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Kosmos – History is Constructed

I willingly misinterpret, follow alternative paths and pursue false leads.

I love reading outmoded and discredited scientific theories — or about unusual belief-systems and secret societies. They illustrate the role our imaginations play in shaping our apprehension of the world. I try to instigate such misunderstandings, bringing seemingly disparate ideas together into new configurations to give rise to other possibilities.

The work κόσμος is an example of how one of my fictions unfolds — starting from the etymology of the word cosmetics which goes back to the Ancient Greek work κόσμος or ‘kosmos’ — that meant the orderly arrangement of both bodily adornment and the grand structure of the heavens. So I started to mix together elements of scientific cosmology, cosmetology and beauty journalism to create a fictitious archive that documents a ‘secret society’ of women who use cosmetic products and processes as a means of communicating with the cosmos. Alongside this I began working with cosmetics as a way to try and imagine the ritual practices of the group. These are what these photographs imagine.

Part I was a display that exhibited fragments of research exploring the history of this fictitious practice

I combined found images with those of historical artifacts to create a body of supporting evidence. This then started to form a pseudo-authoritative narrative that blurs fact and fiction. This illustrates the research processes that underpin my practice. I spend a long time collecting information from a range of sources such as the Internet, literature, reference books, films, hearsay — or memory. I put this information together into new configurations to look at how knowledge is produced and history is constructed.

Part I of κόσμος

I’m interested in how reality and fiction interfere with each other. Experiences of daily life inform my process: we constantly dip in and out of different media spaces and the stories they contain: the news, the internet, films, reference books, novels, TV etc — the amount of information we are surrounded by is increasing exponentially — breeding as much fiction as it does fact. By weaving together elements from these different spheres, my works could be seen as resulting fantasies of knowledge.

Part II of κόσμος are photographic representations of ‘rituals’ using cosmetics— referencing both personal beauty routines and astronomy equipment and methods.

I work in different media, often making ephemeral objects and interventions but I am increasingly drawn to photography as a means of recording them. The photograph, like any document, suggests a certain objectivity — purports to be truth or evidence of an external reality. For example, mirrors are integral to personal grooming and also the light gathering component within most major reflecting telescopes, their highly polished surfaces allowing us to see into the farthest reaches of outer space.

There is a meeting of narrative and conceptual strategies in my work. Through researching and writing I make collections of information around a subject or theme. Often it’s an intuitive process where something I read or see stands out and then become a nebulae around which a fiction grows. The different series I produce can look quite diverse but they all share themes of forgotten or hidden knowledge and depictions of the unknown.

I think of authoritative discourses such as history, science and religion as forms of narrative: human constructs that make more familiar a Universe that is otherwise vast and incomprehensible.

 

Part III focuses specifically on the mirror and the lens — the primary viewing components in both the camera and the telescope. Vision and intellect are turned upon themselves drawing attention to the act of looking and construction of knowledge. The mirror is a portal into other realms or worlds.

 

I’m interested in women’s history and how feminine tropes play out in culture, so I was drawn to cosmetics for related reasons. Also, as materials they’re really interesting — some have ingredients such as tiny mineral particles and crushed pearls that give special ‘light-reflecting’ properties. I build small-scale models or sets using relevant shapes and materials. I spent a long time photographing them with different lighting and gradually introducing/subtracting elements until something intriguing, almost magical happens on camera.

I want the viewer to become immersed or entranced in some way by the image so they might entertain the possibility of things beyond our immediate understanding and that what we think we know can be entirely fictional. I guess this is part of a larger overall strategy to critique bodies of knowledge and ways of understanding the world.

 

Part III of κόσμος

 

Artistically I’m inspired by early conceptual artists such as Art & Language and Susan Hiller. I’m also drawn to the narrative works of artists like Emma Kay’s ‘World View’ where she writes from memory the history of the world, Lindsay Seers, Taryn Simon, Katrina Palmer and the fictious archives of artists such as Jamie Shovlin. Literature and film are very important to me too — not just as inspiration but sometimes as source material — particularly the romance, horror and science fiction genres for their depictions and articulations of emotions and the unknown. I love the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe and H P Lovecraft — A Colour from Outer Space by the latter is a story I keep going back to –Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (and the film directed by Tarkovsky) as it suggests the limits of human understanding. For it’s heightened colour, beautiful sets and themes of witchcraft, Dario Argento’s Suspiria is also a key reference point for me.

We are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost. –Gaston Bachelard


Julie Hill

Julie Hill works across different media, from live art and installation to writing, print and sculpture. Sources of fact and fiction act as a springboards for installations or mise-en-scene that merge objects, texts and interventions to question the divide between the objective and the subjective, the real and the imagined.

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