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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can find out more about Olivia Furey’s work through her website & YouTube channel, links below
thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing