Seán Hillen writes about the
work on these sites: (updated 2012)
for more recent interviews see NEWS section. Biography of Seán HIllen HERE
"Most all of my works have been 'traditional' scalpel-and-glue photomontages. The oldest
ones were made between 1983 and '93, were always based on one of my
own documentary photographs made in Northern Ireland, and were somehow
related to and to an extent engaged in, the northern conflict.
In 1982 I went to study and live in London, irregularly
travelling backwards and forwards and taking the photographs for the works.
I studied at the London College of Printing, a 'media' school, and then
at the Slade School of Fine Art.
I was born and grew up in Newry, a small but sometimes busy town just
on the northern side of the Irish Border. Situated just at the head
of the picturesque lough in the 'Gt.
Pyramids' picture, it has experienced more than enough of the 'troubles'.
In 1993 I moved to Dublin. A second body of works,
of 'Irelantis', were made between 1994 and '97, and were partly in response
to my desire to get away from the 'war', and make more overtly healing
works, as I used to say; pictures full of Love instead of Anxiety.
They are also different in using purely 'found' material, that is postcards,
magazine pictures etc., rather than my own prints from my own photographs which I had previously used.
What I do:
I do enjoy working in different media if I get a chance, so apart from collage,
I have made sculptural works on different
scales including monumental public sculpture, (while at the Slade even made some video / performance
work). I take occasional commissions, which have included stage design and
graphic design and advertisements. I have made music video for Sony and
designed TV title graphics for the BBC.
I also enjoy solving technical problems and have designed and built special props and effects for theatre companies.
I also do an increasing amount of lecturing and teaching in art schools and to a variety of groups.
About the photomontage work:
In the case of the earlier work, I suppose I was very
lucky, in that I had the motivation to make the montages, the material
in the photographs I'd been taking, and that the medium lends itself
perfectly to dialectic and political satire, which is what they are,
to some extent. I originally was taking straight photographs for exhibition
as a fine-art practice, and then began sort of 'embroidering' them with
found bits and pieces, but in the end I was taking the photos specifically
for use in montages.
It should be mentioned that all photography of the 'Security Forces'
was and is technically illegal, and actively discouraged, I was a few
times told where to go or what they'd do, and I usually tried to pretend
I was press, or 'just' an innocent art student...
Though the work was actively censored from exhibitions
on a number of occasions, the public there really
liked it and 'got' it, and it gained quite high exposure for a while, if not the real
attention I sort of hoped for.
It has been published in photographic magazines appearing
on the covers of 'Creative Camera' and of the 'Royal Photographic Journal'
Notably in the 1980's and since the UK's Imperial War Museum purchased several for their Permanent
Collection (and now, in 2012, they are on semi-permanent exhibition and in the collections of a number of museums).
At the same time though I had little interest in making or
for that matter experiencing polemic or didactic art, which comes from
a point of 'knowing better' than the viewer and telling one how it is.
I really wanted, while conveying my ideas and impressions, to make the
whole thing more open-handed, and that's partly why I like the rough collage construction, in
that you clearly see the way the thing is made, and that's part of it .
I believe they're to some extent 'thought experiments',
and adventures, trying out my ideas on myself and you rather than hitting
you over the head with them. They're definitely all meant to provoke
thought, and usually to make you laugh.
There's also an element in all the work of wanting to make something
that would stop you in your tracks, something you've never seen before,
again that's something I enjoy myself.
And of course they're jokes about how reality is constructed, and about
the possibility or likelihood that we don't agree on it, how multiple
interpretations of reality don't necessarily negate each other.
Work that I personally like and admire would often
be really serious comedy, from Jonathon Swift to Flann O'Brien to Kevin
McAleer, the Dadaists and John Heartfield to the philosopher Robert
I do believe there's some truth in the idea that a
good joke always contains some kernel of truth, although I remember
some quote from Oscar Wilde along the lines of that whatever statement
one can say that is the truth, then its opposite is probably also true.
There's a marvellous quote from Walter Benjamin that "convulsion of
the diaphragm usually provides better opportunities for thought than
convulsions of the soul"
I also like really good religious art which
carries conviction, from El Greco to Stanley Spencer to Pasolini to the Irish painter Patrick
I'm reminded also of Duchamp's remark that he made art primarily to
amuse himself, and then trusted to posterity, and can identify with
Of course I was coming from a 'fine art' background,
and certainly want(ed) them to be seen and taken in that context, if
only because all I really wanted in the end was to do really good art,
art that would 'give you something', (which is what I like as a punter
myself,) and for people to see it, and that was where it took me.
In many of the early works there's often a dynamic
of the business of the onlooker being somehow insulated by the frame,
windows etc. but also implicated or otherwise inadvertantly involved.
This is connected to the device I became aware of later (though I must
obviously been doing it instinctively), that I used a quite wide lens
for nearly all the photos. It meant that I had to get very close to,
if not right into whatever I was photographing, and also produced a
perspective effect in the pictures which kind of sucks you into the
It seems to work no less when mixed with other perspectives, and there's
a similar thing in that I often telescoped several high and vertiginous
viewpoints (though or perhaps because I don't like heights myself) into
a scene, producing what I've called 'roller-coaster' perspectives.
The Irelantis pictures began I think partly as a joke
about whether Ireland was 'civilised', a sort of development from the
'noble / savage' jokes.
I was originally toying with calling them 'Ancient Monuments In Ireland', and moving
monuments from around the world into Irish landscapes. Then I hit on
the Irelantis word, which while it has a bit of anxiety about it, also
is a licence for delightful imaginings.
They're also I suppose about the place of any place in the World, and
about the idea that Irishness was perhaps a state of mind- I also remember
being in my kitchen in London and hearing on the radio the song called
"If We Only Had Old Ireland Over Here", with a line that went "...if
only Sydney Harbour opened onto Galway Bay.."
There's often some disaster or catastrophe in progress,
but also an odd calmness while people go about their normal business
or look on curiously.
They also, I hope, have a far more 'visionary' and hopeful aspect; a
sense of immanence, of the magical and spritual aspects of reality leaking
out into public spectacle.
I hope you enjoy seeing them. "
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