The new ‘Harlequeen’: A childhood obsession with clowns informs art professor’s practice


Khánh Nguyễn

WSU art instructor, Hallie Linnebur, is the creator of “Harlequeen". "I (also) like bringing joy to people by being in costume, or just making them ask questions or get curious about what I'm doing,” said Linnebur.

One particular piece of art on the second floor of the Ulrich Museum of Art stands out — a bright, colorful piece that stands proudly by itself. It’s a life-size clown. A clown without a face, but with little clown-dolls sitting on its entire body and with mirrors at every angle. It seems to mock the viewer with cheerfulness.

On Sept. 10, the Ulrich Museum hosted its fall exhibition opening where it presented pieces of art created by Wichita State faculty members. The mocking clown is titled “Harlequeen.”

“Harlequeen” was created by artist and WSU art instructor Hallie Linnebur. Inspired by Hellraiser, the alien movie franchise, her love for costumes, and of course, clowns, Linnebur created the piece.

“I’m interested in costumes and being a clown myself — I love to dress as a clown,” Linnebur said. “I’m always performing. I feel like even when I’m not necessarily performing in a performance context, I love to dress up and put on a persona for the day.

“I was sort of thinking of my love for that and wanting to create my dream costume for that piece.”

“Harlequeenwas built using a mannequin as a scale. Linnebur then tapped walls of plastic bags onto the mannequin to build up the form before paper-macheing over it. She said she intends to cut apart the sculpture and reformat it into a costume once the exhibition closes.

“I literally just gathered everything from my studio that I had — like costume-making supplies — put them all together in a pile, and said, ‘This is going to be the surface of this piece,’” Linnebur said of her process. “It was just figuring out what went where and putting it together — kind of like a puzzle.”

Linnebur said her fascination with clowns started when she was younger.

“I was a goth kid and an outcast when I was a teenager, so I like things that some people find unsettling or unnerving,” Linnebur said.

But, it goes much deeper than just being a “goth kid.” “Harlequeen” became a personal token for herself, she said.

“I have struggled my whole life with my identify and not really fitting in, and always feeling like an imposter or a tourist to another subculture,” Linnebur said. “I don’t know what authentically me is. I relate to the character of a clown or a harlequin as being like a person underneath there, but they’re clearly playing this character whose meant to entertain people — an exaggeration of emotions or playing up a certain aspect of their personality. I feel like that’s the best I can do in my life is to try to be one part of me a day.”

She describes “Harlequeen”as a “shrine and/or godlike figure” that she can “aspire to be.” And although she says she still struggles with her identity and mental health, Linnebur continues to see the positives in all of her dimensions.

“I’m trying to learn how to embrace that and go full tilt into it, and making performance and costume a part of my everyday life, and make that a part of my everyday art practice — and embrace it,” Linnebur said.

She doesn’t always work with sculptures. In fact, she said she’s mostly interested in costume making, performance art, painting, and installation art.

“My art practice is all over the place — its very erratic. I lose interest and move on to things very quickly,” Linnebur said. “That’s another thing I’m trying to embrace about myself —  that I just have an erratic way of making where I’ll just obsessively work on a project for a week and then I’ll be drained and do nothing for a month, and it’ll be a totally different medium from one to the next.”

She also enjoys combining sculptural installation and performance. She then makes up her own character and puts herself into the space she created where she can become a “living, breathing sculpture” and broaden her definition of performance art at the same time.

Khánh Nguyễn
WSU art instructor, Hallie Linnebur, is the creator of “Harlequeen”. “I (also) like bringing joy to people by being in costume, or just making them ask questions or get curious about what I’m doing,” said Linnebur.

“Sometimes, I’ll get really, really dressed up in some sort of costume or character and just go out in public, or anywhere where there’s going to be a crowd or an event,” Linnebur said. “I’m liking just doing it that way — making a costume and going out in public like that and seeing what happens.”

Linnebur said putting on a show in a costume is about connecting with people.

“I guess I like attention, but I also like bringing joy to people by being in costume, or just making them ask questions or get curious about what I’m doing,” Linnebur said. “Giving them an experience they’ve never had before or show them something they haven’t seen before or taking pictures with people — I love meeting people.”