I'd Like to Be Under the Sea

Hana Hillerova explains how she grew her 'Octopus's Garden'

<i>Octopus's Garden</i>
Octopus's Garden

In addition to being an artist and all-around cool human, Hana Hillerova is director of the Creative Research Laboratory and a lecturer at the Department of Art and Art History at UT. In connection with her latest installation, Octopus's Garden, currently on display at Fresh Up Club, the Chronicle corresponded with Hillerova, who was visiting family in her native Prague. Here are excerpts from that dialogue:

Austin Chronicle: What is the role of science in Octopus's Garden and in your work in general?

Hana Hillerova: Both my parents are chemical engineers, [so I] grew up with that mindset. You can read a lot about this in my statement. "My creative work incorporates ideas, images, and spaces from biology, architecture, and physics. My work has evolved from an initial investigation of growth patterns in nature to related concepts in architecture that introduce non-inert models of organization." [There's lots more.]

AC: I see a visual dialogue with popular culture motifs from the Sixties. Are there any ideals from that era that you admire, or is it just the visual character of the era?

HH: [I see in that era] a sense of freedom, like anything is possible. [It was] super exciting for sure; I got a whiff of that culture when I lived in Northern California with a bunch of hippies. ... Those were my second formative years. In my early 20s, I lived with a couple that were the same age as my parents, and they were like my second parents.

AC: What would you like people looking at your art to be thinking about?

HH: It should be an experience, seeing something that they haven't imagined before. I like to create a "surround" experience – something you can't see all at the same time. Also, [I'd like them to] get a sense of energy floating through the whole piece and also see how much fun it was to make. I am getting more into this lately; leaving the traces of the process there ... the duct tape and so on.

AC: There's a lot of audience participation, with this comfortable, funky, vintage brown sofa positioned so the viewer can actually sit right in the middle of this environment. Also, Dave Bryant said you guys had a food fight at the opening. I like the bright-colored candles on the smaller raised platform area. It's like some of the community altars you see, but more like an altar to the spirit of fun, if you know what I mean. To what extent is your art about play?

HH: It is a [form of] play for me to make it all not fall apart, like making a [house] of cards stand or something; it's all about making it happen from nothing, from cardboard and bags and balloons.

AC: What does an "Octopus's Garden" mean to you, apart from the obvious reference to the song?

HH: An octopus theme has been popping up everywhere for me. I saw some shunga prints of the Fisherman's Wife [having creative relations with] an octopus. ... Maybe the octopus is Kali – eight-handed destroyer.

AC: That one by Katsushika Hokusai? Holy smokes! I looked it up on the Web after you wrote me that, and it is really something to behold. Gorgeous! Uh, for adults only, kids.

HH: In my older artwork there is always a sense of weightlessness, no gravity, things flowing freely – underwater perhaps. Also, the theme of abundance, of a garden of Eden. So I thought, yeah, "Octopus's Garden." The one thing I still don't know what to think of is the colors. Whoa, I have never made anything that colorful.

AC: What's up with all those little sphere forms you made with the balloons and white garbage bags?

HH: I'm interested in the beginning of things – eggs – fecund – but it also may be some kind of infestation. It's the growth, but also the overgrowth; things getting out of hand and going terribly wrong, suffocation by balloons.

AC: I guess I wasn't the only one whose mom was freaked out by that. That whole suffocation and fertility thing has got to be somehow related to the whole female experience. end story

Octopus's Garden continues through Jan. 5 at the Fresh Up Club, 916 Springdale. The closing party for the installation will be Wednesday, Jan. 5, 6-9pm.

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Hana Hillerova, Octopus's Garden, Fresh Up Club, Creative Research Laboratory, UT Department of Art and Art History, Fisherman's Wife, Katsushika Hokusai

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