Life recently has got in the way, so there has been a little gap between interviews that will probably continue for the back half of 2021, but I plan to make up for the gaps with quality interviews. First of which is the interview you are reading today. For this interview, I sat down with Róisín Power Hackett, an artist where the descriptor interdisciplinary is quite apt. We discuss her many, many practices and how she has managed to combine elements from each into different works. I met Róisín through the ARC programme we were both on between 2019 and 2021. She is someone who I have great admiration for, and her knowledge of art and wit makes any conversation a joy, and that was especially the case with this interview.
Let’s start with your work, The Tent. That piece was part of the cohost exhibition for our masters in Art + Research Collaboration from IADT.
The Tent was a video piece I made reflecting on my experience trying to find work with a disability. But it was also about times when you don’t have things in general, when you have a lack, when you’ve loads of time on your hands. That can be a great time to come up with ideas and reflect. The Tent is based on when my boyfriend and I were living in a tent while we were travelling. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have friends or family with me, my boyfriend was working during the day, and everything I owned could be stored in a rucksack. In some ways, this piece was quite timely, because it was about having the space to actually think creatively. Surprisingly, the pandemic does not give you that space.
There was this assumption that artists would be really creative because we’d have loads of extra time. But in fact, you don’t, because you’re distracted by the news. Or you’re working, and you’re sitting in front of your screen. Even if you’re not working, you’re always looking at your phone, emails, or social media. So, your brain isn’t free to be creative a lot of the time, and you have to force yourself to leave the house or force yourself to do an activity that’s creative.
As you know, I made The Tent for an exhibition called cohost that was the culmination of the ARC Masters that I was working toward at the time. Video was a completely new thing for me. I started exploring it because COVID-19 meant that while we were working toward cohost being a physical exhibition, it then pivoted to an online show. Hence, the work had to be made to suit that online platform.
The background noise in The Tent is really fascinating.
While I was staying with my parents during one of the lockdowns, I got interested in birdsong because while I was recording for other works, I could hear birds in the background. I’ve noticed birdsong a lot more during the pandemic. And that got me thinking about my experience in the tent, like the sound when it rained. In the Alps, the rain comes in cycles. It would lash rain like a monsoon for two or three days minimum, sometimes a whole week. When you’re in a tent, it’s kind of difficult to do anything for the sound of that rain. All you could hear was the rain, and it was very distracting. So, I felt like that had to be part of the work. So, I put up a tent in my garden and recorded the rain falling on the tent and the incidental noises that happened simultaneously.
I wanted that kind of lo-fi aesthetic of home video. Sometimes, you do hear things like the rain or the birds. With that home footage element, you can imagine yourself in that space a lot easier, exactly because it’s not cinematic.
Typically, live performance is a common element of your practice. How does that compare with video for you?
I really prefer live stuff, because when I record, I’m much more conscious of how the finished piece will sound. I love to perform. If I make a mistake, I get the sense that nobody in the audience knows I’ve made a mistake because they don’t know the script. Originally, I had wanted to perform The Tent live. COVID pushed me into film and recordings, and I think actually it’s not a bad thing. It’s not something I want to work on exclusively, but it’s a really good skill to have, and it’s really good to have the confidence to do it, you know?
There is something about performance, I think. Whether it’s in theatre, or live art, or any sort of performance, or music, it’s quite a direct way of trying to make people feel something. Of course, visual art tries to make people feel something as well. But the thing about performance is its duration. You can grab a person’s attention more directly in performance; people have to listen for that half hour or however long the performance is. Whereas the thing about going to an exhibition of paintings or sculptures is, it’s easy to just walk past them and go, “Oh, I saw that,” even if it’s not sinking in.
I still try to combine my other practices with performance. There are definitely visual elements to my performance; whether that be in the costumes or setting, it allows me to tap into my visual art background.
Yes, you’re working in several mediums now. Is that important to you?
I like not sticking to one medium. You have to think about your concept and what medium fits. Some of my concepts don’t fit my art practice, but they fit my curatorial practice. That’s why I curate, because I often feel that an idea will work with my curating, or an idea works as writing, or my visual practice, and for me, it’s important to have the tools to realise these ideas in the best format.
I did my undergraduate degree in painting, so that’s probably the thing I’m most skilled in. I might not be painting currently, but I spent a huge amount of time painting during the first lockdown. I’m slowly working on a series. I’m not keen on doing anything fast; I could spend years working on one piece.
In the end, it depends on the space I have. I think it’s like that for a lot of artists, the art depends on the space you have. I like the slowness oil painting. Maybe you spend a day painting one layer, and then you have to wait another week or two before you can paint the next layer, but I don’t always have the space to paint.
What artists would you consider to influence your work?
For me, it’s always books and writers that come to mind first—the likes of Flann O’Brian, and recently Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s Ghost in the Throat. And there’s Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. The way I write my texts is by breaking down language, and these texts break down the idea of narrative, or in the case of Doireann’s book, it’s breaking down history and looking at the history of a woman poet that has been neglected for years in Ireland. Not to go into too much detail, but it was such an interesting read for me.
I like to know the artists whose work I curate, and to have seen their work myself or talk to them. For instance, Emma Haugh was somebody who initially influenced me. I went to see their performance in The Joinery years ago. As part of an NCAD Gallery exhibition, they did this reading troupe. One person read the text, and then another person had another text, and they could read that other text whenever they felt like it, interrupting the first person. It was this weird hybrid of two different texts. And what was interesting to me was that they were two academic texts that were completely opposed to each other politically. I really loved that on so many levels.
There are a couple of curators whose work I enjoy like Rosie Lynch. She co-founded Callan Workhouse Union with Hollie Kearns. The Workhouse Union is a project that works with artists, designers, architects and craftspeople to develop projects examining housing, civic infrastructure in Callan. My mother is from Callan, so it resonates personally for me. I’ve also had a brief residency down there.
Callan used to be a busy town due to the traffic that would pass through it from Cork to Dublin, but it has struggled since the development of a bypass. Callan Workhouse Union revitalised the town and it came up with so many new ideas to involve the community in the projects that they curated, and the performances and theatre they helped organise. They have worked with a studio in Callan that is very supportive of people with disabilities, called KCAT. They and other organisations turned Bridge Street in Callan into a set to create a big performance as part of The Bridge Street Project. Their work has a tangible impact on the community, and I admire that. It really shows the impact art can have.
Since writers were first to mind among your influences, let’s discuss the importance of the written word in your work.
For a long time, I was trying to figure out ways of incorporating writing in my practice, combining the written word with visuals. It wasn’t until second year in NCAD when a classmate, Anthony Keigher, did a performance that incorporated a poem by Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”. It flipped a switch for me. I loved the performance, and I loved that he was using a poem in his performance. That made me realise how I could incorporate poetry into practice.
Since then, I’ve been using this practice called “uncreative writing” or “cut-up writing”. I take old novels, cut up the text, and stick them down to create something very visual – and a little bit random – because you can’t always find the correct word you want. So this text is coming from a world that already exists, and the characters that I become when I’m performing are characters that generally already exist somewhere. I’m reappropriating those characters for these works.
I see my practice as this in-between space between literature and visual art. Even though it’s performance, I try to avoid making the work theatrical, for the same reason I avoid making my video cinematic. I love performing and acting in front of others, and what is great about live art is that I am almost myself in those performances. I almost become some other character; in a way, I’m not acting, so it’s a great space to occupy, the fact that I’m engaging with characters that aren’t necessarily my creation.
We have touched on it in parts, but let’s talk a bit about your curatorial practice.
Sometimes I have ideas that I don’t want to be an artist for, I want to give other artists a platform instead. I think it’s an important concept that I want to flesh out more academically, and more like my own personal ethics to give other artists the space to make their work; I do think about it conceptually as working with people. It’s not being too precious with my idea, not closing opportunities to expand on it with input from others. And for me, it’s about wanting to share artists’ work with other people and give artists as many opportunities as possible.
One of my focuses with my curating is mixing the arts and performance in a way that is not pure visual art, which is difficult. What I’m aiming for is giving a voice to a variety of different art forms. This year I worked with a band called Banríon, and I had never worked with music before. I enjoy the aspect of merging scenes.
Interestingly, your curatorial practice mirrors your art practice.
I’ve always been interested in experimenting, so in a way, it was inevitable that it would lead to combining different practices. Being interdisciplinary is so important to me, both in my artistic practice and curatorial practice.
If someone was to ask, what type of curator are you, I’d instantly say interdisciplinary. I want to open people up to the possibilities of mixing disciplines, and I am using different avenues to do that.
You can find out more about Róisín Power Hackett work through her website, link below
thank you, Anne James for your work editing
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