"Sublime Heat" by Sarah Hardacre
Our artist of the week: Sarah Hardacre
For contemporary printmaker Sarah Hardacre, it is her hometown of Salford, in the UK, that is very much her starting point. Her silkscreen prints combine images of post-war housing estates and tower blocks from local history archives, featuring cut-outs of shapely models from second-hand gentlemen's magazines.
The results are already in the collections of the British Council, the British Museum and the Irish Museum of Contemporary Art.
They are undeniably stirring and sensual, indicating the artist's keen interest in 20th century social history. Hardacre’s work also highlights the stark differences between Modernism's earliest utopian ideologies, and how they actually manifested in the lives of the working class community where she grew up.
A rapid rise to prominence...
Hardacre graduated from the BA (Hons) Visual Arts course at the University of Salford in 2008, commenting that, "I changed my life in a way that I never expected I would through university", and went on to become Studio Manager of the city's Hotbed Press.
She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including in the US, Ireland, Germany and Norway, with her print work being shown at international shows such as The London Original Print Fair, Ink Miami Art Fair and the IFPDA Print Fair in New York.
Compelling contrasts and techniques...
Much has been said about how the natural curves and sexuality of the scantily-dressed models in Hardacre's images play off against the rather colder, harsher backdrop of the functional, brutalist housing routinely used as a backdrop for her prints.
Various printing processes and references come together in Hardacre's work to create her singular aesthetic. All manner of print matter is both reproduced and reused in her work, with disparate elements being assembled into compelling wholes via the use of hand cutting and photocopying.
Hardacre starts with Xerox prints before manipulating their various elements, textures and tones, with many of these qualities dictated by specific machines in the archive.
Social utopia and sexual revolution...
But of course, for the viewer, it is the simple contrast between the alluringly sensuous models and the tough urban landscape that really 'makes' Hardacre's pieces. The former come from vintage publications sourced from back-street 'adult' shops, while the clippings of drab housing are courtesy of the Salford Local History Archive.
These very different elements haven't been brought together for the mere sake of it, the artist having signalled her interest in intimately journeying post-industrial landscapes as part of a highly personal and politically aware practice. By bringing together highly disassociated worlds, Hardacre seeks to tell untold stories, creating an interruption or Brechtian 'alienation effect' – making the familiar strange.
As Walter Benjamin stated in 'The Author as Producer', "the superimposed element disrupts the context in which it is inserted" - but more than that, Hardacre's pieces thoroughly consider the Modernist legacy, asking pertinent questions about - among so many other things - the application and reception of European Socialist and Soviet Communist ideals in Britain.
The artist as a woman...
The highly feminine motifs used in Hardacre's work, together with the 'macho', mass-produced utilitarian architecture on which they have been overlaid, have also inevitably prompted questions about how the artist's identity as a woman makes itself felt.
Hardacre has said that her work is powered by her "personal questioning of the roles of women within this new futuristic world of the home, specifically within the context of forever 'regenerating' working class communities.”
She has described the women in her prints as "almost representing my wonderings around these landscapes; together - deconstructing the worlds of beauty, economy and projected identities.” Of the explicit nature of the female imagery that she uses, she has added: "I think I can get away with it because I'm a woman."
A highly stimulating print practice...
Much of this naturally comes back to sex, which is, after all, anarchic, subversive, turbulent, wild and impossible for authorities to repress. In the words of Catherine Hakim, the writer of Honey Money: Why attractiveness is the key to success: "Sex was and remains the last thing the authorities cannot control, cannot take away from you."
But of course, her pieces are certainly not just about sex. That's because they're also about glamour, grit, modernism, social housing experiments, tower blocks and what all of these things mean when they inevitably clash in everyday life. They are informed by historical events and the decisions by power brokers that continue to dictate how we live.
It all makes for an ever-stimulating practice with as strong a sense of possibility as that of any other artist working today - and we can't wait to see in what territory the artist wanders next.