Hannah Epstein // Art && Code: Homemade, 1/16/2021
And we are back with our penultimate lecture for the Art&&Code Homemade festival of 2021: digital tools crafty approaches. And it's my great pleasure to introduce Hannah Epstein also known as hansky who is a fiber space artist. She integrates the traditional craft of rug hooking with digital technologies creating digitally augmented artifacts and interactive narrative installations or game installations. She joins us from her dual homes on the fringe of the internet and in a church she is renovating in rural Nova Scotia. Hannah Epstein. Hey so thank you Golan for that introduction and thank you for having me here for the Art&&Code Homemade conference festival.
My name is Hannah Epstein. I think something is weird with the- I think it's- I think it's just a bad connection. I made a backup video, so just like just uh play that until I figure out what's going on here. Hey my name is Hannah Epstein and I make art on the graveyard of the 21st century.
Okay let me just check my email here. Power bill no. Family no. Super scam no. Okay delete that. Okay finally. You've got mail [ __ ]. Oh Golan. Hey Hannah, this is uh- this is Golan Levin here. Oh hey Golan. You know, I never knew was it uh was it Hannah or Hanaah? I was never sure. It literally doesn't matter. So I was wondering if you maybe you would uh want to come to a presentation, this festival I'm doing. Okay I'll do it. Cool well that's uh that's
great. See you in cyberspace, I'm- I'm Golan Levin, bye. Homemade? Homemade like what does that even mean anymore? Literally everything is homemade now that we've been imprisoned. There even my sister, she's a lawyer, she's basically practicing law in a homemade courtroom while riding an underdesk elliptical. If only an artist with a lot of foresight did their 2017 MFA thesis show about this exact topic. Oh yeah, I did that. So I think I'm back now. I bring up my thesis project because I want to show that my work has been concerned with the concept of home. The
home is a threat to totalitarian power. It seeks for ways for you to open the door and let it in. The project was called 'Work from Home' and it started the family tn mock version of the Youtube family phenomenon where real families would upload content of their daily lives to Youtube, collect followers and likes and subscriptions, and basically cash in on advertising dollars. It seeks for ways for you to open the door and let it in show you next how I've actually been working from home for the majority of my working life pre any kind of pandemic. Hopefully throughout the talk you'll see how my experience in different home settings has affected work production. The last years of the home as an unadulterated space to launch critique you only need one. Take this footage you're watching: was shot in 2012 a couple years after I had moved to Toronto. I was living in a six-person rooming house and making a lot of rug hookings and
experimental video games. My home was a very direct launching pad to all of these projects and allowed me to find myself as an artist outside of the school system. So um I live here with six other people so there's like an array of things that have been collected over the years from other iterations of six people that have lived here. Once you put together this environment
maybe you would understand like the video games and art stuff that I make. It's unlivable like on a surface level and at the same time it's like the most heartwarming place I've ever lived. Welcome to psxe book. Welcome to psx ebook. The series of tests you are about to undertake are part of an
experimental prototype in consciousness mapping software. Cyborg is like- it's actually like a brainwashing mechanism. So we put it inside the back of a van, people would go in one at a time and they would answer a whole series of questions to create a model of your psyche. Unadulterated space to launch critique cyborg starred a charismatic techno cult leader, basically an Elon musk type who encouraged people to shed their meat husks and upload their and consciousness. Why you are here goal was to like really like put people into like a cube assaulted with sort of brainwashing tech pro-technology rhetoric the whole time. Hopefully I'm trying to get them to confront what it is to exist in a technological world. Enter Carnegie Mellon grad school was the first time I was making
work outside of the home the first time I had a studio. Inside the studio it was important to me to try and retain the essence of what it was that got me to grad school in the first place: the commodification of the homemade aesthetic and a military-industrial complex. So I made projects like Choose Your Own Adventure Clothing Destroy Evil which was an interactive installation. People were encouraged to destroy whatever they thought was evil. Or Shark and Hoop where people flew around these RC controlled sharks. I eventually started making these interactive rugs like here, feed the ducks. Hey um back again I just had to go change my clothes. So I think it's impossible to talk about
working from home without addressing the domestic situation we have in these circumstances. And for me my domestic situation changed drastically after graduate school. Home sweet home. Home is the place where women historically experience a lot of exploitation. I moved in with my boyfriend who had just sold his app company we lived half the time in a penthouse condo in Toronto and the other half in a modernist box in Venice beach L.A. Namaste. Personally, right now I have a multi-millionaire boyfriend and I have no money. This was actually a pretty creative time for me. I was able to put
together two solo shows. The first show was Monster World, and it sold out in a couple of days and was reviewed by the LA times. The second show was Do You Want a Free Trip to Outer Space. This is a show about from Hannah Epstein who's a Canadian-based artist and all the hook rugs that she made each one by herself illustrates her voyage to outer space and back to earth. Hooked rugs and video games as trojan horse style incursion technique into the cultural temple known as the art gallery. Superficially I had achieved success,
although I was experiencing a lot of isolation and loneliness that people now under the conditions of the pandemic and lockdown are starting to become familiar with. Sometimes I think about what it might be like if I was the rich one and my boyfriend was the poor one. Like what if I went to work and he stayed home all day and did some light dusting. Today's craft will be an extension of societal oppression into the domestic space. So I left with no solid ground stand on. I bounced around from new york to Iceland to Israel and Italy all while trying to put together my next solo show making bets in a burning house. The show was
definitely about me processing a breakup with a tech boy, but it also symbolically was meant to focus on culture's currently fraught relationship with its own Silicon Valley boyfriends. One room of the show had the handmade hanging on prison walls above a lava floor. In the second room you discover you've been under surveillance the whole time being watched by a camera that tracks you with an AI system. And all the works in the room are made by an AI.
I fed all the images of all the rugs I'd ever made into a generative adversarial network, and I had those printed and made into physical objects. Basically, realizing the AI's predictions there's nothing that's sacred to technology but it's insatiable desire for growth and consumption. The only handmade object is a worm whose tail points to a fake iPhone. If you were to pick it up, the home button would zap you: the snake in the virtual garden of Eden. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity. Yes,
gatherings of this park are not allowed. Please practice safe distancing at all times. Stay safe, stay home where we can keep an eye on you, right guys. And so yeah I was like basically this is the apocalypse. I need to get as far away
from any kind of densely populated city as possible, so Nova Scotia. And I need to like create this safe place so that when my friends are like escaping America because their country is collapsing I have a refuge I can offer them. What better place to build a refuge but a church? Driving down the coastal highway lighthouse route 3 you approach a tall white building. The home is a threat to totalitarian power. It seeks for ways for you to open the door and let it in. You approach a tall white building. Oh hey welcome to my church. Uh it's mostly like a church
studio. This is where I hang out and smoke cigarettes and read books. I wanted to try spray painting all the walls but that turned out to be a terrible idea. This is my collection of beach rocks that will eventually be an outdoor fire pit. This is where I've been doing a lot of the shooting for the video you've been watching so far. This is where the magic happens. Is it weird screen in front of a green screen. This is my like one attempt at a painting and I
nailed it. I still do a lot of rug hooking. I basically sit here and kind of imagine myself as a rug hooking priest and I imagine that the thing that I'm making is like my sermon. I want the new work to be as epic as possible I want to abuse as many sacred cows as I can and I want to playfully call out total losers. Yeah I also have a bit of a collection of
antique hooked rugs that I'm like starting to build this is. Hello hi- hi there. I'm just here. My aunt was down yesterday to look at a church cube, so obviously because I have a church it means I also have a graveyard of the 21st-century facebook, bitcoin, Netflix, Twitter. And actually, Amazon owns this graveyard, and they're still in power and I'm not going to say anything bad about them Grime's an Elon a life together and afterlife together okay like.
I'm sorry I don't hate technology. I really, you know, I don't- I use technology all the time. Like I'm shooting this on an iPhone. I am on the internet all day. I basically am constantly performing on Instagram. I have been integrating circuits into textiles to make them like react with sound when you touch them. I do a lot of projection mapping like I use technology. I just like see what's happening and I just don't want like any of the stuff that I make to be a party to like what is essentially a new type of feudalism that's arising, like the virtual empire where we're all these like peasants tilling the content fields. And I understand it's like an inescapable rubric at this point,
but it's like refused to really believe that. So basically if I was going to give some kind of conclusive statement it's that for me the idea of homemade is like really about making a home space what- that means to own your own space. This is like my inspiration. This is from the east coast and I think it's supposed to be like a Mexican style fighting mask or something. But like this is to me like is like the weirdest s*** ever, like that sense of like ignorance. Like I don't know what I'm making but I'm accidentally making something amazing. Okay wow Hannah- Hanaah uh Epstein- Epsteen... I don't really know. Um
wow that was uh definitely a unique take on the very simple ask for you to come here and talk about the homemade. So I guess my first question is... I'm Golan. right my first question Did I was having a heart attack. Did that work? I didn't watch it. It totally worked. Okay good because- Yeah no everyone everyone is in the chat. Yeah I was having
a total freak out thinking that it wasn't gonna work so. No no it totally worked, it totally worked. Everyone's here for you, everyone's here for you. That's pretty good I want to channel their questions which we have a good amount of time for. Can I just say that
I've like killed myself making this video and it's amazing like the questions I like we'll try to answer them but I feel very brain dead and incapable. So true, no it's good. It's clear you were up for some time to make that. Yeah, the curatorial committee is very proud. A simple technical question in a way: first question very simple one is what kind of time commitment is rug hooking? Do you do it by hand? How do you feel about tech for rug hooking like tufting guns? Yeah so rug hooking is definitely what I spend the majority of my time doing and so that means basically like anywhere from like three to six hours a day. So it's very labor intensive,
but in a way it's like a way of doing labor and leisure at the same time. So I'll be rug hooking, but I'll also be watching movies or listening to podcasts and just like consuming media as I'm doing this like slow process very much responding to and reacting to media. The tufting gun is something that I was initially very attracted to because it's sort of like the electric guitar and I feel like I'm playing acoustic. But I've sort of remained true to just like the handmade, the hand-hooked very like in touch with like this- like my body is the machine is like what I like to say. And so like feeling like very much in tune with like the body's power to create things and
not trying to like extend it to a tufting gun. I mean also like I didn't want to build a new frame and didn't want to like get the new material to do it. Like I'm sort of like steadfast in this methodology that I've already developed for myself. So there's a lot of questions about the church. Oh yeah. First of all Maddie whom you know asks does Amazon literally own the church?
There was a little bit of blurring of reality and irreality there. What's the deal? No that was just a joke to like imagine like a future. But yes sorry that was a joke question too. Do you actually have a graveyard? I do have a graveyard. I mean it's not my responsibility, but my neighbors are all dead so yeah. You live next to a graveyard, your property includes a graveyard? It doesn't fully include it, but like it's I mean- Is your property partially included it like borders onto it and there's like sections of it that are mine. But yeah like who really owns the graveyard. I like to call it the rave yard because like maybe
a big party there. What are your plans for the church? Okay so like I've been converting it into like a living space so you saw in the video there this guy coming in asking about the pews. And so the church was like full of pews obviously at the church, and I just had them all cut out and put on the front lawn. And so like it's been a way for me to get to know the neighbors. Like all the neighbors are stopping by and asking me if the pews are for sale, so that was like a real thing. So just like creating the studio getting it down to like very brass tacks and then also hopefully a residency, hopefully a gallery space. You know, these are all part of the plan. Residency sounds great. How did you start rug hooking? It's unique yeah. So I did my undergrad in folklore
and then like in Canada, and then I decided I needed a real skill. So I learned how to rug hook. And so that was like when I was 25. I went to a woman. She opened the door and she was like so you're the new hooker? And she brought me into her basement and taught me the one skill I've been using since then. So yeah from 25 I'm now 35. It's been 10 years of rug hooking. But in growing up
in Nova Scotia you mentioned to me that you had rug hooking artifacts around you. Yeah like it's a traditional craft. So it's here everywhere in people's homes. They just sort of take for granted just the imagery is more typically like these really sweet like pastoral scenes of like a little house or like a chicken and welcome mats. They're not like naked James Franco. How has the church and or Covid informed your recent most work? Okay well like I- some of the work is a very much like direct response to Covid. Like I have one
piece where there's like Chinese lettering and translates to like 'there's nothing to see.' And there's like a woman dancing in front of like a giant pile of skulls. And so like that's like a very direct like response to like our current situation. But I mean I like I'm trying to say in the video like I've been working from home for a long time. So
the situation everyone's complaining about like isolation they feel this is something that I've been going through for a long time. You just get crazier is basically my advice from someone who's been doing it for a while. The projection mapping on the church, is it indoors or outdoors? Outdoors. How are your neighbors enjoying that? Loving it. So I'm like right on this thing called Rails to Trails which is where they converted all the old train tracks to hiking trails. But like because I'm in the country, it's a lot of people on ATVs like real yahoo types. And so they're like zooming by and then basically put on these like shows for them. And they'll stop and they'll like
honk a little bit. You mentioned that you have a church bell. Do you ring the bell when you do the augmented projections on your church? Oh, I should. I should. No, I rang it on New Year's Eve and, you know, some special occasions but yeah. Kelly Heaton asks a question I don't completely understand. Have you explored hooking an ouija board rug? Oh no but that's really interesting.
I definitely like to do a lot of projects that interact with like the spiritual magical like energy realms and so yeah. You all should meet. Yeah hit me up. I think there there is such a wonderful wealth of things on the- have you been to the discord? Have you seen the- I just like put my phone away and I was like just pacing like hoping the video works. So yeah so we have a discord channel that if you drop in you'll be able to see much more about it for sure. Maddie asks do you foresee collaborations with your neighbors? Hmm yes actually. So I've been playing some online chess recently. So like chess has like reemerged
in my life and there's a folk artist around the corner who like makes these like large wooden sculptures. So I was joking about maybe setting up like a sort of chess board in my backyard and having him build and then having a surveillance camera, because I have an outdoor surveillance camera, like set up above the chessboard so you can sort of like log in from your phone and like have the overhead view of the outdoor chessboard from the surveillance systems. Other questions. What's been your favorite content to consume lately while making? Have you been watching Queen's Gambit or-? I did watch that, yes. That's like part of the inspiration for playing. I mean I love podcasts. I listen to a lot of Red Scare. It's horrible that Ana Kassian was
de-platformed from Twitter the same time as Trump, you know. And yeah so Red Scare. And Tim Dillon, I really like him. He's like a conspiracy theory comedian, so yeah. Hannah you have set a new bar for a conference presentation. The audience can understand when I first heard that you were going to be making a video I was like oh no what's this. But I was assured by many
people I had nothing to worry about. And I'm so grateful for the incredible energy that you have put into this. In the discord, I guess we still have one more minute maybe. A quick question here is- just came in on my phone here. My fiber crafting partner wants to know if you do arm exercises to keep from getting them hurt? She's learned she has to pace herself. Sometimes, I mean I just like sort of stretch my wrists like that. Maybe wear like an elbow brace. But I'm kind
of like when the machine breaks down the practice breaks down, so yeah. Thank you so much for your incredible energy. You have a well-deserved rest. In just a few minutes, we're going to pick it up again with Kelly Anderson for our final presentation. And a big hand to Hannah. Thank you so much Hannah! And we will meet up again in about five minutes for Kelly Anderson's presentation. Thank you so much for having me. Really thanks for being open to this. You bet. Thank you good night.