Elias Hansen , Born in 1979, lives and works in upstate New York. His delicate blown-glass sculptures are presented alongside deteriorating found objects; neutralizing the contradictory status of the precious to the discarded and evoking a dialog between the histories of each object. Juxtapositioning the worn and the exquisite, Hansen’s elaborate structures resemble an ultimately dysfunctional meth lab, translating the idealism and escapism of the industry into a compelling visual language tinged with the secrecy and mystery.
- Jonathan Viner
Your work seems to be about the creative process, connecting the lines between daily life and art making. As well as, connecting the lines between sculpture, installation, ready-made and many other crafts like foraging, hunting, and glass blowing. Do you see foraging and hunting to be strong components in your work?
Elias Hansen - I try to let my work drift back and forth between my life and my studio, keeping a connection in the materials and ideas alive in both. When I lived on Vashon Island, WA, I spent a lot of time crabbing and walking the beach collecting rocks, shells and rusty metal. I made a lot of my sculptures on my porch where I kept my treasures and crab pots, so naturally those things found their way into my work. Since moving upstate New York, I have been spending more time hunting, foraging and collecting old farm tools, so this has started to make it's way into my current work. I try not to let them become central ideas in my work, but rather accents and accessories to a main theme of life and death, love and loss.
Have you always lived in the countryside? Would you be able to do your work somehow in a big city?
I thought it might be possible to live in the city at one time, but I think I am past that point. Maybe when I am quite a bit older and ready from some kind of change I could live part time in the city, but for now, it doesn't seem possible. I think if I lived in a city, I would need a 10,000 square foot warehouse with a parking garage. I really like my personal, private space, and I have trouble in the city when I'm not able to get to a place where I can sit and not see people. It's so difficult to find a place in a big city that feels private and quiet. I really enjoy the country side, and it's pretty important to me to be able to share that joy with my two daughters and awesome wife.
What is the relationship between the objects you manually produce and the objects you find and find or appropriate in your work?
Often, there is no difference. I try to blur the lines between objects I produce and appropriate, I think it allows the viewer to enjoy the work as a whole, rather than get stuck on one object. I think it also helps to question the value we place on certain objects. My hope is to raise the value of the appropriated objects, giving the viewer a moment of really appreciating the beauty of some of the found objects, and maybe even finding their own story within. At the same time, this can devalue the handmade object, which I think is important to level the playing field between objects and allow them all to be seen as they are. I really like junk and worn things, so some of this is just relaying my reverence for the discarded.
The various compositions including glass objects are reminiscent of test tubes and science experiments, which introduces a element of fiction into the work. How do you describe this line between reality and fiction in your work?
A lot of the objects in my work have a specific function, and this function begets a story line of a user. At times, I let these story lines stand out and become a part of the whole piece, creating connections between pieces so the viewer can see the hand of a person that may have just left the room for a minute. Other times, I keep the interactions minimal and allow the pieces to be more disjointed, forcing the viewer to make connections between objects that may not exist. The fiction is really created in the mind of the viewer, to me it is all reality.
You mentioned your parents used to build things like geodesic domes and also publish books. Have you ever collaborated on a project with your parents?
Our parents were actually book binders, they made traditional Italian journals and photo albums for other people to fill up. Oscar and I collaborated with our mother, Anna Linzer. She is an author and playwright, and we helped design the set for her play, River Story, a tragic story about a family in the Skagit River Delta in Washington State. We used to visit there a lot when I was a child, so it was a pretty special thing for Oscar and I to collaborate with her. Oscar is collaborating with our father, John Hansen on a compound in the woods on the Olympic Peninsula. They are both really special people and it's great to be able to spend as much time with them as we do.
How was your experience university, did you study art? What are your thoughts on not just art school, but education in general in America?
I went to Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. It was a very nice college. I studied book arts, printmaking, Japanese and economics. At the end of the 3rd year, I realized I wanted more hands on experience in the arts than I was getting. It didn't seem fair to be going so deep in debt for such little studio training. I was in very good standing academically, but my heart wasn't in it. So I found a job as a ranch hand in Montana and moved there to quiet my mind. Once quiet, I got on a motorcycle and went to New Orleans, where I started blowing glass. When I returned to the Northwest, I met Jorgen Harle, a blacksmith on Orcas Island. He told me to work for 30 different masters before I started making my own work. That was the most important thing I learned about making things. No one tells you that in school, no one does traditional apprenticeships anymore. I spent ten years working for as many different artists as possible to get myself to a place where I felt comfortable making my own work.
I think school is great, it's a really great opportunity to spend time with like minded individuals learning about yourself. But I also think there is a false sense that once you go through a program, especially a masters program, that you come out the other side with the ability to make interesting work. I think there needs to be more emphasis on studying with real world artists, not just the ones in university programs. And I think there are many older artists that could do a better job in training younger artists and offering them quality apprenticeships.
How was the experience at The Swiss, working as a beer taster?
Ha! You've done your homework! The Swiss was a bar down the street from my house in Tacoma, and I would pass it on my way home from work at the Tacoma Museum of Glass. Unfortunately, it was not a paid position, but I did taste many delicious beers! Over and over again! It was at that bar the I was taught by the a wonderful group of glass artists from the Czech that pilsner was really the best beer, and American pils had a long way to go. They could barely speak english, and I no Czech, but we had a wonderful time sharing many Pilsners.