Haylee Anne: Artistically Evocative and Socially Resonant
Haylee Anne’s art straddles borders, both artistically and conceptually. At first glance, it’s nearly impossible to discern what medium she is working in, adding mysterious intrigue to her bizarre photographs. But behind each of Haylee Anne’s works are deeper, more pressing social messages—the New York/Atlanta-based artist frequently incorporates feminist ideals into her art, urging the viewer to reconsider their preconceived notions of what it means to be a woman. Haylee Anne’s photography series “Le Peuple de le Mer” is forthcoming in Volume 3 of Winter Tangerine Review.
Amanda Silberling, Managing Editor: Whenever we interview contributors, we ask them to leave a question for our next interviewee. Kyle McCord, a poet, left this question: "What effect does creating art have on you?"
Haylee Anne, Volume 3 Art Contributor: Creating art fills me with many feelings. It’s my call to action. It’s my sense of purpose. It’s my therapy. It’s my vice, and it’s my greatest love. My art and I have a very pull and push motion of creation and emotion.
AS: With "Le peuple de le mer," what kind of "creation and emotion" were you experiencing?
HA: With this series a sort of dual purpose grew from my original idea. At first I was seeking a way to present bodies in a different, organic setting. I chose to do this through water as I loved the distortion it caused, along with the idea that water is restorative and life-bringing. As I spent more time on this series, it became a more personal manifestation of my feelings on beauty and body— how darkness can cloud our judgment while aesthetics remain.
AS: The distortion is definitely present—certain images in the series look like paintings, almost.
HA: Yes, and that is my intention! I love the idea of not knowing what you're looking at immediately.
AS: Speaking of which, do you work only with photography, or do you work with other media as well?
HA: I've dabbled in performance, but no, I am primarily a photographer.
AS: Do you see any kinds of connections between the two art forms, or do they feel more separated?
HA: I think any art form can be connected. Performance art especially can rely on photography because that is the only way to document that the act ever occurred.
AS: What kind of performance art work have you been involved with?
HA: I've documented several performances for artists such as Katelynn Altgilbers and Sarah French. I have also worked on two separate projects, one that involved graffiti in France, and another that involved breaking glass with my own hands.
AS: That sounds awesome! The titles of your pieces in WTR are French, right?
HA: Yes. I have a deep love and respect for the French. I lived in Nice for several months back in 2010.
AS: And the influence of that on your work is clear, it seems. What makes you love the French?
HA: Everything from their way of life (enjoying food and believing in natural food) to their long, lush history in the arts. I love everything from the small ivories of the Virgin and Child that were popular during the gothic period, to the amazing pilgrimage churches, to Marie Antoinette, to the small villages along Provence like Antibes and Saint Paul.
AS: How would you compare the U.S. and France artistically in the modern era?
HA: I think there is a greater sense of artistic freedom and respect in France than the US. However, I think this comes naturally after being an established country for so much longer than the US. When I was living in Nice, the residents didn't have any issue with photographers, whereas in the US, you have to walk around with a Bill of Rights lest your imaging be taken the wrong way.
AS: Have you had any experiences with your photography being taken the wrong way?
HA: Oh lord, yes. For my series “The 21st Century Feminist," it was a great undertaking of education, spirit, encouragement, humility, and risk. The goal of the series was to present a new look into contemporary feminism. Instead of showing how women are oppressed, I wanted to show strong women that were and are taking back these harmful gender roles that have been put in place. During the time that I sculpted these images, I learned quite a lot about old and new feminism, and what is right and wrong. Of course, I had opposition to the series. If I didn't, then sexism would be over, but that didn't deter me from speaking my message. The greatest instance of this was when I had a solo show for the series at Gallery 3.5 at Montclair State University. I used a chalkboard wall to let the public respond to the images. Some responses were profound, some were lewd, some were immature, and some were loving. My desire is never to be oppressive. I only want to honor women.
AS: Definitely. In general, what do you think about art's tie into social change?
HA: Art is incredibly influential in social change, I think, in good and bad ways! You could surmise that medieval images can double as propaganda in the ways they restricted the human form and only broadcast the ideals of the Church. Then along came the Renaissance, and suddenly nudity was appreciated once again, though of course, church iconography reigned supreme. This can also be true of any art that called upon a social ideal. Andy Warhol helped shape celebrity. Cindy Sherman helped create the selfie, Keith Haring embraced AIDS, and Nan Goldin highlighted domestic abuse and drug abuse. When we are faced with these issues visually, we are given a new frame of reference to consider them. And when we consider them, the seeds for any kind of change are planted. I think it’s also worth noting that there are thousands of other artists who were probably more successful in inciting change, yet these are the ones that left an impact on me, whether positively or negatively.
AS: Why in particular did these artists impact you?
HA: Cindy Sherman was my first favorite artist, in that I was so inspired by the way she captured different females and their endless list of stories. I wanted to emulate her, yet not copy her. Andy Warhol was my first least favorite artist, as I resent the celebrity that he heightened. But he's a tricky case: is he honoring celebrity, or making fun of it? Either way, I do respect his place in art history. Haring and Goldin are closer to my heart because I greatly empathize with the social situations they represent. I take those images personally.
AS: What Andy Warhol did with The Velvet Underground/Exploding Plastic Inevitable was pretty cool, if you're into that. It was kind of a music/performance art collective. It's hard to describe, which is probably what he was going for.
HA: I'm very familiar. I totally appreciate it.
AS: It was really interesting, especially for its time. Besides “The 21st Century Feminist,” have you had other art series intended to make a social statement? Would you consider yourself as an "artist for social rights?"
HA: Equality is definitely at the top of mind throughout my life’s work. Part of my desire for “Le Peuple de le Mer” was to provide a different way to look at the body, and to give the viewer a chance to see it without their pre-conceived notions.
AS: Speaking of which, what do the French titles of those pieces translate to in English?
HA: “Le Peuple de le Mer” - The People of The Sea
“L’aube de Femmes” - The Dawning of Women
“La Dame Solitaire de l'ete” - The Lonely Woman of Summer
“Madmoiselle Cinque” - Lady 5
“La Dame du Lac” - The Lady of the Lake“
La Femme” - The Woman
AS: What made you choose to title these in French?
HA: It just made sense to me. I thought the French conveyed the melancholy I was seeking.
AS: What question would you like to leave for our next interviewee?
HA: How do you want to be remembered?
To view more of Haylee Anne’s photography, keep an eye out for Winter Tangerine Review’s Volume 3 release. In the meantime, consider donating to WTR so that we can continue to amplify the voices of great writers and artists.