Voyager Journal
Right There With Her Subject: talking with (for now) San Francisco-based artist, Hilde Lynn

Hello and welcome to the second installation of profiling the incredible talent that makes Revolver possible. This time around I had the chance to talk with up and coming artist, Hilde Lynn. For now you can find Hilde setting the stage at Revolver and Voyager, and I suspect hers is a name you will hear aligned with the heavy hitters of the arts community, both in San Francisco and abroad. Keep your sights set on this one.

How do you align yourself in the context of the "Art World"? You are pretty much a native Californian, do you feel like a "Californian Artist"? Are you a "Performance Artist", an "Interventionist Artist", "Feminist Artist", or do you choose to eschew such labels?

Hmmm. Well, there's this elusive thing I hear about called the "Art World" and with that comes an "Art Market" which in turn seems to dictate the History of Art. Ufff. Idealistically and intellectually, I think art making in the contemporary sense should have very little do with stacking your portfolio and securing investments with blue chip art, but I'm also not a business person and I'm not old. I'm well aware that doe eyed creatures like me make naive criticisms of systems we'll eventually reproduce so I'll save that for another time. I will say this though, I think money is a lousy way of keeping score of things. 

In terms of how I am branded or can be branded, I'm not really so sure. Yes, I'm a Feminist. Yes, I live in California. Yes, I am a cosmopolitan. Yes, I'm of the Millennial/Facebook generation. Yes, I interact with my audience and "perform." Yes, I went to San Francisco Art Institute and I have a long lineage of artists who have preceded me. I guess at some point someone will need to make a few hashtags or catch phrases to make me memorable to a larger audience. My friend from school and I recently made this powerpoint presentation called "The Art You Like and (How it Emotionally Resonates.") I went through dozens of works and artists that you're basically forced to memorize during art school. It becomes like a mantra to name drop and cross reference.  We were dying laughing when we'd say out loud how we actually remember each artist. For example, Paul McCarthy just said "Ketchup and shit. He's a male genius." Vienna Actionism was something like "my sexual nightmares." Terrence Koh's salt installation was "Cocaine mountain." I've thought a lot about the process of learning and the tons of neuroscience that is now proving that we remember through emotional conditioning. Learning is a delicate and almost uncontrollable process. I think that is why the process of naming and branding can be so problematic for something like art. 

I fantasize about shaving my head and getting a snake tattoo around my skull. Maybe art students of the future will just remember me as "that medusa chick." 

You have spent a great deal of time in Scandinavia. Do you feel like a "Scandinavian Artist"? 

Ha ha. No, I don't consider myself a Scandinavian artist. However, I did live in that part of the world during very formative periods of my life. I moved to Oslo when I was 22 and basically "grew up" ideologically as well as politically. I lived in Russian  back in 1994/95 just after the USSR crumbled and I witnessed the failure of communism but living in Scandinavia and seeing a social democracy that (for the moment) is in tact and thriving really changed the way I see the world. 

How has living in Scandinavia impacted your art?

Here's an example:

I studied for six months in Gothenburg at Valand Academy of Art. It was the middle of the winter, it was dark, and I knew absolutely no one. I sat in my studio for days and days not really knowing what to do with myself. It felt like depression (maybe it was depression?) You see, Swedes close like flowers in the winter. It was impossible to make friends so I began obsessing over my limited social interactions during those short winter days. I thought a lot about performing "Swedish-ness" and wondered if I could ever jail break their social codes or if I was destined to be the clumsy foreigner always on the outside. 

Meanwhile, I found out that Greta Garbo is considered to be the patron saint of Gothenburg. Her international fame and Hollywood career was due largely to her ability to control her facial expressions with extreme precision while maintaing an air of nuance and mystery. Her personal life was also very interesting to me as she achieved a high level of success and then just basically walked away from it all one day to become a recluse in New York City. Paradoxically, I felt like I was living the inverse of her life. I came from California into Sweden and was forced into solitude. I felt like I could control very little of the way I was perceived because I did not know how to read into Swedish social cues. They are much more nuanced than Americans, I can tell you that! At the end of Garbo's career, many people were speculating that she was too sophisticated for American audiences as she was not a sex icon per se nor was she a comedic actress in the obvious sense. She performed her last screen test shortly after WWII had ended and she was told that she was too old and unreadable to American audiences, so she quit, just like that. 

I watched this screen test over and over.  I found her face evocative with this intoxicating ability to transcend culture. I began to memorize this performance and try performing it myself. She was impossible to keep up with so I slowed it down and noted every single movement and emotion that came across her face. I was reading Paul Ekman's Emotions Revealed at the time so I had tons of ideas about the different psychological states she would throw herself in and out of. I finally got up the nerve to film myself performing Garbo. I thought it looked great. I thought "I look pretty fucking Swedish there. They gotta love me." When it was screened at a show, people rushed up to me and complimented me on how much I remind them of  Marilyn Monroe. Basically, my entire hypothesis crashed. No, they could not take me serious. No, I could not play with readable nuances the way I wanted to. It was all exhilarating and frustrating simultaneously.  I decided to let it be. Ironically, I made zero friends when I lived in Sweden but my four closest friends in San Francisco are Swedish. They tell me all the time that I am not an American. I don't think I'll figure that one out anytime soon. 

Your artistic practice tends to manifest itself in performative and interventionist ways (I'm thinking about "Take My Scars" and "Stinky Pinky's Nail Salon") Can you elaborate on these projects for our readers who are not familiar with your work? Any new projects brewing that you'd like to divulge?

Those are my two largest collaborative projects to date. 

Charles Papillo and I started Take My Scars for two reasons. 1) We were obsessed with Nev Campbell in The Craft (She was our mascot.) 2) We were obsessed with the idea of advice hotlines; Who the fuck are these people that dole out advice and who are the people who actually take it? Charles and I give each other advice all the time so we thought maybe we could give advice to strangers. People called for an array of reason, some serious, most not. We also got to use some of our alter egos as characters. The advice varied based on who we were when we gave out the advice.  We recorded all of the conversations and eventually we'll make some music with it. 


Stinky Pinkies, I did with Quintessa Matranga. It all started because we were becoming friends and doing girly stuff like painting each others nails. We thought it was amazing how good you felt during the process and how happy you felt after. We treated each nail bed like a little canvas so each nail was different. We were taking a class at the time with Sharon Grace who helped develop the internet back in the 70's. She was obsessed with ways to eliminate alienation and human suffering. Sharon totally inspired us. We decided to open up a guerilla-style free nail salon to basically make people feel good. It worked! What we would do is basically a group painting. We had two people sit down and cross arms so they'd be touching. Quintessa and I would get to paint both "customers" at the same time. Everyone loved it. We were surprised at how many men were down with the idea. People really opened up. We got serious,  gossiped, joked and cheered on everyone who sat down. People told us about their issues, deconstructed politics, bitched about their jobs, pontificated about love and we did the same. I learned so much and feel very grateful to have had so many interesting encounters with my community. (I'm mildly obsessed with Barbara Streisand as a person so if you google my name and her, you can see the ten portraits of B I painted on someone's nails.)


Your practice seems to drive home the idea of human interconnectedness and seemingly aims to create a space where people are forced to interact with one another and let down their guard in ways they wouldn't necessary be able to in the context of their usual, day-to-day lives. Do you feel like your art is successful at achieving this? How do you create an environment in which participants in your work agree to shed their inhibitions? Have you ever run into an instance where someone was an unwilling participant?

The complicated thing about one's own subjectivity is that you can never really know if you're 100% effective or not. I'm not sure if people understand the mechanisms I tamper with in order to get people to connect. Thus the reason that I want my art to at least be enjoyable and mildly entertaining. So maybe if the audience doesn't go home and think about their own human connections, at least their nails will look sexy. 

Last year I tried to create a public forum for people to develop a platform for discussing pornography as a cultural institution outside of morality. This was an epic flop. People can't seem to separate from pornography emotionally. I'm still thinking about this one.

When I want someone to shed their inhibitions, I am forced to shed my own. I think I got this basic concept at a very young age. I have a brother who is 13 months younger than me. I was always the "brave one" to do things first. My mom would ask me to try something and I would and then she'd say "Look Erik, Hilde is eating it and she likes it." He'd look at me and usually decide that if something was good enough for me then he should at least give it a shot. I uphold this principle in my  practice. I won't ask people to do anything that I wouldn't or haven't done myself. People have tried to accuse me of exploitation in the past and I love being able to remind them that I'm right there with my subject. 

I did another project with Quintessa Matranga a couple months ago called "Young at Love." We had ten women come into my studio to make out with their hands for the camera.  I went back to them a few weeks later and asked them to "teach me how to love you in two minutes or less." I wanted to make an audio recording of them going through this process verbally while watching them perform this masturbatory action . I thought the juxtaposition would make for an interesting portrait. One of the girls allowed me to film her French kissing her hand but would not talk to me about love. It was crazy-making. She was really stubborn. Due to some strange technologic fluke, we had to cut her out of the project entirely but I found it interesting that charm, intellect, begging and pleading were of no consequence. Its hard to work with humans sometimes.  

What do you feel is the greatest sacrifice artists must make in order to achieve their art? What has been yours?

I'll probably always be poor and frustrated. 

I'm poor now and its frustrating. (Mind you I just graduated a week ago so I probably don't know what I am talking about) 

Who are your favorite artists?

My favorite artists are my friends. Charles Papillo, Johanna Friedman, Elin Bengsston, Quintessa Matranga, Roxy Farhat, "Cookie" Kakan Irandoost, David Ohlsson, Dit-Cillin, my brother Erik Lynn and on and on. I was very close to George Kuchar and he has greatly influenced the way I treat my work and the people around me. 

Bigger-named people who I don't know but I really like include Rineke Dykstra, Nikki S. Lee, Candice Breitz, Trisha Donnelly; the list goes on...

What inspires your art these days?

I think the better question is "What are you obsessed with these days?" Right now I'm really kind of obsessed with the IDEA of being in love. I wonder if the currency of romantic love is sustainable in any practical application. We'll see where this one takes me. Ha! 

What's next?

I want to get to Berlin and make a film with my friend Hanne. She says she wrote a role that I was born to play. I'd like to be an actress for a while. Until then you'll find me interloping around SF. 

(All images here within courtesy of Hilde Lynn- all images copyright ©2012 Hilde Lynn / All Rights Reserved)

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