to address the feminist nature of your work. Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences of being female and how that has influenced it? What do you hope to explore when you investigate the female body’s relationship with the environment?
Honey Long: I guess being female and having your body spoken for, symbolically, to a large degree created an urge for self-representation on a level that’s accessible for a broad audience and could infiltrate popular culture. Also, on a personal level, using our art practice as a means of exploring our relationship to our bodies has been really useful in accessing interior thoughts and processes and gaining a better understanding of them in general, in itself becoming a process of reclamation. Integrating our body within the environment has always just felt right and been a way of circumnavigating culture. It’s a space where we are able to play with the passive associations put onto females and the environment, incorporating them into an absurdist narrative which dismantles their meaning and allows for new narratives to take shape.
What are you all working on now?
Prue Stent: I am involved in quite a few different projects at the moment–a couple of group shows, a music video, and art directing a fashion campaign. Amongst all that, my main goal is to start producing a new body of work and hopefully exhibit sometime in the near future.
Clare Longley: Right now I’m sitting next to Prue on a bus from Tulum to Bacalar, Mexico. She is feverishly sewing a pleated frill around the edge of some fabric that looks like a cloud–so we will see what comes of that! We just participated as a trio in Buoy, a performance based residency and retreat in Connecticut, NY. I am feeling super motivated and inspired from our time there so I definitely have some things brewing, including a three-month mentorship in rural Portugal later this year, and a group show I am curating back in Melbourne in 2017.
Honey Long: I just got back to Sydney from traveling in America with Clare and Prue for our residency at Buoy, among other things. At the moment I am focusing on wrapping up my degree and curating a “love machine”-themed event later this month.