Interview with Oliver Hickmet, Artist in The Catlin Guide 2015

The UK’s most talented new artists appear in the much-anticipated sixth edition of The Catlin Guide. Over the years the volume has become an indispensable reference for followers of contemporary art. The publication highlights prevailing and future trends, and has become a collectable item in its own right. Oliver Hickmet’s work is due to appear at the London Art Fair on The Catlin Guide stand. He speaks to Aesthetica about the origins of a new piece and the illusion of reality.

A: How does it feel to be part of The Catlin Guide 2015?
It was a good surprise. Catlin have created an interesting platform for early career practitioners, and most importantly they’re doing it for the right reasons. After I graduated in June it was important for me to continue working with new people and to show my work in situations where it would be raising the discussion I had intended it to. When I work with others and we share our languages unexpected things occur, which leads to new ideas for all of us involved. Working with Catlin and other projects such as the residency I was awarded since graduating has allowed me to keep on holding these discussions – so it’s been a really positive thing.

A: What is the starting point for a new work?
I start with a set of questions that develop into a project. Each of the works that comes out of the project is a way for me to understand those questions. I visit sites and gather pieces of content – photographs, physical material, video footage, sound recordings – that hold the qualities I’m looking for, and then take that whole mix of things back into the studio and start reworking it. From this I develop the works through a process of playing and thinking, pulling things together and intuitively looking for things I feel hold something. I work through constant experimentation, trying to find a language that functions in holding the dialogue I am trying to create with the project; this is the most important part of it all for me. Getting that balance is the challenge, to think it through but to not over think and allow for the freedom that play allows in my practice. My key point when I’m developing a project is keeping myself open, giving myself the freedom to make mistakes and not thinking in terms of right or wrong. If you consider a mistake as something not doing what you wanted it to do, then what can happen is it opens up a whole new language or method of approach that I didn’t consider before – the trick is being open to it all. It’s a negotiation in my mind between knowing and not knowing, looking for a response in the works that can suddenly reveal how the game works and what rules it plays by.

A: You are interested in the illusion of reality, how do you reflect this in your art?
That’s an interesting way of phrasing it because for me each of my works acts as a reflection of reality itself. I’m interested in how we are remaking the world under human imagination where places are packaged as destination concepts, existing as images that we’ve cultivated. Their identity is represented by the global content that ceaselessly flows through them; they are branded and disseminated through online sources becoming sweets in the tourist travel shop. Specifically, I address the discrepancy between how things appear on the surface and what they actually are. The qualities of a place are conjured in the mind as you read the initial surface it presents you with, generating a united impression drawing from the real and the imaginary – this is where the reflex exists between it’s appearance and condition. I use my practice to understand how we have remade the world, by gathering its sensory and imaginative excess and presenting it under a new condition.

A: What do you want audiences to take from your work?
With each work I aim to give the audience the tools they can use to discover and understand the subject I’m addressing with that project. I want to open up a space for people to experience a reformed condition of what we experience in everyday life, and to take the questions the project raises back out into the world with them and hopefully see it in a slightly different light. I think its important to let the audience navigate that territory in their own way, so I never want to set out definitive summary of what each project and the works in it should be read as. I prefer to act as a guide, creating a situation for the viewer to enter and to allow them to interpret their own thoughts and reflections on what they imagine when looking at the works. I find listening to people’s interpretations after they’ve seen a project really important; each time I learn something new from them that helps me understand how we relate to things – everyone in this world knows something you don’t.

A: What do you have planned for next?
My intention now is to continue developing the project I started during my residency in Turin where I began to explore how that new landscape around me had been cultivated; where it’s many layers of culture and history seemed to exist together under an umbrella of touristic pleasure. I’ve just moved into a new studio where I’m now focusing on expanding my language using a range of interwoven media to discuss the project in different forms. I want to create a territory for my practice where my works are bound together in the way they deliver an effect or feeling – by how they function. Not just as objects, which would be falling into the trap of reification, but as mediums of experience. With this project I’m aiming to break the logic of the spectacle around the tourists gaze, I hope the works will help restore the world as an experience to be lived.

The Catlin Guide 2015 | New Artists in the UK will be available on The Catlin Guide stand P25 in the Art Projects section of the London Art Fair, 21-25 January, 2015. The shortlist for the Catlin Art Prize will be announced in March, and the exhibition will take place 7-30 May 2015

1. Oliver Hickmet A Foreboding Scene of Impending Happiness 2014 Acrylic & varnish on canvas, masonry screws, photographic billboard, print 520cm x 280cm high res copy.