Inspirer Talk – Mark Price on Hester Reeve

Words: Aimee Plumbley

Mark Price is a Professor in Philosophy at Manchester Met, with an interest in visual arts. In particular, he has an interest in aesthetics, a sense of knowing is aesthetic knowledge i.e. sexuality , poetry, breathing.

“Pressure is put on young people to define their aesthetic before they’ve even grown it. Grow your practice first, then worry about what it’s called later.”

Hester Reeve has always resisted University, gallery art, auctions and the cannon of tradition and so on. The cannon refers to the traditional male artists who fathered the movement and isms, it’s something that can be pushed against.

“Art does not happen without resistance”.

Hester’s body of work includes sculptures, song, music and live performance

In the words of Joseph Boyes, Reeve’s art craft is a means of sculpting society. She works with what’s important at a specific time in place and in persons. Her conceptual persona, HRH, which evolved to highlight the contingency of language and embodiment and gender frame our politics.

“I don’t make political art. I make art Politically”

All art is fighting for or against something, whether it knows it or not.

Some of her work iscomprehensible, in terms of straight forward symbolism. Hester pulls on the phrase ‘the Cannon’. She is surrounded by toy cannons, holding a book on the history of art, it’s His story and not her story, a creative halo for those who stay inside the limits, the perimeter is real but the phallic symbol of the cannons are toys. To step outside of the cannon is to step outside the species recognised by traditional art.

When DADA goes into art galleries, punk is brought into mainstream fashion and rave culture is brought to radio 1, there is essentially a degeneration/ dilution of energies.

“A love of philosophy is key to my practice… most of my public work is about exploring the interactions between philosophy and art. I find   get caught up morally right or wrong or responsible, I’m not sure being responsible is part of or helps when it comes to art”

Hester’s work has Important links to witchcraft, shamanism, contact with demons, raising ideas to life channelling monstrous ideas from outside of normal art and normal feeling. Reeve’s work brings dead matter to life

“Most of my early work… was about activating matter, it wasn’t just about making art but how I live in the world. It’s about living in the world and knowing that everything has a chance to be vibrant and living around me… the structure and discipline of my work is about freeing up the forces that might allow that buzz to emerge”


“I don’t consider myself a live artist anymore… I probably was never a live artist. I don’t get cross at being called live artist or being misunderstood. Anyway, misunderstandings are interesting; if any art is rich enough they will always be interpreted and misinterpreted and all stations in between”

Not being understood is a key historical influence in Hester’s practice. Dadaism, the antiart movement, creative relation to performance and comodificationdada were all seen as cultural and political disgrace. It wanted to be in the face of society that consented the mass killing of the first world war dada-ers, and were considered to be moral monsters. Hester though suggests the monstrous might be in a superior position.

By 1910, people were picking up on the fact that whatever rationality is it’s not much in the way of survival value, it brought bombs and killing. Rationalism started a war over the death of some obscure arch duke by an anarchist not linked to any nation.

In the past, Hester’s work has been described as powerful, yet incoherent. It must be strange to be told your work is powerful, but incoherent.

‘What is this, art, or instructions from Ikea?’

Reeve’s work is not art for art critics, it’s art for the people on the streets or in the park.

Her largest work to date is Art in the park Ymedaca (academy backwards, it’s the opposite). Hester is comfortable with talking about high art concepts to non-specialists, and hosting dialogues with art in very unlikely places. Art is out in the world as opposed to a subject to be studied in the academy: to be tested, graded, commodified. She worked with groups like Hand Tool Users United, Royal British Legion, Yorkshire Men society Nudist group etc. They are not art specialists, the are members of the public. Ymedaca was a huge sculpture installation in a park. An example of what would occur in one day: an address to the rising sun, naked exercise, geometry, talks on philosophy and Plato, a symposium and so on. Reeve deliberately raises a serious set of issues about tensions concerning the way which art in the general sense is meant to fit in at University’s whose main concern is economic profit. Reeve profoundly questions our own work, our own university work and the entire economic enterprise:

“I’m not interested in my work being culturally significant efore I start…I don’t want the money for recognition, I want th money so I can make more art, and I’m definitely not going to change my work to sell things…”

Communitarian action and resistance of commodification.  Something of the scale of Ymedaca is impossible to commodify, even if you bought it where would you put it.

Hester’s work demands that we conduct our work outside of university, outside of galleries and the cannon- there are monsters outside the gallery, the universities. You should get out more and try to meet them.





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