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Interview with Artist-in-Residence: Hunter Foster | The Birdsell Project

Interview with Artist-in-Residence: Hunter Foster

Interview with Artist-in-Residence: Hunter Foster

19 July 2015,   By ,   0 Comments

By Leah Gallant

Hunter in the men’s locker room, his installation space at the Commerce Center.


In an earlier conversation you said something along the lines of, “I look at some relationships and object relationships through a lens of sex and sexuality.” There are a few objects, gestures, and materials that you work with a lot, including plungers, wrapped canvas paintings, and dog toys. What do plungers signify in your work, and how did you first start using them?

That’s kind of tricky, because at first I wanted to make something kind of pop, like an overgrown plunger. I wanted to make a thing that looked like a plunger, but used materials that would never be associated with one, and was too big for use. I wanted it to signify other things too, so I called it ‘Rose,’ and it kind of looks like a flower. I’m also interested, when it comes to reading sex and sexuality through objects, in the plunger as a domestic object that could be used for multiple purposes. For example, if a plunger sucks shit out of a toilet, what else can it suck? I’m using the art object to trace through a multiplicity of significations. This piece, through material and title, implies a kind of inside-out orientation of the body, a reversal, an insides pushed and forced out through a certain collapse. That kind of motion is similar to what happens in a toilet when it gets clogged. So I’m interested in what happens when the body gets turned inside out, when we see what’s not normally seen. And that might instill fear, shame, desire, pleasure, all of these things that are contradictory and unknowable. But that abject-ness is only signified in my work, it’s not represented.



Hunter Foster, Rose



Would you say these objects and images function as symbols?

No, they’re not symbols, they’re objects that signify. They’re objects that have a firm material presence in the world and the way the body approaches them. But in that encounter it also conjures up relationships between the body and the object and different objects and other bodies, that are both physical and textual. Their meanings bounce back and forth. Symbols work differently for me than that, their meaning seems more singular.

Your titles carry a lot of the meaning in the gap between the title and how the art object appears or what it’s made out of. 

I’m interested in how you used the word ‘gap.’ I use the title to cross and bridge a certain gap in relationship to the art object, but also to widen and complicate it. I usually want titles to point to an opposite direction than the work. I want to disrupt any kind of context the objects could be in to complicate any desire that the viewer might have in trying to connect a piece to a narrative. It also has a lot to do with fragmentation, which I think is pretty fundamental to how I find myself in relationship to a queer subjectivity. A drawing called ‘Bouquet’ that is shown with the rose piece, for example, is a drawing of a dog with a therapy cone, which itself is covered in drawings of roses. When I have an installation of separate works, I usually try to bridge connections between the works through titles. So the rose sculpture could point back to the dog drawing, and that could point back to that sculpture and then the other sculptures on the floor, which are called ‘Bulbs,’ and which is made out of actual plungers. I’m planting the viewers in this installation of objects, and there’s a cross-firing of signals going on all around them through the titles and materials.


Hunter Foster, Bouquet



How much do you want or expect the viewer to take away from the layers of meaning in your work?

Sometimes I have no idea. But I do hope that they will get a sense of a life and a sexuality and a gender that is very embodied and laden with desire, but that’s very complicated. The identity of the subject of the work isn’t stable, it’s precarious.

You mentioned that some of your influences include feminist fiber artists as well as more contemporary queer artists.  I read a lot of second wave feminist art as having a very explicit meaning—artists like Judy Chicago want the viewer to take away certain statements about sexuality, gender, and patriarchy. When I think of Robert Gober and Jim Hodges, it does seem like there’s a queer aesthetic that’s carried through certain motions, like making flower chains, or remaking household objects like sinks out of some other material, but their work is much less didactic—there’s a pretty big difference in terms of opening vs. closing questions, of making statements vs. more ambiguous gestures. What do you take from each of those art historical groupings?

It’s kind of all about context, right, Robert Gober probably wouldn’t have made that same work in the sixties and the seventies that he was making in the nineties. To annotate your question a little bit, I think I’m generally more influenced by the craft and fiber movement than I am specifically by second wave feminist art, although I am very influenced by body art and performance art in terms of centering the gendered body as political. In terms of the craft movement and the fiber movement, I’m interested in materials that are gendered and systematically devalued. And I’m interested in the historical moment of the fight they had to do, which is of course related to women’s labor, domestic labor, and reproductive labor. But I’m also interested in a different art historical vein that could be thought of as in the closet—Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelley, and others who made abstract and silent works but whose subjectivities aren’t often encouraged to be interpreted through the work. I’m interested in the idea that reading into a work like that is projecting and is not art historically valid. In their recent art historical work on queer abstraction, David Getsy and Jennifer Doyle say that positions the inside of the works as something that we don’t have access to.



Hunter Foster, Bulbs


What are your plans for your space at the Commerce Center, where you’re installing work in an abandoned men’s’ locker room?

I’m thinking about the architecture and design disparities between the men’s locker room and the women’s locker room. I’m working in what used to be an athletic club that was open in the late eighties and nineties, making gestural edits to the architecture of the space, and through placed objects in the space. The architecture seems to be designed for men to be social with each other, to be looking at and exposing their bodies to each other, and stands in stark contrast to what kinds of activities seem to permitted in the women’s locker room. I’m interested in the ways that architecture is shaped and shapes gendered bodies. One thing I’m doing is in the shower room I’m flipping every other tile on the floor upside down, and I’m flipping every other ceiling tile upside down, so you end up theoretically with a space that’s half upside down. I’m also planting a rose garden in the hot tub and turning that garden into a miniature sculpture park that will include replicas that I make of sculptures by queer artists in my cosmology.



The locker room in its initial state.


What, in the folly of your youth, is the worst art object you’ve ever made?

Sophomore year I was sticking a bunch of feathers through paintings. I was poking holes in paintings and sticking feathers right through them, and I was like, ‘why don’t you get it, this is brilliant,’ and no one really got it. I wanted them to fly! I was trying to give them wings.


Photo credit: Hunter Foster, Leah Gallant

For more of Hunter’s work, visit his website at http://www.hunterjfoster.com/ .