Interview: Hannah Geil-Neufeld

Stills taken from Geil-Neufeld’s shadow puppet show called “It is sometimes very comforting to carry a potato (and other truths about growing up).” Courtesy of

The Mac Weekly sat down with senior studio art major Hannah Geil-Neufeld to talk about her thoughts on art, her senior project and her future plans.

Where are you from?

I’m from Chicago, Illinois.

Do you have any nicknames?

They were mostly related to me being tall. So it was like “Tall Hannah” or a bean pole, like “Hannah Bean Pole.” I was called Hannah Bean Pole for a while.

Besides your art major, do you have any other majors or minors?

I’m a Hispanic Studies minor but I forget that sometimes because I finished that a long time ago.

What else are you involved in on campus?

I’m part of Mac Bike. Macalester’s elite biking organization. And I’m involved in dance things.

Do you have any favorite artists, visual or otherwise?

I wouldn’t say that I have one that I think about, I’m interested in work that a ton of people do. Though I really like William Kentridge. He’s a South African artist who makes these charcoal and paper cut-out animations. I really like the work he makes, but I also really like how he thinks about making artwork.

His whole family is lawyers, and I think he was going to law school for a while and he found there was something missing from how you could think about the world if you thought about it in terms of law. And in art he finds he can discover things that aren’t subject to cross examination but that are really very true and real.

When did you first become interested in art?

I guess that’s a hard question because I have never thought about myself doing anything else. I’ve always thought about myself as someone who notices the world around me and as someone who creates things just by being alive.

Why did you come to Macalester?

Well I was really not into college searching. I was like so “I don’t want to do this, this is so much trouble.” So I didn’t really visit that many colleges. But I knew I wanted to go to a small liberal arts college and I knew I wanted it to be in a city, which really limits your options. And Macalester is one of the only schools that I visited and I really enjoyed myself. And I just like the Twin Cities and I biked around when I came to visit and I was like, “this is so fun.” Oh, actually the real reason I came is because they gave me a lot of money.

When did you decide to become an art major?

I started taking art classes and I really liked them. I don’t think I even really imagined myself in any other majors.

How do you view your role as an art student in relation to the Macalester campus? How does your art interact with the immediate surrounding communities?

I haven’t really thought of this in terms of Macalester specifically, but I have been thinking about this a lot, like why I want to make art or thinking about myself as an artist and what that means for other people.

I’m not someone who is making objects all the time, I’m not sketching all the time. But I do collect images or ideas. Things that I notice I have to write down, like people I see walking around, that kind of thing. When I walk around the world I am constantly so overwhelmed and confused by how strange and crazy it is to be a human being in the world and I really think that some people normalize life in this way, like “this makes sense” and “I only have to pay attention to the things that I’m thinking about in my life that relate to me and that are my tasks.”

I’m starting to think about my art as a way of not so much creating new things in the world but drawing people’s attention to things that already exist. Because I think sometimes I think if I consider myself an artist, why am I not making things all the time or really working on my drawing skills or something like that? But a lot of times that seems uninteresting to me, to have an idea and just make that thing that you had that idea about.

Instead, I like to try to notice something and then bring it to someone else’s attention. I really see myself as a noticer and a collector. And not that I don’t create things because sometimes you have to create an object in order to do that. But like notice something, collect it, create something else to be noticed by someone else that draws their attention to the first thing.

Could you describe what you’ve been doing for your senior seminar project?

I have created this organization called the Department of Public Celebration and I started my project with a survey, the original survey said we’re trying to remember this parade that happened in the past and everyone was there but we don’t remember where it happened or exactly why it happened. So the idea was to get all these different stories of parades from different people and I think when I first started thinking about it I was thinking about it in terms of memory and how people remember things and what it means to remember the same thing as other people or different things.

I think of parades like a medium. And parades are interesting because they’re something we’re supposed to get excited about, we’re supposed to go watch these people dressed up doing this thing and often there’s a lot of hype around it. But often times parades themselves are really boring. We have this idea that we’re supposed to be having a good time but actually this is boring and we’re thinking “I am tired and I am hungry and cold.”

So what I’m trying to do is expand the idea of what a parade is trying to tell people you should notice the old man waiting for the bus pacing up and down and allow yourself to see that as an event in the world that you can watch and get excited about.

I’ve collected 85 people’s parade stories and some of them are standard parades, but the definition I gave was people and things moving from one place to another, so other people’s parades are not real parades at all. So in mixing them together and creating this other event. I want it to be this thing that draws people’s attention to things that they wouldn’t recognize as events as an event.

How do you see art taking a role in your life in the future?

I definitely think I am going to keep making art. Some people are like “I’ll try to show in galleries,” and I might and that’s something that I think about, but more and more I don’t feel like I have gallery artwork. So I think more of it will be performance stuff. I could definitely see myself working at a community arts center non-profit where I could work collaboratively with other people to bring art into communities. But I also don’t want to be only involved in the art world, and I think definitely community art centers are more appealing to me. I think it’s really about interacting with other people, people who aren’t you.