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Hannah Feuerstein; Direct Contact With The Past

Hannah Feuerstein; Direct Contact With The Past

Please, introduce yourself.

Thank you for having me! First of all, I'm Hannah and I'm a print making artist, and I work in the Scottish Highlands. I'm originally from Germany, and I moved to Scotland about 6 years ago, where I studied art. And now I'm permanently instated here, I've got my own little studio.


Please tell us about the different types of art mediums that you use

So I focused predominantly on in Intaglio printmaking. In particularly Electro-Etching, and given the right facilities, I would also do ceramic and ceramic installations, but right now I don't have a kiln, So I really focus on the printmaking part of things.


Can you share an overview of Intaglio printmaking? It's not something that I've come across before.

No problem, it's a really old traditional form of print making, and it entails all forms of print making. It is where the image lies below the surface of the plate.  It's the opposite of relief printing.

Printing like Lino cuts, everything that is raised will print, whilst in Intaglio printmaking, everything that's below the surface of the plate will print; so the areas that have texture will hold ink, and print, and everything else will print white, The plates can be either acetate, or metal.

The grooves that are used to print are achieved either by hand, brute force (with a needle), or by using acid; like traditional etching uses. So, I protect the plate with a varnish or a wax and then I re-expose bits of the plate, and anywhere that is exposed will be bitten by the acid. I don't really want to do that because acid is really unsustainable, and then I've got fumes and toxins that I have to work with. So, what I do instead is use a technique called electro etching, which is similar to electroplating, where my plate is serving as the anode, and I've got a big tank with cathode which is made of copper. I suspend my plate, and which I prepare in the same way as traditional etching, opposite my cathode and I attach it to a little bench unit so I can put electricity through. This triggers an electrochemical reaction and my plate erodes and the other plate builds.

I also use Zinc plates where I do essentially the same thing but here I don't need a power source which is really exciting. It's a bit like magic! I have the zinc plate against the copper plate in copper sulphate solution, and I connect the 2 directly with just a cable. I'm essentially building a battery. So my plate erodes because a current builds up by itself because it's different metals against each other.


I was a chemist at university, so I love this!

This is full nerdy for me!

 Yeah, it's quite nerdy


 What do you enjoy most about the way of working that you do?

Everything, but I love 2 main things! I love that it's so forgiving. Every groove that I create I can push back by polishing the plate. I've got different tools, and with a lot of elbow grease I can get them flat again. So that's beautiful. And, it doesn't stop. So I make my plate I printed, I look at it, and I think, Okay, what needs to change? And I can do that until I have a finished plate. It takes about 2 weeks, but it means that I can constantly go back and make it better, and I love that.

Oh, another thing I love is that because the paper is damp, and because I put it through a press, it gets literally pressed into the plate and that means that the print is ‘in the paper’, instead of lino print where it is just a stamp on top of the paper. It's the most three-dimensional of all two-dimensional works for me.


Image of Intaglio Printmaking Etching

Creating a printing plate


That's really cool! So, what inspires you as an artist?

That's a really good question. I've got so many sources of inspiration, but I think the strongest is my fear of loss. I use my artwork as a way to preserve memory. That's not just my own memory. It's memory of a past that I can access through memory objects that are given to me, and memory objects that have been produced before my time, so is it a way to preserve memory.

Secondly, very obvious, I live in the Highlands. So, I step out the door and everything is inspiring! I’m immersed in this beauty, and it never stops.

And the last thing that really inspires me is the world we cannot see. What we experience is just scratching the surface. There's so much more below what we can't see, like what happens at microbiological levels. It's inspiring how little we actually know.


So when we first exchanged messages, you spoke about shadowing and long circuits. Please can explain that in a little bit more detail?

Yeah, no problem, so shadowing as a term, I introduced into my practice around 2020 when I was struggling to describe the fluid and ephemeral ways in which knowledge is passed down through generations. One example, is kneading dough. So when I knead dough, I'm shadowing the gestures I watched my mum do, and she's shadowing the gestures she saw her mum do, who was a baker. So this gesture puts me in touch with the past, and it connects me directly through those actions with what has been. Like I'm in direct contact with the past.

I tried to think with this notion. I thought, What am I? I'm essentially a shadow. Then because I studied philosophy, I came across Bernard Steiegler, who was a French philosopher, and he's deeply interested in memory and how it's passed on. Or how objects store memory, which is exactly what I'm looking at. For him everything that is being in contact with the human has human imprints that have been inscribed into it; “creating a unity with the past that allows for creating a unity with the future”. He's a really complex thinker but essentially he stresses that mnemotechnical objects, memory objects, open the space for touching point between generations, and they open the space for transmission of memory and transmission of gesture. That is how we're tied into a long circuit, my gesture is tying back far, far longer than I can even possibly imagine.


It's a really beautiful idea, And actually, as you were talking then, I was thinking about memory. And so for me, lavender smells like visiting my grandma as a child. It's amazing how objects and things around us can create those memories.

Has your time exploring these objects and long circuits impacted your own beliefs and behaviours?

 Well... It has certainly made me more aware, more open to what I'm taught, because when you start to think about really mundane things day to day, gestures like kneading dough, that's not something I think about when I do it. But if you think about it, It's really complex and I have to have seen it somewhere. I have to have shadowed it. It is impossible to follow a recipe if I don't. I would have no idea how to translate the words into action.

I've come to realize how important those touching points are, and how we can't, even if we're surrounded by objects, ever be in isolation, and we are always already entangled with an array of gesture. We are born into an entanglement, and that's what it has shown me.

I think I seek out that teaching more, I actively try to find that teaching. Where before it was just happening to me, because I was born into it… Now I actively try to realize where I am. I think it reminds me that we live in entanglement with our visible and invisible surroundings, and I think, looking at that stressed that for me.

It also brought back to me my fascination for microbes. I'm hugely inspired by microbes, especially Sourdough. Baking sourdough is an engagement with the past in the present. It’s not knowledge that I have invented, but I inherited it.


 Print of a Jar containing sourdough culture

By Hannah Feuerstein


So let's talk a little bit more about that. Those processes at a microbiological level in sourdough. What is it specifically around that that really piqued your interest?

 Okay, I'm a total nerd!

So for me, Sourdough is a real teacher, it teaches me patience, it teaches me balance, it teaches me living and dying. Microbes put aside the human exceptionalism portrayed in the popular story of man-kind, these beliefs that we nurtured everything, and that everything has to go faster and everything has to have a purpose, or that everything has to be efficient.

The way water, flour, and salt are transformed into bread is it's just really fascinating. Almost every culture, it doesn't matter where you go, has some form of milled grain or root. So, a milled grain with water, and baked. A form of bread exists everywhere, even made out of lichen! It is truly unifying to do that as a human; it is a staple food, and I think that's just such a peaceful idea that we can find this touching point that can combine us. So that's why I'm fascinated by bread!

And then the nerdy aspects, all the biological things that happen!


It's about finding beauty in the everyday, isn't it?

That's really special, you don't need this huge moment to inspire you. Because there are so many inspiring things happening all around, and even at that microbiological level.

 I nourish the dough. I feed it and it in turn feeds me.


Bernard Stiegler has come up a couple of times so I’m interested how all of these different aspects of your art come together to allow you to access, as he puts it, “the past that is yours that you've nevertheless not lived”

 I work a lot with recipes, and I work a lot with the narrations of my grandmother's, if I break it down, almost all of my work is done in remembrance or in collaboration with those really exceptional women. One of my grandmothers is still alive, and i'll do work with her, you can see in the background, that's the tapestry I'm working on. She has started it, so we we're working on that together.


A selection of ceramic objects by Hannah Feuerstein

By Hannah Feuerstein 



I inscribe those experiences into material and I'm doing what I outlined before. So, I produce memory objects, and with these memory objects I take my own memory, or the memory of my grandmother, and make it an object, and then I can pass it to you. So it makes my past accessible, not only to me, but also to others, and then by engaging with that past, they are engaging with the past of my ancestors. It just brings out this direct connection that we're immersed into.

I have not lived that past. So when my grandmother tells about being a war refugee, I have not experienced that I have not lived that, but through her, It is mine. I can feel it, I can sense it so, It is part of me, and it is possibly also constituting part of what is me. She gave me direct access to what she lived, where she came from, again a long circuit.


Thank you for sharing, It’s beautiful concept to center your work around because it is so personal to your family, to your own lived history. Then by sharing that with others, that also then becomes part of their history, and you get that entanglement even more.


Thank you so much for sharing your work. How can people find out more about you and your art?

First of all people can visit me in my Studio in Torridon in the Scottish highlands, but since this is quite a long shot for most people my website is and my Instagram is @wilma.steinhagen , which is a joke on my part referencing the flintstones and taking on my grandmother's maiden name!

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