QUEER CONTEMPORARIES: In Conversation with Breifni Heymann
BH (about their own practice):
I’m a queer artist who uses narrative and images to explore themes such as history, spirituality and the spaces that exist between masculine & feminine.
SS: We can see from your website that you work mainly in book making and storytelling. What made you decide to create “Anxious Being + Ocean Void”, which feels quite different from many of your other creative endeavours?
BH: It was a very quick response to the anxiety I was feeling at the time I was drawing it, trying to describe the physical effects of the state. I guess it’s quite different, a lot of my other pieces take a while to form their narratives and end up building a structured response to what I’m trying to communicate, whereas in this one was much less rigid.
SS: In your own words you have described your work as a practice that “often aims to show how we shouldn’t view these depictions from a distant perspective, but instead see them as intrinsic to our understanding of the present”. Could you tell us more about how you view your own practice?
BH: I think I was talking about depicting things in historical form, for example I really enjoy using archways and medieval costuming in my drawings, I really enjoy researching history. It’s a way of understanding people and what’s happening around us. My practise is a good way for me to figure out what I’m thinking and map certain ideas, and through that I hope that it can also reach out to other people too.
SS: There is a paragraph on your website about wanting to understand abstract feelings through a visual medium. Do you think that your medium and style assist people who aren’t necessarily privy to the arts community connect and relate to your work?
BH: I hope so! I try to be accessible in that sense, I think art works best when everyone can read into it and feel confident in engaging with it. That’s what I’ve been working on the last few months at least, and for me using text & drawing works well because it’s not just relying on traditional visual cues. Especially since a lot of the subjects I’m interested in have specific contexts, without the texts these contexts might contradict what I’m trying to say. For example, one time I used a quote “I may have the body of a feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king!” not realising that without its context, it seems like I’m ashamed of my body and think women are feeble. But it’s quoting Elizabeth I when she rode in victory against the Spanish Armada, and was a way for her to physically embody her power as a king. I thought that was pretty cool, titles shouldn’t be gendered! But after someone pointed it out to me, I realised the rest of my work must also be inaccessible rather than cool and mysterious, so now I’m trying to make it more engaging and readable.
SS: You seem to utilise zine making within your practice often, does the function of a zine differ from the function of an individual illustration, or are these two mediums quite closely connected?
BH: Zines are quite useful for building a narrative over a series of illustrations or stories where individual illustrations wouldn’t. But I think they’re also similar in some ways, I don’t think I could make a zine without individual illustrations. I suppose it depends on what the zine actually is.
SS: Could you tell us a little bit about why you chose these specific quotes for this illustration?
BH: The text is placed in a way that it labels the location of the different thoughts I was having. It was mostly free writing in response to anxieties around industrialisation and its destruction of the world around us. A lot of the time I feel completely powerless and overwhelmed at all the continuous issues around that seem unable to stop. It felt like the whole world had been freewheeling. At this point, it felt like there were machines in my belly which was a physical effect of the anxiety. It was also a way of acknowledging the psychological state of hellishness, that both heaven and hell are possible in our bodies & psyche (id = hell, superego = heaven, ego = purgatory (earth or the body)).
We would like to thank Breifni for taking the time to answer our questions and for allowing us to share their work through our Queer Contemporaries Showcase!