If you don’t know Prue Stent and Honey Long by name, chances are you’ll recognise their distinct imagery that abstracts and conceals aspects of women’s bodies using an endless array of material and contorted close-ups to examine how the female body can be a strange place to occupy at times. Prolific on Instagram, and recently named on Forbes Asia’s prestigious “30 Under 30” talent list for 2018, the Melbourne-based creative duo are flourishing in an art world where such partnerships are otherwise few and far between.
Now both 24, the pair met when they were just 14 years old, and established their creative partnership early on. “Our artistic practice evolved very naturally,” Long and Stent say. Their unique creative process is one the duo describe as “liberating”, owing to their differing artistic backgrounds, Long in sculpture and Stent in photography. “We have a complementary dynamic which allows us to let go of overly controlling the outcome, trusting that the parts will fit together.”
While at first glance their work seems irrefutably photographic, Long and Stent describe their practice as multidisciplinary, a fact which becomes evident through their subversive performative and sculptural compositions. “Our process starts with the construction of sculptural elements, which are then brought into an environment or landscape,” they explain. “From there we take a very performative approach when interacting with the materials.” Photography is the final part of the equation, the duo’s preferred medium for exhibition, and a way of documenting the entire process. The result is a moreish aesthetic signature, which has earned the creative partners a global following.
Forged by the interplay between nature, setting and the portrayal of the body, there’s something natural yet jarring about their compositions. This distinct representation of form and landscape is their trademark, and was born from the artists’ frustration with reductive binaries and classifications. “There are so many fantasies that have been projected onto our bodies by patriarchal culture that work to both isolate us from and associate us with the natural world,” they explain. By viewing the body as matter, Long and Stent recognise it “not as the sum of our identity, but rather a vehicle through which we can engage with the greater fabric of life.” It’s a concept which seamlessly translates into striking visuals, and demonstrates a rare sensitivity to the experience of living in a body for people who self-identify as women.
Focussing exclusively on the body, the female figures in Stent and Long’s work often have their faces obscured – a decision that eschews certain norms in the portrayal of women. “We found it a lot more interesting and liberating to use the body in this way,” say the duo. “Female identity shouldn’t be tied to anatomy, but the body is a wonder in itself to be experienced and celebrated.” It’s often Stent and Long’s own bodies that feature as the subject of their disruptive images. “So much of the work springs from our own desire for bodily engagement,” they explain, “and so we do tend to use ourselves a lot. We’ve put our bodies in some pretty bizarre situations that we wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable making other people do.” Rolling around in algae-filled mud pits and lying still under a rice paper membrane while being attacked by ants are just two situations that attest to suffering for their art. “But it’s also a weirdly satisfying part of the process,” they assert.
With a bunch of underwrap projects on the horizon and the recent opening of the highly anticipated Phanta Firma at their representing gallery Arc One, Stent and Long have no desire to slow down. And despite their success, the pair refuse to calm their experimental approach, instead embracing the trial-and-error nature of their fruitful partnership. “The best art comes from a relationship and its unexpected outcomes, not trying to be the master of your work.”
Phanta Firma is on show at Arc One until 23 June.