Harleigh English is a man of many talents and has his first ever solo exhibition opening tonight at M2 in Surry Hills.
I'm sitting in the backseat of an old beat up vehicle travelling down the motorway at 110 km per hour, beer in hand with the windows down as the fast warm air from outside is somehow cooler than Harleigh's air conditioner. We are travelling back from Avoca beach, a nice little get away from the hectic year completing our honours at uni. However Harleigh has not hit the brakes just yet, he still has his foot down hard on that accelerator, literally, as we pass a truck on the motorway. In the middle of preparing for his first ever solo show, we begin to talk about the lead up in between warm sips of beer.
So, you want to kick things off by telling us the name of your show?
Yeah, so the name of the show is called A Place to Lie Down, and the work will feature photographs, letters and prints from the past two years. It will go between both Australian and Northern American landscapes, looking at people and their relationships with their environment and how that affects identity.
A Place to Lie Down comes from this idea of home, where we choose the places we want to rest or to call home and how that reflects our ideas of warmth, identity, shelter and security. So, I guess in saying that, the idea of home is more of a feeling rather than a symbol. You could say the house is symbolic of what a home is but it’s merely that, it’s merely a symbol and not a true representation of what the home is.
What does the home mean to you?
The home can take on many forms as we traverse through life. You know we can go on through our lives, through all these different environments and places of where we project our own ideas and memories of what a home should be to make ourselves more comfortable.
Very nice! And the photographs, what sort of medium did you use?
So, the photos will be a collection of both 35mm film, medium format, and digital. I think shooting with film makes a huge impact in this series because I think film is a very warming and nostalgic medium to use. The way that film portrays landscape and people, it does it in this very intimate and delicate style, which I feel that digital falls short when it’s trying to be this really crisp and crystal-clear image. I think that the imperfections of film lend into the concept a lot more and it’s just what I prefer to shoot with.
How is the preparation for the show going?
Harleigh: Oh, it’s a pain in the ass really. So, I’m setting myself a bit of challenge of collecting frames …
It’s your first solo show, right?
Yeah first solo show. And so, I’m going to the effort of getting all these pre-used frames from Vinnies, Salvos, Reverse Garbage stores around Sydney, collecting them and then measuring them up and then getting the prints to be the exact same size as the frames.
Do you feel that plays into the concept of the show?
Yeah 100%, I mean not only is it cheaper but it also plays into the concept because the kind of feeling that I want is for people to walk in and feel like they are in a home and seeing all these collaged photographs up on a wall, and different frames, different sizes representing people at different times of their lives; both past and present. And that’s what ultimately these photographs reflect, as well as the type of person I am in this time and place. I guess in that sense it’s quite a personal series.
You told me yesterday that you are incorporating letters that you found. What do these letters contain?
Yeah yeah, so the letters are pieces that I have collected off people from the past year when I was travelling as well as some people around here (Sydney). Most of the people remain anonymous, I asked people a certain question like ‘What is your favourite childhood memory?’ or ‘What is something that you are most scared of?’ and with that a lot of people think to their past and that connects with the photography within the show.
It feels like a critique of the house and what makes a home?
Creating a town where all the houses are the exact same you have a feeling of a repetitive cycle. How is that supposed to give you a sense of identity or purpose, when you just feel like everyone else? I think a house can stand for security warmth and shelter just as much as it can stand for loneliness and melancholy.