Conversation with Mairin Hartt

Since I’ve been working on this project for over a year and a half with over 50 interviews, I think now is a good time to return to the very first interview with visual artist and educator Mairin Hartt. Below is a little taste of our conversation.


I asked her about her interest in the random or disorder and she explained about entropy:

Ok, it’s not necessarily referred to as the theory of entropy but one of the ideas of entropy that I learned in classes in college was… the second law of thermodynamics, I believe, that everything uses the least amount of energy for the most amount of output... The other law of entropy is that everything slowly moves towards entropy. Everything eventually loses energy. One of my professors was saying basically if you look at these two laws, life shouldn’t exist because it doesn’t make sense if it requires energy to be life. So that idea kinda caught on me. So anytime I see entropy I see as this weird balance between entropy and not entropy, or existence and nonexistence. So I guess a crack in a sidewalk doesn’t look like disorder if you think of it as just water slowly breaking rock over time. It’s an interesting thought to me.”


We continued on with this theme of disorder and the sublime when we talked about her ink and glass MFA Project:


“That came about because I was having lots of talks about the sublime. For those who don’t know, the sublime is an idea… of the Romanticists that nature was this awesome, frightening, empowering thing all at the same time. A lot of the literature that talks about sublime references skies and oceans, things that bigger than the human being or bigger than the viewer. And so a lot of my professors would go sublime has to be big, sublime; [it] has to be big. And I would go ‘No no, it doesn’t necessarily have to be big.’


“A large part of my MFA was making works that I could prove that the sublime could be small. The ink pieces came out from me  just playing around with ink and glass slides that I found from American Science and Surplus, which is always fun. And then I built the boxes, which took a long time, viewing boxes that were backlit just sort of to encompass the viewer’s peripheral vision so there was no sense of size or scale. So the little miniature thing, which before didn’t see all that interesting or..intimidating, but when you take away sign of size, it could be anything. It could be microscopic or macroscopic. So I wanted to show that something small could be sublime if you put it in the right context or depending on what it is. There is a small snippet of one text talking about the infinite micro being sublime, because it’s so small, you can’t see it…


“[It] was basically India ink on drafting film, which It’s hard to explain. It’s basically sheets of plastic that can absorb ink to a certain extent... I liked translucent aspect of it that light could fall through; [it] made a  glowing effect. I think someone mentioned it reminded them of stained glass, which is something I didn’t think about. I guess in that way, it does emphasize the traditional sublime. When you put it together, it’s bigger than you.

“And it’s also blue. Every example that I did research on I’ve read about, all these examples, everything was pretty much blue. And I couldn’t figure it out why until I realized that all the authors and Romanticists usually referred to the sky and ocean, which are blue. It kinda makes sense that blue would be the color people chose. But that's mostly creating sort of playing around an amorphous thing.

“It was interesting cause I asked people’s reactions to it. I was trying to make something a little intimidating. I was asking if people would describe this as sublime. It turns out that a lot of people have a lot of very different feelings on what would be sublime. Some people said ‘Oh I should be more frightened.’ Some people say it should be more comforting. It should be darker or it should be lighter. It was very interesting. Because sublime wasn’t this just one thing. It was sort of a more messy grouping of horror and joy. All these things put together. Some people wanted to have more a joyful experience; people wanted to be frightened by it. One guy said it scared him and he didn’t want to get too close to it. I got a variety of reactions. It was interesting. I did it just to see what would happen.”

That’s just a small part of a wondrous interview.

Check out Mairin Hartt’s work at