Julita Hanlon (She/her)
I am a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice centres around concepts of injustice and prejudice. My works are designed to invite and provoke reflection and action and should be seen and understood within the context of the viewers’ own histories.
My practice might at any time include painting, printing, stitching, sculptural and metal works, photography, or writing. For me, interaction with materials and processes is as important a part of research into a subject, as its academic and theoretical underpinning. Currently, in dialogue with Franz Kafka and Felix Gonzales-Torres, I am exploring the ways in which I can highlight how status quo is guarded through visible and latent symbols of bureaucracy and through dehumanised decision-making procedures.
Like in all my projects before, I am engaging in processes that force a prolonged involvement with the subject matter and materials. They are all integral part of my visual language. I see for example deep etching in metal as analogous to the deeply embedded structural violence resulting from bureaucracy and faceless decision-making processes, whilst stamps and branding tools might stand for a metaphor for actions and decisions which scar the body, the psyche, and for the collective trauma which becomes imprinted in collective memory.
Faceless Decision Makers – ‘I dub thee…’ and ‘The Other’
Faceless Decision Makers is a large body of work that considers how language, and visible as well as latent symbols of bureaucracy, establish inhuman barricades behind which hides our privileged status quo.
Inspired initially by the idea of ‘processing’ migrants on decommissioned oil rigs, and by Franz Kafka’s writings, it explores the idea of how visible symbols and language play a role in a deeper emotional and intellectual engagement with the concept of ‘the other’. A migrant myself, having been through a stressful experience of being assessed at the border for my suitability to enter Britain, I could not but respond with anger.
Works such as ‘I dub thee…’ – oversized hot branding irons, create a discord between their simple logo-like aesthetics and the historical associations with violence of slave branding which we frequently do not consider as present in that bureaucratic, faceless system which possesses the power to accept or deny. Yet that violence is still there. More latent in its form, from a stamp in the passport, to carefully managed mediated messages that affect our perception and foster suspicion of those less fortunate, those with different skin colour or accent, living on the streets or from less privileged backgrounds. It is this invisible, hidden attitudes that act as branding irons within our society and we deny them, hide them behind our overt empathy and yet they are there, undeniable.
Latent they might be, but they have a power of singling out ‘The Other’ almost as if they were burnt into their cheeks and their foreheads.
‘I dub thee…’ – ‘Approved’ and ‘Rejected’ and ‘The Other’ are my own personal symbols and metaphors, a visual expression of my fear of bureaucracy and power of mediated image.
I dub thee...
Faceless Decision Makers (Your Fate is Sealed)
Faceless Decision Makers carefully considers the concepts of bureaucracy, power relations and organisation of society which ensure that power status quo remains unchanged.
I am especially interested in how the symbols of power can be translated into a visual metaphor. ‘Your fate is sealed’ is one example of this – the idea of a stamp as a symbol of dehumanised, mechanical, faceless, self-perpetuating processes that lead to one of the only two possible outcomes – yes or no.
Faceless Decision Makers – ‘In Conversation with Kafka’
My project was developed ‘in conversation’ with Franz Kafka’s writings. His detached observations of humanity’s inhumane traits foreground our individual and collective tendencies to appraise, to observe at a distance that which is unfamiliar, to fear, to ignore. There is little humanity in our prejudice and judgement. Collectively, we do not often attempt to understand ‘the other,’ rather we take a moral stance based on our rigid viewpoints, our unchallenged preconceptions. Within the safety of the herd we make decisions and manipulate our realities to fit into our familiar narratives. Our revolutions don’t change the fact that the power favours the powerful, the winners, those who control the resources, those who have means to ‘power-grab.’ Our revolutions are not designed to challenge our own perceptions, our own ideologies, our own beliefs. Our revolutions do not attempt to understand ‘the other’. Our revolutions are limited by what we perceive as right or wrong. Our revolutions cover up our fears and insecurities, and our greed.
‘In conversation with Kafka’ uses his writings as a canvas, a material from which to construct a narrative of bureaucracy and injustice that is still current. ‘The Trial’, ‘The Hunger Artist’, ‘In the Penal Colony’ and ‘Before the Law’ are peepholes through which our humanity and inhumanity is exposed, its fragile existence within the boundaries of fears, prejudice and greed for entertainment at the cost of others becomes visible, naked, a sore truth that nobody wants to acknowledge or question. As the Hunger Artist’s life perishes in front of our eyes, we rejoice in the belief that we are better, different to Kafka’s indifferent characters. In the encounter of the tragedy seen at the distance, as fictional, as a writing or an image, it becomes so easy not to question our perception to the homeless on the street, our hunger for images of suffering elsewhere, our scepticism of the needs of those who seek help, our resentment of paying our share to help those less fortunate, our questioning of the honesty of ‘the other’.
Sometimes we search our souls and find ourselves immobilised by fear, in front of the gates and the guardians, ‘before the law’. It is so comforting to think that there is always a reason not to push at the gates, not to go further, our initiative thwarted by our fear and conditioning. Our rightful demand for justice is blocked by our own guardians of the bureaucracy, the judges, one more powerful than the other – our value systems, our selfish need for survival, our fears, our limitations.
Like Kafka’s characters – we are unable to acknowledge them until we are freed by the safety of the understanding that now it is too late.
Faceless Decision Maker and ‘I will tell you this…’
Austere ‘office’ set up, a suit which symbolised ‘Faceless Decision Maker’ and the pocket squares with only partially visible text, highlight the ideas of a bureaucratic, emotionless procedural system designed to reveal at each stage only a part of the journey, and to absolve anyone serving that system of the guilt of prejudice, lack of compassion and most of all, responsibility for the decisions that affect the lives of others.
Yet again, my works are invocative of the barriers, the fragmentary nature of the processes to which we are often exposed, the difficulty that it creates in seeing the human and feeling human. This is heightened by the idea of chance. ‘I will tell you…’ plays on a memory of seemingly innocent paper fortune teller, a game that I played as a child. I still remember the trepidation of uncertainty about what ‘decision’ it would make for me.
This piece was initially created to be used as an interactive tool in bringing the plight of migrants to the wider audience, but in the process it highlighted the fact that the bureaucratic decision-making processes affect all of us. The concepts of acceptance and rejection are not unique to migration.
Together, these pieces create a narrative of unease, of detachment on one hand and of challenge, frustration and at times despair on the other.
The Alternative Degree Show
Glasgow School of Art School of Fine Art graduating artists from 2021 and 2020 have got together to organise a series of physical events around Glasgow from May to July 2021. If you would like to find more information please check out our website.