September 22, 2023

Hilly Holsonback, a dynamic and buzzworthy multimedia and performance artist, has become a fixture in the North Texas art scene in recent years for her unique uses of projection, light and photography, and for her subtly transgressive takes on American femininity.  She’s had solo exhibitions at Eugene Binder Gallery in Marfa, Texas, and Sean Horton Presents in Dallas, Texas, and her work was featured in I’m Looking Through You, a two-person exhibition at Horton Gallery, New York, in 2012. Holsonback has also been featured in various Dallas group exhibitions at the Dallas Contemporary, Site 131, and Barry Whistler Gallery, among others. The Dallas Observer recently named Holsonback (@hillyholsonback) one of the “Dallas Artists You Should Be Following on Instagram.”

A woman sits on a piano, wearing red and white striped pants, holding a glass of Still Austin whiskey.

1. What gets your motor running?

I love collaborating. Play is essential to my process. If I can’t be silly, I’m not interested. It also has to be challenging. If it’s something I have no business doing, I jump in headfirst.

2. Tell us about a work of art you feel is woefully misunderstood or underappreciated.

I know this isn’t a piece of art, but I just adore the little I’ve read of Baroness Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven, a brilliant early twentieth-century artist most people don’t know about. The art community is coming to understand she was an important fixture in the Dada movement. Some famous works are now being attributed to her. She was amazing: she would dress in street debris, explored androgyny, and she used the female form to explore activism. Elsa was the living embodiment of feminist Dada, very ahead of her time.

3. Your work prominently features the use of projected images. How—and why—did you start using projection?

I came about it through a combination of several interests. Footage of early Pink Floyd performing live with psychedelic projections distorting the go-go dancers on the stage is probably at the core of the idea. I spent some time imitating the work of Cindy Sherman and playing with rear screen projection but got bored with it pretty quickly. I’m super into twentieth-century pop culture history. Advertising through the decades is a fascination of mine, particularly around the female image. This includes women in film as well. I utilized my favorite (also, most disturbing) advertisements and projected them, using my own body to bend, blend, and distort the male gaze. My tool is my body. I repaint ads in an effort to recontextualize them.

4. Your projection art features a lot of famous women from history. What’s the thinking behind this?

The beauty standard in America (and around the world) is very homogenized. It’s all marketing invented to sell products and keep women latched on to an unattainable and false ideal of true beauty. Most, if not all, women don’t identify with the images they’re sold; all of which were created by men. I suppose I use these images in an effort to explore my own relationship to advertising.

5. You also do a lot of performance art and experimental theater. What do your performances entail, and how is the performance art scene in Dallas?

My performances are almost always immersive, full of spectacle and absurdity. I once crawled into the freezer at a Whole Foods to watch people shop, so you get the picture.

I like work that is nontraditional. I collaborate with so many talented artists, like Dallas-based Therefore and Dead White Zombies. Our performances run in unusual locations and tend to push the envelope of what is and isn’t acceptable. The goal is to open the conversation of what art is and what it can be. It’s exciting to go into it with less rules and more intuition. I genuinely believe the audience responds to our freedom, and I do my best to make sure they leave having felt something.

6. If you met a magic genie and could have one wish for art in Texas, what would it be?

Please send more weirdos.

7. How do you take your whiskey?

With anything sweet!

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