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Emily Hesse | Woman's Work (2014).

Born in Middlesbrough in 1980, Emily Hesse has been practicing professionally as an artist in the
Tees Valley for the past five years. Her interdisciplinary practice spans Ceramics, Drawing,
Installation, Performance and Sculpture. Whilst there are unifying concepts between all of her
disciplines, particularly dissecting what it is to be human, there is also a certain rigour and labour
which permeates all of her works.
As paired writer to Hesse, I have witnessed a daily account of artistic activity previously withheld
from public scrutiny. Together we have participated in a dialogue, a sharing between practitioners
unfolding questions that generate the context for the works emergence and its very existence. I have
experienced the seeing and understanding of how art takes place examining the process, labour,
function and value in the work together with observing how the artists consider space as a medium
in which their ideas are visually phrased.
Previously to The Greenhouse Project, I researched and pinpointed four works of Hesse that I
thought were relevant and which clearly highlighted a line of enquiry. 2012's Now I am Tall
comprises a small wooden shed which was dramatically lit on the inside by a single bulb and lined
with fragments of old clothing which had belonged to her four children. The interior and exterior of
the shed offered opposing presences, nevertheless the work delivered an intimate experience for the
viewer. All That Remains, produced also in the same year, expatiates a childhood memory of sitting
at the dining table and being forced to eat a pheasant shot by her father. In this piece a replica bird
was hung above a sturdy wooden table heaped with local clay and within it an impression of the
artist's body. Both works demonstrate the inherent vulnerabilities and the innocence of childhood
from her perspective through into motherhood.
Moving forward a year into 2013, One Cannot Without Other appropriated found timber to
elucidate points of balance and tension within a relationship. The piece recognises neither can exist
without the other at that point in time. The work cannot stand without being perfectly balanced and
employs clay as an umbilical like attachment that cements a strong connection between the tilting
pieces of wood. Lastly, recent creation Rose Bowl (2014) is a striking and intimate vessel that
mimics the traditional ceramic object placed upon a shelf. The work is made from a (presumably
found) fishing net, which is filled with partially fired fragments of slip-coated underwear. This
intimate choice of material pokes questions at traditional ideas of femininity and identity.
The four works mentioned offer a common ground and glimpse into the artist's past, examinations
of how humans are constantly changing and how things become relevant at different times in our
lives. Keeping memories alive and story-telling creates a place for thought, emotion and experience.
Beyond this, these works raise questions as to what it is to be a woman, a daughter, a mother and a
Entering an exhibition space and finding myself charmed by the idiosyncrasies of a former life was
a refreshing experience. Once a Post Office, now decommissioned, the milieu for The Greenhouse
Project provides an interesting and unusual platform to exchange ideas and create work in. The
phenomenon of artist-initiated projects is by no means a new concept, but is still a niche for a new
wave of artists' activity. The surrounding industrial characteristics and architecture of the space
spawn the type of inspiration and palate for new and experimental art. Exhilarating is lack of
limitations and restrictions that are commonly bound to exhibition premises allowing the
opportunity for Emily Hesse, and other artists Annie O'Donnell and Phillip Larry, to create freely
and away from their usual working comfort zones.
On day one of the projects inception Hesse brought multiple buckets of locally dug clay from South
Gare, Redcar. Despite clay having been widely used by various artists of the twentieth century it
was the materiality that became of interest in this case because of its use and appropriation beyond
that of ceramics. Phenomenologically speaking, touch is absorbed into clay, leaving a trace of the
artist’s presence on its surface. As Merleau-Ponty suggests, in recognising these traces and imprints
as the marks of their maker, the viewer becomes conscious of his or her own hands and body. They
are therefore challenged to consider the role our bodies play in perceiving the world around us. By
locally sourcing the material we can also recognise how this resonates with a sense of home and the

artists ontological connection with the Earth.
The clay was thrown to the floor by Hesse from varying heights with both natural and forceful
actions quickly covering the area she chose to work within. The thin metal hanging rails, already a
part of the building's internal structure and attached to the ceiling were within the arms reach of the
artist. Emily described how this feature could work in relation with her piece as an external element.
The artist had collected and brought with her countless bed sheets, both her own and her family's,
including the unwashed one taken from her bed that morning. As she worked on her hands and
knees spreading and kneading the bed sheets like bread dough into the clay I looked on and
observed with intent unable to tear myself away from watching the work materialise. Like her
previous piece All That Remains, clay was used to represent the figurative and to feel a need to
wrestle with the material and be integrated with the form and the surface. “I feel the clay; I am the
clay, so to speak. I feel this in all my work, that I am the material and what I am doing is embracing
it and allowing it to take form”. Now more informed by her use of materials and methods we begin
to understand the requirements and the certain degree of skills in physical manual labour this work
takes to create. With poignancy the title Woman's Work becomes definitive and undeniable.
With many sheets covered, Hesse on her tiptoes and under great strain lifted them separately onto
the 'S' shaped hooks attached to the ceiling rails. The clay-ridden sheets hang, some like carcases of
meat, adopting sinister connotations the artist herself claims were unintentional. At this moment
Hesse became an observer as well as the observed and was able to physically and mentally refrain
from being embedded in her process allowing her to digest what she had created. Similarly, I began
to adopt a clearer stance. I had to ask myself what position I'd take? What is the key ingredient of a
sharing practitioner? Surely being curious and interactive without being threatening likewise
occasionally protruding, but easily ignored. This experience has nurtured how, as an active
practitioner myself, artists don't always fully understand what they have made. Questions and
observations can help us see on a conscious level what it is we have created. Hesse, as a testament
to herself, saw any questions she received as rhetoric rather than a criticism, highlighting how the
project itself was intended to act as a catalyst for discussion and collaboration, while providing an
intimate working space for the exchange of ideas.
The title Woman's Work provides the viewer with a dialogue reminiscent of 'Maintenance Art
Manifesto' written in 1969 by Mierle Laderman Ukeles which divided human labour into two
categories: development and maintenance. Ukeles writes, 'Development: pure individual creation;
the new; change; progress; advance; excitement; flight or fleeing. Maintenance: Keep the dual off
the pure individual creation; preserve the new; sustain the change; protect progress; defend and
prolong the advance: renew the excitement; repeat the flight.' For Ukele, art is not fixed and
complete but an on-going process that is connected to everyday life and her 'Manifesto for
Maintenance Art' proclaims the infection of art by everyday, mundane activities. In response to this,
Hesse deals in varying degrees of putatively private aspects of women's lives and experiences such
as motherhood, cleaning, cooking and entertaining. She spoke on many occasions about being a
mother, how her days are filled with household daily chores and how one might give value to these
chores. The appropriation of clay also allows us to consider literally and metaphorically the
significances of a woman getting her hands dirty and with household daily chores in mind how her
hands hold the capabilities to create and think differently.
These notions of domesticity hover over the work, never clearly spelled out but implied in both the
inclusions and exclusion of her actions, even the simplicity of hanging the bed sheets over the
suspended ceiling rails makes one think about pegging sheets out to dry. What became of further
interest, after viewing pictures of herself making the work, was that Hesse made comments on how
masculine she looked wearing a black t-shirt and shorts with her hair tied back, and what might be
viewed as significant, returned the following day wearing a dress.
This was a considered action which raised questions around the importance of portraying gender
existence in a distinctive and recognisable feminine style, an insight as to whether she saw this
work as a performance, how the relationship between contemporary sculpture, installation and
performance are interrelated and if wearing a dress was a necessity for her in the creation of the

With the work now near completion, multiple bed sheets were left untouched to dry, hung over and
extending from the rails, some holding clay creating pockets of intimacy whilst others trailed to the
floor. The functional bedsheets were now objects. A sense of everydayness was brought to the
forefront of my mind, highlighting the relationship between the functional and the non-functional what becomes disposable and what becomes precious. Perhaps we can even go as far as to think
about objects which have or have served a utilitarian purpose but are also capable of serving an
aesthetic, intimate and valuable part in the work's communication. In thought, we can also recognise
how this intense experience of a daily shift of work (9-4pm) becomes a labour intensive activity that
reflects the daily routine of a common worker, something so important to our fabric as humans.
Working as an artist you are always in a state of process and development. The discipline is in the
work that happens on a day to day basis. The research, writing, sketching, sculpting, painting,
creation of objects and experimentation that will eventually lead you into public work. The private
and public in the case of this project became somewhat blurred. I witnessed all art making during
my time at The Greenhouse Project as a type of performance, every action was a demonstration of
consciousness highlighting an inherent vulnerability through exposure of Hesse in this context. It
felt valuable to be reminded where good ideas and discussions derive from and brought back the
excitability of seeing and understanding how art takes place. Not only did the project have value by
importantly raising the profile of art practitioners working in this area but also questioned whether
the art produced during the time spent was in fact the conversations and exchange in dialogue
between the writer and artist as opposed to Emily Hesse's final piece, one which was created
throughout the working week and exhibited just in time for clocking off.
Written by Clare Nattress
Clare Nattress is a York based artist and writer specialising in the body, data, language and
information. Her practice explores the relevance and richness of the body in our increasingly
mediated world adopting both new media and scientific approaches. After completing an MA in
Fine Arts in 2012 she has since made works for The English National Ballet which featured in The
Telegraph (2013), Akzo Nobel Aerospace and Bellpenny as well as other London based clients. She
has previously been published both online and in print in magazines including One&Other, Neutral
Magazine, a-n Interface and Oui Performance. For updates on her works and writings see her

Emily Hesse's Website - []
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002) Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Routledge.
Molesworth, H. (2000) House Work and Art Work. In: S. Johnstone, 2008. The Everyday. Cambridge, Massachusetts. The MIT Press.
Slager, H (2010) Is the Medium the Message. [online] Available at:
research/mahkuzine1.html, (Accessed 5th August 2014).
Stitt, A & Welch F. (2009) SHIFTwork : Cathedral of Joy. New York. curcioprojects New York.
Ukeles Mierle-Laderman. (1969) Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969 wrote in Philadelphia, PA,
October 1969, credo.