The Urban Art Debate: An Interview with Mice Hell

I first met Mice at a Dublin zine fair called Independent’s Day. The fair was to showcase and sell the zines, art, magazines, jewelry and whatever else you could expect from low-key urban artists. There was also a handful of earthy dread-locked folk performers on the makeshift stage and vegan food stalls. Held in the unapologetically minimalist and functional setting of an inner-city food co-op in Dublin 8, the location was fit for purpose. It let the art and the artists speak for themselves, unperturbed by external influence. I guess this encapsulated “independence.”

No other artist I met that day stood out more than Mice. For one, she goes by the name Mice Hell. Two, she’s unmistakably an artist. She’s usually clad in clothing that she likens to that of dead royalty and wears her vermillion hair spiked and tousled.But it wasn’t the hair or the name that made me think “wow I really need to talk to this individual again.” It was the skips.

No, not the salty prawn cracker that melts and fizzes in your mouth with every bite. I’m talking about the large metal variety that can hold eight tonnes of waste. Most people wouldn’t associate these with artistic inspiration but Mice begs to differ.

She’s not a one-trick rodent though. She’s interested in Dublin’s niche urban art-scene and resents the traditional establishment. She waves away the notion that independent art can’t flourish in a recession and started her own Papergirl project two years ago. Inspired by the Berlin faction, Papergirl involves the submission of art from artists far and wide and the distribution of their artwork to random passer-bys via bicycle. She engages in performance art like walking around a park in a Grim reaper-type hood. Oh, and she makes her own beer out of her wardrobe which is pretty cool.

So first, tell us a bit about your style:
I get most of my clothes second-hand which is a very cliche thing to say. I don’t know, I just like clothes that are a bit strange and have a nice pattern on them and if it looks like it came straight out of the 1500’s, even better. I think I might be dressed like Henry VIII at the moment. Really fat looking, padded [laughs].

How did the name ‘Mice Hell’ come about?
I spelled Michelle wrong one day when I was typing too fast. I had a dyslexic moment. I thought “That’s quite good” because I’ve always felt an affinity with rodents. I like small, sort of squirrely animals [laughs]. So there ya go.

Let’s talk about the skips. How did this foray into waste containers come about?
I started it in college, with a skip book. I did art in college so there was a load of artsy, floofy stuff going on. One project we had to do was to make a book, of some description. Or we could make a few books, if we wanted. So I got very fond of making little books about little silly things. So I thought “Ah, I’ll do one with one photographs” ‘cause that just seems like a much faster way to work. I’ve always been kind of interested in waste, things are deemed not really useful by other people…

One woman’s trash in another woman’s treasure?
And then the whole thing of just waste in general. The amount of waste that society produces is quite huge. So as well as that I don’t like spending…well I don’t have a lot of money. So I like to use things that I find in skips. So that’s where that started. Finding stuff in skips, using that. Sometimes to make art, sometimes…I found a hair dryer in a skip once. It was a Snoopy hair dryer, very cute. And I also found a gas mask, that kind of stuff. Yeah I found some cool stuff in skips. For years I was like “Ooh let’s have a look in that skip.”

So you’ve also done performance art. Tell us about the hood…
Ah, the hood. I should really bring the hood back. I finished college and I was a bit burned out from quote-on-quote proper art. It was to do with perception, how creatutes perceive themselves and do animals perceive themselves in the same way that humans do. There was a story about a kitten. As soon as it was born it had one of those collars put on itself, a postoperative lampshade for its whole life. So it had no perception of what its own body looked like. It’s like a Schrodinger’s cat thing. This poor kitten had a lampshade on its head for like a year maybe. So I thought it’s kind of similar to being on the internet, typing away but it doesn’t have any bearing on your body, but what if it does. You’re walking around with a phone that gives your location and all that kind of stuff. So I made this hood, made of slightly stiff material that robbed me of my peripheral vision so I kind of had this tunnel vision type thing and I walked around in Dublin just to see what it was like to be in public with it and got my friend to take some photographs with it. Just got a few funny looks.

So what’s next for Mice Hell?
Mice Hell has too much shit going on. I need to finish something for a change. I’m gonna finish the cloak. The cloak is happening, definitely. Hopefully finish that before Christmas. Do more illustrations. I’m working on a little…I’m doing little drawings of rhymes I heard, mostly when I was a child like you know “It, dit, dog shit, you are not it.” That kind of thing. They’re really kind of funny like “my mother and your mother were hanging up clothes. My mother punched your mother in the nose.”

Keep up with Mice’s endeavours on Twitter: @halbermice

Aura McMenamin

Image used with permission of artist.

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