APC: Monster and demon iconographies have been present in your work for a while. I’m guessing that links to your degree in Folklore and Religious studies. When did you start mixing that background with elements from popular culture?
HH: I was raised by a Latvian grandmother who had a very witchy vibe to her. Storytelling, interactions with the supernatural, rituals and the belief in ghosts were a normal part of our lives.
She would tell me that I was evil, so I developed early on this belief about myself that there was something really bad.
When I went into storytelling and folklore, I understood how stories operate and I built empathy for the witch character and for demonic characters. If I was going to be cast by my family as evil I wanted to ask myself what drives a person to act poorly.
APC: So you were developing sympathy for the devil.
HH: Exactly! And then I studied folklore and I saw how the devil or any kind of mysterious creature is talked about collectively to try to be deemed as unacceptable by society.
Also because of being taught that I was evil, when I was making works in grad school I aimed to make the most evil creature that I could make. Somehow it ended up being the most successful work. I realised I have a natural talent for channeling these demons. I developed little rituals around them and tried to think what is the being that actually existed in the piece.
The Navajo textile makers believe that the tapestries have a spirit in them and they always leave a path for the spirits to move through. I don’t think there is a path in my works. I want to contain that being within the piece, trap it.
APC: In a way you were able to twist that meaning. To reverse something that made you feel bad during your childhood, and make it empowering during your first years as an artist.
HH: Yes, it became a path of empowerment. I also wanted to get to a place of goodness for myself and put it outside of myself. Dual purpose, dual function.
APC: In that sense, you have mentioned that ‘Monster Milk’, a recurring creature in your works, is a reflection on the role you have been playing as an artist in generating these creatures.
HH: Being denied the option of having children, I look to the things I produce in my life that live beyond me. What are these monsters that go on to live their lives?
I’m feeding them. Milk for me is energy, it’s a nourishing thing that comes from the mother’s body to the creature they have given life to. It goes into sustaining and propagating mysterious monsters.
APC: We could talk about a parallel between reproduction and creation. In relation to the works you create, in previous conversations you said “I wonder what lives they live beyond me and what energies I am inviting into the world”. In that sense, what are your thoughts about the exercise of letting go of your works when they leave the studio?
HH: Every time I try to interact with the world I see it as an opportunity for intentional energy creation. Like when you are happy and you say hello to people and you are giving out pockets of energy. If artists are creating monsters that have contained negative energy or there is a darkness to the work, how do they have any responsibility towards the elements they put out there and go to live after?
It’s very interesting to me that there are tendrils of myself, very tangible tendrils that exist all over the space. I can have these physical markers on the map of the planet that are pieces of me and I can check in with them every now and then.
APC: You have mentioned that at this stage in your life, you are experiencing a lot of reproductive angst and that is reflected on a non-stop generation of images and creatures in the studio. We see creatures with multiple breasts, women breastfeeding or giving birth to dragons… Are these images a reflection of both your deep personal feelings and broader gender issues (such as the pressure directly or indirectly applied to women in their 30s)?
HH: When you choose to have a child, you have a lot of hope about it. You think they are going to bring good things into the world. Probably most women have babies in this mentality as opposed to: “I’m gonna create an evil baby!”.
I read stories of women that have regretted having children because they had this fantasy of what it would be and their children are aliens to them (they love them but don’t really understand them).
The pressure to reproduce feels traditional, but if we question that tradition, we wonder: has it ever been proven to be the right thing? We are getting into an overpopulated planet. Maybe we shouldn’t be having children if we want to keep the sustainability of the environment.
I feel there is a questioning of an otherwise unquestioned tradition. It’s an expectation linked to “it’s biology, you have this ability to reproduce and you just need to go there and multiply”, like a biblical concept. Don’t ask any questions.
APC: Let’s talk about pornography now. You works show sexually explicit images, combined with crude humour, and often recognisable cartoon characters. Tell me more about your choice of using such a domestic element as rugs as your main art support.
HH: Well, a lot of people have sex at home, you know?
When I started doing this in 2010, there was a different interest in the artworld, so I wanted to look where no one else was looking. There was this traditional [textile] craft where I was from and I could see the potential of it. I was working a lot with video games and the pixel art style was very popular at the time. The rugs I make are the analogue version of that. I saw a very direct dialogue with the digital aesthetic.
The possibility of the medium was very clear to me, and it was only being used to show a very docile and domestic image. I wanted to get a reaction and twist the screws in the “I really didn’t see this coming” type of way.
Now I’m trying to get to the limit of the medium and find some new roots. In some way this show is going to be a culmination of the previous work: very female and monster focused, questioning my own work in relation to the approach that I’ve been exploring this whole time.
APC: It’s interesting because you have entered traditionally male-dominated spaces such as videogames, technology and pornography through your works. So in a way you have hacked those spaces as a female artist.
HH: I’ve always had way more guy friends than women friends. A lot of that is me hanging out with them wanting to be as tough as them. If guys are going to be a certain type of way women are not expected to be, I have this competitive drive where I think, no, I can play too. Maybe this is not very feminist, but I just want to beat their level. I can be as shocking and provocative.
I did this piece with a comic artist called Johnny Ryan. His whole thing is being as shocking as possible and I did a piece with him. It shows a guy blowing his dick off with a gun. I think about that a lot and I have the work over the bed. I feel guys can act like this is really cool and be into it.
Comics are an easy way to digest. How horrific can you go in comics before crossing a line and how horrific can you go in a very soft and unassuming homemade texture?
Does this get a pass because it’s a soft, unassuming rug? Yeah. This is about the softness of the medium. How horrific can you go? It’s about the exploration of finding the limits of the medium.