University: Falmouth University
Genre: Therapeutic Self-Portraiture
Artist Statement: Body of Ours is an exploration of pain, pride and the idea of self. Documenting himself performing with a sculpture resembling a physical manifestation of the artist, Ollie Hayward has produced a body of work over the course of five sequences (the final being a video) that examine how each of us interact with the often complex ideas we have of ourselves. The insecurities we keep hidden from the world akin to something dirty to the more admirable and acceptable traits we wear like an armour upon our bodies, this project looks at the sensory ways of being. The sculpture is both beautiful and grotesque. It is approachable yet starkly uncanny and altogether alien. It is, however, fundamentally human.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? I initially started on a different course altogether which was a more fashion specific photography. I made the choice to move to BA photography at the end of first year because I wanted larger freedom to carry out the ideas in my head and I just felt unhappy and rather trapped on the course I was on. I would say that a defining moment would absolutely be that move and when I knew that it was going to be successful. I could let go of all of my stress and anxiety towards moving and make work which I had wanted to make for years but just didn’t know how to yet. That was a real high point for me and it has only felt like that has continued since then all the way up until now. I couldn’t have made any of the work I have now without taking that leap to move and that feels really liberating and a potent moment for me looking back.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I believe that my work falls under the poetic category of Therapeutic Self-Portraiture. Art has always been like a therapy for me, definitely.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? Within much of my work, the theme of identity is an obvious buzz word that could be applied and this is true but I focus on many different aspects of this. Queer theory and gender studies are massive inspirational starting points for me as it is something I identify with very closely. I also like to pick apart the human body in relation to gender and sexuality and present the figure in new, intriguing ways ultimately to dissect these points.
Tell us exactly how you went about making this work. To make Body of Ours, I had to first create the flesh sculptures. I constructed a series of “limbs” from various flesh coloured tights filled with pillow stuffing. I then sewed it all together. Initially I only made one but as the project developed I ended up making three in total, all of varying sizes. I adapted and tweaked them depending on the next shoot in hand. For the final video I just wore all three of them at once. They travelled some distance too, from Cornwall to Kent being the longest journey. Lord only knows what people must have thought when they saw me especially when we did a shoot at Bodmin Moor surrounded by a multitude of families walking their dogs! I shot myself with these sculptures in various different environments to display a wide range of atmospheres/moods throughout. You can see how this is most different in the change from urban environment in Sequence 2 into natural, almost ethereal, landscapes in the later sequences.
Who or what influenced you when making this series? The project developed from a few key points. I wanted to continue to explore queer culture, gender fluidity and gender identity that I had already explored in previous projects so that is where the idea for the flesh sculpture began to develop as a way of visualising this. Inspiration for this came from artists such as Sarah Lucas and Louise Bourgeois who deal with similar ideas and sculpture as well as always being just fantastic and constant inspirations.
I was also directly influenced by my own anxiety and personal struggles with my body and my identity as a queer person. At the time of making the project, Donald Trump had just got into office and this threw a lot of us, myself included. I was also moving through a period of depression and an emotional knot, if you like, with my own interpretation of my identity and so this project definitely became a way of dealing with that.
Where did your ideas for making this series arise from? I love to make work which is beautiful but also arresting. One of my favourite references ever is the scene from The Shining where Jack goes to find what is in room 237 only to see that demonic woman. The way in which the Kubrick captures the female figure move so slowly out of that bathtub is terrifying because it is so familiar yet entirely uncanny. The sculpture works in a similar way. I aim with my work to always critique and question society and ideas surrounding queer theory and identity using imagery which could be seen as both beautiful and grotesque. I believe that queer identities unnerve and scare people as they are unfamiliar and non-conforming. This is a strange feeling and I want to capture that isolation and the way in which I personally feel like much of an alien at times.
Tell us about the five sequences that make up Body of Ours? Why is the final sequence a video? I chose to split the project into fives sequences because they felt very much like separate documentations of time and a specific way of thinking for me. As I was beginning to finish the project, I felt like I wanted one more sequence which helped to capture the energy of the entire project. This became the video piece also know as Sequence 5. I was inspired by performance and dance and I aimed to create a hypnotic, dream-like closing to the whole project that felt a lot more celebratory and thus quite liberated after the journey through the previous darker sequences.
Has making this work improved your body confidence, personal struggles and anxiety? I would say yes, I do think it has improved. I have always and probably will always be super self-critical, it is just who I am. However, this project did teach me a valuable lesson that we should never give up on ourselves and there is always positive progress to be made somewhere, you just have to work to find it. This project grew like a tumour. It was painful, obstructive and obtuse but ultimately organic and very much part of an emotional process and response to the issues in which I needed to face. I believe that I know now to trust my instincts far more and therefore I hope I will be better equipped to deal with any anxiety or struggle in the future.
What's one vital thing you've learnt from creating this work? I have really learnt that I want to keep testing what photography is and to continue to push photography into the realms of fine art, installation and even sculpture in terms of my own work. I can see my work becoming further sculptural and three-dimensional as I progress as I love how immersive my more recent work has begun to feel due to these aspects.
Did you ever consider text to accompany your sequences? Do you think it could influence your viewer, either negatively or positively? I have a poem that I wrote and each line accompanies each sequence in turn. It reads:
I didn’t know you;
I didn’t understand you;
Foreign body that I find;
But you were just each of us;
Body of Ours, Body of Mine.
I mean it is pretty low key but I believe that it subtly highlights the journey/narrative of liberation from start to finish through each sequence. I do think that you may need to understand the backstory behind the work to fully grasp what you are looking at but I think that part of the beauty of the work is how ambiguous it is and I have enjoyed the variety of responses I have got so far, both some understanding and some more unsure. So in answer to the question, yes and no. I think that with text you can better understand my own story and relation to the work but without text you can apply your own idea of how we should govern our identities and our bodies in society and this is something which is very fascinating to me.
What does the future hold for your work? My aim, above everything, is absolutely to keep making work. I want nothing more. Art means so much to me and finishing university is terrifying but this is not going to stop me and ultimately the next chapter has to begin. I already have quite a few plans and initial ideas as to what I want to explore with a new body of work. I just need to take some time off before that to save for some equipment and a better camera to shoot it all on but once that is done then my mind will be solidly focused on the new project and I am looking to begin shooting beginning of September. I guess after that it is just up to me to get the work out there as much as possible and continue to build a career around this. It is my dream and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen. So in theory, the future is upwards from here.