Six questions for
Sina Hensel

Tique asks six questions to an artist about their work and inspiration.
This week: Sina Hensel.

Artist Sina Hensel
Lives in Brussels, Belgium

How do you describe your own art practice?

From a young age I was always very wary of the notion of language, how inaccurate it always seemed to describe something. And its lack of situatedness in so many occasions. Yet, I’m a very interested in ways of communication, just not primarily through verbal means. Bodies, human and non-human, have so many alternative means to communicate. And in my case, I am interested in all the different ways colour plays a part in that. Especially now, as the warming of the climate accelerates, cells, bodies and landscapes for example redden or blush more frequently. Plants or microalgae produce glowing pigments as a response to the changing Earth, agents of stress and agents of care at the same time. Today, colours not only shift but also strain to perform resistance. To me, as an agentic force, colour can move, scar, imprint. It can even shape-shift. Hence, these phenomena, if we allow and attune to it, communicate (not only) with and to us. As signals, the messages sent are manifold: Colour is involved in endless encounters with and in its surrounding; these encounters are inscribed via kaleidoscopic transformations as they register the chemical make-up of their environment. Originally trained as a painter, I look to strategies or conditions that constitute their being. So I think my practice is a sort of material re-enacting of processes of appearance and loss at the same time. But also, to make this exercise again and again, to understand for whom something constitutes a harmful threshold of experience, and how is it articulated (through colour)?

In the end, I work in many different mediums, whatever serves well to allow transformation to appear or arrangements that set the conditions for it to happen. It is all very sensual. And to pay attention to the fact that not all the agents involved in a work are tangible, rather sometimes also immaterial forces such as light and heat play a key role.

Which question or theme is central in your work?

When you want to talk about colour, it’s a total mess, they change constantly due to light, the season, their material qualities and so on, and through the lens of somebody trying to describe them they seem to be changing again and again. Therefore, for me the notion of colour can hold so many different questions at the same time: the fleetingness of an ever-changing globe; it stands in for plural versions of an event (from different scales or perspectives); it talks about time, since it is almost never static. It can become a witness to historical contamination or the notion of control. But it never exists in a vacuum. At least not the way I understand colour. And in that sense, it is part of what Anna Tsing described as ‘Thinking through Encounter’ I think.

And for me, it is crucial to rely on experience-based knowledge. Colour in its many textures, shades, velocities, temporalities is something that is the most essential in every sensation that triggered some sort of relevance to me. And our current times are especially important for perceiving those differences, since they tell the story of the Anthropocene (and all that comes with it) differently. To look at an orange without thinking how the orange in the orange occurred in it in the first place has almost become impossible. The same with salmon and to understand how the usually grey body gets forced to be rose without asking its permission. Newly painted walls at home make me think about Germany as the driving force for the distribution of synthetic organic paints. So, colour in fact permeates every single object, process, metabolism of our every-day life. And most of it is artificial. One can see it as a symptom of our current society where, as speaking on the behalf of colour, it is not enough to be dead once, at times you have to be dead twice in order to even count as colour. And I think it’s this tension between the ‘natural’ (whatever natural has come to mean today) and the artificial, as well as the intersection of the ecological, personal, and economic dimension that interest me.

What was your first experience with art?

This was not my first experience yet one very formative: When I studied, I had this one teacher who was obsessed with colour, before he would start a painting he would mix maybe 50 different shades of grey, all of them slightly nuanced, and in hindsight I feel this was my education. To be able to perceive these differences, it takes some training. But still I wanted these shades to mean something or rather I already recognised all of them outside the studio, somewhere in life. I think that is why giving agency back to colour-bearing organisms was at some point so crucial to me, to create meaning outside my studio premises, and outside myself, and rather to stress the fact of encounter and conversation among human and non-human agents. (Even though I’m aware that the appearance of colour can at times mean something very different for me than for a non-human agent, and then especially to look towards these gaps of knowledge or understanding.)

What is your greatest source of inspiration?

Experiences I think, and when I say that I don’t necessarily only mean my own. And with that comes observation. Maybe it is in the end more like an attitude. To spend time with transformations that are held (not only but also) in my work, and the small movements that are displayed (mostly not much in space but in time) of the human and non-human world. In one guise or the other, to study this ‘language’ which the vermilion lakes, purple plants or blushed humans are part of might enable us to exceed a current understanding of global entanglements which gets only visible through the constant reorganisation of colour. And in the end, the wish to find new narratives than the ones we have in Western society, narratives that are rather shaped by acknowledgement, and the notion of repair or at least respect towards our surrounding serves as great inspiration for my practice.

What do you need in order to create your work?

As many of us, I think right now I try to be very aware to unlearn certain things. I feel there are these layers and layers trained in my thinking and doing, and before I even start something I have to first peel back one layer and another and another.

And I feel I need to hurry up because I know the moment is fleeting, but it is also interesting how to then get to the actual thought or work. And in the end, it’s always hard to say why one is moved by certain things. But trying to understand what triggers something in the first place, as affective responses. Therefore, the collective work with the students at university is next to the studio work as important, to be in exchange, and to attempt to find a ‘language’ that describes those bodily sensations, human and non-human and how to communicate them visually.

What work or artist has most recently surprised you?

Maybe the film ‘Anatomy of a Fall’, and to come back to the notion of different perspectives and their communication or expression. What surprised me a lot here, was the fact of resistance of the main character to reduction of experience just in order to feed into a certain narrative that somebody else could easier make sense of or relate to. To hold this complexity at all times and to refuse to make any experience less than that, I found quite amazing and could relate to very much, even though the work at first gaze seems totally unrelated to my practice.

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