Brit Hessler received her BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently works out of her studio in Chattanooga, TN. Her photography often focuses on memorials and rituals surrounding death, and her passions lie within comparative mysticism, herbalism, grave architecture, and the vagabond life.
Brit contributed an essay about her travels throughout the South to the second print issue of Southern Glossary.
How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style?
Since I was young, I’ve had “morbid” interests thanks to every family vacation set at Civil War battlegrounds and graveyards. In college, two courses—‘Archaeology of Death’ and ‘Comparative Mysticism’—helped me channel my ideas into sculptures, weavings, and photographs. Momentum has only increased since then.
How do you choose your subjects?
I wait for the still moment; I suspect it’s why I reserve my photography for cemeteries or sacred areas where moments move at a different pace. I think people are more attentive to the air they expel in these places. We hold ourselves differently when death or “god” are near, as to keep something away or invite something into ourselves.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
Leonard Cohen, William Christenberry, James Agee, Howard Finster, Simone Weil, Kerry James Marshall, James Son Ford Thomas, Sister Mary Corita Kent, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Gunta Stolzl, Eva Hesse, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Georges Bataille, and Harrison Mayes.
Do you have a creative or artistic peer group in your area that you're a part of?
I just moved to Chattanooga and have found a productive lifestyle in solitude, mostly by necessity but sometimes through choice. But there are a few women here who will stay up late with me on a mountain and talk about metaphysics.
Where do you go to draw inspiration?
In the fleetingness of experience in love and passion. I have a graveyard of images and sculptures set to the tune of fleeting love. I’m like a morbid Taylor Swift, I suppose. I believe in destruction for advancement.
In places where the dark can get in and the light can get out. There are thin places in this reality where we get to commune with something beyond ourselves. Whether it’s an institutionalized sacred place or on a barstool, it’s that moment of ecstasy. There’s nothing more provoking than the palpable high of moving from the profane existence of everyday activity into a sacred realm.
I’m inspired in places that initially make me uncomfortable and force me to overcome some barrier I feel is existent. I try to visit at least one cemetery or church in every city I visit. A few years back, I attended a Baptist church service in Nashville, TN. When it came time for the stand and greet time, I felt more social anxiety in that church than I have ever felt at a party.
Another time I visited a mandir in shorts and was asked to wear a cloth wrap to conceal my legs. I felt so ashamed, and it really made me consider the delicateness of these uncomfortable moments where you respect others' belief systems and their sacred space. People call the police on me frequently when I’m visiting cemeteries. Those initial conversations with cops are usually unnerving but usually end with a laugh.
Do you feel creatively satisfied?
I’m not sure I’ll ever be satisfied, but I’m actively seeking a fleeting fulfillment. It comes and goes like my mania. Maybe a craigslist posting is in order, “Woman 4 creative satisfaction”? I doubt that will yield the results I really desire, though.
Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition.
Teaching at the nature school as been my focus for the past seven months. Next summer will bring some art programming for the local community and eventually an artist residency if the stars align.
I’m still in search of the right person to help me host a travelling exhibit of my banners in the style of a revival tent. Until then I'll be in the mountains foraging for natural dye sources, and I'm looking forward to sumac season again.