"The piece Always originated with the song, in particular the lyrics which seem to me to describe a relationship that is far closer to reality than is normally found in a love song, this is a song steeped in regret, rather than passion or pain. I wanted to create a piece that deals with the ways that we fail to achieve the ideal of romantic love, whilst at the same time recognizing the beauty and pathos of this essentially human impulse. In this sense I created the kitsch-sublime synthetic landscape and the cloud as visual equivalents of the song. From the beginning I wanted to create this piece in a way that reflected a sense of emotional failure, the 3D digital animation process that I used to create the dancing cloud is particularly laborious and requires meticulous mathematical manipulation of a series of algorithms to create the illusion of a living cloud. This forced me to work in a way that was completely at odds with the kind of impulsive expressionism so often associated with the artist, whilst at the same time attempting to create an emotionally engaging image of regret personified."
Stephen Hilyard's work appears in SciArt Center's most recent exhibition, "The Void and the Cloud." The exhibit's curator, Marnie Benney, spoke with Hilyard on his artwork and process:
MB: In a way, we started from nothing and will potentially return to nothing, or a void. How does your work explore the concept of the void in regards to human existence?
SH: For a long time my work was focused on the sublime, a category of aesthetic and emotional experience which seems predicated on a perception of the void which surrounds our tiny bubble of human experience. Initially this arose, in a straightforward way, from my experiences as a mountaineer and failed poet. As I developed as an artist I reached a point where I no longer attempted to capture or express the fact of the sublime, in fact I came to doubt that the sublime was ever anything more than an ideal, a concept to be aspired to but never achieved. I turned my attention to the sublime impulse. What is it in the human heart and mind that makes us to need to believe in the possibility of such a profound experience, even when all our attempts to achieve such a state have fallen short? Later I identified a similar “need to believe” with regard to a number of other concepts, what we might collectively call “The Profound.” In the case of my video Always the subject was romantic love, presented as an ideal doomed to fail, in the form of an awkward and sometimes comical cloud dancing in a synthetic wilderness.
MB: Do you think humans can exist in the dual state of being and non-being? How does your artwork for this show support or challenge this duality?
SH: The mediated and enculturated nature of all experience, even the most apparently profound, is central to my work. I believe that our “being in the world” is in fact a story that we tell ourselves, albeit a story which contains many elements that are shared with the other members of our culture. In that sense our being is virtual and contingent in the absolute sense, while trapped in the contingencies of the present at the local level.
MB: What aspects of tangible physical form and virtual form do you use in your research or creative practice to explore the thread that connects them?
SH: My interest in digital media is based solely on the capacity of the technology to create simulations and illusions. My only interest in computers is in their never-ending capacity to lie to us, to show us the world as we would like it to be, side stepping any questions of truth or actuality. The process of simulation and idealization becomes a metaphor for the subjective nature of our experience. I select as my subject matter the qualities of mind which we all seem to share, which make us most hopeful and idealistic, and thus doomed to fail.
MB: What happens to the physical world, the physical self, in a digital-dominated era?
SH: I see the digital age as just the most recent stage in a process of virtualization which began the first time one person told another a story around the campfire. Ever since then the percentage of our world view that is not derived from direct experience has been growing. The process has been accelerating of late, but I do not believe that the digital age will allow us to escape the physical world any more than earlier media revolutions did.