Art in Algorithms: Mattis Kuhn

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Mattis Kuhn

Mattis Kuhn is a German artist/curator who works in Frankfurt and Cologne. It’s artists like Mattis that are the reason I do these interviews.
I got to meet Mattis when he was doing a residency in The Model Arts Center in Sligo, and I didn’t know much about his work prior to getting the chance to meet him for the interview – now, he’s an artist I will frequently tell other artists to check out his practice. It was a great experience to get to talk to Mattis, and he is someone I have immense respect for. The amount of thought that goes into each work is incredible; my favourite parts of some of his works are the subtle fine art references that Mattis is able to fit into his work, artists like Kazimir Malevich and Egon Schiele. It was a really enjoyable experience and I feel very privileged to share this interview with you.

Programming is a common feature of your work – can you talk about that?

In general, it’s an interesting topic for me – the relationship between the algorithms that make up these programmes that we use, and their environment and us as well. How we shape the algorithms, but also how the algorithms somehow shape us. We really force machines to make something that we can comprehend – the machine is different from the human being, and we have to translate everything to put it into a machine and to get meaning out of it – and I don’t think that is always possible.

This is a key point of your piece sketch_150709b.

In that particular case, I was thinking about how algorithms are all around us, but we don’t really get a proper notion of that. I think that’s kind of a problem, that certain types of technology are so hard to perceive. sketch_150709b deals with the relationship between code and its output. You’re seeing in the video parts of coding that we aren’t usually privy to. It shows around 40 small programmes, and they all result in the same output, and you can’t see from the output what lies behind each one.
The black square you see in the video is a reference to the famous painting by Kazimir Malevich – there is a connection between his painting, the transformation from objective or representational painting to abstraction, and the characteristics of algorithms. He says his work emerges from nothing; you could say the same of artefacts produced with code, in a way. Code itself isn’t a concrete object, but you can build different objects from it. It’s somehow not really bound to the world. It’s not predefined, but you can create objects through it. So, this black square, I kind of think of it as a place holder for anything. That it’s just about that you can create anything you can imagine with code. So it’s more about possibilities than the one concrete thing.
I think that we really have to keep in mind that it is us who built the machines – they don’t develop their own intelligence, we influence what comes out of them.

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sketch_150709b, (2015), video, software (processing)

forkbombEnsemble was one of those sound installations, but it still has an interesting approach to programming.

So this is one work which really focuses on computation. This came out of my research where I tried to figure out that it makes sense that artists would work with algorithms and that art can contribute to discussions about algorithms. It was inspired by another artwork called forkbomb.pl by Alex McLean and by the Flash Crash from 2010.

McLean made this work where you can execute this algorithm. The general idea is that, depending on your input, it can cause your computer to stop running, because the process duplicates itself every iteration until your machine fails to execute the amount of processes.

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ForkbombEnsemble, (2016/17), sound installation

This forkbomb runs on a single computer. But my second inspiration was the Flash Crash where several thousands of algorithms worked together to create something unpredicted. So I put both together to make a decentralized forkbomb. It is only possible to run as a forkbomb if several machines work together through communication. But of course you can think about social developments or social events which kind of have the same behaviour where several actors working together to make something that wouldn’t have happened if they were working as an individual.

Herz Woyzeck is an interesting piece. Can you talk about that?

Herz Woyzeck is based on Johann Christian Woyzeck, who’s the subject of a Georg Büchner play that was definitely influential for me. He was very poor his whole life — moving from one job to the other, ending up in crime. He pleaded insanity, but after several expert opinions he was found guilty and publicly executed in front of thousands of onlookers. That was one key element for my work. Another important element was medical experiments in which he participated to finance his livelihood. Actually he needed to risk his health because he didn’t have much money, and it wasn’t really scientific. The doctor who performed the experiments, he wrote an extensive report about his studies, and the focus was often about how the heart of this guy reacted to these experiments, so that’s why I focus the heart in the performance.

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Herz Woyzeck, (2012), performance

For the performance, I attached myself to a heart monitor which actually dictated the play of three musicians. The notes they had to play appeared on a screen. I’m using something called twelve-tone technique, which is a method of music composition for which Arnold Schoenberg is known. You define a sequence of the twelve tones in which each can only appear once. I used the curve of the ECG to define these twelve tones. Then you can perform several operations on this sequence but you have to make sure that all tones are played before you can start with the next sequence. It’s about an equal distribution of all sounds

So the sequences were defined, but the speed and the style of the play were related to the heartbeat. I could obviously control the heart rate to an extent, but generally it goes in one direction because of the exercise I’m doing on stage.

On the visual side, I did very slow transitions between several poses which are inspired by paintings by Egon Schiele. The setting of the stage is a reference to the setting where this Johann Christian Woyzeck was executed.

Let’s talk about one of your more recent projects, lys.

It is a Norwegian and Danish word, which means ‘light’, and it’s also an acronym for the slogan: ‘leave your self’. The primary aim of lys is to connect oneself with others through implants in the brain. On the one hand with the aim of enlightenment, on the other hand to make decisions on a collective basis.
One thing that it has in common with Herz Woyzeck – and it’s the general approach of my artistic practice – I do some research without knowing what the piece will look like in the end, and through the process I kind of find my right form for it.
In this case I connected this idea of networking with the promises of technology enthusiasts and big companies to save mankind, the planet, the universe etc.. So the right form for it was this idea of a fictional company, and the media it communicates through. First of all it has to look very nice, so we start with this commercial spot which is influenced or inspired by advertising of tech companies. I tried to mimic it, as if I’m advertising some nice product or something – you think it would be very nice to have that product, so I’m using the same technique as those companies, but then I have another layer where I describe it more from a scientific angle. And from this angle you read that you have to give something over to it [the network], so it’s not really all positive maybe?

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lys, (2018), website, image film, brochure, fruit gum packages, fair stand

And then on top of that, I think the website follows this idea of making something outside of the gallery. It’s kind of like – I tried to make you as a visitor not see it as a piece of art, but instead something that could be made by a real company to promote their vision.

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Lys, detail, brochure, (2018)

Have you curated online exhibitions? Is that somewhere you would consider going with your curatorial practice?

I haven’t, but I think it’s a very interesting thing. Simply because there are shows in physical spaces that are mostly on a very short time frame, maybe a month or two, and for most people it’s tough for them to attend these exhibitions. So I think an online exhibition is really a nice medium or idea in general, but on the other hand, it’s kind of complicated I think – because a lot of it is about this sensual or physical experience, especially when dealing with AI artworks, I think sometimes it’s better to have this physical experience than through a screen.

Can you say something about your interest in dealing with AI?

I think in general with machines there is a lot about ourselves as well in them. So it’s kinda like we try and make things that we want to teach machines to do as well. We can really think about ourselves when we deal with machines because it is kind of a mirror of ourselves sometimes and it also shows us in which things we humans are quite better, but we also recognize some of our weaknesses, for example prejudices.

Can you define some different approach between your artistic and your curatorial practice?

One major difference between my artistic and my curatorial practice – whereas I prefer to go into detail about one topic as an artist, try to work one thing out, when I’m working as a curator I can go more broad, just bring together in a broader sense several different perspectives of artists who deal in detail with aspects of the topic. That’s what I’m mostly interested in when I’m in the curator role, to bring several perspectives to the one space.

You can find out more about Mattis’s work through his website link below

https://mattiskuhn.com/en

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing
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Mouth Actions: Sáerlaith Molloy

Spit it out, 2016 Durational performance, Limerick School of Art and Design

Sáerlaith Molloy performing Spit it Out, (2016),

“Sáerlaith Molloy is a performance artist that I first came across in 2018 at the K-Fest arts Festival, where she deservedly won their Screaming Pope Prize.” Sáerlaiths exploration of themes made for an amazing interview, as with many great artists you can see her evolving thought process through her work which makes her a very rewarding artist to follow. I’d like to thank her personly for being such an open and generous interviewee.

A recurring image in your work is the mouth – how does thinking about language influence your work?

I began teetering on using language in my second year of college – Labial would be the earliest example. I’ve always been interested in the idea of language, this idea of. When you speak, it’s only there for a moment, then it disappears or evaporates in a sense — that idea of how the spoken word is only there for a moment, for a second.

Language is so versatile in the way it can move or change – we speak English, and we have our own native Irish language. The Irish language is full of exaggerations! In Irish, when they describe water, they don’t just describe it as a stream, or as waves: they describe the waves as horses galloping. Like these almost magical extra added bits of language. My bible during my research was Describing Language, by David Graddol, about the origins of language – like where it came from, how it has developed in places like Ireland, and the shared kind of umbrella that Irish and German and Scandinavian languages come from. And just, you know, more about the physicality of the mouth, the ways the tongue can move and create the noises – how your tongue goes flat for ‘N’, and fat for ‘V’. How your lips would press together for ‘M’ or how your lips are open for a little bit for a ‘V’…

My niece was born four years ago, and watching her learn how to talk was like a lightbulb going off in my head. Seeing how she’s a growing woman, learning by looking at the likes of you and me speaking. Looking at how we move our lips and how that was all going on in her head. And her body was training itself to mimic these sounds, and I remember recording her and just listening to her, watching her trying to say things after my mother or sister had said something. Through that, she learned that your mouth is just an amazing part of your body.

So I was trying to see how all these things could feed into some type of performance work. At the time I wasn’t ready to perform yet in a space, but I just felt that this kind of a retelling of the story – using myself as a medium, as a way to retell something that I think – it needed to be heard. My mother had stories that I felt needed to be told. My grandmother had passed away while I was in college, and there was a lot of things I hadn’t been told about, the stories she would have told my sister and my mother. It’s such valuable information, and it is all about tradition. It’s all very connected. I could alter and distort the material itself, but also get that message across; that connection and how stories change over time. So that is where it’s really started.

Labial is a series of Holographic sculptures/videos of my mouth mirrored and edited in a way that they only produced very simplified speech. Like it was broken down to the simplest abstract noises.

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Labial, (2016), Video Installation, Inverted Truncated Pyramid, Acrylic Perspex

I have this real interest in speech development and experimentation, and that is where Labial came from; breaking down speech into quick movements or sounds and put them on repeat making an uneasy parallel, and this repetition makes you aware of what going on. You’re aware of the mechanics of it. At that time, stepping out into space by myself was still very daunting for me, so that’s why Labia was a video piece that turned into a hologram. I created a person, with these two heads that were having a conversation with each other, kind of grotesque in that way, primitive… they were very pared back to the beginnings. Just very raw. Labial will be something I will always be very proud of, and I think it’s been a pivotal moment where I realised this is what I want to do.

Would you say the body is an essential tool of sorts in your work?

I don’t think it’s an accident; it is very much a crucial part of my work. You know with a piece of work when you try it out for a few times, and you will feel that doesn’t work, or this works, etc. – every time I kind of delved further with a piece, I found it was when I used my body a lot more. I always say my work is like I’m creating a conversation; I come in, I’m having a conversation with the audience, and I’m having a conversation with the space I’m in. I’m having a conversation as a woman, with you as a man. Or even more specifically as a woman in Ireland. So there are all these kinds of layers. Maybe in the future, I’d like to invite other people and see how that works, but at the moment it’s just making use of my own interactions. I find that the conversations I’m having are incredibly personal, even when the resulting physical product is extremely abstract.

Gurgle was your next project, and there’s a real physicality to that work and your performance, would you agree?

I’ve performed Gurgle three times – once in college for a degree show, which is kind of a bubble of an environment, and then in K-Fest, which surprised me cos how open people were. I then performed it in Denmark, and likewise, people were extraordinarily open and just wanted to talk to me after.

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Gurgle, (2018), live performance, latex boob balloon, coloured water, performer., [K-Fest performance], photo by David Hegarty

Gurgle is performed under a sculpture that I built that’s filled with water, that water would shower over me. Often filling into my mouth and my interaction with the water informed the performance.

I think endurance is extremely important. I know people who perform with a set time and they would have their movements planned out for the whole performance. They would have a set list of everything they’re doing, a plan in their head. I do have a plan, but I’m not necessarily thinking, ‘I’m five minutes into the performance, I have to do this now!’ That element of endurance, working with the progression of time, I think that’s the real essence of performance art for me.

I’m very much about being in the moment, and I think that’s what performance is all about? If you talk to any performer, they’ll tell you once you are in that zone, it’s hard to describe. Once I step out there, I just completely change, I just go into a completely different mode. And it’s only when you’re there in that zone for a while that really interesting things start to happen, you really begin to work with your body. And you don’t realise it; it’s very in the moment and very intuitive, which is what a lot of performance art is entirely about. It is all about your intuition.

I remember when I worked with Amanda Coogan, I literally had just been given

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Sáelaith performing Amanda Coogan’s ‘You Told Me To Wash And Clean My Ears’ (2016)

something and was told, ‘go into that room and just play around for a bit’, and then the next day, you’re doing it! The first time I did it, I was thinking, ‘oh god am I doing this, right?’ But when the time comes for the performance it switches into this kind of zone, and you almost feel it, and I think that is what really amazing. You switch off all those stupid things you think your head, you have to think: fuck everybody, you’re there to perform! You could perform to nobody, but you’re still going to perform because you want to get into that zone, you want to see where things go and how far they will go. And it’s incredibly empowering.

So yeah, I’m seeing how far I can go, and test my limits in some ways. And sometimes it’s, ‘oh no that’s it; I can’t do any more.’ Like with Gurgle, for example, I was messing around with it, like I could go with this for a long time but after a while, I’m going to start hurting myself. So thirty minutes is my maximum! It was kind of a serendipitous accident actually, where I filled that balloon full of water, and I tried it myself for the first time – just as my throat started hurting, the water just stopped, and I checked the clock, and it was thirty minutes exactly. And I just felt – it felt right, you know?

Pillow Talk is another work of yours that has a similar endurance element.

When I was doing Gurgle for my degree show, I had Pillow Talk in my head. And I was thinking about the mouth and looking at how it moved and wondering how I can create a physical presence of language. Considering I was talking earlier about how fleeting it was, the follow-up was to ask myself, how can I make the conversation permanent? How can I make it last without it being the physically written word? I wanted an alternative mode of mark-making, using my mouth, using the core organ of speech. Pillow Talk was a thirty-minute performance where I was putting lipstick on my face, starting with the lips and moving out around the face to completely cover the head, and then lying face-first into a pillow and reciting a dialogue about my life at the time. Which was about how I just was always calculating in my head, how much time I had, things like that – it was a kind of anxious time for myself, in terms of my mental health. And the movement and the face imprint then became my pillow talk to myself. We all know ‘pillow talk’, as a term, is the kind of talk that you have at night, but this was to myself – this kind of reassurance, that everything would be OK for the next day. The imprint that was left on the pillowcase was my conversation.

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Pillow Talk, (2017), Live Performance, a pile of pillowcases, lipstick, two spotlights, a pillow, a mirror, performer.

We’ve talked a lot about the performance part of the equation in your performance art, but there’s also a lot of interesting constructed elements to your work as well – I’d love to hear your thoughts on that side of things.

I think sculpture has always been part of my work. With an object that I use in my performance, it being something I’ve made is really important to me. The work is of the body, so it makes sense for me to use my hands to create a mould of my body.

The balloon you see in Gurgle, that was very hard! It was about six months in construction. It started off with a body-safe silicone mould of my right breast, and from that I made loads of different copies of it – copies in all types of different materials, to see what would be sturdy enough. Initially, I was going to make it from something extremely hard because my thinking was it had to be hard to hold water, which was a total waste of time!

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The balloon from Gurgle

Now I’ve always been interested in latex as a material because how you can use it. It is so free as a liquid, and it is still quite flexible once it sets, so I had made my cast – my candy dish, as I call it – my breast mould, and from that, I started making a physical positive in plaster 3D. I had a kind of frame, a big wire mesh frame kind of structure, and I began to place these plaster positives of the boob on the frame and gradually built it up using wet plaster. And then filling in the gaps, smoothing it, sanding and shaving everything to make it as smooth as possible, so when it came to applying latex, I could brush it on to get the fine details of it. I would do about 15 layers, and once that was set, you have your boob made! It was a lot of trial and error, but interesting because of the use of materials and just the experimentation involved – a resin version, or a gypsum one. You know, whatever really. I was trying to see what would be the best material. That kind of trial and error was critical.

You perform with a performance art collective called Evil, tell us a little about them.

We’re all performance artists based in Ireland. There is a good group of us, roughly around ten. We all went to LSAD, and we are trying to bring art to a more public space. Kind of taking that ‘intenseness’ out of it and making it more accessible. By making it more enjoyable, people can come, and they can sit down, have a drink.

We have meetings beforehand to see who wants to perform at the event. The group gives the option for artists to collaborate, two of the artists Niamh Dorgan, and Aoife Lee . actually collaborated on a piece together at one of the performances not long ago. It’s all about getting a space for us to continue our practice – it’s something we hear a lot, how it’s very hard, when you leave college, to maintain your practice. You don’t have a studio, you have to fend for yourself really, so collaboration is something that can really help to keep you going.

It’s a platform, but it is making me more determined to keep it up and make new work in order to show to develop my practice. Particularly now I’m out of that art college kind of bubble. It’s making me want to keep going, showing new work, and it’s always really good to have like-minded people around you – it’s a good influence. We all bounce off each other. It’s something I’ll continue to develop.

You can find out more about Sáerlaith Molloy’s work through her website link below

http://www.saerlaithmolloy.com/

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing
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The Naked Camera: Fionna Murray

 

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Fionna Murray

Fionna Murray was born in London to Irish parents before moving to Ireland where she now resides in Galway. It this questioning of identity and how it relates to environment that informs her work. It is something that I can relate to having spent part of my childhood in England myself before moving back to Ireland. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to have studied under Fionna in GMIT to discuss art with her was very formative for me, and getting to sit down again with her to discuss her work was a privilege. I hope you enjoy this look into her practice and what drives her.

 

Tell me about your approach to your work.

When it comes to making work, I like the mediation of the photograph. You are looking at something that isn’t the actual thing, and that is contained. Through the observation of the photograph you can also begin to see things that you might not have noticed on a fleeting viewing. Working with film adds another interesting layer – the way a still from a film is a split second, and that the movie is again a finite thing to work within. It gives you boundaries and limitations on subject matter, but that paradoxically, allows for great freedom to do with it what you want.

I also enjoy that sense of separation, between you looking and the thing being looked at – I like the idea that this is artifice, that it’s not a realistic take on the world. The notion of the painting as a parallel place, and the freedom to make something that’s slightly awkward. I would hope that the work is ambiguous enough to support these readings.

Let’s talk about your recent work Metropolitan Pastoral, since that uses film as a jumping-off point.

The exhibition Metropolitan Pastoral in Sligo in 2019 was a development from a body of work I did in 2016, shown in London at the Eagle Gallery, which was a series of watercolours responding to Blow-up, the Michelangelo Antonioni film based in London in the 1960s.

Blow Up and Other Stories, Watercolour on Paper, 14 x 21 cm, 2016

Blow Up and Other Stories, (2016), Watercolour on Paper, 14 x 21 cm,

I had been painting watercolours from photos of shopfronts and different random things, while at the same time I had been watching films based in London. Blow-up was one of those films. I already had a distinct memory of the film, and it had a real effect on me, that resurfaced when I watched it again. The plot wasn’t what interested me in the film – it was the imagery of London, nearly every still in that film was a possible painting. There was a dislocation in the film with a sequence set in an ordinary city park.  One image from Blow-Up was similar to a painting I had been doing before – a rose bed in a park. I decided to paint a watercolour of a still from the film, not thinking it would go anywhere, but then I kept stopping the film as I watched it on my laptop and began to make more and more paintings from the stills! And that eventually developed into the series Blow Up and other Stories.

It was interesting to me that the director Antonioni, an outsider, was able to pick up on the atmosphere of London at that time – albeit of a particular but very creative and influential scene.  I could identify with it;  somehow as I was growing up I could feel the energy and sense of possibility in London at that time and Blow-up really captured a certain quality in London but also, crucially, something else, a darker more mysterious and ambiguous reading that makes the film so compelling.

London is really important to you, isn’t it?

I was looking back at London, but as I made the watercolours they also became something to do with me being in Ireland. My parents grew up in Ireland before they went to London after the war, and home to them was Ireland, and now I’m here living in Ireland. So I’m sort of thinking, which is home – is it London or is it Ireland? And something about that shot of Vanessa Redgrave standing at the edge the park, with her back to you, I could identify with her figure looking into this rural image, you know?

It’s always about this idealistic place that you can never quite reach. Maybe doing the paintings is a way of living in a world that you can create, that you can be in for a period of time in order to resolve something. For me, Metropolitan Pastoral isn’t just nostalgia: the work isn’t about pining for another time, it’s looking at how an environment can affect a person and maybe their sense of self.

Blow Up and Other Stories, Watercolour on Paper, 14 x 21 cm, 2016

Blow Up and Other Stories, (2016), Watercolour on Paper, 14 x 21 cm

All the same, it’s that classic thing, isn’t it? Writers are always looking back at the place that had the most substantial influence on them. I might have thought I’d be making work about Ireland or of Ireland, but the strongest draw is still to do work about the place that formed me. Maybe it’s because visually you’re taking in so much when you are growing up, and those images embed themselves into who you are.

In a way, the second-generation Irish over in England are an invisible ethnic group, because they look like everyone else there. Even their accents are English a lot of the time. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Second-generation Irish often want to be known as Irish and not British, so there are all these funny nuances and our parents would talk about ‘home’ – which was where you would gradually grow to learn wasn’t where you were living.

You added acrylic and oil paintings to the series – can you talk about that?

Stroll On, Mixed media on canvas, 35 x 40 cm, 2019 copy 2

Stroll On, (2019), mixed media on canvas, 35 x 40 cm

The watercolours were such a beautiful thing to do in themselves and I didn’t feel the need to make larger versions of them.  I had to take a different approach to making paintings on canvas, and my intention was to break the image down and abstract the forms somewhat from the original source. So, you wouldn’t necessarily make a connection to Blow Up in the reading of them. I continued to use stills from the film, but the image takes on a life of its own in the physical making of the work – for instance, the painting Stroll On isn’t in the film, but the idea of the building at night time with sound escaping, developed from the music club that the photographer goes into in the film. I also combined the fence pattern from the tennis court into the base of this painting and that juxtaposing of imagery is the freedom of choice that making a painting offers.

 

Grid like elements are quite common in your work, can you talk about that?

Amp, Mixed media on Canvas, 50 x 60 cm, 2018

Amp, (2018), Mixed media on Canvas, 50 x 60 cm

The idea of paintings within paintings interests me. I often see painting as problem-solving; I like the paintings to look like puzzles that have to be deciphered and sometimes I enjoy the monotony and repetition of making grids like chequer boards. Even hidden things are a game, and that is the creative part of putting on a show. In Amp, the amp shape is another canvas that is not apparent until the viewer examines it more closely -there’s a sort of materiality and layering that brings the image back to the physical surface of the canvas.

 

I made a diptych called The Girls in Their Dresses, that stands out from the rest of the work in the Metropolitan Pastoral exhibition because they are painted in a clean graphic style different from the rest of the works. They are taken from the patterns on the dresses of the two young girls who come into the photographer’s studio at the beginning of the film. When I looked at the dresses, they were like abstract paintings. So why not make them into paintings- which hold a secret – because they are dresses!

The Girls in their Dresses, Acrylic on Canvas, each 20 x 30 cm, 2019

The Girls in Their Dresses, (2019) Acrylic on Canvas, each 20 x 30 cm

I recently I saw a documentary about Blow Up, and apparently, Antonioni painted the dresses because the colours in the cloth weren’t strong enough and that revelation made me go “brilliant”! Those dresses were actually painted! That knowledge made the painting of the diptych all the more enjoyable. Antonioni’s attention to detail also extended to having the grass in the park painted extra green; his use of artificial means to heighten reality created a lucidity to the films he directed.

Let’s talk a bit about your inspirations.

There are many but someone who is an inspiration both in his beautiful brave paintings and how he talks about his practice is Philip Guston; the process in the studio, and his honesty about the doubt that’s involved and taking risks within the work. I’m thinking of how he changed from this sublime abstraction in the 1950s into a sort of cartoony figuration throughout the 1960s and beyond. He took a massive risk at the height of his success but creatively he had no choice. Those paintings can’t be appreciated in reproduction. They have to be seen in terms of being big physical luscious oil paintings, and not just cartoon pictures.

Rose Wylie is a real inspiration in that material sense; when something doesn’t work she sticks another piece of canvas on top and continues painting over the top of that! There is an obvious thread back to Guston in her work as well. Her paintings are far rougher around the edges than mine, but they are really inspiring for their embrace of awkwardness and joyful humour and poetry, and she’s in her eighties! How great is that!

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West End 1, (2018), Acrylic on Canvas, 30 x 35cm

Another influence would be Tal R, the Danish painter. I think Tal R is very material in the way that he builds up his surfaces. I saw a retrospective of his work at Louisiana Gallery outside Copenhagen – there were a lot of shop-fronts and sex shops from Copenhagen in the work. And just the way he rendered the architecture of the buildings with a quality like children’s books that gives an innocence to the painting that is not there in reality. The most recent paintings have these beautiful surfaces that look like chalk pastel. But I think it’s this idea of a window into a fantasy world with no recognisable figures that interests me.  It suggests this sort of imaginative possibility behind the closed doors. I think there may be something about the windows and the shop displays, an idea of a theatrical space. It’s artificial and it’s ideal; an ideal world that the window creates.

You can find out more about Fionna Murray’s work through her website link below

https://www.fionnamurray.com/home

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing
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Shouting Out Loud: Olivia Furey

 

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Olivia Furey

Olivia Furey is a multi-disciplinary artist from my home county of Sligo. Her genuine love for art is evident from the moment you meet her; she lives for art, and that energy is infectious; it can be seen most evidently in her captivating performances. For the first time in Painting in Text’s history, we have to include a mild spoiler warning. We will be discussing Olivia’s performances if you haven’t seen her work I do recommend checking her out it will be well worth your time or failing that check out Olivia’s YouTube channel which we to link at the bottom of the interview.

Your performance work is really unique, mind if we start with talking about that?

Thanks, Barry. I’m interested in reconstructing the typical set up for a gig. Often in a typical performance, the dynamic of the relationship with the audience is entirely passive – I wanted to confront and challenge the relationship. Speaking as an amateur, the hard part is being the person who gets up on stage and does the performance. In contrast, the audience can chill at the back and enjoy the performance. I’m trying to put the hard work on the audience! I try to interact with the audience as fearlessly as I can.

You described yourself as an amateur, that’s interesting.

Punk was an influence. I got into punk I guess in my late teens, early twenties, and it was a big deal for me discovering that. I felt like my skills as a musician didn’t measure up, but when I learned about punk rock and DIY ideology, it was inspirational for me. You didn’t need classical music training if you had something to say – you can just do it. Even with my painting, it wasn’t that I was the most skilled painter, but I would lash on paint and I kind of found my own way to approach it.

That thought process is also seen in the instruments you make for your performance.

I guess I’m quite interested in the idea of deconstructing the instrument, and it reflects on my work in a way that also plays into this lo-fi punk aesthetic. I really don’t like to have things overly polished, and I’m approaching these instruments as an amateur – I like to take an instrument that I don’t know how to play, and then find my own way of doing it. Which might play into my interest in the history of music. I know that there is a long list of musicians and artists who have approached their work this way, but I don’t see it as re-inventing the wheel, I am finding my own unique voice to the area of research. There’s definitely an element of investigation to it.

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instruments overview, (2019), dimensions variable

There’s a sculptural element in the form of pouring paint in different colours on the instruments, which was my way to bring my desire to paint into the work, but then I got to a point where I actually started to be more interested in the function of the work. My background is in painting and zines, so this was the first time it began to not be about how it looked at all! I got interested in things that don’t look right, but have a function or sound interesting. It was quite radical for me in my practice.

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Come On, You Know How To Play This, (2018), instrument, dimensions variable

Originally my performances had no music involved, it was just the vocal aspect, and I concentrated on playing around with the audience. To tell the truth, those performances were really exciting for me to begin with, but didn’t feel right – I felt like I didn’t know if I could sustain the work, and I was struggling because my interest in music wasn’t involved. But I knew that through those performances, I was taking risks that were going to lead me to do something that I would be really proud of in the future!

The instruments were initially a way for me to step away from the performance. I was struggling with my practice because I wanted both my interest in music and painting to be in my work. I needed to get away from the vocal performances for a while. And I enjoyed making music and working with sound, but still, I knew deep down that there wasn’t anything I was doing musically or visually that compared with the intensity of those vocal performances. During a group critique during my MFA, a tutor suggested to me: what if I played music at a gig, then changed during the set and started doing one of those vocal performances! And then about halfway through the second year of my MFA, it all clicked and came together, and I was able to bring the vocal performance and the music aspect together.

I think I’m at a point now where I can be brave enough to have no music in the act on some occasions. For the act to be a spoken word performance, rather than a gig, that’s a step I’m happy to take now. So that is something I feel I will be exploring more going forward, while still maintaining the sound art aspect of my work.

Music is obviously hugely important to you.

Music is my favourite thing. I’ve had an interest in music from a very early age, and I guess because I grew up in a rural area where there wasn’t a lot to do, I would read loads and collect CDs.

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Wow Zone – Pavement Parody, (2015), oil on board,  20.32 x 20.32cm

Some of my early paintings were appropriations of album covers – when I collected albums, one thing I would really enjoy were the covers. I would spend a lot of time looking at these covers admiring them. It was something I wanted to bring into my work, as well as the idea of making parodies of these things, and thought it could be a fun way to present my message when I wasn’t making music.

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Breaking Media, (2017), solo exhibition at Mother Macs, Limerick, curated by the Project Motive

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Gina Birch Quote painting, (2015), oil on board, 29.7 x 42.0cm

When I was making the zines and paintings, a lot of the statements I was making were about feminism and DIY punk ideologies. The statements I was making in these works were very straightforward and literal. After making the zines for a couple of years I started thinking about the artists I really admire, how a lot of them tend to do more ambiguous works, which was something I wanted to experiment with doing myself, so that was how I started doing the vocals performances the first year of my MFA. I definitely wanted to keep feminism in the work. Gina Birch is an influence on my work, The Raincoats are one of my favourite bands – there was a lot of sexism in the industry when they were performing. Gina would say things that were outspoken and confrontational, in way that’s similar to my character in my performances.

Let’s talk about that character.

Yeah, that’s it: the punk rock outsider, the persona I took on this year, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Initially, when I started exploring taking on personas in performance, I guess it was a feminist character that I would perform as. I was playing around with different stereotypes that are forced on women.

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Olivia performing at Edinburgh College of Art, 2019 (photo by Lizzie Dunn)

 

Part of me is fascinated in stage presences; I’m interested in the performative element of it. I want to present my music and my performance as a situationist. I want to put so much of myself into it that I’m sweating by the end of the performance! The movement of the performance really shapes this character. There is kind of a structure to it – first there’s a part where I am in control of everything I am doing, then it starts to come apart, then there’s is a breakthrough where I pull the rug out from under myself and take control of everything in the room on stage and off stage, which involves a lot of intense confrontation and challenges towards the audience; and then I get to a point where the character begins to doubt themselves and tries to win the audience over again, but fails. I don’t want it to be just one thing – I don’t want it just to be music or just a performance. It’s kind of something in between and I quite like being somewhere between the lines.

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Olivia Furey + Band (Owen Kilfeather & Angus Morrissey) performing at The Model, 2019

Why did you decide to go under your own name in your performances? Considering how eccentric your character is.

I guess the reason why I go under my own name is because people come expecting to see me playing the music. Still, all of a sudden it shifts and I’m doing something else. The audience is kind of like, oh what’s happening? I felt like if I used a stage name, I wouldn’t have that.

I did consider taking on Hyper Mundane as a name, and I guess the thing that stopped me was when I tried to change my Facebook page name to Hyper Mundane, but Facebook wouldn’t let me… so we can blame Facebook for that!

How do you view the audience in your work?

I guess I’m quite interested in the stage set up and the relationship to the audience. Maybe you could see that in my earlier paintings, when I was making abstract paintings of photos from concerts that focused on the stage and the audience? I think my most recent works which explore ways to reconstruct the set up for a gig feeds back into my interest in stage and venue atmosphere.

I really rely on the audience for the performances to excel – I’ve done performances before in front of six people and I’ve done them in front of forty people, and the audience dynamic is always significant. I did the performance at one open mic in Edinburgh where people were completely freaked out and didn’t get that it was a performance, and as soon as I finished, they just fled the building! I like to keep some of the performance quite humorous to the end, so to give people a sort of relief, but I like to hold out for as long as possible.

Evil is another project you have been working on – could you talk a bit about that?

Evil was formed during the summer of my MFA, when I came back to Limerick and I wanted to keep performing over the summer, but there weren’t any specific places or nights for performance art, so I decided I would set up my own night. I got in touch with some other performance artists based in Limerick that I knew and asked them if they would be interested in being involved. We started with a group chat on Facebook, and as the weeks went on, more and more people got added to the group, and there was so much enthusiasm. From that we decided to do it as a collective – since there wasn’t really a platform for performance artists in Limerick as such, we started our own. We had our first event at a venue called Pharmacia, the folks who work there were very accommodating and supportive of what we were doing, and from there, we got a really positive response to it. When I returned to Scotland to finish my MFA, the other members really stepped up regarding organising – it’s been a real group effort. We still have the majority of our events at Pharmacia. It’s nice to create a space for something that wouldn’t fit within the confines of a gig and wouldn’t work within a gallery context; an alternative night.

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Oliva Furey performing at Pharmacia 2019 (photo by Eilis Walsh)

You can find out more about Olivia Furey’s work through her website & YouTube channel, links below

https://oliviafurey.weebly.com/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIYxOvyPeKAWixZOLARkBEQ

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

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Filling In The Gaps: Blaise Drummond

Blaise Drummond was one of my lectures in GMIT, and my artistic development was

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Blaise Drummond

greatly broadened thanks to him and my other lecturers. My conversations with Blaise were and are hugely beneficial, and elements of those conversations can be found in Painting in Text. Blaise was one of the first names that came to mind when I started the blog, and I’m glad that I can share this interview with you

 

 

In your work you are known for paintings of buildings in nature, would you like to talk about that?

Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Liverpool, there has always been something I’ve liked about that combination of nature and the built environment.  I think in art school (NCAD in the early 90’s) I tended towards making images of that sort , mostly using vernacular architecture. I particularly liked sheds and rural buildings. I remember at a certain point seeing an image of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in a magazine and I thought that was kind of interesting and I made a little painting with that (combined with a sort of cack handed stencil taken from Bocklin’s Island of the Dead as I recall) . I think the modernist thing kind of branched out from there and I started to look at classic high modernism and obviously then when you’re looking at the books you start to read the text and think about them and the philosophy behind those buildings. The attempt to manipulate the environment in different kind of ways in various utopian and idealistic projects and all of that has sort of seeped into my work ever since.

 

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Summer House, (2019), oil on collage, 127 x 167 cm

 

Essentially the impulse is probably a formal one to do with paint in a way. The material

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The Apartment, (2019), oil, collage and beeswax on birch ply, 122 x 161cm

embodies some of those ideas about the wider world. There are contrasts and juxtapositions between flat deliberate hard edge paint, with more fluid deposits- I don’t want to use the word natural – but when paint does something slightly of its own volition, but it’s obviously quite controlled by the artist too, isn’t it? Because you decide how liquid the paint is, what colour it is and where on the canvas you drop it. But there is a certain amount of out of your controlness there. That contrast appeals to me, and the same sorts of tensions can be seen between the built and the ‘natural’ world.

 

I started making these paintings in 2003 – by these paintings, I mean what I think of as the white paintings, where they are quite big, and have a building in some sort of natural setting. A normal show would be those paintings with sculptural elements, or an installation usually occupying the three-dimensional space. All combining into a conversation. After ten years of that, I’d made nearly a hundred pieces in that vein, and began to feel like maybe some of the excitement had gone out of it?

There was excitement at the beginning because you didn’t know how it was going to turn out. And then there is a stage where you’re confident, yeah this is great I know how to do this. And they are coming out good (well some are, some of them bad maybe), but you know you understand what works and doesn’t. But then maybe you get into a later like older stage where it is too well-known territory, maybe comfortable and a bit predictable. So bit by bit over the last few years I’ve been sort of trying to find a little more elbow room in the work and a slightly different way of making things.

How are you pushing those boundaries?

For some reason lately I find myself often drawn back to the history of Black Mountain College. It was an experimental art school in North Carolina in the thirties and forties, it lasted into the fifties a bit. Over the years, I’ve made loads of paintings in relation to that. The first catalogue of my work was called By the Shores of Lake Eden. Lake Eden is on the campus of Black Mountain College. The college is famous for its alumni who went on to be pivotal in the development of modernism in America – Buckminster, Fuller, John Cage, Willem and Elaine de Kooning all taught there, Robert Rauschenberg was a student and most famously Josef and Anni Albers. I’ve been reading a lot of Josef Albers recently and some of that has seeped into the work I’m making. Little visual jokes I suppose about Alber’s colour exercises with his students. So, for example, in this painting Munkkiniemi

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Munkkiniemi Field, (2018), oil on canvas, 167 x 147 cm

Field (Munnkiniemi is a suburb of Helsinki where the Alvar Aalto house is) The painting is based on photographs I took in the back garden of the house which looks out onto an Astro pitch. I was there on a beautifully sunny day in June a couple of years ago and I just thought the artificial colours of the Astro looked great. There’s a part of the painting describing the football goal nets which is a sort of a pun on an Albers colour exercise about transparency.

 

The ways in which we read painting, or any 2-dimensional surface that purports to describe a thing in the round, is interesting to me. While I was painting this, Soren, my 7 year old, was here while I was dropping splashes of paint on the canvas to describe the leaves on the tree and he said – why are you putting it there? What is that?  And after a bit I realised what he was talking about – how could be a leaf there when there was no branch connecting it to the tree? They were just random splashes of paint to him within a painting that otherwise appeared to be descriptive.  Cos when you’re a kid drawing a tree probably every leaf you draw is attached to the tree, which to be fair is logical. But I realised that there is kind of a sophistication of language within painting whereby if you put a leaf out here (in the white of the canvas beyond any branches) the eye reads it as attached or belonging without the whole structure being spelled out. My eye accepts and believes it, but to a kid’s eye it’s not right, makes no sense.

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detail, Munkkiniemi Field

 

You realise your eye is doing a kind of trick. Privileging the visual over the rational. It kinda goes back to what you leave out as much as what you put in. Little things like that prompt me into making something, little hooks. Even the ground that I’ve started using on my canvas. There’s the normal acrylic plastic one that you would be used to, but this one, see? is a slightly different colour, Its my new invention! I saw a Matisse show in Paris about a year ago, they had loads of the fantastic ones like the Pink Studio which until then I’d never seen in real life. I was completely blown away. I noticed while I was scrutinising the Pink Studio painting, it wasn’t on a pure white ground like you would expect nor was it just sized canvas. It had a slight bit of whiteness to it, but it wasn’t a solid white background, and I thought it was really beautiful and I thought maybe I’d steal that.

So that is sized canvas as in rabbit skin glue size and then it has a little bit of zinc oxide floated in it, so it just takes the little bit of brown colour off the canvas. But it doesn’t put on a full coat of gesso so it’s in between a gesso ground and not a gesso ground. That makes it way more absorbent though and so you wouldn’t get away with anything in terms of second attempts. I can’t with white acrylic grounds either really with the way I work, it would still stain but there is absolutely no way with this chalk finish it’s very much a one-shot deal for me. It’s as important what I leave off the canvas as I put on for sure and that puts you under certain amounts of pressure because say for example the shadows on the Astro pitch painting. There is no way once you have put that paint on, that is the end of it- it’s not coming off! So then you’re kind of always in this moment of, well I think this might be good but what if it isn’t? I’ve worked for ages on this thing, what if I wreck it now? Maybe there is a certain energy that comes with that charge of fear? You can’t be too hesitant – that’s the death of a painting.I find something beautiful about these kinds of marks, just laid down with the brush somewhat recklessly with a faint splash on. And then the turpentine bleeds to make these beautiful marks. I often find myself saying this to students, that there is an element of, painting and drawing and all that, that really embody mental states, they are very transparent, sort of expressive in that sort of way that you would see if someone is hesitant or if someone is confident there is an aspect of who dares wins to it. There is an aspect of it that’s powerful, if you’re prepared to make a relatively extravagant no going back gesture on a large painting that’s obviously carefully composed and considered in other ways. I like things just being first time really. I know other painters would be very different, working and overworking a thing til its right.

 

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Summer Faculty, (2018), oil and collage on canvas, 190 x 270 cm

 

I do find myself working slightly differently now, which might be because of this even less forgiving ground. I find myself doing practices beforehand so that I try to work out how am I going to make a painting? It’s quite an old-world, formal thing to do I suppose – making a study. They are pretty much rehearsed. It seems to be the way I’m going, it used to be I would do quite rough working out things with a photocopy, kind of drawings of the paintings and then make them, bam! I’ve started working things out a bit more slowly now. Though I still wouldn’t want to over-prepare a thing though. I still want a large element of surprise in the making. I’d like to get not just what I bargained for but then some.

It’s really interesting just how you incorporate your influences, could you go into that more?

One thing that is an abiding influence on me that keeps coming out over and over again (and sometimes it’s deliberate, and sometimes I don’t realise I’m even doing it) is the Baptism of Christ by Piero Della Francesca. It’s in the National Gallery in London, I’ve been ripping it off in a thousand different ways over the years, from the puddle of water with the reflection of the sky, the colours, the plants, even the little cut tree stumps. Its funny in a way because I’m not religious one bit, but I really love that painting. It is funny to be so moved by that, but it really is a beautiful painting. That’s the thing about influences. You are drawn to and influenced by the stuff that you are already predisposed to in some way. You’re working in a certain way and you see something that really resonates with those interests. I don’t know how much it is conscious, it’s not necessarily that I say hey it would be nice to have another small plant in the foreground. I was probably inclined to that already when I saw it embodied elsewhere. But that is certainly one painting I think about when I paint.

At the moment I am very fond of the American painter, Fairfield Porter. An interesting guy, he was a writer and critic, his background was painting in New York in the thirties, he was friends with the abstract expressionists, but his influences were more Matisse and Vuillard so he carried on through all this making figurative paintings when I suppose it would have been very unfashionable but I think they are amazing. I must admit, I have never seen any in real life. But I’d like to. He was very much in my mind with some of this recent work. For years I wouldn’t have any figures in the paintings, and people would ask me where are all the people in these buildings? So, for years I was consciously going There are no people in these paintings. To allow them in now feels like a slight freedom. Allowing yourself a slightly different subject matter. Not that anyone else cares much one way or another. Ha. But these are the sorts of things you find yourself thinking about. In your own little world.

 

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Centaur, (2018), charcoal, gouache & collage on paper, 120 x 118 cm

 

For example I can’t imagine myself doing this large drawing, Centaur, before now. That is Robert Rauschenberg in the check shirt and he is working on a costume for some kind of school play they are putting on at Black Mountain College, this sort of Centaur figure woman. I had just bought these charcoal pencils that came in different colours and I came across this image when I was cruising around Google images and it occurred to me that it might be a fun thing to do with these materials. Yeah it’s kind of the same sort of hard-edged careful representation with the checkered napkin collage versus these more gestural, more expressive kind of pencil marks. I’d often pocket things like the napkin when I’m out, I have a huge drawer of that sort of stuff in the studio. All kinds of different sweet wrappers and things like veneer and felt and odd bits of plastic and wood and foil. Or even just envelopes. They end up in the work somewhere along the line. Really what you’re interested in really is the materials and these kinds of formal elements. And you are finding an excuse to make one image rather than another. Like how you can just cut out a shape from a completely different context then stick it down into another and suddenly it becomes something different. And you can believe that is a jumper or a dress or whatever, even though its actually only an old crisp packet. It’s nice that you can put down so little and yet your eye can fill in so much. It’s kindly like that.

 

Obviously you put great importance in seeing painting in the flesh.

Realistically most people seeing your work are only going to see it as a reproduction on the internet, aren’t they? The proliferation of images of the things you make on the internet must swamp the percentage of eyeballs that have seen the thing in real life. How many actually go to a show anymore?  And the show is only on for three weeks in like Paris or Germany or wherever. The proliferation of images of your work around the internet is incredible so ideally they ought to be very well recorded least. Sadly its beyond my powers to do this myself so I rely on the galleries to do it for me. My only contribution is to record details of the paintings – little incidents within them that I find beautiful or interesting in some way, that maybe allow a way in for the viewer to understand the materiality of the work. I can probably do that better (in terms of the selection, not the technical competence unfortunately) than the professional photographer recording the whole work. Sometimes though I do see details posted by other people that look great and that I hadn’t noticed myself.

When you see a painting in real life you go right up to it and see how was this made exactly?  Plenty of people seem to have never actually seen paintings by the artists that influence them and in the case of say someone like Peter Doig there are some really rich complex paintings but plenty have never actually seen one. I think that it is vital to see paintings in person when possible. If you’re going to make decent work yourself, you are going to have to. Half what you’re doing is looking at how is that done? Thats where the beauty is often, in the human aspect of things. I remember going to see an Ed Ruscha retrospective and being quite moved by the sort of pathos in the handmade aspect of some of the early works. Works which you’d been looking at all your life in reproduction and never getting a hint of the wobbles and the pencil guide marks and brush strokes, gaps, scuffs and scratches. It’s really hard to get that from reproductions. You end up zooming in like mad on stuff and it’s all pixelated because the reproduction is not good enough. There’s nothing there for you.

But then again, some things work better in reproduction, don’t they? Ha.

You can find out more about Blaises’s work through his Instagram page, link below

https://www.instagram.com/blaisedrummond/

thank you Mick Lally for your work editing
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Taking The Right-hand Path: Ann Maria Healy

 

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Ann Maria Healy

The work of Ann Maria Healy was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m glad that he did because she really exemplifies what Painting in Text is all about. A visual artist based in Dublin, she is a thoroughly imaginative artist – someone whose influences are so distinct, yet so deftly presented within her work, that they have been transformed into elements unique to Ann Maria’s work.

 

You’ve spoken in the past about using text as a kind of landscape for your art – could you elaborate a bit more on that?

The text  is very much part of the materiality of the practice. I think of text as a sculptural object and it comes into contact with the work in various ways – I always write around whatever objects I’m making, or video work, and I guess it is a way to understand the ideas running through a project. It’s a way to channel what is happening, what I’m doing with the materials. This is what I meant when I said the text acts as a landscape, it’s another context for the work to play itself out through, another place for me to figure out what is happening in the work.

Over the last few years, the way I have usually worked would be to bounce around

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How To Be Other Than A Body, (2017), Detail

between different elements in the same project. I’ll spend, like, a year or two maybe, making one body of work, and with that there may be various sculptures or video or different things happening. I might make sculptural works, and the sculpture might end up in the video, and it’s usually happening all at once. But this year, the work I’m making at the moment, I’ve kind of segregated it out a bit more.

 

On that note, let’s talk about what you’re doing at the moment.

The work is called When Dealers are Shamans, which is the work I have been kind of conjuring up since I’ve been here in Fire Station – I’ve been here now for over a year – and I suppose there are a few different threads to it. I’ve just opened an exhibition in Pallas Projects about a month ago, where I showed a video installation, but I’m here for another year and a half so I will continue making within the project for the rest of that time. I’ve been working on it here in Fire Station but the idea for the project originated when I was down in Cow-House Studios, where I was teaching last summer.

Usually, I have a few different threads to a project.  For this, it started with my sister, who has been a shamanic practitioner for many years. About two years ago she started a shamanic counselling course and she needed a guinea pig! I have heard her talking about it for a long time and I was interested in it. Anyway, she needed someone to take a journey with her, and so I said I would do it.

Shamanic practices have happened across the world, in various guises and across different cultures, for hundreds of years. It involves practitioners contacting spirit worlds through altered states of consciousness. The way my sister practices is by listening to specific drum beats which bring you into a relaxed state. We designed a framework before I made the journey, she described to me the steps for how best to get into it and for the purpose of this session I spoke out loud, and we recorded it. It was kind of stream of consciousness – an imagining, while you’re listening to this drum beat. So we had this framework of dropping down into this specific space, imagining and following the dream state. We recorded it and she gave me the recording and it became a kind of significant thing for me I guess, it was an unusual experience which I continued to think about, it stayed with me for some time.

So, tell me a little about George the peacock.

Well, my journey then took me to George [Cow-House’s pet peacock]! And it was mating season. I had seen George do his tail feather display before, but I hadn’t observed him so closely during the mating season, and they do a few different kinds of movements – one of them is called rattling, where he vibrates his feathers twenty-five times a second, and it sounds almost like a snake. It’s quite incredible. I got very interested in this, so I started recording him, and I realised this connection in my mind between the shamanic journey and this peacock vibrational rattling… and he doesn’t actually have a mate, so he does it to the other animals on the farm – they’re really beautiful birds but they are not of this landscape.

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When Dealers are Shamans, (2018), installation view

After that I moved here [into Fire Station], and again that was kind of a significant experience.  I don’t know how well you know Dublin but there are a lot social problems around here. You can hear and see people dealing drugs on the street frequently. Drugs is something that has come up in my work before, I’m already kind of attuned to it, and one of the things I noticed was there were medication trays all over the streets – I noticed these trays and started to collect them, because I wanted to see what people were taking, I suppose. In a way I was mostly interested in where I am and my environment. When I started going through the trays I had collected, I noticed that a lot of them were this drug called Zopiclone which is a sleeping pill I already had previous experience with. It’s quite heavily prescribed, I know quite a few people who take it. But still, I was surprised – why is everyone taking sleeping pills? And so I started thinking about this, and why so many people in this area in Dublin were taking this. I’m interested in the polarity, between it being prescribed by your doctor on one end, and then the other end being it being sold on the streets. That’s partly why I called it When Dealers Are Shamans. I was trying to abstract this idea of dealers, of what a dealer could be. Like, there’s a whole conversation around pharma capitalism, places like the United States where there’s a massive industry dedicated to selling medication, and what that can do to communities… I was thinking about this term used to describe Zoplicone – hypnotic agent. I was thinking about George, and how what he’s doing is a kind of hypnosis, bringing you into this kind of trance state with these rhythms. As human beings, we desire these dream states, and maybe that’s something you can attain through spirituality and just asking questions around that.

So I had a few threads, and then I first started making sculptural work and some little kind of video sketches… I wouldn’t even call them pieces, just looking at how things are. And at some point I said right, I want to make a video work – that is, a sculptural video work of George vibrating and rattling. But it needs to be filmed on a high-end camera, so it can be crisp and clear and beautiful quality, and I also wanted to slow it down so you can see the movement clearly – more hypnotic.

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When Dealers Are Shamans, (2018),

 

I first spent a week following George around with my own camera figuring out what shots I wanted and how best to get the shot of him rattling his feathers. I then worked with videographer Kevin Hughes and he shot the work on his Red Epic.  So I took the visuals from that and I spent some time editing. And while that was coming into being, I started to consider what I should do for sound. So I talked to a friend of mine, Karl Burke, who’s an artist and I asked him would he be interested to make some sound for it. We talked about the work and what it was about, and he pulled out some of his work and said, what about this? And it was perfect! So he gave me a lot of raw material which I took to the editing suite, to combine with the visuals. I used a similar practice with the actor doing the voiceover for the video, in that I was conscious that he would be bringing a particular set of skills and to allow him freedom to use those skills. When I wrote the text, the framework that I used was a hypnotherapy session. When I was recording the voiceover, I asked him to think about how there are different stages of dreams. The first half is where he’s trying to bring the audience into this kind of dream state, and there’s that edge where it becomes slightly more sinister. Sinister is too strong of a word, but a sharper vibration, I suppose, or an edge.

Kris Dittel, I met here in Fire Station studios, and she was my writing editor on the project. Kris is a curator based in Rotterdam, she had done a residency here around last May, and we had a studio visit where I talked to her about the work, and she understood all the things I was trying to pull together. We had some interesting conversations, she sent me on some texts that became influential to the work. So I asked her to edit the text that I was writing, because I knew that she knew what I was getting at. So it is a poetic text, and the writing itself has become clearer with time. That was the conversation I was having with her, and it’s what I asked of her when she was editing it.

There is a kind of spectrum, I suppose, between sense to nonsense, that I think about.  I wanted the audience  to understand what I’m talking about and for it to be clear, but then I still wanted it to dissolve back into a kind of nonsense at points. There’s a kind of rational and irrationality that I’m interested in, and there is always an absurdity in the work I think, yeah.

So initially I had been trying to motorise the peacock feathers and use arduino boards to programme the motors. And while I was doing that I was thinking about technology as something like taking drugs like zopiclone, how you absorb it into your body, and how that affects our body. How it affects your memory, how close we have it to our bodies. And then there’s smart objects, like, lots of people have smart homes where all your devices are connected into your phone, what something like that does to your psyche. That links back to the core idea to the whole thing for me, which is this idea of the collective unconscious, using dreams as an access point into your own psyche and the collective unconscious, and what drives communities. What are the drives of our present moment?

Let’s talk about the project How to Be Other Than a Body.

My sister and I, we did a Tarot reading, on the Eighth Amendment, that I video recorded– what the political landscape was, and what was going to happen with the Eighth Amendment. So this project happened between 2015 and 2017, and it became How to Be Other Than a Body.

 

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Beating To Be Real, (2016), still

An important part of the artwork came about when I came back to Ireland, after doing my masters in the Netherlands. Gender is something that had come up for a lot in my work, and this movement around access to abortion in Ireland had been growing and growing. I was conscious of that movement

when I was on my way back to Ireland, and I was inspired at the time by Sun Ra, the jazz musician from the 70s – he was also a performance artist, and he made this film called Space Is The Place. It’s quite out there, it’s explicitly political about race in America, but is also spiritual and esoteric. It projects black consciousness into space, as an alternative reality, using space as a context to imagine a different reality. The overarching motif of the film, the framing device for the narrative, is that he’s having a tarot reading, a kind of futuristic tarot game with the Overseer.

I was influenced by the aesthetic, and by the pairing up of these political elements and the spiritual elements. The tarot is a traditional site of female power and is connected to witchcraft, which would have been knocked down over the years by patriarchy – I really wanted to  utilize that space to have a conversation about the eight amendment, and to do this around the kitchen table. That’s where my sister sometimes has her tarot readings, at the kitchen table, so there’s that sense of it being both a domestic and political space.

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How To Be Other Than A Body, (2017), Installation

 

The main sculptural work of the project was what I called a holy well, and I describe it as a contemporary version of a holy well. It’s made out of domestic objects – attic water tanks, a child’s paddling pool – and it’s plumbed together using copper piping. The paddling pool is resting on a wooden structure that takes the form of a six-pointed star, which is used in witchcraft for conjuring. I’m interested in the holy well  because they’re very prolific in the landscape here, and they’re embedded into the Irish psyche; initially they were pagan sites of ritual, and then they were co-opted by the Catholic Church. Each well has a specific cure that’s attributed to it, so if you have warts you might go to a particular well in Dublin, or if you have hearing damage you might go to a well in Cork or something. And people wash there, they pray and they go to masses there. But some wells are more active than others.

Of course at the time I was looking at the female body, and the Eighth Amendment, and the access to abortion in Ireland. So the cure that this holy well provided, was access to abortion.  This was the central object/sculpture in the work. In the background, you can see this video work, which is a kind of a fictional ethnography, an imagining of the people that would have used this well. I exhibited it in the RHA as part of Futures, and I’d also shown it in the Wexford Arts Centre.

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How To Be More Than A Body, (2017), still

 

So the video work is set in this kind of 3D-rendered environment, an empty city. It was an open source file that I accessed online, someone else made this city and then I took it and animated it through an open source programme called Blender – I green screened the sculptures and then put them into the environment. There are a lot of elements of collaging going on. Sometimes I think of the  the sculptures themselves as 3D collages. Even the voiceover, in the end I recorded it using one one voice, that of academic Zelie Asava but I wrote it as coming from a number of different viewpoints/voices.  An ethnography  would usually  be to go to the community and live with them and study the subject from the view point of the subject, so one or two viewpoints are like that, and some of the other viewpoints are more distant – looking back and trying to understand, through these objects, who these people were, I did this to think through and complicate the act of really trying to know another being(s), which I think is inherent to a discourse around something like the eight amendment, when one group of people are campaigning for change and their voice is going unheard, which it did for many years.

You might see there are no bodies and no people in the landscape, so there’s this sense that the people have disappeared and we’re just learning about them through the objects and this voice over.

Going back to what I was saying about the text and the materiality of it earlier – here the text is written onto the holy well. I wanted to reference the kind of way you see people writing on the back of toilet doors, because at the time you would always find it in those places in bars and restaurants – information about the Eighth Amendment, how you get access to abortion pills, where you can go for support, things like that. It was a way to communicate with each other and form a community, I guess, so I wanted to mimic that somehow within the sculptural work, but that is would also reference the way people tend to leave things at holy wells,  talismans like religious statues and rosary beads. So for me, these words are the talismans for this holy well.

You can find out more about Ann Maria’s work through her website link below

http://annmariahealy.net/

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing
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Looking In: Dragana Jurisic

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Dragana Jurisic

In my opinion, Dragana Jurisic is one of the best artists working in Ireland today. A photographer based in Dublin, Dragana’s ability to blend narrative and technique in her work makes her practice both accessible and stimulating to viewers. Her openness in conversation made talking to her such a rewarding experience. I hope to do her justice in this interview.

 

Can you describe what an average day in the studio is like for you?

I get up early and do some exercise, get a coffee and I am at my desk by 8am. My studio is tidy, I like my work environment to be organised. I’m not a person who will have test prints all over the space – studio is where I think.

What does the camera mean to you?

For me, the camera provides a tool to better understand the world around me. When I studied psychology, I worked a lot with children on the autistic spectrum, and I would observe how many of the kids would need to have a support in the form of an object, an animal, a ritual, something to help focus, to open up and learn. I understand that need for separation from the world, in order to be able to see it with more clarity. This is what photography gives me. It’s a membrane that helps me filter experiences and make sense of them. Otherwise, life can be overwhelming.

I touch on it in Seeing Things, my first significant photography project, a Government commission to depict poverty in Ireland. My position in Irish society, at that time was one of an outsider. I used the symbolism of a bird flying in and out of the photos to illustrate the role of the photographer in these kinds of situations; we’re just flying in and out, we don’t have to live the lives of the people we’re portraying. I think Seeing Things represents my discomfort with being in a position of power, or should I say, discomfort with an intrinsic exploitative nature of photography as a medium.

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Seeing Things, (2010), Photograph

 

A famous example of issues with social documentary is Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. When Lange took this iconic photograph, she never asked the woman what her name was; Lange only asked her how old she was. And when she would talk about that picture, Lange would say that the woman allowed her to take photographs of herself and her children, because she knew that by helping the photographer, she would be helped somehow. Many years later, when the journalists found this woman and interviewed her, she was still poor, living in a trailer camp in Modesto, California. The photograph didn’t do anything for her. She was a face of one of the most recognisable images of the twentieth century, a face that made Dorothea Lange famous – but has done nothing for the person portrayed. Her name was Florence Thompson.

I wanted to ask you about your recent work Tarantula – can you talk about that a bit?

Tarantula was a commission by the National Gallery – Brian Fay, Maser and myself were asked to respond to the Vermeer exhibition [Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, 2018]. The idea was to take three artists who work in Ireland and who are all very different, and try to see what they come up with.

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Tarantula, (2017), photographic composite

 

I was interested in women in Vermeer’s work and also in how critics tried to diminish Vermeer by saying that he used camera obscura to make his paintings, claiming he was stencilling out of nature. But there are two main subjects in Vermeer’s paintings, women in domestic settings and light, and light is not something one can sketch by using camera obscura. That’s why I photographed a female figure over a number of hours, tracking the light in my studio and then made a composite image that consisted of multiple layers. The idea was to animate the pensive female character that features regularly in Vermeer’s paintings, and by doing so to capture the light dancing around the studio. The title ‘Tarantula’ was inspired by Ibsen’s Doll House. I used the seventeenth-century Dutch frame from the National Gallery’s collection – producing an object that to many appeared almost like a religious icon. People spent a long time in front of that piece.

Do you feel you will do more composite images?

Yes, I think so. I enjoy making them; perhaps because they take a lot of work! Some kind of magic has to happen for them to sing.

I also like the idea of movement inside of the image. I feel like a lot of work that I do is attempting to do something that’s not possible by nature… the photograph is still and two-dimensional, and what I’m trying to do is to animate that still image.

100 Muses is another work that uses that composite image technique – could you talk a bit about how that project came about?

When I started making the 100 Muses project, I didn’t know it would become what it turned out to be – for me, it was an experiment. It was an experiment to see if I, as a female artist, would treat women the same way they were traditionally treated by male artists. Specifically the traditional master kind of approach. That element of nameless, anonymous women who are only used as the subject of the work, but they are never given credit. When I started making 100 Muses, when the first person came in, I did what “they” do… I started manoeuvring women into position. And I realised very quickly, within the first session, that this was totally wrong. This is taking away the woman’s agency; she had no decision about what image is going to go out into the world to represent her. So at that point in the process, I realised that I can’t dictate how they move and behave. And then the project became about collaboration – I became a facilitator, not the maker. Women performed and directed themselves, and they chose their own image.

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The Mother, (2015), photographic composite

 

What was your relationship to the muses?

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100 Muses (2015), photography

I knew about eighteen of the hundred women I photographed. The rest were strangers. There was a great element of a surprise every time a woman who I did not know, rung the studio bell and came into the room. Once a person took their clothes off, the majority would tell you something very personal and intimate, they would share traumatic experiences from their lives. I guess when you disrobe in front of a stranger, you’re already feeling vulnerable so you might as well! So that was quite surprising at first, but also an incredibly intimate and powerful experience. It was a quite cathartic thing for them, and me as well. 100 Muses was a growing experience; every woman who told me something, I could see myself reflected in their story.  It was a two-way therapy, a healing process. A lot of contemporary artists are scared of this idea of art as a therapy, but I really could not care about that. I have no desire to appear cool! Of course it was not all serious and intense, there was an element of play in the project as well, lots of joy – lots of dancing and goofing around.

The research you did is very evident in your work.

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Draganas bookshelf in studio

I enjoy research. At the moment I’m writing a novel and I love the research part – it delays you from actually committing words to paper, because to start making is to invoke self-doubt. I have very high aspirations, I set the bar very high for myself. So it is challenging to plough through that kind of treacle of self-criticism, in any kind of creative endeavour. For me it’s important to hash out all of the possible pitfalls of a creative project, before I show them to the world.

You’re collaborating with Paula on a project at the moment – do you mind talking about that?

Paula Meehan, what can I say? She is a wonderful poet. Dublin City Council commissioned the two of us, to respond to Number 14 Henrietta Street (a Georgian townhouse that went from being a family home to a tenement). Paula wrote her poems first, and I got to read them before I said yes to the commission – I mean, after reading them it would have been impossible to say no.

It was important to me I create images worthy of her poems. Luckily, I was collaborating with a very helpful and openhearted person – she was so generous with her time and her ideas. I’m not a poet so I don’t know a lot about structures of poems, but she patiently explained her process to me when writing Museum and that helped me unlock a way forward, a way to photograph. The book is out in July. It’s a beauty.

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14 Henrietta street saying goodbye, (2019), photography

Looking at works like YU and My Own Unknown where 100 Muses comes from, I feel like there’s almost a through line in some of your work, a theme of birth through destruction?

Yeah, that is very interesting, I think you’re right – there is continuity in my projects. From YU that looks at loss of national identity and loss of a country, to My Own Unknown that takes the life of my aunt as a starting point (a woman who escaped Yugoslavia and became a spy in Cold War Paris), to pondering on a status of representation of female within the Western Art tradition (100 Muses).

A lot of my works seem to come from some kind of personal or societal devastation. I am attempting to use art as a way of putting back the broken pieces together, reassembling, reconstructing, making good. Like that Japanese art of repair – Kintsugi – where gold is used to fill in the cracks. Making broken beautiful.

 

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Yu The Lost Country (2014) photographic series + book

 

Let’s finish by talking about influences.

I think the best exhibition I saw in the last ten years was Andrea Fraser’s retrospective at MACBA. She’s in her fifties now, and she has been working for the last few decades, so I am embarrassed to say I never saw her work before, or even heard about her, which is even worse! A lot of her artwork revolves around institutional criticism and also a critique of modes of representation. My favourite piece was White People in West Africa, where she photographed and collected photos of white people in West Africa. White tourists taking pictures of the exotic Other when they go on holiday, safari style; a pale guy in Birkenstocks dancing his socks off during a tribal dance! The last image was of a white rhino hiding in the bushes – brilliant. The work talks about the impact of colonialism and neo-colonialism on Africa, and at the same time is saying something about the art world too. She does a great job of parodying the cult of the artist.

Finally, I’m delighted that Vivian Dick is here in Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. I love her work. And it is nice to be able to become friends with someone you admire.

You can find out more about Dragana’s work through her website link below

http://www.draganajurisic.com/home/4580944926

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

 

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