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Forces of Nature, Pt. II: Olga Ziemska and Elaine Hullihen

This part of the interview shows the final step in their dialogue continued on from part I.

AFA: Knowing that you both did not known each other before you were asked to do this project with AFA, what was the most intriguing aspect about opening a line of dialogue between each of your artistic practices?

Elaine: A friend had sent me images of Olga’s work thinking I would be interested in it, which was a pretty good assumption. I have been honored to get to know the process of someone who’s work is very thoughtful and taps into the intricate details in life. I adore the ways that Olga’s scientific influences bring us into ideas about existence that can’t really be quantified. I think this correlates with my thinking in that I create small settings and costumes as experiments in experience.

Olga: What I found most intriguing about this experience is the emerging of various similarities and connections in ideas and thoughts regarding our work. With initially not knowing Elaine or being familiar with her work, I did not anticipate the discovery of so many correlations to our process and ideas regarding our work.

AFA: After talking to each other via email, what lead you to the idea of creating an exchange of ephemera? Does this process of collecting, or archiving, come into influence when you are in the process of creating an artwork?

Elaine: I think it was Olga’s idea actually. Originally we planned to meet at the Serpent Mound to have a discussion, but time and weather had other ideas so this seemed like a great way to “speak” to each other. We intend to use the ephemera that we have received to create a work that honors the other. When I received Olga’s package my eyes bulged because she had included some things that I was thinking about exactly. I know precisely what I plan to make.

Olga: We had initially planned on meeting at the Hopewell Indian Mound in Chillicothe, Ohio. However due to the sever winter weather we were beginning to have we decided to interact & meet virtually with questions and answers for each other.We also decided to send along 10 items with our 5 questions for the other in a packet.Upon answering the questions we are creating a piece of art for the other in response to the dialogue shared.

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park ©2010 Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, photographer. Used under license by PlanetWare.

AFA: Lastly, do you feel that it is important to create a dialogue with your fellow contemporaries and artist communities?

Elaine: Absolutely. Not only is it great to hear other ideas and be a part of the creative energy in your environment it is also a way to get out of the thought cycle of your studio and assure yourself that what you are doing isn’t utterly bonkers.

Olga: I think it is important to the extent that an individual artist feels the need for that type of dialogue. Fundamentally art is about communication and sharing and without an exchange of some kind technically there is no art. Think tree falling in a forest analogy. A person can have certain interests and hobbies, but the added ingredient of sharing that idea is needed for something to be considered art. For instance, Henry Darger had a personal past-time passion of drawing and writing stories. His hobby did not become art until it was shared with others, even if it was after he died and without his consent. Each artist is different in how and to whom they communicate with and why, and ultimately the individual artist knows best if they will be inspired and motivated by a conversation with other artists or a group of dancers or a couple of physicists. I think the most important thing is to have an exchange of ideas, thoughts, inspirations and creations with someone, somewhere at any given time.

Elaine’s Questions for Olga: Answered by Elaine

What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

Elaine Hullihen : The American west, the rolling hills of Scotland. Nature holds an unspeakable amount of beauty. In my opinion it’s beauty, in both creation and destruction, is paramount.

What is the most important thing you’ve ever seen?

Elaine Hullihen : The important thing I have seen happens over and over again. It happens when you witness very real and very poignant connections. It happens between people when a cycle is broken and one person is able to connect with another and find more than common ground, but community. It happens when a person suddenly discovers the essence of life in his or her own body. It happens when confronted with a breathtaking landscape, one realizes the self. It happens when we live our lives in a mindful and genuine way. It happens when we acknowledge life that has departed from a body. It seems to be a sort of rarity between and in certain people or groups. Either way when you notice it-take notice!

Elaine Hullihen's artifacts sent to Olga Ziemska, 2011

Quote: “Every cell in the body holds consciousness” (from somewhere I don’tremember where) What do you think?

Elaine Hullihen: An interesting idea. If every cell holds consciousness and we loose gazillions of cells all the time and gazillions of cells are being regenerated all the time then consciousness is a mover and a shaker. I have heard that every seven years our cells have fully transformed. The same consciousness is in my body now that was there 7 years ago (even though I feel like a different person, those changes are different). So that means my body is ever undulating, morphing through this sort of central thing that keeps it all together. Consciousness is like a pool of water and my cells are the fish swimming through it.

Detail of artifacts from Elaine Hullihen to Olga Ziemska, 2011

What can art do for the world today? –or- what place does art have in the world today?

Elaine Hullihen: Olga-you answered this question so beautifully. Ideally, art is a way of discovering your own convictions, engaging others in conversation, and inspiring the development of an idea for some sort of benefit. Art can potentially be a way of showing off. A way of creating a cultural hierarchy. A way of setting others up to fall short of the image. Or a way of proving the worth of one’s existence.

If the artist statement you wrote today- Let’s say you wrote one today- played a song, what would it sound like? What instruments would we hear? Who is playing those instruments? Same question: wrote a book? Play? Newspaper?

Elaine Hullihen : A scraggly but strong old woman stands on top of a lush green hill playing the bagpipes. Her solo pierces the atmosphere as the sun rises. Birds flock around and sing along. Their song is caressed by the wind. This scene plays in the background as we peer over a highway that zooms with cars.

Detail of artifacts sent from Elaine Hullihen to Olga Ziemska, 2011

Olga’s Questions for Elaine: Answered by Olga

What is your earliest creative memory?

Olga Ziemska: One of my earliest creative memories is sitting alone in my backyard, spending hours sifting through the grass looking for four, five, and six leaf clovers. One time I found over thirty in one sitting. I would press and dry these
found treasures in my mom’s books. Also I remember frequently organizing and reorganizing my bookshelf in my room which housed all my books, crayons, stuffed animals and toys.

Packet of artifacts sent from Olga Ziemska to Elaine Hullihen, 2011

What piece that you have made are you most connected to and why?

Olga Ziemska: I find that I feel more connected to a piece, if upon completion, I seem to have an out of body experience viewing it, where for a moment I forget that I made it. It seems the further outside my body that I can experience a piece that I
have made, the closer I feel to it. This does not happen always, but I am always surprised and slightly stunned when it does.

Artifacts sent from Olga Ziemska to Elaine Hullihen, 2011

Describe your working process from idea generation to physical manifestation.

Olga Ziemska: My working process starts with a lot of living and thinking. I very much feel that the research phase is the most important and lengthy part of creating
work. I follow points of interest & fascination and examine each concept, idea or material thoroughly, with many trips to information libraries both in person and online. I liken it to an archeological dig through recorded and intuitive history. During this time & process various connections are or are not made. I usually start to create work once a connective flow and conversation emerges among the ideas of interest. I find that the physical part of making work goes quickly after enough time has been given to incubating and understanding an idea.

Detail photo of artifacts sent from Olga Ziemska to Elaine Hullihen, 2011

What is the importance of the human body to your work and why?
Olga Ziemska: The human body serves as an entry point to the world around me- physically, emotionally, intuitively, intellectually I use my body to understand. I am
fascinated with the idea of the space inbetween. I suppose I consider the human body a neutral, permeable, and flexible membrane that exists between the inner and outer. I enjoy exploring its presence, function and seeming necessity.

List five focus points in your work in five words…
Olga Ziemska:

In five words:
Art as an extended hand.

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