Meet the artist exploring loss and mental health with her Somerset House exhibition.

It’s a truism that loss is a universal human experience, yet every individual deals with it differently. For British artist Hannah Perry, her latest exhibition GUSH, which opens today at Somerset House, was an emotive response to the sudden death of a friend.

Perry’s multidisciplinary art features a large-scale sculpture, an immersive film rigged with a 360 degree screen (surrounding guests with visuals of contorted bodies), as well as fragmented spoken word audio – all as an exploration of mental health, looking at the impact of trauma and grief on our physical and mental states.

We chatted to the artist about the new exhibition…

How did you start out?
It was quite simple, I just wasn’t any good at anything else. I wouldn’t say I had the best education in the world until I found something I enjoyed and ran with that. I was accepted into Goldsmiths College and then went on to do my MA at the Royal Academy Schools.

How do you want your art to make people feel?
I always enjoyed artwork that made me feel something, or perceive things in a different way. My latest show looks at how we experience the world from a physical and emotional perspective. Many of the works are quite physical and trigger strong emotional responses.

What inspires you?
Working with young people, working with people from different creative fields. I have been working with musicians and dancers for a long time and it always amazes me and brings me a lot of joy to work with. 

Can you describe the kind of art you create?
I make video, installation, sculpture, painting and performance. The sculptures and installations are usually large in scale and industrial or mechanical. I’m currently finishing editing my film that I have shot and edited in 360, which means it’s a fully circular video where the viewer can come into the middle and be surrounded by the screen. The 30-minute performance piece consists of movement, dance, spoken word and classical and electronic music. I have been working with the London Contemporary Orchestra, Coby Sey and Mica Levi and 4 performers for the live elements. It will be juxtaposed with a pre-recorded script that I wrote based on my own writing and workshops with a small group of teenagers from South London and recorded the script this year at the National Theatre. 

Why the name GUSH?
It’s a kind of liquid language flow out of something, gushing, vomiting, purging, bleeding. It’s bodily: tears, sweat, cum, perhaps even milk, piss, or plasma flowing from flesh. It’s a welling up or a purge of emotions and how closely connected to love those emotions can be.

GUSH explores the theme of loss – what made you want to look at this?
There are many reasons to why we might feel a sense of loss or despair. In my case, it was a loss of a best friend to suicide. I wasn’t prepared for the trauma or the horror of it all. Violently shocking in its extreme. Yet somehow still reminiscent to that listless, lifeless lumbering feeling in which you might wake deadened from a row with your partner.

Was it therapeutic creating this art at all? 
This body of work is completely therapeutic, a way of understanding and looking at what happened and in some way also is a way of collaborating with him again. I worked with a lot of my friends when I made the script. I also think the show looks more broadly at mental health which needs to be normalised completely, and how this is often gendered.

What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received?
“Do not apologise for your emotions.” It was feedback from an Indian man who works in pharmaceuticals in China whilst I was at the OSHO ashram in India.

What’s next for you?
Next we tour GUSH from Somerset House to The Towner Gallery, a museum in Eastbourne. So I’ll be off to install that. I am going to Miami for a fair in December then I start working on a new solo at the Kunstverein in Hamburg, one of the oldest museums in Germany. I am very excited about this.

Hannah Perry: GUSH will run at Somerset House, River Rooms from 3 October – 4 November

Maybelle Morgan

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