Installation

Dialogs: Pablo Helguera

Pablo Helguera, photo by Elana Snow

Pablo Helguera (Mexico City, 1971) is a New York based artist working across disciplines including installation, drawing, socially engaged art and performance. Helguera’s practice covers diverse ground from ethnography and sociolinguistics to humour and music. He has exhibited or performed at venues such as the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; ICA Boston; RCA London and the 8th Havana Biennial, PERFORMA 05. This interview is really important to me. Pablo Helguera’s practice has been a huge influence on how I view art, especially the importance of dialog in his practice has stuck with me over the years. In this interview we talked about how he considers the viewer in his work and the role language plays. It’s really exciting to share this interview with others because I genuinely feel anyone can benefit from hearing how he approaches his practice the considerations he makes when making works.

During the April lockdown, you did a project called Pablo Helguera: The Grand Central Singing Telegram Co. Singing seems to be a recurring motif in your work. Could you talk about that?

I come from a musical family. My sisters and many of my relatives are classical musicians. It’s interesting growing up in a place like Mexico and hearing Mozart and Bach being played from different rooms of the house. I was always interested in music; I wanted to be a singer at one point when I was a teenager. Although my interest in painting and visual arts eventually took over, music never left me. I feel that is why I gravitated towards live performance art. I also realised later on that the notion of scoring was very important within my practice. The idea of sequentiality, whether in narrative format or a concatenation of experiences. From the standpoint of being an educator, an artist and a writer, everything you produce needs to follow some kind of structure or score. And that has manifested in many different ways in my work. Music is present in everything I do.

As an artist that has been involved in socially engaged practice from very early on, one of the issues that I face is the challenge of creating socially engaged art in the context of a pandemic where social distance and isolation is essential. I was discussing this with John Spiak, an old friend and curator at Grand Central Art Center in California, and we decided to do something that would help people connect. Everyone feels isolated in this moment, and the initial lockdown was particularly severe. I decided to revive my old project, The Singing Telegram. It’s a format that was invented in the 1930s during the Great Depression by Western Union, the telegraph service. I had already done one performance, and we thought it would be interesting to update the format and do it over Zoom.

Singing telegram collage, (2020)

I offered to become a messenger for people. They could pick from a selection of songs that I knew, and I would sing to the recipient of the message on Zoom. There were roughly 60 songs to choose from, ranging from Broadway tunes and Frank Sinatra to opera and Mexican folk songs. It was a really powerful experience; we had no idea how people were going to react. I ended up singing to dozens of people in different countries as far as New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Turkey… People of all ages from all walks of life.

I was a complete stranger sharing these very personal messages from someone who may have been a significant other or a mother. The basic message behind the songs were, “I really miss you. I love you, and this song makes me think of you.” Often the recipient would start shedding tears and become really emotional. I felt so grateful for being able to facilitate that. It was a very simple way for people to connect. As artists, we need to think about ways of creating closer communication through the power of art.

There is a very particular archival aesthetic to your work. Could you talk a bit about that?

There is an aspect of me that I cannot escape, which is my obsession with the past. This fascination is not necessarily a matter of nostalgia. Nostalgia is an interesting and, in many ways, problematic concept. In contemporary art in particular, it is seen almost as a weakness; you are afraid of looking forward and so, you aim for an imaginary past. But psychologists who study nostalgia have claimed that it’s a process of establishing relationships with things that have happened which can in turn, restore your identity and shape your outlook on the future.

It’s also very connected with the immigrant experience. I’m an immigrant to the US. This process of reconstructing your reality through memories and finding some way of actualising this dual reality in the present – it’s a creative process that parallels immigrant experience. This is why immigrant versions of the foods or traditions from the motherland differ slightly from the originals. Italian-American food or Mexican-American food, for example, becomes something else in that process of recreation which is like an artistic process. I’m interested in that.

That process plays into Librería Donceles, the socially-engaged project where you created Spanish language bookstores in gallery spaces. Can you tell us about the impetus behind that project?

I grew up in Mexico City in a family that was literary as well as musical. When I was a kid, there was no internet. Books were my internet. I would go to my dad’s library in the house to do my homework and look at these huge encyclopaedias. Now everyone has Wikipedia. Books were like friends to me. They calmed me. By the time that project premiered in 2013, we had already witnessed the global dominance of Amazon and e-books, and brick-and-mortar bookstores were closing at an alarming rate. At the same time, I also noticed the lack of availability of Spanish books in New York City, a city home to two million Latinos. So, I proposed this eccentric idea of turning the Kent Fine Art LLC gallery into a bookstore. I went to Mexico to campaign for used book donations. Though the plight of Mexican immigrants in the US is painful, it’s something that Mexicans at home don’t really know what to do about it. On the other hand, middle-class and working-class people in Mexico usually live in the same house across generations, and accumulate stuff like old books, trashy novels and textbooks. As a result, we end up with a 20,000-volume inventory and customers were invited to pay what they wished. It was less about the money than the experience and the recognition of the value of literature in Spanish.

Libreria Donceles,Installation shot (2013)

In Librería Donceles, we had 70 different categories, from anatomy and agriculture to horror and children’s books. Anything you could imagine. It was a great entrance to a different culture for people. I modelled the design after second-hand bookstores that I loved, especially those I experienced as a student in Chicago. I find it fascinating that bookstores can resemble their owners’ personalities, and sometimes look like someone’s living room. It’s not a typical person that decides to run a used bookstore. Many of these people are hoarders. I’ve lived near a bookstore that you could barely walk through. If you pulled a book from the shelf, the whole arrangement would fall apart. Librería Donceles was supposed to last two months but it has been running now for seven years. The project has travelled to 14 different cities in the US. I always think that each iteration will be the last but someone new inevitably shows an interest. It’s just such a wonderful experience to deliver this project throughout the US.

Many of my works are inspired by stories. I made a work in Milan in 2013 called Vita Vel Regula [Rules of Life]. It takes the form of a game involving 50 other participants that will last for the rest of my life. 25 strangers who had attended the project’s opening and 25 close friends and family, all of which are younger than me. Everyone receives 16 sealed envelopes labelled with specific opening dates and instructions. On the first day, the first envelope is opened. Two days later, the second is opened. The third is opened on the fourth day. Then eight, 16, 32 – the waiting time doubles between participants until years and ultimately decades pass between each opened envelope. The project will conclude in 2097, when I will definitely not be alive. My daughter, who was three at the time, will be in her 90s. She’s the youngest participant.

Vita Vel Regula, Installation shot (2013)

The piece is inspired by a short story by Dino Buzzati called “The Seven Messengers” about a king who explores the confines of his kingdom only to realise that it has no end. He has seven messengers to keep him abreast of what’s happening back at the palace. The further he travels, the longer it takes the messengers to make the trip and deliver the message, to the extent that he might never see them again. It’s a story about how we communicate with one another over time. This relates to my interest in merging the experimental and the exhibitionary. The work becomes a record of those relationships in those particular instances. It’s about creating a collective experience.

This connection of language and documentation is evident in other projects like Dead Languages Conservatory

Dead Languages Conservatory directly ties into my interest in ancestry and living history. There are close to 60 languages still spoken in Mexico. It’s a country with a rich history, and there are millions of people speaking dominant indigenous languages like the many Mayan languages, but numerous languages are dying out. This is important because it relates to the changing environment of our world. Biodiversity facilitates diversity of language. People who lived in the mountains spoke one language, and those in the valley would speak another. The way we settle in a particular environment influences the culture that develops there. What is really wonderful about countries like China, India or Mexico is that they have different climates that give rise to different languages. That is also changing very fast because of migration to cities, which results in the homogenisation of language. The homogenisation of language influences the homogenisation of culture, creating greater cultural centres.

Dead Languages Conservatory, (2004)
Installation shot Dead Languages Conservatory,Installation shot (2004)

We’re looking at a future where only four languages will be in use. This project reflects on those places and people that have managed to retain a particular culture. Instead of using the typical digitisation approach, I documented this research using the earliest recording technology which is the wax cylinder. The wax phonograph cylinder is a really attractive object invented by Thomas Edison in the 1870s which picks up sound with a diamond needle. The idea of giving a 3D presence to these immaterial voices was very meaningful to me. The interviews with some of the last speakers have made their way into various installations including an interview with a woman in her 80s called Marie Smith Jones who was the last speaker of Eyak. Eyak, is a language that was spoken in Alaska. I also interviewed Cristina Calderón, a woman who lives in Puerto Williams – the world’s southernmost town, located on Navarino Island in Chile. She is the last speaker of Yaghan, the language of the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego.

Does your work as an educator influence your artistic practice?

There is an educational element to it. I try to really caution art students to be careful that their practice doesn’t become an illustration of someone else’s theories. The worst thing we can do as artists is to open a book by Deleuze or Derrida and try to make a piece of art solely from that. You become a poor illustrator of an idea that you might not have understood to begin with. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very important to engage in the discourse of a period and understand the history but your practice is something separate. It will naturally seep into your practice anyway. As an educator, I am trained to think about the audience. That is the number one question I must ask myself: who is my audience? Who am I working with and how do I produce discourse with a particular group? Language must be used differently depending on an audience’s familiarity with the subject matter. You have to be open and transparent, and treat your audience with respect by tailoring the language to them. An important thing I learned was to avoid talking down to your audience. When working with a community, my process is one of listening, not dictating ideas. We are creating a dialogue – an exchange of knowledge.

You can find out more about Pablo Helguera work through his website link below

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation, Photography, Video

Perception, and Experience: Ruth Le Gear

Ruth Le Grear remedy making

Ruth Le Gear is a multi-discipline artist based in Sligo. We sat down earlier in the year to discuss her work, and I am really grateful to Ruth for taking the time to sit down with me as it was a really great discussion. Ruth shows the unique flexibility that art has in how can approach subjects in ways other mediums would struggle with. Ruth’s blending of the scientific and the Homeopathic through her art practice to use an often overused term is distinctly unique. In this interview, Ruth discusses how she balances these different aspects to her practice and touches on the importance of research in her work. I feel safe in saying Ruth Le Gear is a one of a kind artist. hope you enjoy our discussion.

Homeopathy is a key element of your practice. How did that come to be?

I went to GMIT Cluain Mhuire thirteen years ago. At the time, I was really sick while I was studying. I have a remitting and relapsing illness, and I was in a lot of pain at the time. It was tough. It got to the point where I had a bed set up on campus while I was there. Luckily GMIT were super supportive. I don’t think I could have done it if I wasn’t for the support of Cluain Mhuire.  

I was using homeopathy at the time as a method to relieve my symptoms. I was crying a lot because I was in so much pain. I then started looking at the emotional content in a tear. That led to then looking at it in a homeopathic way. Within homeopathy, the more that you dilute something, the stronger it gets. So for my degree show, I collected tears from myself and other people. I put an ad in the paper for tear collectors and left tear collecting packages all over Galway. You could find them on buses and in toilets in places where people might find them and cry, and people sent them back to me. I then worked with a homoeopath, and I made a remedy from all the tears put together and created an installation called Teardrops In Wonderscape, which is still my favorite thing that I’ve made. It was shown in Ev+a (now known as EVA International) the same year as I graduated.

Teardrops In Wonderscape, (2008), Installation

It consisted of thousands of small vials, which held remedies made from tears. The vials had this incredible quality that when they were suspended upside down, you didn’t need to put a lid on them because the surface tension held the liquid it in. This body of water was held in four and a half thousand vials, which suspended above you. There was this sense of transition that something was waiting to happen. People were invited to lie underneath it, and there was projection through it, and underwater sounds came from the pillow. And in lots of ways, I still feel like my practice is unravelling that piece. Those little vials are the same vials I use now to give out my essences and remedies.

Teardrops In Wonderscape, detail

A lot of your work is the outcome of the residencies you have done. That is interesting. 

I really enjoy the time and space a residency creates. Early on I spent time in Iceland and it was transformative for me. I have spent time on a tall ship in the Arctic, weeks in Cill Railig in Kerry. Travelled in the high desert in New Mexico and spent time in Nowy Port in Gdansk, which was one of my favourite yet unexpected places to wind up for months over a number of years. As an artist, I am strongly attracted by methodologies of investigation of nonphysical phenomena. I explore scientific methodologies as well as the more intuitive process of understanding these phenomena, including homeopathy. I have worked with the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of the Sciences (IO PAN). The institute conducts scientific research in the Baltic and European Arctic Seas. This work contributed to a significant solo show ‘Trace” which was exhibited at the Centre of Contemporary art in Gdansk in 2015. I also worked intuitively with the waters from Gdansk and consulted with a number of homeopaths. These methodologies are polar opposites, but I feel that crucial connections are involved in perception, and a unified experience is created from differences. Hahnemann, who is now credited with creating homeopathy, refers to two different kinds of knowledge: Wissen and Kenntniss. Wissen is the kind of knowledge you get from studying or reading books, while Kenntniss is that deep personal knowledge you gain through experience. This is the difference between knowing about wetness by reading about it versus knowing wetness by immersing yourself in water.

Trace installation shot, CCA Lazina II, (2015-2016)

I find it interesting that you do most of your research on-site rather than prior to arriving at residences.

I love research. I see my work as a research-based practice. What I do, it’s a very intuitive conversation, for lack of a better word, with the water. When I do a residency, I’ll go, and I’ll sit with the water. There is no real language to the conversation, and in a way, that’s why I make the artwork; they are the results or interpretations of those conversations. When I went to Gdansk in Poland, had I known before I got there that it was where World War II started, I may not have signed up for a two-year residency there! It’s a very intense place. I was over and back a lot, and I spent three stints there for roughly two to three months apiece. It was an amazing opportunity to really engage with the place.

Another residency had me spend time in New Mexico back in 2017. For that residency, I went to some devastatingly brutal environmental situations in the Diné reservation, and it has taken me a little while to process that. Water from the San Juan area in New Mexico, and the water rights and the water pollution therefrom fracking. It’s really heavy. On the one hand, if you know all that before you go, you might have a bias or even an intention which isn’t responsive to the land. I’ll have a remedy session with the waters or the land. A lot of the time with the healing on the landscape it’s like layers of an onion, there might be one thing that’s not immediately apparent, but when you spend enough time in a space, everything starts to come up. This work in collaboration with Kaitlin Bryson was recently shown in Visual Carlow as part of Artworks.

New Mexico land arts, (2016)

Would you then consider your works landscape pieces? 

I don’t love labels, but they are beneficial for people to understand. They are also helpful for me when trying to explain what I’m up to. They are landscape interventions. I spent three years with Glenade lake while I worked from a studio at the in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre, which led to Water Senses. I did a residency there, and then I ended up living near to the lake for three years, where I explored much of the mythology and narratives around the lough from the perspective of the water. I have been working with the lake for years now. I still monitor the water levels there on the lake; it’s kind of habit to check now when there’s heavy rain. Recently it had the highest rainfall ever since records were kept back in 1865.

Water Senses, (2017)

Colour frequently comes up in your practice around the water.

When I make a water essence from a place, I always have to return it to the site before it comes into being or is birthed and ready for use with humans. Often there is a one or two-year period where it’s just for the landscape. Then when it’s deep within the landscape, people can start taking it. It’s in that time I will take them in order to bring them forth. That is when the colours, those deep sensations come through. It is a kind of meditation by ingesting the landscape. It’s a bit like having a baby, now that I think about it! You’re bringing through, bringing the essences earthside and it’s a tricky one to put language on.

An interesting part of Water Senses are the mind maps that you presented in your publication.

That’s generally the way that the remedies or the water essences will appear, through that kind of drawing or meditation. That’s how I will map them out first. As they come through, when I take them, I’ve never sat and written text, it’s more visual poetry. It’s the way I think, or even the way that I remember, maybe. I enjoyed making the publication for Water Senses, and I do wonder if that’s the way things are going to be going forward.

Ruth Le Gears studio space

It can be heartbreaking when an exhibition comes down, like what has happened to a lot of exhibitions due to Covid. You pour your heart and soul into a show, and it’s up for six weeks or three months, then you pack it up. Sometimes it moves on, and sometimes it doesn’t. I find that drop after an exhibition can be really difficult. You could be working on something for years, but there’s something about the tangibility of a publication that continues that little bit further.

Water Senses publication, Leitrim Sculpture Centre, (2017)

Video and photography are another important element of your work. Could you discuss that side of your practice?

I guess because I try and travel so much and do so many residencies, video and photography are for me easy ways to document material. I love working with video; it’s a very beautiful and tactile process. You’re telling a story to the viewer. Most of my videos are very slow meditative pieces intended to lull you into the same kind of emotion as what taking the remedy would do, because a lot of people aren’t going to take the remedy. So in a way, I get the essence of the feeling across in these pieces. I used to work in very long, and when I say long, I mean hour-long pieces, but very few people watched them in their entirety. Though saying that, I had a show in Schwandorf Germany in 2018 a while back and I showed around six or seven pieces that were 40 minutes long apiece, and they sat and watched them all! Everyone that came into the gallery. It was like, “Wow!” They took it very seriously—this tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. But in general, I do try and get the sense of the place across in under twelve minutes; I think twelve minutes is very long for people these days.  

video still, Nowey Port remedy return, CCA Laznia, (2015)

I would say the gallery context is interesting; I often treat people in gallery or studio spaces. So usually, if there wasn’t the current global situation, I would have invited you into the studio. I would have done a remedy session with you because that’s probably the best way for you to experience my practice and engage. It’s a feeling; it’s hard to use language to explain. I generally get curators I’m working with to sit down in my studio and do a short session. When I’m treating people in the gallery context, I’ll also show a film in the background. It can lull people into a different atmosphere in the gallery. It’s really interesting treating people in the gallery setting because it’s taking something that would normally be done somewhere else and bringing it right into the gallery; that kind of blending of environments is very interesting for me. Whether it is a video or my water remedies, I’m very interested in seeing how people respond in a gallery setting. It’s such a flexible space that can accommodate many things.

remedy sessions SFAI New Mexico

I think work presented in online spaces has to be made specifically for an online space. For example, I can send you my video, and you can watch it on your phone or your laptop. I have very little control over how you will look at it. You might not open it full screen, or you might have crappy speakers. We’re all human, but when you watch it in the cinematic way it’s supposed to be seen, it’s such a different experience. I think when moving things online, platforms have to be designed for that; I don’t think everyone can just be firing their work up online – you have to be very aware of how people are going to interact with it.

I am currently planning a film, Sensitive Chaos, that shares the sublime through images of water bodies. This body of work was proposed to be completed at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre, but this residency is currently postponed, and now I have to develop creative ways to make this work here as it is something that I am deeply invested in.

My way of working has slowed due to having a child, but my vision and my relationship to water and my practice remains constant.

If we think of ourselves as bodies of water, it becomes clear how connected we are with nature and the environment; on becoming a body of water; I am also currently working with blown glass which is a slow, beautiful alchemical process which I am delighted to be up-skilling in. Again, this is a work in progress, but I am really enjoying returning to the sculptural element of my practice. It lends to the slow-moving meditation of the waterworks, and it is incorporated into the film works.

You can find out more about Ruth Le Gear work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below

https://www.instagram.com/ruthlegear/?hl=en

https://www.instagram.com/celestialaquaticsorb/

https://www.ruthlegear.com/

https://www.celestialaquatics.com/

thank you, Anne James for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation

Putting Them Together:Yasmine Nasser Diaz

Yasmine Nasser Diaz,

A key aim of Painting in Text has always been to get different perspectives on art practice, and with that in mind I made a concerted effort to look at artists outside of my own personal experience. It was through those efforts that I came across Yasmine Nasser Diaz, a multi-disciplinary artist based in Los Angeles, CA. The way she combines different element’s not only in her collage but in her installation work is so deftly done. It was such an enjoyable experience talking to Yasmine and I am glad I got the opportunity.

Let’s start with your recent exhibition, ‘soft powers’.

‘soft powers’ builds upon work from the last three to four years. The show itself consists of two main parts: an installation and a series of fibre etchings.

The first iteration of the installation was for the 2018 exhibition, ‘Exit Strategies’ at the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles. I recreated a semblance of the teenage bedroom that I shared with my sisters. The details in the room span a range of time periods as there is a large age gap between my sisters and I and my family lived in that house for close to 30 years.  The wallpaper and wood panelling were from the 70s–wood panelling being common in Chicago basements. Most of the pop culture artefacts were from the 80s and 90s when I was a child and adolescent.

soft powers‘ installation shot Arab American National Museum, 2020

The installations have always meant to be interactive. Visitors are encouraged to listen to the cassettes and spray the perfumes that were popular in the 90s. Scent is the most visceral way to conjure nostalgia and memory, it can be a kind of instant time travel. The installation for ‘soft powers’ is different in that it is not autobiographical. I created a fictional narrative to build the room that belonged to a pair of Yemeni-American sisters, Dina and Saba. I enjoyed using fiction for the first time because it allowed me to inhabit multiple voices. I was fortunate to collaborate with author Randa Jarrar who wrote the text for the sisters’ diaries. We developed storylines that spoke to the complexities of adolescence – coming of age and trying to find yourself while also navigating these seemingly disparate worlds.

‘soft powers‘ installation shot Arab American National Museum, 2020

Can you explain what you mean when you talk about disparate worlds?

This is where the title, ‘soft powers’ comes from. The term is typically used to describe a strategy in diplomatic relations,  the ability to attract or subtly persuade someone to get what you want or need. I’m nudging that interpretation a bit to refer to a skill that we begin to develop as children when we first start to learn how to adjust our behavior to achieve a desired result. You could say this starts when we identify which parent we can get we get what from. I’m honing in on the more nuanced skills of children of immigrants, specifically those of families who migrated from the Global South to the Global North. For many of us, the home and what exists outside of the home are two  very different cultural worlds. I, for example, was born and raised in Chicago, in a pretty tight-knit Yemeni community. At the same time, I was attending public schools that were extremely diverse with classmates of many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. The U.S. is more of an individualistic society compared to the community that I was being raised in at home, which is very collectivist-minded – decisions are often made in the best interest of the family and the community.

These different worlds convey disparate messages to young people still forming their identities and values. I’m not advocating for one way over the other as there are pros and cons to both. There were challenges though in navigating between a society that prized individual expression versus one which valued the community and tradition more. I learned how to behave ‘appropriately’ in both worlds, like many young women do. We’ve become very adept at switching between environments. People talk about code-switching a lot these days, which usually refers to language, but I think that it can apply to so much more. There is also what we decide to share in line with the way we want to be perceived. That’s what I mean by ‘soft power’: the various and nuanced ways we refine the ways we communicate.

You mentioned that this is the third time you have installed the work…

Exit Strategies’ installation shot Women’s Center for Creative Work, 2018, photo by Jaye Meyer

That’s right. The first was ‘Exit Strategies’ in 2018 and the very next year, I installed ‘Dirty Laundry’  during a residency at Habibi House in Detroit. There are changes with each iteration. I thought that Detroit might be the last time because those first two versions were directly autobiographical and the process of creating and sharing the work was pretty taxing. I had, for the first time, shared some intensely personal details. For example, after I graduated high school, I left home with two of my sisters and we were basically estranged from our family for a very long time. We did not see the rest of our family for almost 20 years. I included references to that part of my past in those first two installations – some documentation of our name-changing process and correspondence during a period when I was trying to get legal help. In the process of sharing the work, I met with visitors and spoke about it quite a bit. To talk about these things repeatedly was emotionally exhausting but in ways also cathartic, it has been rewarding in so many ways.

‘Dirty Laundry‘ installation shot, 2019 , photo Noura Ballout

I’m aware that I am often the first person of Yemeni background that people meet, in Europe or the US, so I often feel the need to clarify that although forced arranged  marriage and honour violence does exist in our communities, they are certainly not faced by all Yemeni women. I don’t ever want my personal experience used in a way that adds to the xenophobia that exists in the world. Nevertheless, these are issues that our communities don’t talk about enough. It’s a precarious place to be.

When the Arab American National Museum saw my installation in Detroit and invited me to do a solo show, I reconsidered my stance on not creating another bedroom installation. It was extremely meaningful to have an opportunity to bring a conversation that centres Yemeni American adolescence and girlhood to an institution that is important to the community. The first two iterations were in community-oriented spaces, the Women’s Center for Creative Work, a wonderfully supportive community, and then at a grassroots residency in what was essentially someone’s home. The Arab American National Museum is in Dearborn Michigan, right next to Detroit. That area has the largest Arab American population in the United States, which is very relevant to the context of the work. My parents immigrated to nearby Chicago in the late 60s so the area is essentially an extension of home.

While this installation is not directly autobiographical, it still draws heavily from my own background. Working with fictional characters was liberating. While I feel that all work is somewhat autobiographical as you can’t help but be a part of what you create but fiction can make it a little easier. I think that almost every person holds different identities at once and I love how fiction can be a tool to mine from different parts of one’s self. There is so much freedom in it.

Before going further, it might be good to describe the process of fibre etching for those who are unfamiliar..

I like to call them fibre etchings because the effect is not like the industrial velvet burnout that people are used to seeing in clothing or drapery. This is done by hand, and it’s pretty labour intensive, especially when it comes to the larger pieces. I mostly use velvet for [the etchings] but have also used other materials like satin. Basically, the fabric has to be a composite [made of two different kinds of material], in this case I’m using mostly silk-rayon composites. It’s a reductive process wherein a chemical removes the rayon portion, so the silk backing remains. Some parts of the fabric remain opaque while others are more sheer. I use personal photographs as source material to create the images.

Thick as Thieves, (2020), silk-rayon fibre etching, 28 x 36cm

Where have you sourced the photographs?

They are mostly my own personal photos from around the time I was in high school. There’s a relationship between the fibre etchings in ‘soft powers’ and the collage pieces in ‘Exit Strategies’. Both feature images of my sisters and I in our bedroom with our faces removed, which I’ve done for several reasons. The space and context is quite vulnerable to share, as is with all of the personal details. The anonymity essentially serves as a layer of protection. In some cases, it has allowed me to use images that I might not otherwise be able to use. The scenes are intimate and the photographs were not taken for public consumption. I was also thinking of the censorship of images of women in certain parts of the world. The removal of the face is a kind of censorship but it’s a censorship within my control in support of my own intentions.

Exit Strategies’ installation shot Women’s Center for Creative Work, 2018, photo by Jaye Meyer

For ‘soft powers’, I sourced images, not only from my archives but also from other Yemeni American women, some of whom were family and friends. They allowed me the privilege of going through some of their photo archives. I was looking for snapshots of women-identifying people taken in their own spaces – casually hanging out in bedrooms or other private spaces where they didn’t have to worry about who else was around.  I think it is true for girls of all different backgrounds that our bedroom spaces are something very special to us.

Say No To Drugs!, (2020), silk-rayon fibre etching, 30 x 38cm

In my experience, Yemeni immigrant communities tend to be more insular than other Arab groups. They are generally more closely-knit and socially conservative. For young women, these spaces become even more of a sanctuary where we can let our guards down and be ourselves. These photographs are taken by us, for each other. They are seemingly mundane and affectionate scenes of girls passing the time, that is what I wanted to focus on in these etchings.

Your work plays with the idea of creating empathy through familiarity. Can you talk a bit about that?

I think there is instant familiarity in these spaces. When I was first considering talking about some of the more sensitive subjects and sharing some of my personal documents, I had a lot of anxiety. I knew the risk of being made out to be a representative of the Yemeni experience even though that has never been my intention. I wanted to talk about some of the issues that are important to me through the construction of a space that had a sense of nostalgia. Bedroom spaces invite a natural feeling of comfort but I included things that complicate that quality of comfort and nostalgia. There are memories that I recall fondly from that time and others that are very troubling.

‘soft powers’ installation shot Arab American National Museum, 2020

When people enter the space, the first things they tend to notice are the signifiers of another era – the groovy wallpaper, the fun pop-culture artefacts. Upon closer inspection, other details emerge that tell a story more specific to the room’s inhabitants. Even though the viewers know it’s a fictional space, there is still this feeling of voyeurism that makes them pause and question, “Should I be in here looking at this diary?” It triggers an instinctive feeling of empathy and can be an effective way of communicating. Nostalgia has such a wide range of associations for people, and I certainly don’t think all nostalgia is inherently good but I’m thinking about it in both a fond way and a complex way.

Has collage always played a part in your practice?

Call Waiting’, (2018), collage,

Collage is still relatively new to me. I was primarily painting before I got into collage about four years ago. I found the shift liberating. I experienced a playfulness that I hadn’t felt in a really long time. It was similar to that uninhibited feeling we experience as children when we made art without overthinking.

I see a lot of similarities between the process of collage and the experience of being an immigrant or  child of immigrants. You are often taking materials from different places and putting them together – images and source material that seemingly have no business being together forced to live in a new place. It’s an apt medium for telling some of these stories. I try to keep that feeling of playfulness in my work by doing a warm-up collage when I get to the studio. I’ve started doing a little workshop around this; it’s very simple and there is no intention, just like that feeling I had when I first started collage. It is very easy for artists, once they hone a technique, to lose that feeling of playfulness. I want to maintain that and continue to access my intuition.

There are also more overtly political collages such as The day after (2018). Could you talk about that?

The day after, (2018), collage and acetone transfer on hand-cut watercolor paper, 76.2 x 55.88cm

‘The day after’ emulates the front page of a newspaper. Stylistically, I was pulling from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. It references the day after a Saudi airstrike landed in a very busy district in Yemen and struck a school bus carrying a group of kids on a field trip. At least 40 children died, and over 50 people in total were killed. It did make some headlines but not as many as it would have had it happened elsewhere. In the U.S., the news coverage is really not proportionate to our involvement in foreign conflict. Yemen has been engaged in a war now for six years, and the US has been involved by supporting Saudi Arabia. This is huge because if we pulled out, it would have a drastic effect on the war. We are the number one supplier of arms in the world, in particular to Saudi Arabia. The bomb that landed on those kids was American-made but so many people don’t know this. There is a disconnect between our involvement and our knowledge of this war.

Averting is easy, (2018), Mixed media collage and glitter on watercolor paper, 76.2 x 55.88cm

I created this work on invitation to a show of all Yemeni artists reflecting on the war. At first, I struggled with my own identity and responsibility– born, raised, and living in the U.S., I had visited Yemen once but have never lived there. Who am I to talk about this? I felt most obligated to bring attention to our (i.e., the U.S.) role in the conflict. Most of the work I created is a critique of U.S. media coverage of the war. I’ve barely scratched the surface as there are a lot of questions we should be asking. What makes headline news? What takes priority? Who is making those decisions and why? Instead of being informed of the most vital issues, much of our news consumption is clickbait-driven.

You can find out more about Yasmine’s work through her Instagram page and website, links below

https://www.instagram.com/yasmine.diaz/

http://www.yasminediaz.com/

thank you, Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation, Photography

Eye of the Beholder: Lucy Tevlin

Lucy Tevlin

Lucy Tevlin is a Dublin based artist, who’s work explores a broad range of topics like technology, language and theory. Through this interview with Lucy we really get a sense that theory is really important to her work, and how it has gone on to inform her practice. She has implemented these ideas without distracting or taking away from the work itself. It was a very interesting conversation to have and to hear her discuss her goals within her work. With that said I hope you in enjoy the interview.

A piece of particular interest that I would like to talk about is Alternative Means of Experiencing Images. Could you talk about that?

Yes, this work was a dual slide projection. One projector showed images and the other, text. The work was heavily influenced by theory, and there is one particular Tom Gunning text called The Cinema of Attractions that really influenced the work. There’s this part about Hale’s Tours, which was an amusement ride in London in the early 20th century where you sit in a train carriage. There was a projection of typical scenes outside of the train carriage that you could see through the window, and the seat that you were sitting on would move. You would hear all the sounds of the train, basically imitating the experience of a train ride. Tom Gunning described this ride as an alternative way of experiencing cinema, one in which you are more involved, which is more physical, so I reference that in the text I used. He had written about this moment in history. So, to reference this, I spliced it in with images I had taken out of moving vehicles in Ireland, so it was this sort of looking back at the past but also considering our present relationship with images.  

Installation Shot Alternate Means of Experiencing Images, 2019

In this respect, the material was the theory or language surrounding the work as well as the slides. I used the text as material to play around with. While I was making the work, I would print out texts and cut them up and collage them, so really thinking about language as a physical material.

The title is very interesting.

It just seemed to fit. It was initially titled Alternative Means of Experiencing Cinema, but I decided to change it because I was thinking about cinema in its most basic form, comprised of images.

Titles have become something that is more important lately, because of the package works that I’m making. It’s like that tricky question of, “When is the painting finished? When you have given it a title?”

Can you talk a bit more about what have you been working on recently?

The overall project is called Conjecture. Which in mathematics means a conclusion that is yet to be proved true or untrue, but is suspected to be true. So this idea of presumption or expectation. 

But within this I’ve been writing these texts called The Structure of A Second. I’ve been working with projectors and 8mm films for the last while. Initially, I was creating digital edits from the footage I collected, but I have since moved away from that now to a more sculptural series of works.

I have this system of producing the works now where I order 8mm film online and before the film arrives, I write a text about what it might possibly contain. This work hasn’t been shown yet, but the first in this series of works will be a projection of one of these found films, alongside a voiceover of the text. From this work, I realised I might even be showing too much, so the next work in the series is just the unopened packages of film alongside the text.

400Ft Standard 8mm Cine Film. Holiday To Austria Italy 1966. (184), (2020), Printed text, 8mm film in unopened package 21x24cm

Where are you getting this Super 8 film?

I’ve been going online and onto eBay to find them. I often see people selling home movie footage on 8mm. Either stuff they have shot themselves, or acquired in different ways. What I’ve found interesting is on eBay, the sellers have a limited amount of space for information about the film on their eBay page, so I began to write texts based on what I thought was in the package before it arrived as a way of getting my creative thoughts going. Initially, it wasn’t meant to be presented with the work. But now the writing has changed. It’s become a lot more fluid and abstract; influences might come from the description on the package or on the eBay page, which remind me of a memory, and I write about that. So, it has almost become like poetry, rather than the very regimented exercise that it was originally. So, I present the packages with the writing, and the work has almost become one now, where I have six packages that I haven’t opened. In a way, I think it might be one artwork, ‘cos with this heavy and conceptual idea, for it to work, I feel I need multiple packages that are never opened to make it more a statement of intent.

You said the texts weren’t initially meant to be presented. How did this practice of “supplementing” the lack of information on the eBay listings make its way into the work for presentation?

I was thinking about the idea of expectation. Initially, I tried to play with the audience’s expectation in my response to the home video that I’d bought. I’d explore the viewer’s expectation through editing. For example, there was footage of a couple walking through a shot, but the shot breaks before they actually leave the frame (normally an editing faux pas), so playing with that idea of expectation through the editing.

Writing the text beforehand was just a sort of exercise to get my brain working before the film arrived. Then I was speaking to a friend about the work, and they pointed out that the text is actually my expectation, before I try to create expectation for the viewer. I was already exploring expectation with the texts, so I didn’t need to do it through the editing necessarily. So then the text became a central part of it. Some of my previous work – like a lot of my slide projection pieces and especially my grad show work – used language as an important part of my practice.

In particular, Narrative Structures (2019) is focused on certain kinds of readings to do with what the work is about, so it’s making this work around narrative. I was reading a lot about narratology and deconstructing narrative, and so too the language used when discussing the theory made its way into the work. The work included these phrases from narratology texts, mixed in with a narrative I had written, and slides I had shot that I felt conveyed a sense of narrative or mystery. So, the work was both a narrative and also talking about what it was; there was quite a self-reflexive quality to it. In hindsight, this is where I stumbled upon the fictional format of how I make these works. I have reintroduced that element of language into the work and it went from there really.

Installation shot Narrative Structures, 2019

The way I would consider narrative is that within the work, it’s a bit fragmented. I prefer that the narrative isn’t presented explicitly in the work so that I can allude to it rather than saying, “This particular thing happened.” I will play around with language in such a way where it presents itself, but it’s still subtle. That’s what I aim for. When I was growing up, I was quite into poetry and descriptive writing , and I think that has been an influence too. There’s also a rhythmic element as well. One of the things that drew me to slide projectors in the first place is the sound of them and how they click when a new slide is projected, and so a lot of the time when I’m writing I will think about how the words will sound when spoken.

Projectors have a strong physical presence in your work. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I think what originally drew me to projectors was the physicality of the image. On a screen, the image seems very fleeting, but when you have a slide you can hold it, you can bend it. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on whether or not the projection apparatus could be considered a sculptural object. So that’s definitely something that I think about a lot, particularly when I was producing my grad show work. I guess it’s an attempt to acknowledge the importance of the presence of the apparatus. I’m really curious about the mechanics of the production of an artwork, and what elements we’re asked to ignore. In my work now there is a bit of a grapple between the material and conceptual elements, and I think that is not a bad thing necessarily, where there is definitely a kind of back and forth between them.

Installation shot Reflectance, 2019

When I’m installing, I like to set the projector up in such a way that it is a little bit of an obstruction. So you walk in, and you’re sort of confronted by the projector. Whatever I’m trying to draw attention to conceptually in the work, I will try and position the projector so someone has to walk around it and physically encounter the work, almost a phenomenological approach you’re activating the work by having a bodily encounter with it – I’m trying to do that with an object that you would normally not view like that. More like sculpture than like film. I’m not trying to force anybody to sit down, but I want them to be aware of the space and their involvement in the space.

Your other practice is street photography. There is an interesting parallel to the ethics in that and the work you are currently working on.

Yeah, I suppose it’s something I think about, not that I have a clear answer about what is ethical or not in the work. Rather than having a clear position, I’m just happy to bring attention to the ethical considerations. People don’t tend to notice or mind when I take photos of them on the street. But even if they did, just look up – there are so many CCTV cameras already on you at all times in Dublin. We’re happy to give away our data freely, but a photograph can be seen as invasive. Just because it’s not physically present, doesn’t mean it’s not happening all the time anyway. But it’s still a tricky part of the work that I try to remain aware and careful about.

Untitled street photography, (2019)

Modern technology is at the back of my mind. I never really want to explicitly address that in my work, but I like the idea of it being a subtle undertone: Looking at this older technology creating a certain type of image might make you think about other things that are happening in technology currently.

There’s clearly a temporal aspect of the work as well.

Yes, that’s an element of my practice that I find kind of elusive or hard to explain but it finds its way into the work one way or another. There is definitely an element of trying to distil moments or grapple with time as an entity. I suppose sometimes I’m trying to comprehend the time instilled in or associated with an object, or even just trying to make sense of how we experience time. There’s also the timing or duration of a work, which is really the viewer’s time – that’s something I think about a lot as I’m making a work.

The numbers are another element. When you’re thinking about things that are conceptual, it almost becomes quite mathematical, there’s a strange logic in there somewhere. I try and keep it specific to the medium that I’m using at the time. Using The Structure of A Second as an example: This film projects at 24 frames per second. In a way, those frames are like a multiple, each frame being a separate element of that second. I think in this work I’m really trying to make sense of a moment in time, or several moments and how they interrelate. In a sense it also acts a means to show how the work itself has been constructed, or that I’m using time as a material in the same way I would use the slides or projectors or language in this way. I also enjoy the numerical or practical restrictions of a medium, 24 frames per second, 81 slides in a carousel projector. It’s what’s unique to that medium that makes it intriguing. I’m always striving to be true to the material, whatever that may be.

You can find out more about Lucy Tevlins work through her Instagram page, link below

https://www.instagram.com/lucytevlin/

thank you, Anne James for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation, Performance, Video

Growth Through Art: Darren Nixon

me axis

Darren Nixon

I met Darren Nixon when he was working on Dislocate for the CCA in Derry~Londonderry. Funnily enough our meeting was a chance encounter that I hadn’t prepared for in advance. But I got talking to Darren and really got sucked into a fascinating back and forth discussion on what relationship artists has with their audience. (Remember, this was my first time meeting Darren!) He converses with such openness, and honest that was really refreshing and disarming in a way that gets you to engage back in an equally open manner. Getting to talk to Darren for the interview really made me aware of the wealth of knowledge he has, but treats you like an equal and never talks down to you. I gained so much from the interview, and his process is something that we can all benefit from even when simply appreciating art.

Your pieces are often a mix of sculpture installation and video, but it feels like painting always shows up in some element. Let’s start with your relationship with painting.

I kind of still think of myself as a painter. Most of what I do starts off with painting of some description. And I suppose I’m slowly getting to the stage now where I’m starting to wonder if paint needs to be a part of everything that I do. What I’m thinking about a lot of the time is the relationship between different ways of working. Because paint is naturally the language that I speak, when I think about something, paint is the starting point for thinking about work. When I work in other ways, how that differs from paint, and the possibilities and tensions between those, are what interest me. In a wider sense, it’s thinking about how the medium that you use affects the thoughts that you are able to have.

That’s why whenever I’m not sure where my work is going, I just go to the studio and put paint on stuff while I think. Because it’s just it’s a way of thinking for me. But in the work itself, and the actual act of painting I’m increasingly putting some distance between them.

I’m starting to think of the painting process as what happens after the bit where the paint goes on the stuff. But regardless of what I’m working with, I feel like I work in quite a painterly way.

With The Audience, you combine sculptural elements along with painted portraiture. There are elements of art history within that.

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The Audience installation shot at Rogue Studios, (2016),
Mixed Media. Dimensions variable

When I’m trying to think about things with a bit of nuance, it’s easier to frame that idea in the context of what people understand, so, “How does the audience look at a piece of work and what does it mean to have the work look back at them?” I was looking especially for that piece to Dutch portrait painting at that point where painters, for the first time, started painting faces which looked back at the viewer directly and what this meant as a shift in what people expected from art.

I suppose the process is quite different for each piece, but with something like that, part of it is I just want an excuse to paint. Because painting seems harder to justify, just for its own sake. But I love doing it.

I often think about the failures of painting, the directions, and the dead ends that it’s walked itself into at times. The functions that it was used for and all the vitality that it used to have, and how it’s not the go-to to think about a lot of things like it used to be. It’s not the primary way that people understand the world by and large anymore. It’s not the way people understand landscape as much as it used to be. It used to be the central tool to explore these themes for a lot of art. That really interested me; that, and what it meant for me making work and how the audience processes the work.

How do you view your relationship with the audience?

It depends on the piece that I’m working with. I don’t overly worry about things being tremendously evident in the work, but I like there to be some element of clarity in the work. I like to think that the things that I’m thinking about are there within the piece if you are looking at it, but, I guess not everyone is going to walk in and respond to it or spend the time to get to know the work. And not everyone’s going to get the references I’m making. That used to be something that bothered me enormously; now I’ve moved past it. I remember being obsessed with the idea that if my mum or aunties didn’t understand the piece I was working on, then there was some failure on my part. At some point, I guess art has to be able to move to other places, and you can’t take everyone with you.

There is definitely an element of art about art within my work, I suppose, and that leaves some people cold. Rather than trying to make the specific things that I’m thinking about really clear to everyone that looks at the work, I’m kind of interested in them just seeing the process of thinking laid bare. So, each piece is a process of a way of thinking.

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The Difference Between Dancing and Contemporary Dance, (2015)
Mixed Media, Dimensions variable

One of the first pieces that I did with this in mind was a piece called The Difference Between Dancing and Contemporary Dance. It was about my complete lack of connection or engagement with contemporary dance, despite being somebody who loves dancing and going out. So on some level, I thought me not getting this was not OK, because there is obviously something going on there and I am not getting it. For as long as I spent making it, I just looked at tonnes of contemporary dance until I found stuff that made sense to me. When I found the work of Jerome Bel, Anna De Kersmaeker and Siobhan Davies Dance company it opened a door for me into contemporary dance that I really understood and connected with. My pieces are like a record of my research and my thinking while doing this research. I don’t think you look at that piece and gain some insight about contemporary dance that you never understood before, but it was a vehicle for me to develop an understanding of contemporary dance, and I’m sharing that journey with the audience.

And since then, dance has become something that I’ve become even more interested in which has influenced later work. I suppose some pieces like that are almost small projects, almost like a little bit of an excuse for me look up stuff and broaden my horizons.

I want to know about things. And that often progresses to, “How can I make a piece about it?”

I’ve been trying on and off for a while now to think of a piece that would allow me to do the same thing with poetry. Because I love reading, and I love literature, but I struggle to gain a connection with much of the poetry I read. And yet considering my fields of interest and finding the way I think about evocation, and the relationship between words and imagery, poetry is something that I feel I should be able to connect to, but I just don’t. At some point, I’m going to try and do a piece that will give me an excuse to dive into it. The driving force behind most of this is understanding what it is within myself that prevents me from really understanding something. It’s a lot of self-exploration.

I find thinking about stuff that I don’t understand and don’t feel an attraction to more inspiring than thinking about the things that I love. If you engage with something that you really hate or don’t connect to at all, and just spend some time really thinking about what it is…it’s not necessarily the work, it could be you. You can learn as much about the shortcomings in your understanding as about any shortcomings in that work.

It’s evident that collaboration is really important to your work.

When I first started collaborating with other people, there was definitely an element of the agreement that they either had skills that I wanted to bring into the work or learn myself. As we worked and I watched them do their thing, it began to felt like an exchange of skills. When I did my Standpoint residency, I decided that I would work with people who were involved in movement because I knew I was interested in movement through the objects that I was working with, but I hadn’t been happy with my results. So I set myself up in a way to work with a broad range of people to try and watch them and learn something from what they did, but at some point, I stopped trying to gain specific things out of it and allowed it to be itself and expand into its own thing. When you started to watch the whole picture of what was happening and the generosity that people brought to the space, the amount that they poured into my work and the amount that they trusted me, the actual act of negotiation became fascinating to me. Skills from my day job – where I often work with the general public – that I never thought would have been of any relevance to my art practice, came to the fore. Like my ability to put people at ease and read the atmosphere in a room and read how people are responding, they became vital tools in making the work happen.

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Host at Chisenhale Studios London 2018 from a series of collaborative films recorded across six week period with 18 invited guests

And so the actual act of collaboration and negotiating with people became a central part of what I was interested in. That moment of transformation whenever you’re in a room with somebody, and you come with a loose enough layout and you don’t try to push your agenda. You don’t try and make a specific thing happen; then you have all that trust and there comes this moment where something happens in the room, and it becomes filled with this other energy and your connection with the person becomes an entirely different thing. Those moments felt like the completion of the work for a really short period, that fed into my idea of wanting to make these kinds of non-art objects that are never quite settled, so they just became an extension of that idea. In some way, the work is only ever complete for these brief periods, with these people.

Working in this way I have learned how important it is to find ways to allow the voices of the people I am working with to stand on an equal footing with my own. This means trying not to overburden them with too much sense of where I am coming from or what I want to see happen. Where things go is something I want us to find out between us. So there is sometimes quite a tricky process of negotiation, trying to figure out how much information they need to be able to invest in the process without giving so much information that they feel like the process belongs exclusively to me.

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Dislocate an offsite project with CCA Derry~Londonderry, (2019) featuring Janie Doherty & Lydia  Swift a series of films recorded over two weeks,

When you have someone like Janie Doherty or Lydia Swift who is prepared to go to that point, and is prepared to end up with these things happening that are nothing like what I envisioned when I was making the objects in the works, those times are precious. The time you spend with those people seeing how they negotiate the things you made and seeing their creative approach is a great privilege. That act of negotiation has become the centre of what my work is about. That time in the room is as important as the resulting art piece.

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 Dislocate an offsite project with CCA Derry~Londonderry, (2019) featuring Janie Doherty & Lydia Swift a series of films recorded over two weeks

Could you talk a bit about a day in the studio?

When I am in the studio, I do spend a longish day there. I used to spend most of my hours working in the studio. I used to work in central Manchester and also have a studio there. So I would go to work nine to five, then to the studio, stay till eleven and cycle home. Then on days off, I would cycle into the studio about ten in the morning, and I would stay until ten at night. So it was like most days, if I have a full day I would do a twelve-hour or more day in studio, partly because the things that I was making, stuff like The Audience, take a long time to paint! I think it was about 140 faces? So, it was hundreds and hundreds of hours in the studio painting! I got really good at painting faces throughout that!

With the arrival of video in my work, however, my time is now split between working in the studio and working at home. I sometimes find it difficult to strike the right balance between these two because video editing and figuring out what to do with the stuff I film is such a time-consuming process. I prefer being in the studio painting stuff but sometimes I can go for weeks without having much of an excuse to be there when I am pulling stuff I have filmed together and that needs all my focus.

The material that you use is quite interesting. How do you choose the materials that you are going to use?

For the past couple of years, I’ve almost exclusively used stuff from skips or discarded stuff left on streets or around spaces I have been working in; making these big expensive things involving a lot of material started to make me feel a bit uncomfortable with buying new material, because of the amount of waste involved. I wanted to keep making these installations, but only making them using stuff that was bound for the bin or that someone else had used previously.

Generally, it has to be able to take quite a lot of physical punishment. I also have to be able to repaint them after each session and have them ready for another session. They have to be quite easy to move which is also partly why they end up quite simple. It has to be something that I can easily reconstruct and redo because it could be used across a few months in different spaces. When I feel that I have gone as far as can be with the bigger pieces, I will then cut them up and re-use them for others. Apart from the practicalities of using cheap reusable materials for my work it is also quite a conscious rejection of some of the preciousness around materials that persists especially in painting. How fetishy some painters get about paint, I understand why, because it’s the material that they’re using, but when I listen to painters talk about specific glaze mixes and these paints they got from Holland it just bores the **** out of me. For me, I think of paint more as colour that I can put on things that will also protect objects that I’m working with. It’s the act of putting paint on an object as a way of thinking about the act of an object travelling from being in the everyday world into the world of art in a really simple way.

The whole point of me starting to work on objects rather than canvases was that I just really wanted to explore space, and why space is so central to how they operate. That’s the whole reason I’m there is to try and find out something about space that I don’t know, or something I don’t understand already. Because they take quite a while to set up, and so it feels still quite like early days with these ways of working. And I’m excited to see how it progresses.

You can find out more about Darren Nixion’s work through his website, link below

https://www.darrennixon.com/

thank you, Anne James for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation

How Something Works: Jamie Cross

Jamie working on, 240v every other 15mins

Jamie Cross working on, 240v every other 15mins

I recorded this interview in March just prior to the full lock-down we experienced in Ireland and the exhibition in The Dock that we talk about in the interview has as of publishing  this interview (06/08/2020) been postponed to a later date. I met Jamie through the ARC (Art & Research Collaboration) MA at IADT, and in that time, I have been lucky enough to see Jamie discuss the development of his practice well before we even sat down to do this interview. The way that Jamie approaches his practice and how he naturally integrates his interests into his work is so effortless. I hope to get across his intelligence because the pieces he makes are quite remarkable, not only from a technical standpoint but theoretically as well. There are so many ways that you can appreciate his work, and this is all deliberate on his part. I enjoyed sitting down with Jamie, and I hope you gain as much from the interview as I did.

You have quite a tactile understanding of objects. Where does that come from?

I think it was originally from when I was a child. I used to take stuff apart because I was curious about how it worked. Granted back then I never put anything back together. So, I pretty much used to break stuff!

A lot of my work really starts with this curiosity about how something works. Then by wondering this, the next step I take is to try and explore its inner workings. There is a space created inside an object which I always think is kind of fascinating. These are often objects that we all use, but they are never really considered.

I could be working on three or four things at once, and this sometimes leads to me amalgamating them all. I’ll take one aspect, one thing that I am doing, and then bring it into another thing that I am doing that I feel will work really well together.

What is the role of technology in your work?

I love using technology, it really drives my practice, but I don’t want it just to be about that. Even though I use a lot of software, I don’t want it to seem that what I do is a software-driven practice. I’ll use video, but I’ll always come back to the question of how I can bring sculptural elements into the work. I’m always exploring how digital and sculpture can work together, so the final piece is often kind of an amalgamation of the digital and the sculptural. I feel that that they need each other to work and I find that interesting.

Acer Aspire 5732z, 2019

Acer Aspire 5732Z, (2019), Acer laptop

A lot of my works are explorations of themselves. For example, with Acer Aspire 5732Z, I wanted to show its inner workings, but keep it as a recognisable object, for the viewer to know that there is something going on here inside the object. We can recognise this laptop is an everyday thing, but there is also more to the inside of the laptop, there is more to the actual object.

Display, Sound, Power, 2020

Detail, Display, Sound, Power, (2020)

Display, Sound, Power, 2020 (2)

Detail, Display, Sound, Power, (2020)

For the piece Display, Sound, Power I actually built the computer that the work was being displayed on. I started the build out of necessity for an exhibition in The Dock. I needed a faster machine.  I thought if I was going to build it, wouldn’t it be much more interesting if I try and make this into a sculpture? I built the computer, and it was a working computer, but it wasn’t doing anything for me sculpturally. It just looked like a computer, so I decided I needed it elevated. At first, I tried putting it on the wall, but when I tested it there it wasn’t interesting enough for me. It wasn’t until I put it on the office chair via the brackets that it clicked, and I don’t know how I came around to it but suddenly it became a sculpture in itself. As soon as you stick it on a plinth, it becomes this object that people walk around and look at, but sticking it on the chair, it becomes much more a sculpture. Personally, I love it when two random objects come together and can somehow make sense!

Let’s talk about the digital aspect of Display, Sound, Power.

Visually I was inspired by advertisement screens around Dublin City.  I was thinking that technology can do so much, but they are using it to show just one image. I thought I would see what I could do with imposing that kind of restriction on myself, and if I’m honest, I had to fight my own urge to have a video on the monitor. But once I settled on the right image (of the escalators), I was happy with it. What was most important was that everyone knew it was working. With the image of escalators, there’s certain movement in it, there is so much going on in this single image, whereas a video would almost be too busy! Like running, running, running.

Advertisement board in Dublin city centre

Inspiration for Display, Sound, Poweran advertisement board in Dublin city centre

Having the monitor in portrait as opposed to landscape helped as well. It suddenly throws people off. They can see that it’s a monitor, but why is it in this shape? Why is it tilted back? I was looking to buy a new laptop, and the salesman kept on saying it was an “ergonomic laptop” and “the ergonomics are great.” And I was wondering, what is ergonomics? I started looking it up because I was interested in that word and how it was used to sell this object. It’s still just a monitor, but all of a sudden, it’s this “ergonomic” monitor. “Designed for efficiency and comfort for working.”

Escalator travelling up

An example from photo notebook

I’m interested in the design of objects, why an object is designed to do certain things. That, and I was also interested in just playing with the fact that the monitor was able to be twisted. Originally I wanted to have the monitor at a more extreme angle, but I think with the image, there were already so many little angles going on in the image. Just having it in portrait mode was enough. It’s probably the piece that I am most happy with.

What is a day in the studio like for you?

My studio space I suppose is a bit of a weird studio space, because it’s my living space as well. Generally, I try and break up my day. Half the day I’ll do digital stuff looking at photos, research online and stuff like that, and the other half I’ll do hands-on work. I really enjoy taking things apart and exploring the material of something.

Because I work in my apartment the whole time, I almost wonder if I had a studio, would I be making the same work? Because in a studio there would be nothing until I brought it in, whereas when I’m working in my apartment, I’m responding to what is around me.

240v every other 15mins, 2019

240v every other 15mins, (2019), fluorescent tube

240v every other 15mins which I made for my grad show, and which was shown at the 2019 RDS Visual Art Awards, came about when I was working in my apartment, and a light in my kitchen was just flickering. There was something wrong, and I was wondering why this light was flickering. It was annoying me, so I started taking pictures on my phone and taking videos of it. Then when I went back looking over the videos and the pictures, I noticed that the phone was capturing the light as green. With the naked eye, I couldn’t see this neon green, and it made me question why it was doing that. From looking at these photos and videos, I started researching how light works. There’s all these kind of atoms in the fluorescent tubes, and when the electricity travels through the wire and hits the atoms, for a split second the whole thing goes green. Because the electricity excites the atoms so much, and immediately there is this flash of green, and then they come down, and it becomes the white light that everyone knows. I was really interested in capturing that moment when the atoms hit, or the electricity hits the atoms in that kind of inner space of this florescent tube. The finished piece ended up being a replica of that light, but made in a neon green colour. I originally had it flickering as well, but I felt that it wasn’t necessary. Generally, my work is a cycle, starting with asking a question and figuring out how it works, then normally showing my findings in an artwork in the end.

The book The Poetics of Space has influenced me a lot. It is about how, for a space to exist, it has to be experienced. For example, a house is nothing until people start living in it. It is just a box, and only when people start living in it does it become a home. So it started with that, I was exploring aspects of houses, the space between the walls of a house. Eventually, I started questioning, how does a space of… say the inside of an object, how does that become a space? Because we can’t fit in that. No one can. I started thinking to myself, “Well maybe through my exploration of it, taking it apart and looking at each inner working piece of it, maybe I’m producing the space through that experience?” I want people to take note of space in all its forms.

How would that interest in space manifest in an exhibition?

Something that I like doing is the setup of work in a gallery. I like to imagine where people are going to move and what they are going to look at. When I plan a space out, I’ll start with something visual that is eye-catching. I want to draw the viewer into this space. When I go into a gallery, I like something to capture my attention straight away, something that gets me asking questions. “What’s that?” Or, “What is going on with this piece?” I want my work to elicit that response from others when they see it, and then position works around that, which they can explore. I use SketchUp as a tool to plan out the space before an exhibition.

Installation shot, RDS Visual Art Awards, 2019 (2)

Installation shot, RDS Visual Art Awards, 2019

I try and highlight aspects of the space I’m exhibiting in. For example, in The Dock, there is a set of stairs in the building that are near some high walls. One of the pieces I have been working on uses a clothes horse, and it’s bright green, it has this real eye-catching element to it, so the plan is to hang a clothes horse high on that wall. This is an everyday object that everybody knows, but suddenly it’s like, “Why is it up there?” I’m making people aware of the space. Using its positioning to make the viewer look up rather than just looking forward. I like that line to bring people around the space; it creates a path through a space. I’m interested in how that can be done through the placement of works.

The space changes the work, and the work also changes the space.  Selecting work is very important as it can lead to a different feel in a space. When work is installed in a space, it can really change that space completely. I am interested in the comparison between the exhibition space and the object in that space.

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

https://www.instagram.com/crossmjamie/

thank you, Anne James for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation, Sculpture

Every Piece in its Place: Anishta Chooramun

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Anishta Chooramun

This interview was recorded in October 2019 before the Futures exhibition in the RHA. Anishta Chooramun is a Dublin based artist. Anishta works in the medium of sculpture whose work explores themes of culture, material and identity. These are concepts that many of us will have grappled with at some point in our lives, and Anishta takes that familiarity into interesting directions. This leads to very rewarding experience when you take the time to give yourself over to the work and observe the sculptures.

Your sculpture is interesting in both its construction as well as its structure. Could you talk a little about that?

My core subject is identity as a jigsaw puzzle, and how our everyday life changes us—for example, moving from one place to another, the people we encounter. All these changes shape our identities. It’s not just people who shape us, but also the objects around us. If you compare yourself to somebody who lives in the forest, they probably don’t have a concrete house but a hut. They might have mud clay utensils and a fireplace where they cook. I was thinking about that and considering: the material that I’m going to be using will be things we live in and among, like concrete and wood materials.

Our senses definitely get affected by what is around us. When I moved to Ireland, I actually moved into this place I hadn’t seen before getting the keys. We booked online before moving from Manchester. The living room had this Christmas red wallpaper…when I walked in, I wanted to scream! I could not stand it! The second day in the house, I started to peel it off the wall and then redid the walls. I just could not live with it. Your environment does affect you. It dictates our moods, and behaviours.

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Kathakers [Take a Bow I & II]- exhibited as part of Unassembled in the Lab gallery, (2019), Concrete, corrugated paper, copper, 115cm x 80cm x 190cm photo by Jamin Keogh


And Then We Met

And Then We Met [Looks like Perspex]- exhibited in The Dock Arts Centre Exhibition, (2018), Glass, square steel rod, corrugated paper, black limestone, linoleum, 194cm x 70cm x 50cm

Keeping that in mind, my piece Kathakers [Take a Bow I] is made from concrete; it doesn’t look bulky, but it is so heavy it takes two people to lift it. But when you look at the way it arches, it looks like something light. So I play around with the viewers perception. My piece And Then We Met [Looked Like Perspex], which was exhibited in my graduate exhibition, the RDS show and The Dock Arts Centre is in a similar vein. It was a metal piece with glass draped at one side. Looking at it, people thought it was Perspex or plastic. But no, it was glass! I like that tension, to trick the viewer’s eye so that you might think it’s one thing, but it is not.

And Then We Met Detail

And Then We Met [Looks like Perspex], detail

I am very tactile. I love combining different textures in my sculptures. The materials I use in my sculptures come from a vast array of mediums. I like to play around with the textures. For example vinyl is shiny, so you might combine that with a matte finish of wood, and then concrete, which has a rough finish that contrasts with both.

So, when you make these sculptures, is playing with material where the ideas come from?

Actually, when I start with planning out a work, I don’t really start with what material I want to use. It’s more what movement. And then after that, I think, “What is going to make this movement possible?”

Some of my most recent work is based on a dance called the Kathak. The Kathak comes from Northern India. It’s a dance that has passed from generation to generation, and its movement is very symbolic/allegorical. Originally performed by travellers, it is used to tell stories. The Kathakars communicate these stories through rhythmic foot movements, hand gestures, facial expressions, and eye work, as a kind of sign language. I incorporate references to these gestures and movements, in these sculptures

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Kathak Dance

That’s why I settled on the Kathak, because I wanted to bring some language into my work. This dance is a dying practice that you don’t see very often. Contemporary dance has taken over, which is another reason why I decided to use it, I looked into many other storytelling dances related to language, like the traditional Indonesian dance or the New Zealand haka, but felt kathak is/was right for me.

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mapping movement

So each movement of the dance is cropped, to create the movements in the sculptures. In one piece, you are seeing her arms go up and go down. The sculptures are, in one aspect, a mapping of that movement. To capture it, I performed the action, and a friend of mine helped me to mark wherever my arms would move. That’s why the end product is not figurative, but gestural. Each movement is like sign language. [Kathakars [Heart Piece]] is so named because, in the dance, she actually touches the ground, and then when she is sitting down, the hands come together at her heart. The dance is a very ancient and traditional dance, from travelling bards in India. They would go from village to village. This dance was a way of telling stories, in a language of its own.

There are a lot of words in Hindi that just can’t be translated into another language. One of these is aahat. Aahat is sort of a presence that is not really there. You might imagine something supernatural, but it’s not. It means a feeling, of someone else’s presence or something has happened. You generally feel an aahat when you are alone. It’s that feeling you get It’s like if somebody has been in your room while you were away. You know somebody has been there, but you can’t tell how, because they haven’t touched anything…that person has left an aahat behind. Think about it: there is no one-word replacement for that meaning in any language.

Between my works, there is aahat, a kind of influence on each work’s personal space. The pieces communicate with each other through their shape, the colour, the size and material. The light that is in the room. It’s all influencing the works. So, every time I show this work in a new space, it may look completely different. The set up would be completely different.

You mention the space between works. Are you thinking about the space where you’ll ultimately be showing the work during your creative process?

I really don’t put that into my thought process when making the work. My focus is to create a puzzle so that the works can communicate with each other. After it is done, then I consider the location. If it’s going close to the door, what piece should be closer to the door? How are people going to receive it? How does it work when shown with other artists’ work? How is it going to communicate with their work?

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Kathakers [Heart Piece] exhibited in The Dock Arts Centre Group Exhibition with Patrick Hall and Mary Ronayne, (2019), concrete fabric, white concrete, red vinyl sheet, Glass, Tile, 90cm x 70cm x 55cm

The Heart Piece was placed very close to Patrick Hall’s stone painting [in the Dock exhibition]. By looking at its shape, and Patrick Hall’s painting, with the colours he had, I thought it would be best to actually place them close together, so that when people are walking in, the room doesn’t look mismatched. While placing my sculptures in a space I try my best to make sure all works are in harmony with each other. I had a wooden piece that was going to go into the show but didn’t, because it did not work in the space. Sometimes you just have to make decisions on what works and what doesn’t. I tend to make pieces in sets. It was created at the same time as a number of works, but for whatever reason, one of them always turns out to be the odd one. Like the black sheep! It does not work with the rest of the sculptures despite giving it the same consideration as the rest.

I’m actually changing it a little bit for the Futures exhibition [in the RHA].  It’s no longer going to have a white interior – it’s going to have a red interior. I’m doing some colour testing and also peeling off and adding more texture, so it’s not complete yet.

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RHA Futures exhibition series 3, episode 3,

Is it common for you to change works between exhibitions?

It happens every now and then, where I’m not entirely happy with the work. I feel like I need to keep going at it until I’m satisfied. It’s rare to see a painting changing. But sculptures, I think because they’re objects, you have the flexibility to play around a little. The artist might decide when moving it to put it on a plinth or suspend it; all that can change the way the public will engage with the work. But saying that, I don’t really think of how the public will respond to it. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

The public love certain works. That I feel aren’t fully resolved. I don’t know how people are going to react to changes – whatever those changes end up being – but for me, I have to feel a work is resolved before I can completely leave it.

You mentioned earlier about the works being a puzzle.

I used to do a lot of origami. Folding small pieces of paper and bringing them together to

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And Then We Met [Mother Piece]-under construction, (2018), Wood

make one shape. I was playing around, making boxes with origami and I was thinking, that this is the most common shape we encounter in our everyday life: “Gosh, everything around us is actually is related to this shape, a box! We live in a box. Oh my god, we live in a box and when travelling we go in a box.” So it started with these origami boxes, and then I started cutting them out. I play a lot with my kids, and we were doing jigsaws just before making the boxes, so I thought, “Why don’t I turn these boxes into a jigsaw puzzle? That way I can make them relate to each other by colouring them and cutting through the boxes and cutting the boxes in many pieces then bring the shapes together to create a new box if possible.”

I was thinking about how when we move to a new country, things change. Our eating habits change, we try things that either fit or don’t fit, then we move on to the next. It’s the same when we encounter people. Some people we like and some people we don’t, and again we move on. It’s a natural process, so I was thinking of all that and these tiny boxes, and from that, it moved to creating a massive one.

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RDS Visual Arts Awards 2018

The sculptures displayed in the RDS are a result of this process. I made a big box of plywood and I cut it and separated the pieces, so that when you put all the pieces together they become the original box again. Basically, this is my thought process; I was thinking about making origami pieces, I wanted not just one sheet of paper but different sheets of paper to come together to create one box. That would represent how different things come together to shape who we are. And then the disassembling of it; each piece would take its own shape and depth into a sculpture. It’s breaking down into layers, just like tracing each movement of the dance to create a sculpture. For the RHA show, there was the main piece, which I called the mother piece; all the pieces come from that one, but all occupied their own space in the exhibition. I did the same with the dance, and I broke down the dance process that created the groundwork for this series of works.

You can find out more about Anishta Chooramun work through her Instagram page & website, links below

https://www.instagram.com/anishtachooramun/?hl=en

https://www.anishtachooramun.com/

thank you, Anne James and Adrian Mc Hugh, for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation

Place is Paramount: Sophie Foster

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Sophie Foster

Sophie Foster is an English artist based in Germany. This interview was recorded in December 2019 during her residency in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Her project Customs House was one of my favourite exhibitions I had seen in 2019 – for me, the way Sophie was able to deftly balance audience engagement and authorial intent was a key aspect of why the exhibition succeded. In this interview, Our conversation predominantly focused on Customs House, but that project provided us with an illuminating discussion about Sophie’s practice and approach to art as a whole.

Can you talk about the start of Customs House, the project you did in the Leitrim Sculpture Center? This idea of getting visitors aid in exchanging natural materials form one side of the Irish border to the other is fascinating?

I started by researching what other artists had done in the space there definitely seemed to be a lot of socially engaged practices being exhibited. I think a lot of people are intimidated when they go into this typical “White Cube” space, so I try to allow the viewer to put their input on what they are seeing. Something that influenced what I ended up doing was finding out the gallery used to function as a shop. I think the shop idea allows the project to be more interactive. Filling in the invoice or deciding the object they want to bring in, giving them that choice. So, they can read into the project. I always like to get this kind of feedback from people because it brings different perspectives which allows you to develop the project further. And with Customs House it was broaching a heated subject like the Irish border which had a number of perspectives.

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CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Exhibition Installation shot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

When I apply for residencies, the place is paramount, and my practice, in general, is responding to location and the context around the area that it is in. So with Manorhamilton, seeing how close it was to the border, instantly a light switch went on in my head. I could do something with this. And I don’t know if it is a good thing or not, but it is something that artists should be aware of or play to their advantage, you are always going to be typecast with background, and I found that when I moved to Germany. I had moved after the 2016 referendum, and the three questions would always be asked were What’s your name? Where did you come from? And what did you think about Brexit? Brexit is this big huge word that I cannot escape. Because of that, I also thought of timing and how this border was affected by this vote. I wanted to know how people felt about the situation. I had seen it on a map, I’d never been there myself and talking to people who cross it every day. People of different generations who have lived with it and experiences they have had and how they have dealt with it has been really interesting, and it has been so nice to get a broad range of different ages and groups of people. Borders is a vast topic that genuinely interests me. These socio-political situations and their relationships to geography. This felt like the perfect opportunity to develop that idea.

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The Lines of Exchange. Part of CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), screenshot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre.

One aspect in particular with Customs House that intrigues me are the trades, could you talk a bit more about that?

For me, the exchange is about determining what is equivalent, in terms of value. I’m quite interested in the importance of objects and the power of objects. And that can be for many reasons, and this is something I discussed. What is value? something rare or something that is expensive, unique or has sentiment to it. So, it is playing with that and the irony of you using natural materials which are seen as plentiful. You can go out and pick a stone up and say that is just a stone. But then, of course, every stone has a uniqueness to it. Then by rigorously categorising everything, putting stuff in jars, measuring and adding the location of where the object is from. That adds that uniqueness of every object. In a sense, it becomes something else. Rarefied.

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Filling in the Invoice. Part of CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Documentation from the exchange event. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

I was looking at the apothecary idea of using natural medicine and putting this kind of context behind the object and this idea of value. The Customs House idea then brings in a purpose to what the people are doing at the shop counter and the person behind the counter with the white coat on. It contextualises the trading. Whereas if I just put a table in the space and had the objects laid out without purpose, I don’t think there would have been the same level of engagement. And then you have the invoice, this element of bureaucracy. And you have to fill in the invoice, that’s like the task. You have the written record of the exchange, and that can link into many political situations of trade and exchange as well.

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CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Exhibition Installation shot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

You might think of someone just walking and just picking something up and bringing it in, but I’m giving them a choice to bring in whatever they want. I think that has been very interesting to see why they chose the objects. Whether it’s something that they feel is beautiful or because it reminds them of when they go walking. It might have some kind of relation to the place. Quite a few people have written in the value bit “I chose this item because it reminds me of home”. Or “I chose a bit of wood from the tree my kids used to play on”. You know there is a tremendous amount of sentiment that I wasn’t expecting. But that’s what people decided to focus on, which links to themes that I’m interested in. In memory, I think that’s the power of the object, isn’t it? You don’t want to forget something or lose something

What happens to the objects at the end of the exhibition?

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CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Exhibition Installation shot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

The third room where you can see the objects on the shelf, they are placed back into the landscape. And the plan is to put the objects in their new location and document that as well. I think having that documentation is helpful for people to be able to see in a photograph – oh, my object went there. That knowledge is quite nice. To have been a part of something, this bridging exercise. For the audience members that exchanged an item, it’s up to them what they do with their object. Most people take them home. Others have said that they will take it to the location where they found their objects.

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Relocating the Objects of Exchange. Part of CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), photo documentation. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Jackie McKenna

The exhibition wasn’t just your shop front. You also had a chalk representation of the border as well.

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The Borderline. Part of CUSTOMS HOUSE, (2019), Exhibition Installation shot. © Leitrim Sculpture Centre. Photo by Sean O’Reilly

Yeah, that’s right. So, the borderline when you see it on a map, it just looks like a squiggly line, it kind of doesn’t even make sense in a way, why it’s there but then I realised when I visited that part of the border between Belcoo and Belleek, a lot of it is water, so it made sense having the River there as a natural stopping point. It makes you wonder how borders are drawn up. Politically it’s a game. But particularly with the Irish border when you’re physically there you cannot tell. That for me was quite interesting because not all borders are like that. Specifically, at this time of year where we’re commemorating 30 years of the Berlin Wall falling down there are more walls than ever! I think it’s quite lovely to visit a border that’s kind of physically not there and people are free to cross it. The idea of drawing it with chalk on the blackboard was because it can be rubbed off, so it’s actually a way of physically representing how some people feel about the border. I think with the younger generations who didn’t live with the troubles, who have lived there their whole life where it has always been open, it’s kind of invisible to them. The border might not mean anything to them compared to the older generations. One visitor said, “Well the border for me was this rite of passage. To be able to physically cross it was a huge thing.” Because for them, it wasn’t always so easy.

Mark Making is obviously very important to you.

That goes back to my degree. So, I studied Combined Honours where the drawing was the third component which included Art history. And I pretty much just did life drawing. Which I enjoyed but, kind of felt I couldn’t develop it in a sense. You’re drawing the figure again and again, occupied with proportion, and getting the figure right. This idea of mark-making came about from this idea of the happy accident. Of drawing as doodling when you’re not trying to think of anything you know, taking the pen for a walk and creating these interesting lines and shapes that stem from that. Thinking about not just what you are drawing with, but what you’re drawing on. Paper as a material itself and what you can achieve with that either making it or allowing it to decompose or using different instruments to create certain marks and lines.

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Trail Drawing, (2014), ink on Japanese paper, 80×60 cm

And that kind of developed further when I was doing a residency in Northumbria University in a paper studio, because I learned the craft of making your own paper. Once you put the energy into making your own sheet, paper suddenly become so precious that you don’t want to draw on it! So that kind of stemmed from that really, I don’t do so much drawing anymore, but I think it’s the planning stages when it really comes about – just trying to get something down on paper or coming up with ideas I find that can be a useful medium. And it shows through so much in character and personality to see how people draw and how they are with their lines and stuff like that.

And repetition is also something that I’ve been interested in a lot, giving yourself a kind of task like for example I’m going to draw 100 lines, or I’m going to colour in 100 squares. For me as an artist, it’s very important to do things that are quite physical or time-consuming or requires an element of energy and physicality so then I feel that I’ve achieved something by doing. So I often give myself these rules to try out and follow. I like to be organised, and I like to have structure. It’s super important. I just can’t go out there and draw or do something. Research has to be put into it, so I know what I’m doing. And for me, it makes it all the more worthwhile that I am working towards something.

Let’s talk about your research process.

Yeah, I’m hugely research-based for sure. And I enjoy doing that. So how I tend to work now, there’s this element of place or having a place to work within, a building or something like that. Then it would be researching into that, like the history, the society, the other contexts that’s around it and then from that, the creativity starts.

I get a lot out of being physically in the place as well you know, interacting with it. I found with this, The Customs House, I purposely chose to cycle and walk to get to the destinations. To actually feel like I’m involved and experiencing the landscape in this physical kind of way. Like cycling up those hills and down again! Cycling 20 kilometres to get to the border. And I also read a lot of literature around it too. For this project I’m reading The Ballroom of Romance by William Trevor. It’s about the Rainbow Ballroom in Glenfarne on the border. A lot of people cycled through It, and I wanted to experience that as well. But it was interesting to physically be there and try and find things, go to tourist centres and talk to people about the area, it’s a kind of practical research, To physically be there is part of the research as well.

There is definitely a sense that the environment is very important to you within your work.

I think it’s just this enjoyment of being outside! I don’t like being cooped up in the studio. I find it very isolating, I just find I get a lot out of it personally being with the environment or trying to work with it in a sense rather than against it. I always find a lot of beauty in natural things. And I don’t really want to replicate that myself but kind of use it as a way to influence my work or allow people to see things differently. I think that’s the main reason why I keep coming back to it. Also, there is a massive amount of philosophy and science behind nature and natural forces and the weather, it’s something culturally that we’re really obsessed with. It rules everything, and we can’t control it. That just shows how powerful it is and how small we are. It’s definitely something I want to develop further, bringing an awareness to environmental issues.

You can find out more about Sophie Fosters’s work through the links below

https://sophiefoster.org/

https://www.instagram.com/sophiefoster_org/

thank you Mick Lally for your work editing
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation, Performance, Video

Art in Algorithms: Mattis Kuhn

Interview auf Deutsch

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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
You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Installation, Performance

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.

Photo by David Hegarty 28_gurglekfest1

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

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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