Hanne Friis was born in 1972 in Oslo and studied painting and sculpture at the Trondheim Academy of Art. Her textile sculptures are created with fabrics that are often dyed by her through experimentation and slow dyeing processes that give the material for her sculptures pictorial expressions of unpredictable effect. Using a strictly manual technique, Friis transforms a soft and fluffy material into abstract and sensual works, with a solid and complex structure that seem to be engaged in an autonomous, slow but inexorable process of perennial growth and change. As metaphors of the flow of life and the succession of events and phenomena that characterize it, her works are synthesis and representation of the ambiguity between form and matter.
Hanne Friis has exhibited in several solo and group exhibitions in many countries and her works appear in the permanent collections of – among others – the Haugar Art Museum, Tønsberg, the Norwegian Government in Oslo, the KODE Art Museum in Bergen, the National Museum in Oslo, as well as in numerous national and international private collections.
Shades in Black and Blue, 2014, Second hand denim, handstitched. Installation view, We Are Living on a Star, Henie Onstad Art Centre, 2014. Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen
All of your sculptures are amorphous yet deeply evocative. What are the themes on which it focuses your artistic research?
I have been working with the same themes since I was an art student, it´s all about how we as humans are connected to nature and as nature, we are constantly changing, which eventually leads us to death. It´s a kind of processing of this insight, that life and death is connected. In a way I´m trying to imitate life, or create new life through the sculptures.
Your works are complex and often of large size. Time and patient repetitiveness of gestures are certainly indispensable factors for achieving them. How did you come to choose the textile medium and especially in this slow and painstaking way? How many and which techniques do you use to carry out your work and to whom do you owe this specific training?
My background is in Fine Art with sculpture and painting, and my work evolved from this. As a student at the Art Academy I started to experiment with all kinds of flexible materials that I could shape with my own hands, I realized that to touch and sculpt with my own hands is essential to me. My sculptures and the techniques developed gradually in a more textile and craft-based direction. I work with several repetitive techniques, but the folding technique with a needle and nylon thread is my favourite technique, it´s in my fingers. Time is an important aspect of my work. I think I need this concentrated, slow and time consuming, but still energic and physical work to think and at the same time, not to think.
The Juice from The Trees, II, 2019. Natural dyed cotton canvas, hand stitched Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen
The materials you use for your work are all dyed by you. So, yours is also a research and experimentation on dyes and materials? Do you choose colours and materials on the base of the development of an idea or project or are they the dyes and materials that give rise to the idea of the work?
I get inspired very easily, by space, colours and materials. Very often I choose a material or a colour to a certain exhibition space, an idea or a commission.
For some years now I have been experimenting a lot with natural dyes in combination with different textile qualities. But I also use simple and “dead” material as plastic, rubber, second hand clothes, gore-tex and reflective fabrics, it depends on the specific project.
Topography, III, 2020. Natural dyed cotton canvas, hand stitched. Photo: Jannica Luoto/KRAFT
Colours are a fundamental component in your works. What role and what meaning do they have for you?
Colours have a physical impact on me, they contain a lot of information, associations and emotions. Some of my sculptures are monochrome, others in many different shades, but always within a limited scale, as in my paintings. Like materiality, colours are language, and I always choose colours consciously. The colours can be related to the place, the atmosphere and the existing colours in the room, or to a specific idea, sometimes both.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest difference from an artist’s point of view between making textile sculptures and sculpting hard materials?
Textile as a sculptural medium is very closely linked to the human body and skin. The material is vulnerable in several ways, it is not stable, which gives it a kind of tension. The flexibility makes the material come alive, the fact that it can constantly change. I like to play with the materiality by transforming the loose fabric into a compact mass, my sculptures are actually often quite hard.
Crater, detail, 2019. Natural dyed cotton canvas, hand stitched. Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen
How has your work evolved over time and how has it changed? What relationship do you have with your works over time? Is there any work you would never separate from and why?
I have a lifelong relationship with my sculptures, even if they are sold and out of sight, I carry them with me. I can get quite tired of them, and sometimes even ashamed, I need a break, but most of the time the shame disappears. I often rework my sculptures into new sculptures, time makes me see things more clearly and I find the transformation process interesting. I don’t need to have my sculptures around me physically. My favourite sculpture is always the sculpture I am working on at the moment.
Wave, 2021. Cotton canvas dyed by synthetic indigo, hand stitched. Photo: Tor Simensen Ultstein. Purchased by Haugaland Museum, Haugesund, Norway
What are the limits, difficulties and opportunities that have been created for those like you who work in the artistic field after the advent of the pandemic?
First, I don´t feel the pandemic is over yet. Some of my exhibitions and plans have been postponed, but I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to work in my studio during the pandemic. My everyday life is largely the same, I work as I usually do, but one feels more isolated and far away from the big world.
The pandemic made us understand how vulnerable and insecure everything is, even though I myself have been relatively safe and privileged, I have this apocalyptic feeling.