Meeting Hipkiss & Graney: Video games are fantastic vessels for carrying stories

(Photo Credit: Greg Milner)

We met up with Jonathan Graney, who makes up the Graney part of Hipkiss & Graney, alongside Dale Hipkiss - who takes responsibility for all things Hipkiss. We learnt all about what they do and why their love of video games influences their work. Hipkiss & Graney are part of our Outdoor Arts programme, where you can become story architects and create your own building in Somnopolis: City of Dreamers.

Who are Hipkiss & Graney?

We are a visual arts duo based in South Birmingham. We build large scale sculptures in public spaces that are really influenced by our childhood, specifically science fiction films, video games and thoughts around survival and the future. As we get older, themes which felt very far away as children feel more and more relevant - particularly ideas around the apocalypse and the environment. We work together partly out of survival, we both want to make big scale public artworks and doing that on your own is almost impossible- you need lots of support and as a duo we give each other a lot of support.

Another reason that we work together, is that we feel we understand each other's individual practices. We both care about the same issues but Hipkiss is certainly more interested in the environment and bio-diversity, whereas I am more interested in community dynamics and how people interact with art in public space. These two interests marry really naturally.

How do public sculptures differ from a sculpture inside a gallery?

Sculptures in a public space are there is intrigue and challenge everyone, everyday and it’s a way of distributing art and ideas towards everyone. Public sculpture engages our deep sense of mystery. There are so many mysteries in the world, and to have a mystery within your community can help explore ideas we don’t always talk about in fun and interesting ways.

What’s something from your childhood that has really influenced your work?

Video games are a huge touchstone in our practice. Videogames are fantastic vessels for carrying stories. Creators have to really consider how the audience are going to navigate their 3D spaces within games, and that’s something which we think about a lot. We want people to wander around our work, and have to consider how people are going to relate to the space and connect with the ideas that exist in that space.

Do you have a favourite video game?

Dale’s favourite game is Final Fantasy VII (a video game from 1997, that’s currently being remade). It had a completely environment focused

narrative, and a main character was called Cloud Strife who carried a big sword. It brings together the environment and community dynamic and its influence can be seen in everything we do, because we’re always asking ourselves, and others, ‘how do communities fit together?’.

What’s the earliest story you remember being told?

My dad used to take me and my sister to Coombe Abbey where we would walk through the park and the woodlands. In the wood, there was a large tree that had been struck by lighting and cut in half, and a sculptor had made it into a sculpture of a young girl who looked very, very scared. I asked my dad who she was and he told me that she was a young girl from during the England Civil War. She was a refugee looking for safety and had fled to Coombe Abbey to search for safety. The Cavaliers came looking for her and her people, and she was drowned in the river because she had royal sympathies.

The story definitely wasn’t true, but she had such a scared expression that made it seem so real that I knew in that moment, I wanted to be an artist and a story teller. I knew that I wanted to create narratives and communicate with people in woodlands and magical spaces.

What sort of stories are you trying to tell with Somnopolis: City of Dreamers?

There isn’t any strict message or story that we’re trying to tell with this work, because the whole point is that people are creating their own narratives and then this will be interpreted again by a new audience.

Why are you excited to come to Big Dreamers Festival?

Big Dreamers is a really fun and imaginative festival and it couldn't be a more perfect opportunity for us to bring our own style of storytelling and sculpture to Worcester.