INTERVIEW: Natalie Hunter

Location: Hamilton Ontario



Photo by Andrew Butkevicius

How would you describe your creative process?

In my practice as a whole, I explore themes of time, memory, space, light, motion and

the senses, and how these shape experience. I often make images and installations, and I think

of myself as a sculptor who fell in love with images. I very much look at photographs as material

fluid things that are tangible objects that are vulnerable to elements, something I become more

aware of in our digital age in our screen obsessed culture. I’m really interested real ephemeral

immaterial concepts like time, memory, space, light, air, breath, and allowing them to manifest

through my work in material ways. I do this by combining the intangible staples of film exposure

—light and time—with the material aspects of sculpture. Often using translucent and semi

translucent materials like transparent film with material processes of photography.

Most of my work, whether sculpture, installation, or image based boils down to light and

time, and their psychological, emotive, and material influences on space. For the past nine

years, I’ve been layering images through multiple exposures and by layering transparent

photographs to make new images. This act of layering both inside and outside of the camera

transcends logical ideas of time. I use handmade colour filters, to bring attention to the layers

and reveal process. They separate different moments of time and leave clues as to how the

images were made. And they introduce an element of chance. They affect the way light enters

the camera. I never really know what the image will look like until the film gets developed.

Once the image exists outside of the camera it becomes a physical material thing. I often

work with photographs on transparent film and other suspended, ephemeral, translucent,

malleable, or fragile materials that embody the slippery space of thought, memory, time, and the

act of making. Folding, curling, draping, layering, and bending images within space, I create

immersive experiences and intricately layered installations that evoke reverie, sensory

comprehension, and memory formation while questioning how our bodies flow through physical

and non-physical spaces. Pinning my photographs to the wall in layers or undulating waves and

draping them over wood, metal, and plexiglass structures, my installations become experiential

encounters that speak to the poetics of light and memory, collapse time and space, question our

relationships with the material and immaterial worlds we exist in, and how we understand

memory, physical, and psychological space.

What does your studio routine look like?

I haven’t really had a consistent routine over the past year due to the disruptions that

have resulted from Covid-19. Pre-pandemic I would spend time in my physical studio working

on studio work and also teaching. For the past year I have been working between home and the

studio on photography and sculpture. I think it’s important for people to recognize that artists

wear many hats and often work at multiple things in order to sustain their practice. I teach

sessionally, and most of my teaching is done online where I have up to 250 students in one

class. There are times in a four month period when I have no time to work on studio work at all,

and times when I have a dedicated chunk of time to focus just on studio. The reality is, artists

work to carve out time to make new work. Having a studio, and that time, is a privilege. I don’t

personally know anyone who is a full time artist and has the privilege of working in their studio

for 8-10 hours a day.

Photo by Andrew Butkevicius

What draws you to the bright and bold colours in your work?

Colour and light are deeply intertwined. And light is fundamental to photography. For me,

colour is really emotive, and it is sensorial in the visual sense. I believe that the addition of

colour heightens awareness. When I think of the earliest memories that I’ve had, I don’t

remember details, but can describe sensations like colours, or scents. This is why I make and

use my own colour filters in an attempt to connect with a sensorial way of remembering.

The installation of your work offers the viewer different ways to connect with the narrative. When creating each piece do you consider the way it will be installed or is the installation an intuitive, experimental process?

It’s natural for people to be shaped, even in the subtlest unconscious ways, by their

environments and the spaces we create for ourselves. And the memories of spaces we’ve

inhabited and known intimately through time. I don’t like to ignore the space my work exists in. I

try to consider the space it exists in at the time of exhibition as an element of the work itself.

Often, my work changes when it’s installed a second or third time, or from my studio to the

gallery space. I need to do site visits when thinking about site-specific work, and I usually

respond in an emotive way that speaks to a unique characteristic of a space in order to

converse with it. Memory plays a big part in this. When responding to a space site-specifically, I

hope to produce a kind of encounter between viewer and work that elicits memory or a sensorial


Photo by Andrew Butkevicius

Can you describe the juxtaposition between the "transparent film, translucent silk, and backlight film" and "armatures that recall windows, doors, and architectural forms”?

I respond to the material properties of transparent film, backlit film, and translucent silk. I

began using transparent film with my photographs in 2011. I was drawn by it’s ability to react to

light and fundamentally speak to the material properties involved in image making. Each

material I use has it’s own inherent properties. For example, the silk is translucent and drapes

and folds in a unique way, you can create organic shapes with it as it drapes over an armature

or your hand. And it’s quite a comforting material that speaks to touch. The backlit film rolls

really well, so I am able to sculpt and drape it in a way that allows it to hold its own shape. It

also can be illuminated on both sides with sunlight. And transparent film I’m able to produce

latent images, and it’s just really lovely to fold, bend, and curl in my hands. I started working with

translucent silk after a visitor to my solo exhibition Staring Into The Sun at Rodman Hall

reached out and touched one of my transparent film works thinking it was a textile piece. I was

able to unintentionally trick a viewer into thinking they were experiencing one material, when in

actuality they were experiencing something completely different.

I build my own sculptural armatures for my images to interact with and exist upon. I don’t

think of images as static things, but material fluid things that are vulnerable to the elements just

like the materials we come in contact with on a daily basis. The materials I use in my images are

delicate, ephemeral, and fragile compared to wood, aluminum, and copper which are hard, and

yet can bend and form with my hands and material touch. I enjoy this juxtaposition. I think we

forget that images go through many processes in our digital age just as materials do. And I

enjoy how images interact with the physicality of materials that occupy the same space as our

bodies do.

I am likely indirectly influenced by industrial architecture. I was born in Hamilton, and

many members of my immediate and extended family have worked in the steel industry. My

studio is in the Cotton Factory in Hamilton, Ontario and the building is full of rich industrial

history within it’s architecture. It’s located in the North end industrial sector of the city. Most of

the sculptural elements I make are reminiscent of windows, or doors, or blinds, or other

architectural apertures we would find in domestic spaces. I am interested in how light enters

these spaces and psychologically affects our minds and bodies. But I think I am also influenced

by the industrial urban-scapes of Hamilton too. In Breath of a House #1 and Breath of a

House #2 from my solo exhibition Billows and Breathing Spaces at Centre 3 for Artistic +

Social Practice, I was interested in bringing the hidden architectures within the spaces we

occupy outward into the space as sculptural elements. Essentially flipping the wall inside out for

a moment. I did this by building copper armatures that allow my silk pieces of interior spaces to

drape, fold, and curl organically upon it’s shape. Like folding light or time. The copper armature

is partially hidden behind silk photographs, but it’s also necessary to keep the work elevated,

almost appearing weightless. As a viewer walks by or interacts with the work subtle shifts in

movement allows the silk to billow, revealing a trace of the copper armature underneath.

An incredible sense of light exists in your photographs and installation. What is it about light that speaks to memory and time for you?

Memory and time are such ephemeral and abstract concepts. For me, light connects

conceptually with memory, but it is also a primary ingredient in photography. Without light we

cannot make images. Light and time are fundamental to the photographic process. It is also how

we see colour and form, and understand spatial awareness. Light is both a destroyer of

materials, our eyes, and skin. But it’s also needed for our very existence as human beings. I’m

interested in both it’s volatile and nurturing capabilities, it’s fundamental role in image making,

it’s immaterial sculptural properties, and it’s ability to act in both material and immaterial ways.

For me, most of my work attempts to enable a viewer to witness the slow passage of

light (and with it, time) in the spaces that we dwell. A kind of durational experience. I use light in

the making of my images, but also in how they are exhibited and exist within space. For me,

light is quite kinetic, or makes the work kinetic through the passage of time. There is both

stillness and subtle motion in my work achieved through different uses of artificial and natural

light. I use light in the exhibition of my work as a material that activates spaces. For example, in

my current solo exhibition When I See, I Breathe Light at Smokestack Gallery, I installed a

site responsive piece that reacted to a particular corner in the gallery. Corners are often

considered non-spaces and forgotten in galleries. But I wanted to activate it in some way

according to how the light bounced in the corner. I installed Breaths Taken, Released, and

Caught by Light (2019), by bending and folding the photographs in my hands and sculpting them on the wall. This piece creates undulating waves and latent images within the corner, and

moves with subtlety (like a gust of wind or a breath) when people walk by.

Photo by Andrew Butkevicius

What's next for your artistic practice?

Throughout 2020 I’ve been working on a body of installation work called Scent of the

Sun. One of these transparent film installations is currently exhibited in Smokestack Gallery in

When I See, I Breathe Light. Scent of the Sun (spring equinox) is a unique transparent film

installation that traces the slow passage of light as the sun sets on the spring equinox. Draped

over maple and aluminum armatures that resemble windows or blinds, the photographs swing

and sway with subtle shifts in the building’s air currents, while producing latent images on the

walls of the gallery. I’ve produced three more - one for each of the solstices and equinoxes.

Scent of the Sun (spring equinox) is shown for the first time at Smokestack Gallery. A

special limited edition print of the same title accompanies the exhibition. It’s a miniature of the

installation in one single print with a limited edition of 20. When I See, I Breathe Light is

currently closed under the provincial stay-at-home order, but images of the exhibition are

available online.

I am grateful to the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council for their support of

my work over the past few years.

Recent exhibitions mentioned in the interview answers include:

• When I See, I Breathe Light. Smokestack Gallery. Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. February

25th - TBD, 2021.

• Billows and Breathing Spaces. Centre [3] For Artistic + Social Practice. Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. February - March 2020.

• Staring Into The Sun. Rodman Hall Arts Centre. St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. January 25 to May 5, 2019.