#LivesOfArtists…With Cig Harvey
© Alissa Hessler.
What time do you wake up?
Early! I love to wake up early before any one else and sneak downstairs in the dark to get to work. It feels like time is suspended at that hour. I make coffee and sit down to brainstorm and write in the half light.
What do you eat for breakfast?
Always an egg. I love a cup of tea with a poached egg on toast. It’s magic. I eat it like it’s a feast, like it’s the first egg ever to exist every morning. My family laughs at me closing my eyes and oohing and ahhhing over something as simple as an egg.
Describe where you produce your work, and why you chose that space.
I live in the countryside and am lucky enough to have two spaces to work from. One is my studio at home – a small room right off the kitchen. I love working here where life and art are fully integrated. Make a picture, put Scout on the school bus, write a memory, chop all the ingredients for a stew, respond to emails, fold laundry staring off into space thinking about pictures to make. I also have a space at an old school in a town nearby. It is a large classroom with long chalkboards that I painted with magnetic paint. This is the space I go to edit and sequence and write for my books. I keep it very minimal there as I am an utter maximalist at home. At home, the walls are painted bright colors and covered salon style with work. A space full of books and sofas, as I have never met a velvet couch that I didn’t love! At home I am surrounded by pattern and colors and curios.
Do you have a particular daily routine that helps you work?
I am at my most creative first thing in the morning so I try to save the other side of the business – like emails, shipping, accounting – for the afternoon. I also walk my dog, Scarlet, most afternoons with my girlfriends. I am obsessed with light so making photographs at the beginning and end of the day is important.
Where do you go for your creative sparks?
I am lucky, I am inspired by daily life, so it is not really about going anywhere. I just need to pay attention to what is going on around me. The everyday, trying to find something rare in the ordinary, is a constant source of inspiration. Photography and writing is my way of slowing the world down and making order out of chaos. Art is the manifestation of complex emotions so I think of my work as a bucket in which to pour all the things I’m wrestling with. I keep an observation book, and each day I try to write things down that made me pause or gasp. I often say to my students that the camera is just an expensive pencil, so what do you have to say? I am also lucky to live in a place that brings a constant source of inspiration. I was a full time professor for 10 years living in the city, and while I love the city for other reasons, it is not a place for my pictures. Every weekend I would race to the country to make work. If you possibly can, I think it is so important to live where you are inspired. It is the greatest luxury.
What are you currently working on?
I am hard at work on my new book Eat Flowers that will be released early next year and shown at the gallery. I think it is my strongest work yet (haha don’t all artists think their newest work is their best work!) It is a book about plants, the senses, and how to live life vibrantly. Part art book, cookbook, botanical guide, historical encyclopedia, and poetry collection, it’s an instruction manual of sorts. It is organized around the five senses, sound, sight, touch, smell, taste, and takes the reader on an emotional journey through the world of plants. I think the work makes the viewer pause, it sparks curiosity, and slows us to be more aware of the natural world. I am also hard at work on an opera, giving visual direction for a new contemporary adaptation of Bluebeard’s Castle and Carmina Burana. I am thrilled to be expanding my vision to the stage with motion pieces, still photographs, holograms, etc. It is a very exciting time.
What do you do when you need to reset your mind?
I love a rainy windy walk with my dog Scarlet and my daughter, Scout. I am also a hot yoga nut. I do yoga primarily to make mental space for more creative ideas. I also love to laugh, and I have a crew of girlfriends I see regularly.
Who was your most important mentor or inspiration?
I am inspired by the abstract idea of time and how I can use photographs and words to explore it. As photographers, our currency is time. We deal in these tiny increments (1/500th of a second, 125th of a second) to address time in the most enormous sense; existential questions about what it is to be human.
Who do you speak to when you need a second opinion or who gives the best feedback?
I have close friends who I trust to be honest with me. Making art, for me, is a very inward solitary experience so it is good to have feedback from others and a fresh perspective on the work. I also think the act of having a regular date night with your own work is so important. I have a wall of pictures that I am constantly in negotiations with. I try to sit quietly in front of it, letting the work tell me what it is doing rather than the other way around. Haha you want to be a good date after all! Giving the work this space and time helps me become a stronger editor of my own pictures.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
The photographer Arno Minkkinen sent me this in 2002 when I graduated with my MFA, ‘You are done and the door is open. May the view be broad and long. Stay on the bus.’
If you weren’t an artist what would you do?
I have no idea. I hate the thought of being anything different.
How do you switch off from work in the evening?
I love to cook. No interest in baking at all as you have to be precise and follow the rules. I love to chop and make one pot stews. I am very sensory and love the smell of a stew slowly cooking on the stove while I work. It helps my thought process. I never really think about switching off from my work, it is totally woven into my everyday.
What book are you reading right now?
I just finished On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong again. I read it when it first came out last year, drawn to its extraordinary title. It is an incredible novel for both form and content, so full of heart and exquisitely written. I am an avid reader of literary fiction and short form writing.
Who is the other artist working today that you most admire?
Sophie Calle. I love her honesty and how she combines text and image.
If you could have lunch with any artist from across time, who would it be and why?
Louise Bourgeois. She lead an incredible life, making work all the way through to her death at almost 100. I think it is wonderful that there is a movement to correct the cannon. Finally some of these extraordinary female artists are getting the recognition they deserve. I would like to go to the Ivy with Louise Bourgeois and have a Shepherd’s Pie and a glass of red wine. I think we would have a laugh, I’ve heard she had a wicked sense of humor.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am proud I’ve found a life long career that even after all these years I am so passionate about. I fell in love with the medium and worked in a community darkroom at the age of 13 and I am still so fascinated and obsessed. It never disappoints. Photographs teaches me so much about myself and the world around me. Photography is an incredible tool to have as a witness and a channel for ideas. Last summer I discovered a spell-binding compost heap at a nearby Dahlia Farm. It took my breath away when I first saw it, it was so beautiful, and I obsessively photographed continued to photograph it over a number of weeks. I could barely sleep at night wondering how it was looking in the moonlight or at dawn. How lucky am I to have a career that is so engaging and demands such a high level of attention in observing the world? What a way to live! I feel deeply grateful.