Pop Up Pop Up: A Conversation with renowed Artist Hilary Powell
East London exhibition POP UP POP UP closes today courtesy of established artist Hilary Powell which brought a former industrial site in East London to life with a peek behind the scenes of a theatrical pop-up factory producing a limited run of artist Hilary Powell’s pop-up book Legend: An A-Z of the Lea Valley.
The installation space in East London was set up theatrically – is functional and populated by a team of uniformed pop-up apprentices busy putting together the books the artist have designed and invited visitors in to sample the skills and discuss the themes of the book. The book production was in association with London Centre for Book Arts.
The Fan Carpet‘s Marc Jason Ali had the pleasure of speaking to Hilary, in our in depth conversation she tells us about her influences, what she was hoping for with POP UP POP UP and what the future holds for her…
What drew you to pursue a career in Art, Was there one pivotal moment where you thought ‘this is what I want to do’?
I don’t know, I didn’t question it I did it through childhood and then I didn’t even think about it. I studied at university with other subjects and I had an enquiring mind that wasn’t just pigeon holed into creating images and art was just a way of combining it, being more open and structured to examine and investigate in all areas without being categorised. So I don’t know, but it’s why I wanted to be an artist, because you’re free to explore and learn whatever you want.
Can you talk about your influences?
I love Gordon Matta-Clark, an artist in America, he cuts up buildings and I like that, he cut up buildings and then he cut up the pictures of his buildings and working in industrial place landscapes, different materials, Robert Smithson is from that era too, he worked in industrial landscapes of New Jersey.
I love Cornelia Parker as well, a British sculptor, particularly when she blew up a shed.
And then there’s film like Wes Anderson films and Charlie Chaplin.
The Pop Up Pop Up exhibition is fascinating, can you tell us about the process and how you came to chose Stratford as the backdrop for your latest works?
It came about because I’ve been working in the lower Lea Valley for about ten years, documenting its changes really. made a film in 2007 called The Game, which staged a DIY Olympic on the site that was soon to be demolished, and since then, I was fascinated and obsessed with documenting the changes in the area.
I wanted to make Pop Up books because I felt that they represented urban change; with every turn of the page the buildings are deconstructed and reconstructed.
Over the last 3 years, I have been working in Stratford itself, on the site we are on now is a demolition site, and I’ve been documenting those changes, post Olympics, so this building that I chose to host the Pop Up Production line as part of that site.
We’re in here now, it’s a site of ten Pop Up apprentices, working to put together as many copies as they can of the A-Z of the Lower Lea Valley. So it’s twenty three spreads with six pop ups and four tunnel books, all depicting forgotten landmarks that have been discarded from the area, popping up from the pages, producing as many as we can over the course of three days. Bound and finished by Saturday when we finish here.
I wanted to create a book about the area that was produced in the area, so it’s quite specific, and bringing manufacturing back to this area, that used to be a hotbed of industry, especially print making.
And as we know the industry has moved out, and Pop Up books especially are made in the far East, or previously South America for commercial Pop Up Books.
I like the fact that we are bringing small scale manufacturing back to this area.
Did Pop Up Pop Upp match your initial vision?
Yeah, I’m standing here and I’m kind of elated because it’s been so much in parts, like the book is about fragments anyway, the A-Z of the past and future.
The project itself was made in parts; I did the pictures and designs that went to the printers, then we interviewed apprentices, but there was nothing to see until now, the hive of activity and now there’s a finished book. It’s so exciting that it’s all working!
This is the great part, we are here making it has been quite solitary but now it’s a team of people working together to produce as much as they can, so it feels good.
Looking to the future, what’s next for you?
Well, I’m hoping that this book is a sort of farewell to the area, because I’ve been so connected to this area emotionally, so this is my way, that final salut to the area that I love.
I’m moving studios to Walthamstow, but I’m still working on this demolition site actually, so I’m not leaving, I’m becoming Artist in residence in UCL chemistry department working with book making and etching plates, focusing on image making, so I am carrying on in the area, just with this Art Science crossover, so that’s exciting.
And finally, we would like to know who or what you are a fan of?
I’m a fan of all of those influences I mentioned; Gordon Matta-Clark, Wes Anderson, Jacques Tati he’s my favourite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Pop Up Pop Up is a highly original immersive installation and working production line in one with the project supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England with additional support from UCL Institute of Making, UCL Public Engagement, UCL Graduate School, UCL Urban Laboratory and Newham Council.
THE FINAL DAY OF POP UP POP UP IS TODAY (SATURDAY 20TH SEPTEMBER) IT WILL BE OPEN FROM 12 MIDDAY – 8PM AT SUGARHOUSE STUDIOS IN STRATFORD