Installation, Interview, Video

Taking The Right-hand Path: Ann Maria Healy

 

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Ann Maria Healy

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

So, tell me a little about George the peacock.

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

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When Dealers are Shamans, (2018), installation view

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

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

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When Dealers Are Shamans, (2018),

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Beating To Be Real, (2016), still

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

http://annmariahealy.net/

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing
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Installation, Interview, Video

The Space Between: Mark Garry

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Mark Garry

Mullingar native, Mark Garry is a talented artist that I have respected and looked up to for a long time. I met him first when his show A Winter Light was being shown in The Model. At the time I was not even a year out of college, and my job was to sit and watch over parts (and make sure nothing got broken) of the exhibition. ‘But regardless Mark was still genuine and friendly, answering questions, even complimenting my choice of reading material while on the job’ (Stillness and Speed by Dennis Bergkamp, if you were curious). I will always be grateful for the generosity and respect he demonstrated towards me as someone starting out in the art world I hope you enjoy this interview as he is a great artist with some great ideas.

 

Let’s start first with North of the West, which recently became part of the IMMA collection.

North of the West was part of a series of works that kind of looks at the sea – its cultural impact and its social impact. I suppose it stems from a project called Drift, which ended up being a performance and film project which was played out in Detroit and Sherken Island off West Cork. I worked on Drift with a composer called Sean Carpio, we have  collaborated a lot. We agree on a lot of things, but disagree on enough things for the creative relationship to be interesting for us both. We don’t really recognise a divisions in cultural genres.

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Drift (2012)

 

With Drift, I was interested in the way that our cultural, historical and day to day relationship with nature. Since the beginning of the Industrial age we have felt the need to dominate nature both philosophically and physically, but when you live on an island you have a much more respectful reciprocal relationship with nature. Nature also dictated the aesthetic/performative encounter with this work . We attached an Aeolian harp,(a harp played by the wind) on to a traditional wooden sailboat and located this instrument in the centre of a space called horseshoe bay , which is a beautiful natural amphitheatre, we located a brass quartet and a solo saxophone player on the shore and these instruments performed with the wind harp using a form of improvised orchestration. The piece itself was based on a series of translations of  a Sumerian hymn, the first documented song, and they again relate to nature. Sean and I were also commissioned to release a 10” vinyl from this project.

 

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Drift (2012)

 

North of the West was a film work that was also concerned  with island life – the ways in which living on an island and this isolation makes it easy to control your surrounding environment, and I guess that’s what the Catholic Church did in Ireland for sixty, seventy years. That work was about my relationship with religion as a kid: something being majestic and beautiful, but also terrifying. So the sea acts as an analogy for that.

There are some really direct references to Japanese culture, which I’m really interested in, and in particular in a movement called Mono-ha, which is a short-lived 1960’s Japanese land art movement. It was really interesting to me, the idea of something that was deeply embedded within thinking, and craft, and nationhood. How they all become kind of intertwined. I’ve never been, but Japanese culture is definitely had a significant impact on my work.

Sean and I tried to compose a new musical soundtrack for piece for North of the West, and while Sean and I were trying to figure out the composition for it, Sean suggested that we try Drift, and they both just seemed to work together. It just seemed to make sense in the end, and it was kind of a nice way to revisit an old work.

 

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North of the West (2017)

 

It’s interesting how interactive the piece is.

Yes with this work there is a record player with a record located close to the film and the audience gets to decide whether to have a soundtrack or not. I suppose I was trying to encourage a less passive encounter. That’s why I’m interested in installation art, as an opportunity to interact with spaces in a non-passive way. Essentially, where you as an audience member are the activator of an artwork. With North of the West, we literally become an activator of the work – you make the decision of whether you listen to the accompanying music or not, you decide when the music comes in… That one decision adds complexity to how we experience things. it is a very open work in that sense.

Music is a recurring aspect of your work – can you touch on that a bit more, what are you listening to ?

Music and listening play a large part of how I think, in some ways a bigger part than visual art.

I’m listening to a lot of Donald Bird at the moment. I’m also listening to Frank Ocean, and Ithink the things currently happening in hip-hop are very interesting! Then there’s this Scottish classical composer that I really like called Anna Meredith, who is making really beautiful, interesting music. And a guy from another island, Jersey! He’s called Mura Masas – beat-driven music.

I have an extensive vinyl collection, and am a bit fetishistic about music. The way we listen to recorded music has change quite dramatically over the past twenty years. The quality is very different, we listen to stuff on our phones through tinny speakers at a compressed rate, and you don’t get the nuance or the particularities where you hear something on vinyl… you get a much more visceral physical encounter. When you listen to something on your phone, it is wholly separated from the initial idea that created the music. You have this ‘removed’ kind of digital experience, whereas with a record you can actually see and hear from an acoustic perspective how it’s actually happening, and how the sound is created.

Let’s talk about some of your collaborative work, as that often has musical elements to it.

I have made a whole series of collaborative music projects with a small core group of people – Eileen Carpio, Sean Carpio, Nina Hinds, Karl Burk, Fabien Leseure, and myself.  We started as a group called A= Apple. Nina and Karl and myself were the starting point, and then Fabien joined.

We as a group respond to different sets of conceptual criteria/material with each new project; it’s quite a simple setup, in a sense that we go to a gallery space or a non-conventional studio space, and convert it to become a studio for a short amount of time. Each person brings a number of their own responses to that conceptual material, and then as a group, we basically expand on those responses. It really requires an awful lot of generosity from one participant to the other. Depending on the location, we also usually invite musicians from the local community to come and collaborate with us.

A Winters Light was recently released as a record – would you like to talk about that?

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A Winter Light Album cover (2018)

A Winter Light was kind of different, in the sense that it was responding to a show of mine rather than something outside of the group. With that show while I was developing the exhibition I sent the participants small sections of pieces I was reading, or pieces I was developing, or things I was thinking about and this may have subtly impacted there responses.

With A Winter Light, we invited Claudia Shwab, Oliver Acorn, Robert Stillman, and Pádraig and Cillian Murphy to come become participants. We invite other people to become part of it, and it’s kind of amazing how people are just so generous with their time and energy. And their talents! It got released by Blue Stack Records, which is a small label in Sligo as well. So, it was very northwest based.

 

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A Winter Light (2014)

 

Research seems to drive a lot of your work. Can you go into that a bit more?

My practice is both research-driven and process-driven. While there are consistent methodologies in the work each particular exhibition responds to a new set of conceptual criteria. This is often site responsive, in the sense that I will be invited to make an exhibition somewhere in the world and will try and respond to some political, social, historical element of that local society. But the outcome of the work is never dictated before the exhibition – there are always things left open, and elements are developed throughout the installation.

I did a project in Charleston South Carolina called “We Cast Shadows”, Charleston and integrated a number of historical and socio political elements such as its relationship with the slave trade.

That being said they are not always overtly site/situation responsive , other than being architecturally responsive. I am doing a project in The Mac in Belfast next year called “Songs of the soil“ that broadly has to do with the relationship between Landscape and Song.

Let’s talk about your string works.

So, my string works are constructed to suit each space, and it depends on the

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The Permanent Present
(2012)

architecture of that space or the light of the space, or just the place that space is in, within the country or the world. So for example, in a bright spot I make darker work, and with darker areas I do lighter work. It’s just finding how to activate that specific space at that particular time. But also, to kind of activate the higher spaces in a gallery which we aren’t usually interested in. Those spaces that aren’t the walls, the spaces in between. The space that you don’t really notice because they are generally not activated. I suppose the way the string works are set up optically, they transform as you move around them so you again can’t have a passive relationship with them.You’re a participant in the work. And I hope they act as a marriage of spectacle and empathy. I recognise a strength is subtlety and quietness.

You can find out more about Marks’s work through the website links below

http://www.kerlingallery.com/artists/mark-garry/artist_works

you can buy/stream A Winter Light below

http://www.bluestackrecords.com/a-winter-light-1/

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, Interview, Performance

Making History: Jennifer Walshe

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Jennifer Walshe

Jennifer is an extremely talented Irish artist/vocalist/curator/anything you can name! I was lucky to get to know her through the exhibition Aisteach when I helped with its installation in The Model. the depth of thought that goes into all her work is remarkable. It rewards the viewers that take the time and effort to look. There are clear lines of thought that go through a lot of her work even when she is using different mediums, and I hope you all take the time to check out the exhibition when you finish reading the Interview.

(this interview was recoded in September Prior to Culture Night 2018)

 

Let’s talk about your current show Aisteach is on in the model at the moment.

Well, to talk about Aisteach I feel we must first talk about Grupat. I feel the two are linked in a way. Back in 2007 up to 2009, I had a commission from South Dublin County Council – I applied for that commission in 2006. It was at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom, they were giving out public art funding to do very, very big public art projects, and I would probably say maybe more progressive and more experimental work than ever before. Simply because they had more money. Microsoft and Facebook had built campuses, and the ‘Percent for Art Scheme’ generated a lot of money for the South Dublin County Council… the council is Tallaght, and it crawls through sort of west Dublin, so it’s not a posh area of Dublin like Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown. They really wanted to do something that they felt that would put them on the map as public art commissioners, so they commissioned me and four other people, and we all did projects for two years. The project, it was the kind of art that county councils might not usually be interested in – a lot of the time with public art, it might be a sculpture that you have at a motorway roundabout or something like a poetry writing project that you might do with the library.

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Grupat (2009)

 

 

I was a kid we lived Lough Line which falls into South Dublin County Council, and I had this feeling that there were loads of interesting people, but there wasn’t really an experimental art scene out there. So I thought ‘what if I just made one up?’ With the hope that kids growing up could feel, yeah I can do that. That is within my capabilities. So, I made up this sound art collective called Grupat, all born within five years of me. I was thinking, these were sort of my people – my team, you know? I could have worked with these people. If I can put it this way, for me, Grupat are alter egos. We’re very used to the idea in pop music that people will have alter egos, like David Bowie will also go by Aladdin Sane or the Thin White Duke. We’re very used to that idea.

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Turf Boon: The Softest Music in the World (2009) (Jennifer Walshe)

For me with Grupat, it felt very natural that it could be me in the same way. And for two years we did the project, and with lots of exhibitions, performances, we had two books published as well as two CDs released, and the culmination of it was in 2009 – we had a retrospective in the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, as if Grupat had existed for years and years.

 

From that I then had an exhibition in the Chelsea Art Museum in New York in 2010, it was a solo show called Irish Need Not Apply. I decided that I would put some Grupat works in that show, but it was also in that show when I started exhibiting works that played with the idea of created history. I claimed that some of the work was on loan from the National Museum of Ireland. The Robert Boyle alchemical ceramics that are in the current Aisteach show in The Model, they also saw the light of day for the first time in this Chelsea art show.

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Alchemical Vessels (unknown)(Ed Walshe)

 

The other thing I showed in this show was the DORDÁN piece. It has these fake Ellis Island immigration records that claim that this is this early drone music, this idea of making historical stuff that sort of started happening like within a year of Grupat. My interest was drifting from contemporary, living alter egos. I think it’s notable that it began in New York, because I was very good friends with a drone musician called Tony Conrad – he’s sadly dead now, but he was a close friend, and he was involved in the discussions about who invented drone music and who invented minimalism. Was it La Monte Young? Was it Dennis Johnston? Steve Reich, Phil Glass? And that DORDÁN project was a way of saying ‘no no, none of you invented it! It was invented by an Irish trad musician who was doing this weird sort of music!’ For me, that was a different of way of intervening compared to having a contemporary alter ego, because it was it was a way to go back and actually question history – how we told stories about music.

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Padraig Mc Giolla Mjuire: DORDÁN (1952) (Jennifer Walshe/Toney Conrad)

 

When I started working with the idea of imaginary people who are dead I didn’t think of them as alter egos, I thought of them as personae. That might seem like a technical difference but for me it was important, because I felt these aren’t me acting in the world right now. These are people, and I really have to imagine what they were like now that they are dead. They are a way to hack my brain to try and do something differently. I guess it’s the classic artistic way that you set yourself constraints. So in a way, all the backstories… they’re just a way of making a score, and then I have to make the music from that score. So the first person that I came up with was Caoimhím Breathnach. And that was completely organic. I had just bought a house in Knockvicer in Roscommon, and I had felt very strongly attached to that part of the country. Buying the house really made me I feel so privileged and so lucky that I could buy that house, and it sort of rooted me in a way I had never felt before. And so Caoimhím Breathnach sort of started happening in my head. He was the first person to come along, and I would have done the first exhibition of Caoimhím’s work in the ‘Roscommon Arts Centre’ in 2011. Around that time I also had this idea of this making a series of pieces called Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Garde, which was driven by me and just my interests. I knew I wanted to start off with Dada. So by 2012, I had made this piece called Historical Documents in The Irish Avant-Garde Vol 1: Dada. 

Aisteach actually has contributions from other artists – how did that work?

 

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Aisteach (2018)

I think of it as something like Marvel or DC Comics. I’m open to others using my characters or introducing new characters to Aisteach. It really depends on the person/people so, for example, Alice Maher said to me, ‘I don’t have any time to make something new’, and I said to her ‘well, do you have something you have never shown before? We can use it and I’ll fit it into Aisteach for you.’ So she gave me this bronze cast of the mouth, and it’s fantastic because we already have this idea that Steven Graham had come up with for Aisteach called the Keening Women’s Alliance and so it was a perfect fit for that! I had to curate the piece and create a history for it.

 

It was the same with Vivian Dick. She had this film, Images: Ireland. I thought ‘ok great, can we say that some of the people in it are part of the Kilkenny Engageists?’  She was great and let us go for it. And on the other hand, we have people like Mark Garry, who’s like ‘right, it’s Sister Hellen Brown and she makes these collages of her bullfinch Susan’, and he just ran with it. I do in a way have to give it over to other people. Like, when Mark Garry says he wants to do a nun who teaches a bird how to sing I have to think – okay, well, we already have a Sister Anselme who does these drone organ compositions, should they have any relation? Or do we need more nuns?

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Vivian Dick: Images Ireland (1988)

 

 

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Sr Hellen Brown Susan (Mark Garry)

Then we have Kevin Barry who made this character Benji the Rant, where I went over and recorded him to make a sound piece. And probably the two most involved in the whole exhibition Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Jack Fennell who both wrote three thousand word essays about their personae that they came up with. Jack mocked up a fictional notebook, Doireann created a suitcase. For me that is the scale. On one side we have Doireann and Jack, then close to them is Mark Garry and Kevin Barry, and down the other end, we have Alice and Vivian.  I’m really happy with all those contributions – I just try and keep an eye on things. And I try and edit it well. So my role becomes curator and editor and dramaturge, just trying to make sure that Aisteach still makes sense. Something I’m really happy with is that we have loads of women involved in every level – we have the female artists and we have queer artists and it’s not just a roll call of dead white men. I had never given anyone that brief, but I think it is quite deliberate. Because people want to write into being the type of Ireland that they want to be in and the one that we hope that we will be, and that is an Ireland that’s very pluralistic.

 

I think a product, I think it is really interesting and one of the things about Aisteach is that every single person who becomes involved in it becomes part of the project – it’s not me. Grupat felt like me, whereas Aisteach feels like a much more collaborative effort. So everyone that worked on the project in any way becomes part of it, whether it is technicians preparing the rooms or the artist who contributed to it and all the performers. And what I love about that is it feels open. It feels that other people could step in. I kind of feel like the editor or the dramaturge. I watch what people are throwing in and I’m trying to balance the universe.

What I love about this model is that it creates fresh openings. One thing that was really sweet that happened last year: there are these sound artists based New Zealand, called Sisters Acumatica, and they just decided one of the Aisteach personae – her name is Róisín Madigan O’Riley – that they wanted to do a performance of Róisín Madigan O’Riley in New Zealand. And so they emailed me, and I was like, ‘go for it’. And I thought how beautiful Róisín Madigan O’Riley was, and Felix Ford [English sound artist who studied in Ireland] who invented Róisín Madigan O’Riley, and these New Zealand women the other side of the planet – laying out all these stones and radios on the beach doing this performance of this imaginary Irish persona.

So I’m quite happy because I think Aisteach first and foremost is an idea, that a lot of Irish and non-Irish people are very invested in, which is the idea there is a bunch of weirdos out there that we want to show a lot of love and support for. We want to find those weirdos and lift them up and let people see that there are weirdos who do weird, cool and interesting music, and isn’t that beautiful? And that idea is bigger than me.

There is more to Aisteach that just the exhibition itself. Would you like to touch on the performative element, specifically your plans for Culture Night?

I think that in Ireland it is changing, but certainly a lot of Irish people feel very conscious about their body and they feel shy – they feel like they can’t dance, or they shouldn’t dance. That shyness about our bodies is everywhere, even in the changing rooms in swimming pools!

I’m currently doing a lot of hip-hop dance classes at the moment, and I was working with the dancers who were part of the Worlding performance at the opening. They were always teaching us new tools like warmups, we did a lot that has made me enjoy life more. Everyone does two things when they’re drunk, they dance and they sing. When they feel that horrible voice in their head observing them is gone, they dance and they sing, and so the thing that we want to do is for Culture Night in The Model is try and make that space for people. And to say to people, come along and do some vocal warmups and learn just a little bit about how to use your voice. Instead of saying ‘I can’t sing’, people will think everybody can sing and people can try so many little dance things. There’s a lot of joy to be had with that.

It’s interesting to see how Aisteach plays with false history, as at the moment we have a lot of people editing their own versions of history on Facebook.

I think that you’re totally right. The thing is, with social media, even if you just think of Facebook – people are creating curated versions of themselves on Facebook. I read an article about teenagers on Instagram lately, and it mentioned how everybody has a Finsta, which is their account which is just visible to their small group friends, and then they have their ‘real’ Instagram where they’re projecting this idea of

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Timeline of the Historical Documents of the Irish Avant-Guarde (2018)

the perfect life. And the thing that that I thought was amazing, was that the Finstas were much raw and honest, and far from perfect – and I thought, ‘that is amazing, it sounds so much more interesting than the real Instagram, I want to see the Finstas!’

 

I would hope we are becoming more used to the idea of that we go online, and we might not necessarily trust the sources of news we are getting, because there was Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey testifying to the United States Congress about Russian actors having influence, these Russian ads that have been on Facebook to try to sway the election, to sow deception… but still everybody is opening Facebook willingly, to willingly be exposed to those, and we are all having to contend with Holocaust denial, people who say climate change isn’t happening,  things like that.

One thing that Aisteach tries to talk about is, who gets to curate? Who gets to choose what an artistic canon is and why? What do we say is worthy, and if we are making a combination of Irish music from the last hundred years, who should be in there?  Who are the people making those choices and why are they in there? And with Aisteach, in a way we just said, ‘hey, we’re going to make those choices by just making it up!’ Because we realised a lot of the people who would be represented (and are represented) within Aisteach, those kinds of people wouldn’t have been represented. You know what I mean? We don’t know about all the people in Ireland thinking of all sorts of mad shit! There must have been. They just ended up working in the docks in Liverpool or having to emigrate to the US. Or they were barely capable to keep things together financially. So there has to have been tons of weirdos – there are so many weirdos now, how could there not have been? We genetically come from weirdos.

You have quite a range of skills, and actually you might be better known for your compositions like your opera XXX_LIVE_NUDE_GIRLS!!! Let’s talk about that.

So XXX_LIVE_NUDE_GIRLS!!! is an opera that I wrote for Barbie dolls.

 

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Live_Nude_Girls (2012)

 

My sister and I always thought that I would never write an opera – I think if you go and see a well-produced Wagner opera, it can be very beautiful, but I just thought that this way of expressing ideas just didn’t make sense to me living in the time I do live in – and then at the time I was reading about marionette operas. Because Mozart and Beethoven had written these marionette operas for puppets, that they would do at the summer retreats. The second I read about that, I remembered the Barbie dolls house that my sister and I had in the attic, and I called my mum: ‘do you still have that? Please tell me it is still in the attic!’ And my mum said ‘oh yeah, it’s great that I want to write this opera for Barbie dolls!’ Through working on XXX_LIVE_NUDE_GIRLS!!!,  I got to know the operas of Robert Ashley and composers like that, which I feel is closer to contemporary ways of using speech. Even a bit closer to rap music. It felt like their approach to producing opera made more sense to me, you know, in terms of how we use the voice and how to tell a story. Things like that made a big difference.

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Live_Nude_Girls (2003)

 

 

It’s been quite interesting for me as an experience, because I made it in 2003, we performed it a bunch of times, we released it on DVD and that was great. But you’re onto the next piece almost straight away so I sort of thought ‘that’s fine, if it doesn’t get done again I’m extremely satisfied – it’s on DVD, it’s been performed all over the world.’ But what has been quite interesting for me in the last few years, people have become very interested in the work again, which I think is really linked to the #MeToo movement and changing sexual politics. A group in Chicago called Mocrep decided to do it. And then they did it in the Bendigo Festival in Australia and we just did it in France. It’s amazing seeing these all-new productions happening. Somebody in Columbia just wrote their PhD dissertation about framing the entire opera as consciousness – like how date rape victims deal with reality in the aftermath. Because, you know, it starts out with everyone laughing because it’s a Barbie opera, but it ends with a date rape.

I wanted to make something that created a dialogue, and at the time I was making it I just felt like I needed to make it. To just put these things that have happened to me, and to women I know, to put it in a way that reached out to others. I think it was Louise Bourgeois who used to say that her emotions were inappropriate for her size, so she would make art to put her emotions into, so they wouldn’t overwhelm her. And I think it was the same for me definitely, with my work there is a lot of emotional stuff that gets sort of metabolised through making the work. So with the Barbie opera, it is quite amazing for me now to see a lot of productions and to see people writing their PhDs about it, really going in and doing a deep analysis of things that I had hidden away in the score. You know what I mean? Where they’re saying, ‘this part where the accordion is typed like a typewriter, but they keep crossing out their text, I’ve viewed it this way,’ and I think, ‘nobody’s ever asked me about that.’ Because everybody only sees the accordion typing, and they don’t pick up on how the accordion is typing something, but I have put something in there. So that has been really nice, just to see the pieces have a new life, in a time when people want to have conversations about these things. There are some things that other people are noticing, or paying attention to, or picking up on or trying out. Seeing people take this on is really beautiful for me, it’s like watching a new person draw your characters. And you just think that this is really beautiful, it’s not just something in my head. Whereas when we did it in new music circles, well over fifteen years ago people weren’t so open to those sorts of discussions about sexual violence and gender relations.

How do you compare making music to making art?

 

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Jennifer Walshe and the Arditti Quartet performing Everything is important (2016)

 

For me the boundaries are very sort of blurry. If you’ve seen the biggest piece that I have done recently, a piece called Everything Is Important for voice and string quartet, and that has a massive video part which I made. So a huge amount of the pieces that I write, they are very visual, and that can be in the video part or that could be in things the musicians are doing physically, or often both. So with Everything Is Important, it’s a forty minute long piece and there is video almost the entire time. And there is a piece I did called Self Care last year where I used an accordion, and the accordionist is just moving around and using their body, and then also there are video parts. So yes, those things are blurry, for me anyway.

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Andreas Borregaard performing Self Care (2017)

The issue is that I think musicians are trained in environments where they are told unless they are doing an opera, that somehow they are neutral on stage in a visual way, and it is not true. it’s complete bullshit. I don’t know how much you know about blind auditions in orchestras, but one of the things they discovered in a lot of orchestras was that the only way to get more women into the orchestras was to have what they call blind auditions – so at a certain point in the audition process the person auditioning has to perform behind a curtain they even put a carpet down so people can’t hear if a person is in heels, and what they found was this actually meant that they hired more women. I think when musicians walk onto the stage, it’s a very visual theatrical situation – Prince knew this, David Bowie knew this, and even the free improv scene knows this. But classical music still tries to say that we are all wearing black so you can’t see us. You know what I mean?

It’s interesting you say that, considering the physicality you employ in the works like Women Box.

It’s funny you say that, because Women Box was an example of the sort of commission that you usually hate, which is that somebody says you have a really specific brief! In this case the brief was that it was to tie into the Commonwealth Games in 2014, it was the first year that they let women’s boxing into the Commonwealth Games as a sport, so they wanted somebody to write like an opera about boxing specifically women’s boxing . And Laura Bowler approached me to do it. I said to her, ‘I’m only going to do it if you learn to box. Because I do not want like faking it on stage, that’s bullshit.’

 

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Laura Bowler performing Women Box (2014)

 

And Laura to her credit said to me: ‘I only want to do it if I learn to box.’ From there I knew we were onto something good! In that situation, it was more like a method acting approach really. When I mean method style, I mean Daniel Day-Lewis style!  Laura started training with Cathy ‘The Bitch’ Brown, I even went to a boxing class with her to see what it was like. Laura really trained and Cathy really put her through her paces, and Laura ended up doing a white-collar boxing match! It was really amazing because her body changed, and she even said she was aggressive in situations she never would have been aggressive in before. Working with Cathy and working with Laura was phenomenal because they’re both really committed, and I saw the joy of committing to something that is out of the ordinary. Laura committed to trying out boxing, really ate like a boxer, she took vitamins. And then at a certain point, Cathy got a man to come so Laura could punch him, so she could get the feeling of what it’s like to punch a human being. We talked a lot about what it means to hit somebody – the difference between rough housing and domestic violence, what it means for a woman to hit a man and for a man to hit a woman, and what it means for a woman to hit a woman. All these different things. And for me it was just such a rich way of working.

And that is what I’m interested in. Sometimes in art school, research becomes very dry and sometimes students feel like they need to do this research so they can justify the work of art by writing a good essay about it, and I’m not interested in that. I’m just interested in learning more about the world, knowing more and having a richer experience so for me all the research, learning new physical things, it all comes with having a richer experience of the world.

And going forward?

What I had hoped to have for the exhibition was an AI system that wrote Irish mythology. But the thing is, that is way beyond my coding skills! So to create it, I had to rely on somebody from the States who just didn’t have time, which is totally understandable.

Aisteach introduced me to strange dead weirdos who I’ve viewed as my like great uncles and aunts, and great-great granddaddies and grandmammies artistically. I think that the AI, for me, is a way to introduce a truly other intelligence and alien intelligence in that – last year for instance, I wrote a piece that with a dog in it because I was trying to understand animal intelligence. This year I’m involved in a whole bunch of different AI projects, where I’m trying to understand artificial intelligence.

You can find out more about Jennifer’s work through her website links below

http://milker.org/ & http://www.aisteach.org/

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, Interview, Print, Sculpture

Making a Point: Nasan Tur

I first got the opportunity to meet Nasan when his work Backpacks were shown as part of the touring exhibition Future Perfect

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Nasan Tur With Woodcut (Empathy is Naive) (2015)

in The Model earlier this year. In preparation for his arrival, I studied his practice intensely, and I found that he put great thought and depth to his work, and I was so glad that he agreed to do this interview as I am excited to share his process.

 

Let’s start with Your works Backpacks and where they came from?

Most of my works are related to each other in one way or another, and well the backpacks, they came from a work called What I always wanted to tell you. And it’s a work that you can only really present when an institute has a connection to a busy public space, like a balcony or a huge window. It has to be frequented often, and you have to be able to see the public from the balcony – so not a like a back yard! So, the work consisted of a microphone on a tripod, that was connected to two huge speakers that are turned on. The exhibition space includes access to the balcony or the window where the tripod would be, and when you make one step towards the mic, everything that you are saying into the microphone is broadcast to the public – very loudly. So a lot of people can hear you, and it makes you much more present to the public. Louder than other people. You stand higher than other people.

I’ve shown it in a few different places – I made it in Berlin last year, and I made it a couple of years ago in another city called Wiesbaden in Germany. Istanbul as well, and of course it always has to do with the circumstances in a place like Istanbul. It feels like it is much more dangerous to do it there, as you can get jail for expressing criticism (especially when you do it publicly). In Germany, where you should be safe to say anything in public, the usage is different and that is the work.

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What I always wanted to tell you (2007)

In this way, it’s not so much about what the public use the microphone for. For me, it’s more about which kind of context, circumstance, and how the people accept it as a tool for their use.  I think we did it in Turkey at a time where it was possible to do it. (Granted, even then the police came and shut down the exhibition for a day, but the very next day we were able to open it again.) Today it wouldn’t be possible – it’s too dangerous because of the nature of the project, because you lose control out of it and leave it to the public. It is about free speech and the democratic way… that means also that people can be given a platform for free speech, and say things you might not agree with, and you are not in control of that. Looking at that freedom, how far can someone who claims freedom for art also accept that? And accept these different opinions?

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Backpacks (2006)

 

So the backpacks that came later, they followed on this idea of a place where I create a platform – which can be used, but doesn’t have to be used. It’s more about the thought: ‘do I want to have this position over others? do I want to be louder than others?’ And: ‘do I have to say something to people? Do I have the courage to say it?’ So, all these questions play a lot with the idea of… the question I have is, like, when are you actually active?  When you stand in your position in public. It was after exploring this idea when I made the backpacks, as I liked the idea I that I wanted to expand the borders of the gallery, or the institution or the museum. I wanted to create objects which are in the art context – they exist as an art piece, but when you take it out from there, it’s just a functional tool. So it’s about making art pieces that are usable, functional, and that create a platform to ask: what you would use it for?

It’s interesting how your work takes on a functional quality to them, like the woodcuts in Funktionieren.

 

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 Woodcuts (2015)

 

A woodcut is a work that’s actually a tool, it’s not only a picture or a text, but an object that can be used. People can hang it on the wall, but you can also can take it from the wall and use it as a wood block, like a printing block for wood cuts. It’s an artwork which can reproduce itself in an unlimited way.

That’s the reason I chose woodcuts – it is one of the oldest reproduction techniques known to man today. I think of the invention of woodcuts, where people were able to reproduce many of the same picture or writing for more people, and this parallels today with social media. At the moment with social media, we can provide people with information very very easily, with copy and paste, and Facebook and Twitter – it is a turning point, like the woodcuts were in their time. Nowadays social media is taking over the old media like the newspapers and television, and this has changed how we digest news; there is no time anymore, to rethink what we are reading or to question what we are reading. So, it’s a kind of perception that we have kind of just got used to – very very fast, and very very easy. Easy in way where they pretend to answer very complex questions with very easy answers. So, I tried with these artworks (the woodcuts) to question this, by taking these phrases which I took more or less from social media with these phrases, statements which are very absolute (highly black or white). Statements about very controversial issues, where you are either really for it or you’re totally against it. But that is not so easy – to say I’m totally for it, or I’m totally against it. And the length you spend with something – that also relates to the woodcuts, the reproduction process. Which is such a long and drawn out process, it’s prolonging the time it takes to digest the information – to allow you to question the way that you go through the world, the way you get your information.

It’s also like the whole thing is a confrontation with media at the moment. Yeah, you have two hundred or two thousand television channels! If you don’t like one, in two seconds you make the decision. You don’t give time to anything anymore, and that makes us also very… how do you say? Very ‘influenceable’. So people from the outside… even if you don’t know they influence you, they do. It’s not just about the fastness, it’s also like, who is giving you the information that you are going to use to build your opinion?  It always depends on the angles. So for sure, people in Russia will get totally different information from their news about the Ukraine/ Crimea situation compared to the information we are going to get. So, what does it mean to influence people? We are not aware about that, we just take it at face value and just swallow it.

I think art can be a language which can give us an alternative perception. To be aware again about these things. So, I try to demand things from the visitors in my shows or the visitors of my artworks. Usually they don’t function in two seconds like a traditional oil painting might. I get really pissed off with these things, because what does it mean? You know, to give something like two seconds? What does it mean to read the number of deaths in a disaster or an act of violence, and in the next second to read another number? Then another number and another number… it’s not like you are getting what’s really happening. It’s getting super abstract, and you’re not even becoming aware of this – how you don’t actually see the thing. It’s not just about having the information, but realising what is behind the information!

You touched on this in the Cloud series.

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Clouds (2012)

Yeah, I mean the Cloud series is also evidence of failing on the part of the artist. It’s an artwork with a purpose, the purpose is that you do something politically incorrect here, because this image is only part of what is being photographed – so the real incident, you don’t even get to see it. There are press photographers all over the world who risk their lives, and many who have died or have gotten injured in doing their job… for us, more or less. And what I am doing with the Cloud series is cutting out all this information, the information that the photographers have risked their lives for. Photographs depicting rioting, acts of terror and war, and what I’m doing is just focusing on the sky in that image. So, cutting everything away and leaving only the sky there. So, what does that mean? How can we properly perceive this photography, this wave of photography that we see every day in the news? Because I can see myself in that position. I was not able anymore to distinguish abstraction from reality, so what I have done is actually what I have done as a child when everything got too much. I would lie on the field and look to the sky for a short moment maybe for a minute or less, and try and forget my problems with family or girlfriends or school, and that was really a dreaming moment. But that moment was very short, and that is exactly what I have done with that photography piece.

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Cloud No.2: 19 May, 2010, Bangkok, Thailand, (2012)

 

So at first glance people see this beautiful photography, something romantic, something vast, but actually, they aren’t really clouds… When you look closer, the clouds are mixed with ashes and smoke, and also the way they are photographed – you also feel that there is something wrong. This is not just a romantic photograph, there is something behind it, and by exploring the whole photographic series, you realise something is going on. I have these tools I use – beauty or romanticism – often to draw the viewer in to the work, but you have to peel away the artwork by spending time with it, to see that there are more layers to it. To get to the core. And that is not so easy, and it is not so easy for me to deal with in the work. But saying that, I feel that art shouldn’t be easy for the viewer, art should demand something. Disturb something! And, make something more than just a good feeling. That’s how I do the work I do.

Let’s talk a bit about your background – how you got into art?

I don’t have what you might call a classic background in art. I never drew when I was a kid, and I didn’t have art on my mind all that much as a child. I’m not that kind of person. The first time I was in a museum I was 18! For me it was more or less an accident that I became an artist, but still it’s something that I feel that I have to do. Like, if you see how the world is going, you have to think also about your role in this society, and that is what I’m doing – I have this feeling, that I can find a role for myself through my art. And the topics that I’m dealing with, I feel they are important.

There are some strong transmorphic elements to your work. I really like that piece of the shattered diamond [Diamonds, 2018] you did recently.

Yes, it’s a new series that I am working on at the moment, where I am crushing real diamonds in a violent act. And because of their material consistency, they don’t break normally – rather, they explode and what you see actually is the result of this explosion. You see many many fragments of the diamonds – from one diamond, many many hundreds and thousands of small diamonds are created that are all different sizes. They don’t have the same value anymore, at least from our usual perspective – it’s more about changing from one form to another variation. And it is not only about the beauty of the diamond, they’re charged with symbolism – with desire, technology (as in how it’s used to cut things which other material can’t). They are the hardest material in the whole world. And actually, when attempting to break it, in the end it created something new, and became something so beautiful. I liked this metaphor behind the picture a lot.

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Diamonds – 1,00ct (2018)

 

But of course diamonds have other levels of symbolism in our society – we often see that beauty and forget everything that’s behind it. So, what does it mean actually, to see a blood diamond on the ring of a rich man or woman? That natural diamond had to have been found somewhere. So we forget about all this slavery of people in Africa and South Africa, and the people who die for this working in the worst conditions, and that doesn’t concern us because we want this shiny thing… this kind of background of wealth and power with diamonds, I just wanted to break and destroy it. And by breaking it out of that, I created something that is really valued, which is variation. Every splinter is something different in that field. That art market aspect of this is also interesting; you destroy something valuable, and the art makes it even more valuable than it would have been before you destroyed it! So in that context, I also find it valuable.

Tell me some more about your project, Variationen von Kapital.

 

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Variationen von Kapital. (2013)

 

Kapital is an ongoing work. I’m interested in what the word Kapital actually means today. Economics plays a huge role in the art world today, and from my perspective, it’s not healthy for art. The perception of art that the public has – it’s not the content of an exhibition you are going to read in the newspapers nowadays, it’s almost always going to be of a new record sale. it’s all about maximising the capital out of something and so art is an investment. So, I wanted to create an artwork that deals with these questions of capital, capital inside of art, the desire of art, the role of art, the function of art. But also about human capital, capital work, what uniqueness we can find in this.

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Variationen von Kapital (2013-ongoing)

For the work I created versions of Kapital, or variations… firstly I worked with a computer technician to write a formula for me, so the computer spits out all the versions all the word Kapital in the German language, that I could transcribe. So I write the word so you can still read it phonetically, but you never actually have the right spelling – you always have different punctuations, like with two AA’s or IH, but always reads Kapital. There are more than 41,000 variations to work from, and then the computer gave me all these variations in a random order for me to transcribe them. So the computer told me what to write! I wrote them down on handmade paper with Indian ink, each of them on a one to one, I signed and dated it, so it became a unique drawing. But this drawing exists in more than 41,000 variations. It takes a while! I only made 800 for that exhibition, but to make the whole 41,000 to finish this artwork, I would need more than ten years. Every day, twelve hours to do it. It’s more like contract work, there are ‘clauses’, and they’re part of the work. For instance, I’m not allowed to choose which one I would like to produce as an artwork. The computer tells me randomly, and I must draw the variation it gives me, so the artist is a tool inside of that project. And then the price of each piece is also fixed at €1,000 each, the gallery is not allowed to make it higher and they’re not allowed to make a reduction to the price either. And then the buyer is allocated one randomly. The artist produced it in a random way, so the collectors also choose one in a random way! So, it plays itself against the usual ways of the art investment market, it goes against the usual conditions.  So, if you have one it is a unique piece, but it looks like an edition of 41,000. What kind of value is it, still? It is a question about investment, and uniqueness, and the way you can actually choose an artwork. The work goes beyond the written capital.

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

http://www.nasantur.com/

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing
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Installation, Interview, Performance

Sound Off: Steve Maher

 

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Steve Maher

I met Steve when studying my masters in Limerick, and his unique way of working meant he was one of the first people I wanted to interview. I’m really excited to share his practice as I have already crowbared his name into many a conversation about art (as many will attest to)

 

Lets start off with Heavy Metal Detector – that’s a really unique project, especially for music fans!

I’m actually not that into metal! I appreciate it, but it is a more an ethnographic interest. I just think that it’s a very special community and a global community. I’ve met a few people from different countries who are involved in it, and it’s huge. They are a very passionate community, and I think that is passion that we all could do with more of in our life.

I found in art, just as in music, people will often stick exclusively to certain types of genres and won’t check out pretty much anything else. There have been a lot of studies on the similarity of the neural mapping of people who are listening to different musical styles, and it is very interesting. But the same areas of the brain are triggered in people who listen to classical music as those who listen to metal, and that makes sense because the two genres are very theatrical. So they kind of speak to people who like that kind of thing in their music. So when I heard that, I wondered how do we broach that chasm separation of musical taste, and what kind of platform do we create?

Whatever rituals that we seem to find ourselves in, people will dictate what kind of type of artwork they will encounter because associations they create with taste. These are the things that separate us from hearing local sounds.

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Heavy Metal Detector – STRP (2017)

 

And how does the project work?

Usually it’s aimed toward some kind of arts festivals, biennales– places where the communities that are predominately participating in the project are going in with an open mind, to experience something different. They are either creative practitioners themselves and they have an idea of what kind of artwork they like, or they’re the general public who are going to see art as it should be. I saw an opportunity in that.

It’s always local bands that are part of the project – I initially started with the local bands in Helsinki, and I’ve done it now in Eindhoven, Amsterdam, twice in the UK. And I’ll be doing it again in September in Bournemouth and I’ve done it in Moscow as well. Anywhere I do it, I reach out to local scenes, and that’s kind of the spirit of the project.  well there is a lot around people every day. People don’t seem to realise just how much is around them – I use the detectors that show us how much metal is in our environment as a kind of analogy to local music.

 

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Heavy Metal Detector – AND (2017)

 

You also have an interesting piece relating to Athlone can you talk a bit about that?

A lot of people don’t know this but Athlone, it was the centre of broadcasting in Ireland, with Raidio na hEireann. So there were two radio transmitters in Ireland prior to the building of the radio transmitter in Athlone in 1927 – there was one in Dublin and one in Cork. But they were low-scale and they didn’t really transmit outside of the cities.

The government at this time, they had two largescale projects that the created at the foundation of the state (before it became a Republic). So they built Ardnacrusha, which is the hydroelectric dam at the end of the Shannon in Clare, and they also built the Moydrun electric transmitter in Athlone. Athlone is in a unique situation in Ireland… it has four generations of broadcasting and that is quite rare in Europe.  It’s particularly rare in Athlone. It’s a big town, and a nice town, but it’s not a major city. It was the terminus for many different things like the rail lines, but now you have to go to Dublin or to Galway to get to Sligo. But even before the rail network, everything else went through Athlone because the Shannon goes through Athlone, and it connected Athlone to other parts of the country. So, it made sense then to use the canal networks to bring a lot of the equipment and rail network to Athlone, and then to Moydrum.

Athlone has an original Marconi transmitter – England doesn’t even have any anymore. I recall Marconi worked throughout much of Ireland forming the transatlantic broadcasting technology. Up and after independence. I think it got too fussy for him…. a lot of his Anglo-Irish patrons upped and jumped ship. They were getting pushed out, the big houses were getting burnt down. To be on the site of Moydrum, it is a big house and it is the cover of U2’s album, The Unforgettable Fire. I’m not a big U2 fan but you can look it up!

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Moydrum transmitter station interior

 

 

So I thought all this history was really interesting, and for the project I wanted to work with that history in mind. So we would build crystal set radios, and the idea was to make a documentary about this history and about this workshop, and then broadcast it through AM radio waves and then listen to it through these crystal set radios. The Luan had an open call which I applied for, and I didn’t get it. I thought: ah crap, well anyway look I did all this research, so I’ll try and pull it off myself. So, I applied for Arts Council funding. And I got enough to produce the project myself, and then I contacted the Luan. And they were like, alright! I guess I explained my case a bit better the second time round. This is how galleries work, you can’t just roll up and expect to get anywhere. Only applying to open calls all the time, no-one will ever know what the hell you’re doing, you must be that bit bolder. They lent me the use of their space downstairs for the exhibition aspect of the project, I did a workshop and I collaborated with the local radio station Athlone Community Radio. It’s part of the Craol networks, which is a kind of community radio network in Ireland, and they have an office near Limerick.

Anyway, I was in touch with this woman called Mary Lennon who was the director of the station, and then through art networks, I was in touch with Owen Francis McCormack who was in the same year as me in college. I also knew his brother Cathal when he would come up to visit Eóin, and Cathal had also done work with the community radio station as well. Anyway, he sorted me out and helped me with the project. We also had participants from the local graphic design course from Athlone Institute of Technology, and we had some participants through open call through the radio station.

When I kind of came up with the idea, I didn’t realise how powerful your transmitter needs to be for crystal set to pick it up. AM radio will amplify a signal, whereas a crystal set has no amplification, because there’s no power going through it except the radio waves, so you could pick up radio on them because that is still being broadcast on AM. But that is about the only thing being broadcast on AM except for on the low wave you get a lot of churches in rural communities that broadcast sermons so that the infirm or the housebound can listen to mass. The cathedral in Athlone. That was the idea to see out this project through this community focused workshop, and that is what we did. And it was a great success – everyone was pretty was happy in terms of participation. It was part of this online exhibition called Project Anywhere which is based out of New School Parsons in New York. Sean …… I had gotten in that year.

And that helped a lot, in terms of funding and getting people to take the project more seriously. In that way external accreditation is very useful – the crowd in New York don’t know me from Adam, but the crowd at home are ‘this guy, we should know about him if he is working in New York and abroad’! It’s a way to communicate that you can produce what you claim to be capable of. You must show these signifiers. That’s the aim of the game I wouldn’t knock anyone for it. People won’t know unless you tell them. Don’t assume that people will know that you are this really talented fella, because at the end of the day, they are people with jobs. They would love to be reading e-mails from everyone, but they have to talk to some superior who is in charge of their funding or whatever depending on how the model of their institute works.

 

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Calling Athlone (2016)

 

Your work seems to have a DIY aesthetic that shows through, and not only in your efforts to get projects going. Is it intentional?

I’m not so concerned with aesthetics. Aesthetics are just going to happen. I’m not saying that I’m anti-aesthetic, that’s a ridiculous position to put yourself in – there’s aesthetic in everything, you can kind of choose to author it I suppose – but I’m not trying not to be aware of the traditional aesthetic authorship that is in fine art for the most part. Because I feel that it is very contrived, and a lot of people are doing things and they don’t really know why they have made things look a certain way. The appearance is just something that is going to happen. I’m more interested in the mechanics of how participatory art works. I kind of do have some aesthetic acknowledgements, I have cultural references within the work, but they’re more kind of like easter eggs to broader ideas. Because ideally those ideas are kind of written in how the ideas are integrated. I suppose because I stop at a certain point where other people might make it look finished, you know? And not really focusing on the core of what it is that is the work.

If I was to say there’s anything that truly ties my work together, it would be that I’m interested in cultural coding. I’m interested in language too. For me, the focus on music and language is one and the same and it is also to do with technology. There is a way of figuring out our environment through these mediums.

Saying that, socially engaged art often has detractors why do you think that is?

Yeah, that kind of cynicism, it comes about for a reason. That is because a lot of stuff that says it’s socially engaged really isn’t what it says it is, and it’s given a lot of social practice a bad name as a result. I think there is just a culture that has evolved from the idea of social practice, collaborative art, whatever you want to call it.  That form of art making has wound up filling a gap in local councils’ budgets as a replacement in some cases to social workers, because these projects are cheaper. I think it’s a mistake to conflate the two.

Saying that, I don’t think the majority of people are worn out by actual socially engaged practice. I just think a lot of people are protective of their discipline in a dogmatic way, in the same sense that people are protective of their religion, but I think that there are two sides to it… it has kind of gotten a bad name for itself, but there is an irrational side to that scepticism.

I would like to touch on something that is important to me, and get your thoughts on it: dyslexia. We have both been diagnosed with it, and we both have gone through the educational system.

Dyslexia is a nebulous thing, I think a lot of things get lumped in together with – it’s because it is hard to pin it down as any one thing. There are probably hundreds of different reading disabilities, and I wasn’t severely dyslexic. After having a period in my life where everyone else could read and I couldn’t read, I learned to read a lot quicker than my peers. After fourth class, once I did learn to read, I kind of went very quickly from there. But I think the main thing was that it affected me creatively, and I think a lot of dyslexics have had a similar experience. When many of us were in school and tried to pretend that we were doing work, and also during time when people were reading, we had to invert into our own minds and our imaginations. And meanwhile the schools weren’t identifying that we were having trouble reading. I think they are a lot better now today. I think a lot of dyslexics wound up in art college because they were doodling in their books the whole time. None of the scribbly stuff made any sense to them! That period in my life formed me as a person, but I wouldn’t say I’m a dyslexic, because I don’t think it’s fair on people who actually struggle with language problems for me to say that I am still a dyslexic, because it doesn’t affect my day to day life. I make mistakes when I’m spelling, but I get by with spellcheck.

Let’s talk a bit about your influences.

I’m a bit of an artistic misanthrope – I don’t get really fanboy-ish about other artists. I can appreciate good work but I don’t get into someone’s practice so much. There are a few people that I kind of generally like what they do, like Mark Manders the sculptor – I used to be really into him while I was in college. I do feel if you say that if you say you like an artist, people look for their influence in what you do. saying that I really like my peers. In Helsinki in particular, there is like a ton of amazing artists that I’ve met. Looking back, the majority of the reasons why I make things is because the so much of mainstream art really annoys me. I think the stuff that gets attention is put on a pedestal, and there is far more interesting stuff being made by marginalised artists. Artists who don’t have a whole press office behind them putting their name forward. And when people ask you, what artist are you into? I don’t know. Not to sound like a big hipster,I really don’t care for it. it’s just how I feel. I really don’t like the overhyping of certain work. I don’t want to look at it. I don’t want anyone telling me what is good – I want to decide for myself.

When it comes to painting, I understand there is a history there, and I like a lot of painting… you have to ask what you’re doing when you are physically participating with an art form that has existed for five hundred-odd years. When you think of Renaissance period, there are aspects to painting that are so redundant… remnants of tradition.

So, people don’t ask. There are a lot of good painters we have today been a lot of painters are just focused on pigment which I think is just amazing I think it’s interesting. But then the question is what kind of pigment are we talking about? So, we are talking about pigment and we are talking about paint and pigment through painting and painting through painting and that is cool but then what? I kinda get a bit bored cos people are continuing to have the same conversations and they are not getting to any more of a point, and I’m not saying I do is better or something huge gaps between what I do. But that is what makes art good when there is actual huge cognitive dissonance in what we are doing cos it’s not meant to be perfect it’s not a science.

I could talk about writers that I really like?

If I was going to say writers I would have to say Warren Ellis. That was one of the first people who introduced me to a lot. My school of philosophy was all though these comic book writers that would insert philosophy into their work – Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis. There was a point in time where I was buying anything with Warren Ellis name on it. Another one is Paul Chadwick, who wrote Concrete which used to be under the Dark Horse imprint. Even aspects of comics I like Thargs editorial in 2000AD.

A good book that I got recently is Sonic Warfare by Steve Goodman. He is a DJ and academic. he is more famous for being a DJ than being an academic but it’s a cool book that I’m enjoying reading.

Reading seems to be a big influence and core part of your practice.

I’ll admit, we all bought into this idea of artistic research. I’m as guilty as anyone for doing it. We have to look at the history of artistic research, because in the nineties it came about… it came about because artists wanted to access funding and because institutions expect the scientific model in funding applications. This is why we are all trad disciplinary stuff, or really deep end self-referential art for artists.

I just don’t know how people don’t read a lot about before they go about their practice, you know? You’re making an artwork about something, you are saying you have some sort of authority about the subject, unless you are very airy fairy and all about experiential stuff (and I wouldn’t totally rule that out or detract from that). There are different ways of being creative, but for me, everything creative is: you’re presenting to the public. That indicates you have something to say about a subject, some sort of insight, ergo some sort of authority. I wouldn’t be so brash as to say that I am the utmost authority or that I’m an expert, but I feel that when I say something, I have done what I can to research what I am talking about.

But at the same time… how can you not want to know about things?

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

http://www.stevemaher.net/

 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, Interview, Painting, Video

Organic Evolution: Laura Mc Morrow

Laura McMorrow Exhibition The Lost Acre Leitrim Sculpture Centre

Laura Mc Morrow next to her paintings in Fragments (2018)

Laura is an artist that I’m very lucky to have gotten to know though Painting in Text. Laura’s exhibition The Lost Acre is a great example of pieces from different modes of practice complimenting each other – this interview gives insight into Laura’s practice and the influences behind her work. I really enjoyed the interview, and hope you get as much out of it as I did.

Let’s Start with you Recent Exhibition

My most recent exhibition was The Lost Acre in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre. I was doing a residency there.

The title came about from a story that my dad told me he is into hill walking. He was coming down the mountain and he was talking to a farmer and the farmer had asked him had he gone through the lost acre, my dad didn’t know what it was and asked about it. The Farmer explained that it was a patch of land that you get lost in if you walk through it. You can be lead astray and become disoriented, Places that are familiar will start looking strange and even though your close to home, you feel like your really far away.

I felt it tied in with this residency because Manorhamilton is my hometown.Because I’m so familiar with this landscape I wanted to look at it in a new light and revisit it and look at it in more of an artists perspective compared to how I was looking at it when I was growing up. When you’re younger you don’t appreciate how beautiful it and it’s only when you’re away that you realise that you start missing it. I had recently moved home when this residency came about. And through the residency I got a studio in the town and I was living on main street.

What was your planning for the exhibition?

I knew I wanted to have a few different elements to the show. In my studio I mostly focus on painting but in this exhibition I also have a video, collage and sculptural elements as well.

Let’s start with the painting first

Most of my paintings have come from working with archival imagery that I find online. I mostly use two archives, one is the British library collection and there is the New York Public Library. They have uploaded these huge online archives of images which are copyright free so you can do whatever you want with them and often I would use them as a starting point to trigger memories. I would spend hours scrolling through these websites looking at tiny thumbnails and sometimes one just jumps out at me. I’m really drawn to certain ones probably because they remind me of places within my memory so then I’ll start painting from the images but often I won’t include a lot of the detail from the original image. I pair it down to a very minimal composition. Most of the photographs are black and white and I’m kind of inventing the colours based on my memories. When you see the paintings together they have a strange dream like quality because of the muted and distorted nature of the colours. My painting is moving to be more and more abstract. I think they are still landscapes but they are quite paired down, they are almost empty. It’s been a natural progression of my work. I general work really small I would like to make something bigger, but I also find it difficult. sometimes if I try and go bigger I end up painting something really small onto a big board!

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Orange Forest (2018)

Found Materials

Sometimes I work with found materials like old frames I find in charity shops. When I work with found materials often the first thing I will do is take it apart in some way. I might sand it down or peel away what’s there. I did an installation with the found objects for The Lost Acre exhibition called Fragments. I let the object inform what I would do to it. Another example, this one was originally a religious souvenir and the dome was made out of plastic. So, I decided I would change the image and I scratched the plastic, so it obscured what was inside it. For one piece that was a frame that originally had this twee landscape glued into it and I really wanted to take the image out. But you can see the remnants of it I couldn’t get it out completely, but I ended up really liking the texture that it created! So, I kept it. I spent so long trying to get the image out and eventually decided to just work with it. But these range from everything from things I found in a charity shops to things I find on the beach. A lot of them are coasters and old frames. Similar to the archival imagery I spend a lot of time rooting/collecting stuff trying to find objects. Sometimes it’s the cheaper one’s I prefer to work with because I can be less precious with them and don’t mind destroying them. I quite like how someone’s gotten rid of the object and don’t see the value in it, it could be the material or sometimes I turn the frame around and use the back of it because I like the shape. And create new surface for it.

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Fragments (2018)

Material can come from anywhere. My parents were adding insulation to their house and they didn’t know how to get rid of waste because you can’t burn it you and it’s too big to throw it in the bin and they were like oh Laura you will be able to do something with it. It looks like marble but is actually that I’ve covered it in wax, it’s something that was discarded Its very tactile people would want to touch it. And find out what it is your reflex is to reach out at it with your hand and try and figure out what a material it is people are usually surprised about how light it is I also like the idea of putting it alongside an actual rock albeit a strange looking one I look at them kind of like drawings even though they are objects they are something to draw from.

You also do video can you talk about that?

When I first started doing video I felt like I had to have a narrative to it, so I sort of ended up forcing this narrative and it just didn’t work so I I’ve just decided to change tact, it’s more of a purely visual experience. A material exploration and I’m not forcing a narrative into it. I’m self-trained and I would approach video from a painting perspective like composition wise I’d compose it the same way I would approach a painting. And a lot of the time I would see video as a moving painting. It has some elements of landscapes. I’ve even used paint in my video, I’ve had Jelly was sitting on black oil paint on a copper plate and filmed that.

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Lost Acre Still (2018)

When it comes to my video is almost a scientific process and you are experimenting you don’t know where it’s going to go or what is going to come out of it. I usually surround myself with materials I want to work with but then sometimes I might use something that I hadn’t planned on using just cos it happens to be there.

A scene from The Lost Acre video came about because I was trying to recreate the formation of an erratic rock. I was down in the burren doing a residency. I wanted to see if I froze a rock in a basin of water then melted it would the rock move. I filmed it melting then I’ve reversed the footage.

Time seems to be a factor in a lot of your work in different ways?

Time does feature a lot in the whole show even with my sculptural work I had a big green sculpture it’s actually foliage that I have shaped into an orb. And that came about because I wanted to create a sculptural work that would change over time. When I lived in japan for a couple of years I came across this traditional object made from cedar branches that they would hang outside sake breweries. When the sake was ready to be drank they would know because it would have turned brown so it’s almost like a natural timer. A really long timer! When you see them in japan they are perfectly shaped I left it a bit scraggly. It’s a more interesting object that way. it did turn brown over course the exhibition but it’s so slow you almost wouldn’t notice it. It’s gotten much lighter as it dried out a lot during the exhibition. So, yeah a natural way of telling time! A lot the found objects I was working with also have been changed through time. like the rusty frame,

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Sugidama (2018)

And with my video work I have manipulated the time, sometimes I speed it up and sometimes I slow it down. Sometimes it’s not straightforward and it’s really hard to grasp what you are actually looking at!

Most of my video work is made in the studio, if I had more time to develop the work I would have liked to film in the landscape and create these experiments that I do in the studio out in the field. One time I carried with me a huge basin of jelly up the mountain and when I got there it started raining. And when I would put the basen down my dog would keep eating the jelly! It was such a disaster and I thought “what am I doing?!? this is ridiculous!” I retreated back to my studio!  It didn’t work that time, but I have it in my back of my head that it is how I would like the work to develop.

your collage work is very interesting

In my collage again I’m working with archival images often postcards, I think there’s an element of humour in it, I might do something like place a buffalo in an odd location! There is something really beautiful about the quality of these old postcards though because they have been hand coloured they were originally black and white and they have been hand tinted so some parts are still left black and white and there is a parallel with the way I approach the paintings because I’m working from a black and white image but I’m adding colour.

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Buffalo Man (2017)

Will we finish by talking about your influences?

I watch quite a lot of sci fi movies, more older ones because of the D.I.Y aesthetic and the practical effects they used kind of influence my work in a way. I watched one recently called Beware! The Blob and there is this red blog that attacks people, and I really want to know how they made the blob move!

Painting wise I like Fergus Feehily’s work he works with found material and often his work is just so beautiful I saw a show that he did in the Douglas Hyde and it kind of stuck with me just his use of materials and his minimal use of paint.

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

http://www.lauramcmorrow.com/

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

 

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Installation, Interview

Impermanence and its Lasting Impact: Shane Finan

Shane Finan, a Sligo-born artist currently residing in Dublin, is a man who wears his influences on his sleeve, and it’s riveting to hear him discuss them in detail.  His work is uniquely his own, and I’m happy to give him a platform to discuss his art and his process in this in-depth interview.

This transcript has been edited by the interviewer for the purpose of this blog.

So, what are you currently working on?

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Shane Finan standing in front of Everything’s Ephemeral (2016)

Well I tend to have several things on the go at the same time. I just made a list yesterday in an Excel document, it’s the only way I can organise my life these days! At the moment there are seven or eight different art projects ongoing, and I have to keep track of what stage they are at and what I need to do with them. Some are in the documentation stage, some are in the fledgling ideas stage. Probably an interesting one to talk about for my practice would be the project I’m doing with the Pierre Auger Observatory, because I just finished the research and I’ve just started onto making something.

I should probably explain.

The Pierre Auger observatory is based in Malargue in Argentina. They detect showers of cosmic rays, which are radioactive particles that are constantly moving through space. A lot of them hit earth and pass right through it and continue on their journey – their intergalactic journey.  What they have in Malargue is thirty square kilometres of water-pools with sensors, in a desert in the Andes, that are there to detect these rays. They are set up to detect why these showers happen and where they come from. And only this year, they published a paper saying that the major showers come from one specific area in the universe. This is ongoing research. Why that happens? We don’t know. But it’s great for speculation. From my point of view this is fantastic – it could be communication from aliens, an exploding star… you could come up with or create anything!

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surface detector from the Pierre Auger observatory

 

The project came about around twelve months ago, when I got in contact the director of The Pierre Auger observatory. I dropped them a line and I said, ‘Hi, I’m an artist and interested in getting involved in making something off the back of the research that you have?’ And they said, ‘This is great, we would love to have you, and anything you need let us know. Tell us when you’re coming!’ As an artist I have found this reaction sometimes, and it’s always very heartwarming when people are interested. The director put me in touch with a few people who have written papers, and so over the following months I gained a very small knowledge of what the observatory did. My method is so based in research – I do so much reading. I read a lot of theory. I read magazines, newspapers. I love reading material. Reading in general, and listening – I listen to a lot of music constantly, sometimes podcasts too. I also take photographs and collect physical material, drawing up sketches, and being on site when I can. I get lost in my research. I like to have a lot information streams coming at me all the time. I would say if you were to measure it, research is around 70% or 80%, and the actual execution of a piece is quite quick in most cases.

When I’ve gotten through the research I begin to get a picture of what I plan to do. For instance, I will probably be doing a digital installation off the back of this – it just fits with the material that I have. For me, medium is dictated by the best idea communicated by my research, whatever that ends up being. That doesn’t mean I’ll always make something! Sometimes I will realise through the research phase that a project won’t be going any further. I might write a paper about it, which I’ve done a couple times before, or I might just leave it and let it disappear into the ether.

I chose digital installation because I feel I couldn’t express it through a lot of other media. Film or painting wouldn’t get it across across. I want to disseminate what they are doing in the observatory – the type of work they are doing, and the type of research, but also the idea of technology in its highest form being used for a purpose which is experimental and undetermined, I guess. We don’t know where this is going to go, and when the funding finishes up in ten years’ time this will all be cleared out – the buildings and technology will move on to another purpose. They might give some of the 1,600 water tanks to the local farmers, but the observatory will be gone.

Maybe what they learned will be useful at some point. We have this huge experiment – a staff based in western Argentina, from all over the world. And then at the end of it, you know where cosmic rays are coming from, and that’s it! You have this piece of information that maybe ends up playing no part in human progress, but it is fascinating nonetheless.

Technology seems to be a recurring theme to your work. 

I tend to focus on transient ephemeral things that disappear over time – things that change the relationship between people and place. Technology is one of those things that is constantly shifts and is constantly in flux…  something else I’m interested in is the idea of lost technology or lost ideas. I started a series called ‘Antikhytera etc.’ in 2016, that is all influenced by this idea: lost technology.

The first piece from this series was a project about the Chernobyl disaster – Mugwort, Wormwood, and how little we know about the end of the world. (I made that title as long as possible so it can’t be repeated.) At the time I was looking at the history of the Cold War era coming to an end, and the influence of that on a place like Ireland in a global community. There were a lot of great ideas in the technology from the Eastern Bloc, lost after the wall came down… there was a lot of propaganda in the West, that led to the belief that behind the Iron Curtain there was no such thing as a good idea, but these people put cosmonauts in space!

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Mugwort, Wormwood, and how little we know about the end of the world (2016)

It was something I was interested in, so I checked out everything around the Chernobyl disaster. Which was an interesting personal event as well, because it only happened four months after I was born. My mother told me a story of bringing me out into the town when I was in the pram, and it was raining –there was so much fear and paranoia, that this could be acid rain. So she rushed to get me into the Quinnsworth Arcade [in Sligo town], to take shelter. That kind of hangs with you for the rest of your life. in fact, I looked back at my research from my first year in college and found old notes on Chernobyl, and realised that this had been rattling in my head for a long time.

All that led to me looking into the history of Chernobyl, and specifically the history of the name Chernobyl – which caught my attention, because Mugwort and Wormwood are both etymologically linked to the word Chernobyl. Mugwort was also the star that heralded the end of the world in the Old Testament. There is an interesting relationship between the blinding light which comes from a radioactive star, and a blinding light that explodes from a centre inside of the USSR. The Chernobyl disaster really marked a point where it was visible to the western world that something disastrous on a global scale could happen beyond the Iron Curtain, and it could affect people beyond it. This notion of the local-global and the end of the world, it’s striking. And what is an end?  Is the fall of the Iron Curtain an ‘end’? It caused a major social shift. That question made me think about location and social identity based on the local – which led me to Wormwood Gate in Dublin, which my partner Amy found along one of the points on the old city boundaries. I wanted to do something local that was responding to a global idea. I was very heavily influenced by the Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich and her book Voices From Chernobyl, where she interviews eyewitnesses, and explores the experiences of individuals and how the disaster affected their lives.

Can you talk a little about your practice? You mentioned the relationship between people and place as an important theme for you, as well as the notion of transience, the ephemeral – how do these concepts influence how you work? 

Something that I think is relevant to my practice that I haven’t mentioned yet, and I should say before talking about the piece, is that I stopped working with galleries, and generally with all traditional exhibition spaces, around six years ago. Around 2011 was the last time I showed in what would be considered a gallery space. I will work with artist-led studios and art centres, but generally I like to work in spaces that aren’t art related at all. I like to work with places that are transient – as an art space, but also transient as other spaces, and this links to my thoughts on the idea of commonage or the public sphere. The public sphere was essentially a place where everyone would meet up at a specific spot (like, say, the drinking well), and this is where you would have all this communication, because they all have to go to the well anyway. But they don’t just use the well as a place to get water – they use it as a place to have conversations, to open up dialog and to get news. Really, this dual use of spaces resonates with me, and I want to be a part of something like this. There are legitimate criticisms of the theory surrounding this concept [of the public sphere], and I’m aware of that, but as an ideal for me it is fantastic.

btbs_charlestown_arts_centre

Beyond the Black Stump (2017) at the Charlestown Arts Centre (a multifunctional art centre / library / music hall / community space)

 

I find audiences extremely important, and I think that when you are dealing with places that are established you are dealing with audiences that are already established also. In galleries, or on that route, I’d be speaking to the same audience as every other artist. Artists speaking to other artists is fantastic in a sharing ideas sort of way, but it’s not the be all and end all. I have had some success selling paintings a few years ago and that was going quite well, but I started getting pigeonholed a little bit by galleries who wanted me to do more of the same. You know what I mean? I’m not going to do more of the same, because I’ve finished that series and now I’m moving on to this series. I don’t want to work that way.

So in Wormwood Gate in Dublin, I set up the work. It featured lights that were triggered by pressure sensors, and the sensors were activated through interaction from viewers. The layout of the sensors matched the shape of the biohazard symbol; the layout of the lights formed the shape of the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl plant, days after the reactor fire. The idea was to create an impression of an exclusion zone, but one that could not be properly interacted with unless people stood on all sides (a minimum of three people). Otherwise there were constant ‘gaps’ in this zone. The piece becomes an ‘inclusion zone’, inviting people to move closer and become a part of the work, rather than remaining outside and forbidden to enter. I wanted it to act like a public space of some kind – a point of discussion, of mystery and reflection.

With research being a huge part of your process, how have you found the task of adapting your language to the audiences less versed in much of the theory you’ve been reading?

I suppose I communicate through my visual language anyway. My visual art is a form of communication as far as I’m concerned, and I think that if you spend enough time with an art piece you will understand it even if you have no background in art.

I don’t think I change my practice for an audience. I like to keep the ambiguity that I put into my work. I don’t change my practice for the audience – I don’t want the ideas to be in their face, but I don’t want to be to ambiguous either. I want people to read into the work the way they want to read into the work, which makes me think a little of watching the new season of Twin Peaks. There was one episode that I just watched there, and it has half an hour of mad avant-garde 1950s-style filmmaking, with a nuclear bomb going off, followed by another half an hour of black faced people coming through speaking in tongues! And as I watched this I felt: anyone could enjoy this. And I love that David Lynch is doing this in the form of a popular TV programme to entertain and confuse the hell out of people. He doesn’t compromise, but he trusts the audience to work with him to find meaning. If it is well written and well made, they will get something from it.

Funnily enough, when you make me think about this, I guess one thing has developed since 2011 –  I kind of insist that I do a talk with every piece that I do now (I do like to talk! haha). And I practice quite vigorously for these talks, to the point where they become kind of performance pieces and part of the work. I don’t generally talk in a very straight line either, but I always try and communicate in the missing pieces for people who might not know my background, or don’t know my way of working, so I try and bring that across in my talks. And I find that people are often interested engaging in conversation and dialogue after looking at the work again in a different light. So yeah, that has become more of my practice since I stopped working in galleries.

You have such a broad set of tools when it comes to approaching a project – how do you see yourself as an artist?

I’ve been reading about specialisation. One thing that jumps out is the book Chronicles, by Bob Dylan. It’s a fantastic book, where he really defines his point of view as a musician. The artist as musician – he’s not thinking [wholly] about songwriting or revolutionary causes, he’s thinking about being a musician as the thing that is important to him. It’s a form of identity and that singular identity of ‘this is what I do, and this is what I do well’ has been reviewed in what I have read over and over in other sources. I think sometimes that’s the only way to really perfect something – a process or a practice. But saying that, I like being scattergun. I’m not a specialist in anything, but I can be good in a lot of things, and I like that. Sometimes it can be disappointing because it can lead to having more failures, when I have grand ideas for projects because I’m got good enough at programming or I haven’t figured out how to paint something well enough. But it allows me a broader scope, which I’m grateful for. This way of working also opens me up to collaboration with people who have better skills, and that is an important part of my work. A lot of what I have done recently has been collaborative, and I love to develop ideas with other artists or people with other skills or ideas.

You can find out more about Shane’s work through his website

http://shanefinan.org/visual_art.html
thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

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