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Transformer: Harley Weir & George Rouy
Harley Weir & George Rouy

Harley Weir & George Rouy on the intimate details of their art collab

The photographer and painter experiment with light, bodies, household objects, and fluids for a series of images that explore and expand the human form

Photographer Harley Weir and painter George Rouy have both explored and expanded definitions of the human form through their respective works. However, for the current exhibition, Transformer: A Rebirth Of Wonder, curated by Dazed co-founder Jefferson Hack and showing at London’s 180 Strand, their curiosity literally collides in a series of photograms that mark their first official collaboration together.

Initially working in the privacy of their own pair, Weir and Rouy experimented with various light sources, household and sentimental objects, as well as their own bodies and bodily fluids. Inviting family and friends to take part, the photograms became a flurry of flattened bodies, forcing the viewer to spend time tracing and interpreting each of the forms which rest, slab-like, on the womb-like walls of the old bank vault they’re being displayed in – and also, where some were actually made. Some might see a stiletto heel or a dildo. Others might see flowers and knives. But it’s within this ambiguity that Weir and Rouy feel most at ease.

Below, across an occasionally failing three-way Whatsapp call, I speak to Weir and Rouy to find out more behind their process and intentions.

“When I look at it, I see George’s work, and then when I look again, I see my own. Any one person can look at it and be like, ‘That’s George Rouy’, or, ‘That's Harley Weir’. It’s what’s so beautiful about the collaboration – that it’s so much ours” – Harley Weir

Where did this idea of working with photograms come from?

Harley Weir: I was already experimenting with photograms, working with objects, people, and things like that. And then we decided to do the images together, of each other. It started in a very intimate way.

But George, it’s a totally new medium for you?

George Rouy: Completely. But it was nice because the collaboration was not forced in any way. We weren't really doing them for anyone but ourselves.

Harley Weir: It was so natural. There was no idea that we'd be showing these in a certain space, we were playing together. Collaboration can be quite difficult, quite forced. This was complete accidental magic.

George Rouy: Our personalities come through in different ways in the work but I think there’s a harmony to it as well, which helps especially as we've got quite similar tastes. We started off photograming ourselves but then we began thinking about how we could do this with crowds and that was where the link around masses of people came from. Those ideas are in Harley’s work as well. But then we brought it right back again, deciding to just focus on ourselves and that's when we really started to push the medium. Harley had the ideas of pouring liquids and chemicals onto it, which reacted to the paper...

Harley Weir: Very personal items and personal liquids – lots of body fluids. We had some difficult moments in the dark. A lot of the objects are from around the house; things we were going to eat, plums from where George grew up. The fluids made changes to the chemistry. Giving an almost painted texture to the paper. For example, the plums completely shifted the colours.

How long does it take to get something like this right?

Harley Weir: We spent a lot of time developing new techniques and using different light sources, so the time varied, different bodies, different sweat...

George Rouy: It’s taken us about a year to familiarise ourselves with the process. We now have a vocabulary that we can use quite easily when making the images.

I love this image of the body with the stiletto heels. In a way, it almost looks like a painting.

Harley Weir: That's what's so interesting about it. When I look at it, I see George's work, and then when I look again, I see my own. Any one person can look at it and be like, 'That's George Rouy', or, 'That's Harley Weir'. It’s what's so beautiful about the collaboration – that it's so much ours. It's been a pleasure.

You're showing these works in an old bank vault in the 180 Strand building. Was that given to you or did you specifically select it?

Harley Weir: It was given, but it is so perfect. We wanted to have them displayed as these objects, these slabs... tombstones almost. It's quite an intense and intimate space, very womb-like. the belly of the exhibition. 

When Jefferson approached you with this idea and you both decided to come on board with Transformer, what did he ask from you for the work?

Harley Weir: He believed in them from day one...

George Rouy: Because there are two people making them, there’s this idea of collaboration and so you look at it very differently to if it was a singular person making these works. I think that was important for the whole exhibition.

“When we decided to exhibit them, we were thinking about them, not as photograms, more as these images that cross realms between photography and painting in a way that was still analogue but had this other dialogue” – George Rouy

Can you tell us more about the actual process of making these?

George Rouy: At first it was very much like a traditional photogram and the idea of a photogram is that you expose a light over an object to create a shadow. When we decided to exhibit them, we were thinking about them, not as photograms, more as these images that cross realms between photography and painting in a way that was still analogue but had this other dialogue. But we didn't want them (displayed) on a wall like a painting as such. We thought about turning them into objects, and that's where the frames came in, and why it was important to have them (displayed) in such a specific way. So they're presented as these slabs against the wall, they exist in another realm completely. But in terms of the process...

Harley Weir: We were painting with light.

Were you influenced by other works, readings, films when you were creating these?

Harley Weir: I think we were just so in it – it was so physical, we weren't really thinking about anything else. 

George Rouy: The one thing that I was aware of was that we didn't want the work to be too nostalgic to this whole photogram era, to the Man Rays, and all that. We wanted to keep it very much our own medium rather than it being a reference or a nod to a certain era. I hope when people see it, they'll see it's moved on from that.

Harley Weir: I like the idea of not talking about it as a photographic term because it holds it in a place which feels a bit concluded. 

George Rouy: That's why the way they are exhibited is so important. That they exist in a different place.

See the collaboration at Transformer: A Rebirth Of Wonder until 8 December 2019