Sadie Hennessy’s ‘Strange Hungers’

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The latest exhibition at the WW Gallery has succeeded in returning me to feminism in its wild and wicked exploration of ‘Strange Hungers’, particularly those which are most taboo. I interviewed Sadie about where the inspiration for her work comes from, and whether she considers herself a feminist artist. I wouldn’t usually ask any artist what their favourite piece of work was, but it felt acceptable with works like ‘Little Darlings’ and ‘Mother Love’ suggesting such disdainful affection.

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Sadie Hennessy’s ‘Strange Hungers’ is not the kind of quiet exhibition that needs to be teased apart or coaxed into the confession of its secrets. The show is a Freudian wonderland of sex and sexual suggestion which brazenly reveals all and joyfully pushes us towards the uncomfortably intimate. A series of censored prints are arranged on a high shelf as we enter the gallery as if they are x-rated magazines tucked away in a newsagents, a rocking horse has been reimagined as a sex toy, and even the most seemingly romantic and nostalgic of pieces, A Celebration of Old Roses (i-iv), have vaginas budding at the centre of their roses in a witty act of de-flowering. Sadie admits to being drawn to objects which are ‘a bit disturbing in some way’; her hybrid collages and assemblages make combinations which are unsettlingly surreal, and yet all of this wicked creativity is performed with an outrageous sense of fun and humour.

Can you explain your practice as an artist?

I use collage, print and assemblage to express my ideas. I like to reflect the things I encounter in my everyday life, my source material comes from the mundanity of everyday life, but ultimately I twist or subvert this. I aim to elicit a jolt of recognition with my work, but also a little gasp of surprise or distaste. I also like to use humour, usually from the blacker end of the comic spectrum.

Where does the inspiration for your work come from? 

God who knows? Just an over-active imagination and a febrile mind.  I am compelled to make work pretty much all of the time (or at least to be thinking about it .) Everything I do seems to ignite ideas in my head.

The exhibition text quotes you writing of ‘the (unanswered) mating call, or at least the rallying cry, of the aging woman as she grows old disgracefully.’ What made you want to explore lusts and desires, particularly those of older women?

As I’ve got older I’ve been made aware of how quickly ones ‘allure’, formerly taken for granted, evaporates.  I was warned of this, as I suppose many women are, but didn’t really understand it. I remember my mother talking of becoming ‘invisible’ after the age of 45 and I didn’t believe her – but it turns out, worse luck- that ‘mother is always right!’

Would you consider yourself a feminist artist? 

For me it would go without saying that I am a feminist and so therefore a feminist artist.  I can’t imagine that many women of my generation, having come of age in the 80’s, would see themselves otherwise.  I do think the goalposts have shifted for feminists, and the sexual arena is certainly one place where feminism seems to have muddied the waters of heterosexual desire/attraction making the whole rigmarole even more complex than it ever was.

What British cultural values are you seeking to examine or attack with this body of work? 

I’m not sure I would ever attack British cultural values.  I consider myself to be unbelievably lucky to live in this country at this point in history.  My work tends to celebrate a notional ‘Englishness’ but I take a rather tongue-in-cheek stance in relation to this.  I suppose I might be gently teasing a certain British prudery, the Mary Whitehouse brigade as they used to be known, and my ‘Place Mats’ might be sending up a certain twee suburban-ness, but on the whole I think if anything I’m celebrating Britishness in my work

Where does your interest in pornography in the show come from?

I am very interested in the absurdity of things that aren’t trying to be absurd.  That is where my interest in pornography stems from – for someone not especially interested in pornography, the whole pornographic world seems so perfunctory and silly (see ‘Genital-Free Porno’).  I love puncturing the bubble of importance that surrounds certain things; rituals, objects, people, in order to deflate the innate pomposity of them.

Do you have any favourites from the exhibition? 

That’s a funny question, like asking me which of my children I like best!  However, I have to say that I am particularly fond of ‘Big Night Out’ (Zimmer frame piece) because when I had finished it, it actually made me laugh out loud – and that can’t be bad can it?

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