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Anthea Hamilton: Inflatable love

INTERVIEW! Hamilton collaborates with fellow London-based artist (and life partner) Nicholas Byrne to fill the Schinkel Pavillon with inflatable sculptures in Love IV: Cold Shower on through Apr 10.

Image for Anthea Hamilton: Inflatable love
Photo by Maria Runarsdottir

Anthea Hamilton collaborates with fellow London-based artist (and life partner) Nicholas Byrne to fill the Schinkel Pavillon with inflatable sculptures in Love IV: Cold Shower.

Constantin Brâncuși’s 1913 “The Kiss” is the perfect reference, in a room full of references, for Hamilton and Byrne’s ongoing collaboration. In their exhibition, the surface of an inflated cube displays a photo of the sculpture: two bodies that embrace so tightly that even their eyeballs touch. It’s this intense act of seeing, both each other and the world, that emotionally and intellectually charges a room filled with flirtatiously absurd plastic inflatables. We sat down with Hamilton for the lowdown on the visual language she and Byrne continue to create together.

What attracted you and Nicholas to inflatables as an artistic medium?

I think it’s about the fact that they are spectacular and eyegrabbing, but at the same time they’re very approachable, like bouncy castles. The large black inflatable with the image of grapes on it has a sexiness to it, but it’s also friendly. The mouthpiece is funny, but you’re not really sure where the humour is pointed. Is it laughing, sticking its tongue out, sick, thirsty? These pieces feel like speech bubbles, or big icon buttons that you could press for more content, but there is also something very inert about them. 

It’s quite surreal to stand in a room next to a giant inflated cube with a photo of Turkish delight on it… Was your intention to create a dreamlike environment?

We both love the Magritte painting “Personal Values”, which is of a bedroom with a giant comb and giant shaving brush in it, and maybe that’s what this has become. In previous versions the spaces were really big, but these pieces might be perceived as too big for this space, so maybe that makes them a bit more surreal.

So does the Love in the title point directly to romantic love – between you and Nicholas, perhaps?

It does and doesn’t. I don’t think we would have been asked to collaborate with each other originally if we weren’t a couple who shared a studio at the time. But a lot of the things we have been looking at together seem to express these different types of love, everything from late 1960s utopian architecture built with a sort of ‘groovy’ love, to Robert Indiana’s “Love” sculpture. The figures in “The Kiss” are in love, and then there’s also this phallic love and fetishistic material. The idea of love is everywhere and nowhere. Like air.

How is it to collaborate with your partner?

We’ve both also collaborated with other artists, and I think in those situations it’s normally freer, because you don’t know the person that well. So it’s interesting to work with someone you know very well because you can start to understand what certain ideas or gestures suggest. I like this idea in comedy improv where you can’t say no. When you work by yourself you’re often saying no. You’re refining and editing yourself all the time. But this collaboration is a long improvisational conversation – there are nos, but also a lot of yeses as well. When you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, it has its own system. You have your own slang for everything. You develop your own dialect in a way, and maybe this work has its own dialect. We’d like to keep developing it, always.

LOVE IV: COLD SHOWER Through Apr 10 | Schinkel Pavillon, Oberwallstr. 1, Mitte, U-Bhf Hausvogteiplatz, Thu-Sun 12-18

Originally published in issue #147, March 2016.