Hannah Diamond. Imagining Perfection
My research has always been focused on the convergences between different worlds, in particular, conceptually revolving around sounds and visuals. This led me to deepen the concept of world-building, or on how different elements converge together to create a set of liquid narrations. Here comes Hannah Diamond and her ability to melt together different media to create her environment both visual and sonic. I had the chance to ask her some questions about this theme, focusing on how Hannah conceives her practice in relation to her aesthetic.
Nicola Zolin: Your works have a strong set of elements, mainly connected through cross-references to the world of ‘90s-’00s pop culture. Could you please deepen this aspect of your practice? What other components shaped your work with sound and visuals?
Hannah Diamond: I have always been super fascinated with the concept and aesthetic of pop star & celebrity and what it means to be one. They exist between the realms of reality and fantasy, creating worlds that represent their inner selves. I always think a lot about how when I was growing up they seemed like fantasy super people that were ultra-talented and always retouched. I have always wondered where that type of imagery comes from, I really think that the hyper paparazzi era that is being talked about so much right now, especially in regards to Britney Spears, really contributed to that. The media was a super toxic free for all that celebrated people’s downfalls. They created a space where it wasn’t ok to be a human, have bad days, struggle with mental health, have acne, cellulite, all these normal human things.
I think the walls popstars built around themselves to feel safe became so much higher and a lot of them felt like they needed to live up to an unrealistic standard of perfection.
Simultaneously I think the concept of “Superstar” really inspires a sparkling and massive level of perfection that evolved into a form of abstraction to the point where people were able to really have fun with it ⎯ maybe even ironically (although I really hate when people think that about my work). This creates an aesthetic that was their construction and becomes something else altogether. A space where perfection became a fantasy filter and images could help build a portrait of a person that told their story and extended beyond their physical identity.
Illustration was my first way of expressing myself as a visual artist. I enjoyed recreating images ⎯ mostly fashion campaigns, things from magazines, pictures of pop stars. It was exciting because the original image was just a starting point and it could become abstracted even further.
I loved airbrush paintings like the ones by Harumi Yamaguchi, Peter Lloyd and Soroyama. To me, this aesthetic was so similar to the one I saw in the pop world.
I never had the opportunity to get into airbrush art but these images were so perfect… and if I could recreate the images of this kind of hyperreal glossy way that I loved, even using tools that were actually not that well suited to perfection, it was really satisfying.
At some point, what I could achieve with illustration seemed to have a limit and it became hard to push forward. I started using photography beyond just making self-portraits for reference images and gradually transitioned into a new form of image-making by using all the skills I had developed through illustration. The digital made my quest for perfection and this fantasy aesthetic much more obtainable, changing my whole way of thinking.
Becoming a pop star came a bit later. Making music gradually become a really valuable creative communication tool in my practice, in ways that making images alone can’t really fulfil. It’s a way for me to fully explore a pop perfection aesthetic. It has become another layer in the challenge of creating a world.
Sound can communicate some of the things I want to say that the images can’t, but together I can build the whole story. I enjoy trying to make music that sounds like the images and images that look like the sounds. It’s a translation process sometimes.
My music is uncannily synthetic but it’s important for me that it is still sincere. I do use it to sort of deconstructing pop, but my music also allows me to explore myself. Which I have found to be a source of relief and catharsis, an output for feelings and emotions I otherwise would bottle up and made my output more based on personal experience than just mirroring things I like.
I feel like operating in extremes helps me to make sense of it all. The more crystal clear and high definition the production sounds, the more intensely perfect the vocal processing is, the more unexpected melody lines and vocal imperfections feel. I like the imperfections, it reminds you what perfect is and that it doesn’t really exist, but it is fun to imagine that it does.
My self-portraits and image work connected to my music output are for me a form of digital soul searching. I primarily use self-portraiture, graphic design and video as tools to navigate the disparities between my inner self and “popstar alter ego”. I’m interested in the idea of personality digital dualism, as the digital world collides with offline life. Making images helps me to imagine a universe where both selves are one, where the freedom you have in online spaces to be the person you want to be, can become a reality. Lately, my aim is to create audio and visual works in tandem and of equal importance to build my own entire visual world to escape to when you listen to and experience my music.
NZ: The use of such elements are taken as a nostalgic process or more as a deconstruction of the same into a brand new thing?
HD: I feel like my work critics and celebrates celebrity and pop culture that has been before but also wants to create something new. More importantly, I try to hold a magnifying glass to my ideas and create hyper reflections. It’s about seeing things through a macro lens and bringing the finer details to the forefront. I love the challenge of trying to capture genuine and human emotion in the digital and synthesised whether that’s through images or sound.
I think the nostalgia people see in my work comes from a few of my references, but really I just want to make things that are iconic. It’s like the cherry on the top, the most obvious thing that you notice first. I think sometimes it is the only thing that people take away from my work, but actually, there’s a lot of layers and different influences underneath.
NZ: Your visual background comes also from your experience in fashion design and communication. In which way do you implement such experience in your works?
HD: Fashion and style are all about invention in the same way that pop music is. It is about inventing a personality/identity and recreating yourself. Being a pop star is the same, you just have to imagine what that is and act it out. I find thinking in terms that I used to use for styling /shoots like “it’s a little bit Dior 2004 + Giselle Bundchen + Paris Hilton + extreme sports + tech,” is a fun way to think about being a pop star or a particular era in a project.
NZ: Speaking about your album Reflections, I would like to know more about the process behind it, also in relation to your previous releases.
HD: My album took shape over the space of a few years, and was a deeply personal journey. In my earlier releases, I was trying things out and having fun with my friends. But my album came after a decision that I would pursue music as a career and something I had become heavily creatively invested in. I felt precious over it, like it had to all fit together and tell a story, both the music and the images.
NZ: Your work greatly shaped the visual aspect of PC Music. It is clearly visible your touch also in Sega Bodega cover or in the visual materials of Sundara Karma’s latest project. They are all reminders of the aesthetic you created. Could you please explain your approach in the creation of the affective visual world initially created for your label?
HD: When A.G. Cook and I first met, I think we really found in each other a kindred spirit. The visual world I helped to create wasn’t so much a tactical approach, but more like an incidental perfect fit where I was doing my thing and A.G. doing his and our tastes were just super aligned. And there was just so much cross over in our interests and the things we were making. I have been thinking a lot lately, especially since Sophie’s passing, about how incredible it actually is that all of us involved in PC Music crossed paths at that time and that we found each other when we are all working out who we were. Those friendships and relationships have shaped me as a person.
NZ: What do you think about the potential of such imagery?
HD: At the time when I was making it, I didn’t realise how influential it could be. Or how much of it at the time felt so new and forward-thinking. I would get so upset when people didn’t understand, when people thought it was all ironic, or that I wasn’t a real person. I had always been working towards this aesthetic ever since I started making images, so to me, it felt personal and familiar.
Looking back on it all now and what I started, I feel like it was a pretty punk thing to do or try to achieve. I was aiming for these high budget looking, super glossy images but with no budget at all and barely any resources to make them. But I was going for it. I feel like that’s really what gives anything potential ⎯ the size of the ideas, how high you are aiming. It is weird now that I have made all this stuff. I feel like I have to find the next big idea to aim for to keep pushing my work forward.