A conversation between Hayla Ragland and Krista Schoening on the topic of Ragland’s current show, /Sections.
KS: Many of these works refer explicitly or obliquely to the body. How do you envision the relationship between your work and the body?
HR: Dealings with illness have shaped my response to certain materials and processes. You uncover interesting things about wood and spandex when they start presenting you with physical challenges. I’ve been challenged by my body, absolutely, so now I approach materials with the same intuitive reasoning I’ve had to apply to my own sort of maintenance.
KS: In your sculptural work there is a tension between softness and rigidity — in some cases materials that we think of as rigid become pliable and in the case of Hide/Hide a material that appears soft is stretched to rigidity. What does this material paradox evoke for you?
HR: I’m really interested in limits and in some ways in geometry. I enjoy exploring the space between the facets of us which are organic and those which are purely mechanical. A lot of my research has been under the umbrella of disability aesthetics. It’s important to me that even works which are structurally sound express their vulnerability, so the soft gets paired with the hard, or the flexible with the rigid. It’s a formal tactic maybe? But it’s been critical to me lately, that the sculptures have the sense that they could be easily stretched, or broken, or destabilized by gravity. It’s their only agency. It makes them responsible for themselves. I’m drawn to that line of thinking.
KS: In your photographs of the glowing oven you show us an everyday appliance revealed as something both menacing and simultaneously useful, given its capacity to burn or to nourish, depending on how it is used. What draws you to this idea of contradictory or complex potentials? Does it influence the other work in this show?
HR: That’s precisely it. The warmth paradox! Red as a warning but also as warmth.
The oven photos were somewhat of a COVID response. When the heat isn’t working in my apartment, I’ll leave the oven open to get it warm enough to get to bed and then cut it off after I hop out of the shower. (The shower knob photographs didn’t make it into the show.) The photographs are about intimacy. I ran into a problem. Where to capture it with respect to how I was using it meant acknowledging how murky and menacing the oven actually appeared. Like it could swallow me whole or lead me to the underworld. And yet I’m cozied up next to this thing most nights. It was tough not to see a history of bad relationships in those images, and transpiring from there, the toll of months of isolation on my sense of what intimacy can be, where it can come from.
KS: Following from the last question, in this body of work there is both beauty and threat. Can you talk a bit about that dynamic?
HR: I think about it as maybe just aesthetic satisfaction coinciding with a failure potential? The potential to be disgusted or let known, the potential for an illusion to break, a potential to fear or be feared. I think they enhance each other, in the Freudian uncanny sense, but also in the base human sense. I’m excited by tension that is subtle, that might make you look twice at something that is visually rather simple.