Hillary Wagner is an interdisciplinary artist based in Cincinnati, Ohio. She maintains a socially engaged art practice and a related studio-based practice that is primarily grounded in sculpture and installation but often incorporates sound, drawing, writing, collage, performance, video, and photography. Driven by a strong relationship to materials of an elemental nature, her work emerges from her lived experience as a woman from rural, agrarian Appalachian Ohio and an acute awareness of her political identity created by a regionally defined class subjectivity. Informed by the history of systematic extraction and exploitation of Appalachia’s land and people, Wagner’s work combats the pervasive historical and political amnesia in the region & imagines possible futures for communities in Appalachia and elsewhere. More specifically, her practice is concerned with ethical agriculture methods and how these methods can be translated into imaginative, collaborative social projects and sculpture. She is interested in systems within ecology that speak to the politics of interdependency, alienation, displacement, labor & power. Wagner investigates notions of origin, memory and place and how land determines culture. And, she is newly exploring how her work could lead to a demystification and democratization of utopian agricultural technology while bringing that to intersect with feminist politics of care, belonging and the body. In exploring the political, poetic & sculptural, formal potential of new agriculture and food production technology, Wagner seeks to mobilize communities toward practical, material social change.
Many of these ideas have been brought to bear in Wagner’s past projects including SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing and the art collective Bird Closet, both sited in her hometown, Bethel, a village in the Appalachian foothills. SOIL SERIES was a process of serial, socially engaged research theorized, initiated, and facilitated together with her collaborator, Francesca Fiore, along with participating Bethel residents. This project took many forms including conversations, public programs and collective imagining. Out of the relationships established in SOIL SERIES, arose Bird Closet, an art collective, comprised of young people desiring to deeply engage with place, history, identity, and possible futures through radical creative experimentation. Bird Closet collectively sought to create a commons and the freedom to pursue social projects that often seem untenable in the world as it exists. Their activities included public billboards, zines and collages, publications, demonstrations, and a self-titled solo exhibition.