Interview

Organic Alchemy: Kari Cahill

Kari Cahill

Kari Cahill is an artist based out of Sligo. She is a painter who has presented work throughout Ireland, and abroad in countries such as France and Brazil. Kari is also Co-Director and Co-Founder of Lay of the Land (LOTL) – a site-responsive arts organisation producing residencies and exhibitions in remote locations around Ireland, and participates as both artist and curator. In the last year or so Kari started working out of the Model Art Centre’s Artist Studios, and that is how I came across her work initially. It was fascinating finding out about her approach to creating pigments. It really adds an extra layer to her paintings. It’s important to share practices like Kari’s because some might not be aware that it is possible to creat pigments this way. It was an eye opening experience for me and really broadened my knowledge.

What does an average day in the studio look like for you?

I have a pretty healthy work routine. I always paint at least two days a week, and the other two or three days are made up of admin, pigment making, shipping, and all the other parts of my business. On my two days of practice I’m pretty loose and don’t plan too much. I like to explore the materials and let that inform what happens; I usually don’t have a specific idea in mind. If I’m working on a commission I know it will occupy that particular day. I’m a true believer in just turning up over and over again – allowing space for the work to emerge through you.

I often work on a large scale and there are constantly things lying on the floor, tacked to walls and spread all over all the surfaces. The experimental nature of my painting calls for a lot of pigments and inks at hand. I pour water onto surfaces and let it dry over time, then add more materials on top.  All of my paintings are built up with various layers. I work on horizontal planes, never upright. Having a big studio has been a game changer for me in terms of working at a larger scale. I’m generally working on about 30 or 40 paintings all at once, in varied scales.  I may be developing one painting while doing the finishing touches on another, and these works move around the studio a lot. They go up on the walls, then come back down and join the other pieces. I really like to have a visual of the overall series. 

Studio 2021

I also usually commit around one day of the week to creating pigments from materials that I forage from the natural landscape. There is a lot of work that goes into that. All of the different processes in extracting pigments take time and energy. There are oxidation processes happening throughout the studio.I have different barks that have been stewing in buckets of water for a couple of months and jars of questionable materials – rusty nails, vinegar, plants, rocks and soils.It feels like a kind of lab to me, which I really enjoy.  My favourite thing about working with pigments is how they interact with each other on the page so I spend time modifying the colours using a range of other processes. I oxidize them or tweak the pH levels. In these moments, the process unfolding on the canvas is kind of alive. There are these alchemic processes happening that are outside of my control. I combine and layer the materials but after that, they take on their own life and movement. I love the energy that comes from that because eventually, as they dry, they’re frozen in this moment of interaction.

Materials used for making colour

My practice follows the seasons, both logistically and conceptually. This allows me to spend more time outdoors in the warmer months, whereas the winter months sees me inside more.  I collect materials at different times of the year, and they feed directly into the paintings. I am spending a lot of time outdoors at the moment searching for pigments; I’ve started to do a bit more research into earth pigments specifically in areas with water and try to almost read the land with the hope of stumbling across something buried beneath it. 

That’s a really interesting aspect of your process. Where does the preference for foraged-material pigments come from?

It happened very organically. To give a brief history…alongside my painting practice, I’m one half of a project called Lay of the Land, which is part collaborative duo, part arts organization which curates and produces outdoor art exhibitions in wild landscapes. I was spending a lot of time working with the land and the elements in that role, and at the beginning I felt a separation between that outdoor sculpture work and my painting practice. Of course, over time these started to come together. In 2018 I created a couple of massive stretched canvases with acrylic paint that were strung up in a forest overlooking Knockomagh Wood Nature Reserve and I remember during that  time I kept coming back to questions about how a petroleum-based material fitted into the landscape. I was working primarily in acrylics (which were able to stand up to the elements) but there was this feeling that it didn’t really work. 

When I went on a residency in Brazil and met an Uruguayan artis Diego De Los Campos. Even though I only spoke a little bit of Portuguese, we had some great conversations about colour and materials. He gave me this little jar of ‘nogalina’, which is a beautiful brown lustrous colour extracted from dehydrated walnuts. I started using the nogalina but it just wouldn’t work with the acrylic; I couldn’t layer the two. I love when materials do not bend to my whims. And from here I started looking into more waterbased natural colours and then began making my own.The acrylic and bio colour coexisted for a while in my painting, but, over time the process of making pigment just fed into what it was that I wanted to express. Especially how I felt about the land. Everything kind of clicked into place since then. 

You mentioned site-specific sculptural works – paintings on canopy. 

That particular Lay of the Land project was a turning point for me, as I mentioned before, this was the first piece that I felt represented the two sides of my practcie – outdoor sculpture and painting. This work was challenging.  I had imagined these large green paintings stretched out between trees, at one with the lush forest. But if you place a green painting in a green landscape, you find out pretty quickly that the colours never stand up to the natural chlorophyll hue that happens when the light shines through the canopy! Nature has its own story to tell; you can’t decide to build a fragile sculpture in strong wind, you can’t ask the skies not to rain. Lay of the Land taught me to listen to the landscape and the elements, and work with what is in front of me. I discovered through observing the site that red completely complimented and contrasted with the green. I learned a lot about being responsive to the landscape in making these works which could only really exist in a forest.

Installation shot Ceannbhrat Dearg, Red Canopy – Silva, by Lay of the Land, (2018), Stretched Canvas, Acrylic Paint, Spray Paint, Eyelets, Builders Twine, Rebar.- Photo Lay of the Land

 You’ve said before that there is a more muted aesthetic to your sculptural works. 

I guess these different parts of my practice just developed at different times. I focused on three-dimensional work in college and my sculptural aesthetic had always been quite minimal and monochromatic. When I travelled to India for a residency, I put my painting practice to the fore for the first time. I don’t think I could have possibly had a muted palette in India. Now the lines are more blurred between my 2d and 3d work, and my pallets are dictated heavily by the land and the materials I find in each. Later in the year I’ll be painting directly onto rock formations creating site-rsponsive works along the coast, I think colour will feature heavily but perhaps the marks will be more minimal. 

Land Flutes, Collaborative Piece, (2016), Steel Piping

Does painting continue to be the focus? 

My buzz is applying colour to surfaces. This doesn’t necessarily need to be as ‘paintings’ in the traditional “work-on-paper” sense. I am interested in exploring colour, and surface and bringing these ideas into larger scales and three dimensions, as well as continuing to explore on a two dimensional scale. 

Kari Cahill Hazel McCague – Directors of Lay of the Land – Installing during Silva 2019 – West Cork – Photo by Fellipe Lopes

This past year myself and Hazel Mc Cague, who is the other half of Lay of the Land, decided to take a step back from the project and assess where it was going, and to focus in on our individual practices. For me, this meant a deepening of my approach to painting and colour.  The time away has allowed us to regain our energy. Lay of the Land projects were massive productions requiring so much time, energy and creative input. For four years we were constantly moving forward. We created over 60 sculptures and collaborated with almost 30 artists, not to mention the crews, volunteers, locals and audiences we engaged with. My role was curator, artist, administrator, director and producer. It was amazing but very labour intensive. It didn’t necessarily allow for the space I needed to pursue painting. So since taking a break we have been able to identify which elements we want to bring forward and which ones we are happy to leave behind, both in terms of LOTL and our own personal development. This has been super empowering! Lay of the Land will still exist, but it will be different, and it will be more aligned with both of our individual practices. 

Are your pigments directly influenced by your given environment? 

My work is completely site-responsive. Even before I worked with natural pigments I always responded to site.For instance,  I made a series of work in the depths winter while living in West Cork. The colour schemes were dark and gloomy. I wanted to capture the essence of how the light suddenly burst through the clouds and hit the mountains on a dark day. Even though my work isn’t formally representational, it does aim to capture the essence and emotional of the experience of different landscapes. Colour has always been a means for that. 

Dugheaimhreadh – Depths of Winter, 100x100cm, Mixed media on canvas

Now, the pigments that make up my paintings come from things I’ve gathered in that space and the processes that follow. Let’s say I gather walnut husks in a specific spot; the colour produced will be different from the husks I collect elsewhere. So, those paintings will have totally different qualities. This creates an additional dimension to the resposnsiviity of the pieces and informs the visual quality of the finished piece. I allow the colour to direct the work. 

Materials used for making ink, Calafort 2019, photo by Fellipe Lopes

You work in a range of scales. Could you talk a bit about that?

The pigments I use are made up of tiny particles; I can’t just scale up in the way I could with acrylics or printmaking. When I go bigger with bio-pigments, I’m zooming in on those tiny bits of plant matter which morph the colour. I think of my work as maps, visually they often look like aerial photographs, and they trace the colour of a specific landscape.  My smaller paintings tend to be more minimal than my larger paintings; the lines and marks are somehow more delicate even when not applied in that way.

‘By Equinox Drenched, (2021), Earth pigment,Kelp,Shell,Berries,Sloes,Lichen,Oak Gall,Liquid Iron,Copper Scraps, 200x140cm
Flattened Out Site, Copper, Walnut, Dandelion, Soda, Bog Myrtle, 17.5 x 26cm

I am constantly looking for anything that will give me an interesting texture and experiment with the scale of how I present the marks. I pour, drip, soak and spray colour onto paper or canvas. I might then sprinkle pigment on top or use salt. It can all seem a bit haphazard to an outsider looking in. There are jars, pots, pipettes, syringes – all sorts of crazy stuff that might encourage the colours to interact in different ways.

I intuitively know how these colours can potentially work together because I created them. There is definitely a state of flow in how I respond to whatever is happening on the page. Experiences feed into the gestures. I often think of my paintings as drawings because they’re not really complete. Often I’ll do a drawing that feels more like painting.

Are you interested in exploring the fluidity between these two mediums?

For sure. I was first introduced to that idea by the artist Kiera O’Toole, my studio neighbour. She also works with pigments and it’s brilliant to be able to bounce ideas off of eachother. In my mind, the drawing had always come before the painting. Those conversations with Kiera kind of allowed me to be less concerned about the labelling of my works as paintings or drawings.  Now there is more of a blurred line; a work in paint can be a drawing, and a work made up of drawn elements can be a painting. Regardless of how people refer to my work, I am more interested in the process than the end result.

You can find out more about Kari Cahill’s work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below

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

https://www.karicahill.com/

thank you Meadhbh McNutt for your work editing

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Interview, Painting

Filling In The Gaps: Blaise Drummond

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

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Blaise Drummond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you pushing those boundaries?

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

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

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

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

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detail, Munkkiniemi Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Centaur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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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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Interview

Looking In: Dragana Jurisic

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Dragana Jurisic

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

 

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

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

What does the camera mean to you?

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

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

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Seeing Things, (2010), Photograph

 

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

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

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

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Tarantula, (2017), photographic composite

 

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

Do you feel you will do more composite images?

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

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

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

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

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The Mother, (2015), photographic composite

 

What was your relationship to the muses?

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100 Muses (2015), photography

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

The research you did is very evident in your work.

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Draganas bookshelf in studio

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

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

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

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

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14 Henrietta street saying goodbye, (2019), photography

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

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

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

 

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Yu The Lost Country (2014) photographic series + book

 

Let’s finish by talking about influences.

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

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

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

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

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

 

 

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Interview, Painting, Video

Real & Imagined: Cléa van der Grijn

 

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Cléa van der Grijn

Cléa van der Grijn is an artist based in Sligo. Her deeply personal work has often delved into matters of mortality and memory, and her latest touring exhibition JUMP is no exception. I recently got a chance to sit down with Clea to discuss the new exhibition, her influences, and the variety of media she works in.

 

Why did you call your recent exhibition JUMP?

I called the exhibition JUMP because there is a sense of suspension in jumping where time can hold still, since you are neither here nor there. Jump is a place in between.

The exhibition is a combination of my paintings and a film that I’ve written and directed in collaboration with a soundscape creative called Joseph P. Hunt and cinematographer Ciaran Carty. Michael Cummins designed the pod which it’s viewed in. The pod is really important because I am in control of each person’s experience – so I know that if you see it in Sligo or Dublin or America or wherever, you will all have the same experience. I think the word is immersive; I wanted it to be an immersive experience. Experiential.

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JUMP, still, (2019)

 

How do the paintings relate to the film?

The paintings are like instants of the film: very beautiful little flickers. Stills, which hopefully give  one, time to reflect back at what was experienced. The smaller are like moments, flickers of the film.

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JUMP #5, (2019), oil on board, 56x56cm

[The paintings] were painted alongside the making of the film. I have a fairly big studio. This was where we did all the editing and tech for the film. I wanted Joe, Ciaran and Michael to see my process while working on the project, and allow them to respond to it in some way.

I know exactly what I want. So, I strive to act on that vision. Professionalism is important when working with others. Even though I can be exacting, it’s the same expectation I lay on myself.

 

Can you talk a little about the film?

What I hope to do with the film is put forward questions to the viewer. I want to create a platform for a narrative, for a dialogue. I want people to engage, and maybe to keep still for a little while. To gather their thoughts and reflect: what is death and what is life? What are memories, real and perceived?  What about false memories? Can they become real memories? I really just want people to stop and think about mortality and life.

The film does not intend to be disturbing. But it is, meant to make people consider what death is. It gives us a little moment of reflection, where we can perhaps almost project our own feelings onto the film. Yes, it could be about death but that is only a very small thing, and the culture around death is a very large conversation.  This is something I’m personally trying to unravel.

 

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Reconstructing Memory presented in The Model, (2015)

 

 

Death is a subject you have touched on in the past.

You’re talking about Reconstructing Memory which was a rather huge exhibition I did in (The Model Gallery [2015]. Limerick City Gallery, Rochester Arts Centre USA and Solomon Dubli) It was a real in-depth investigation into culture’s relationship to death, in particular Mexican death traditions and how they compare to the Western sense of mourning.

When I started the project, my whole family went to live in Mexico to understand the culture of death. It was quite a lonely experience making a show by myself of such size. When working on that, my only direct involvement with other people was with my family. And god love them, they spent two years growing and cutting marigolds!

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Reconstructing Memory presented in The Model, (2015)

 

Elements from Reconstructing Memory like marigolds appear in the film. Can you go into that?

Within Mexican culture on Dia de Muertos,  dead souls are drawn back by the very pungent smell of the marigold. Marigolds play a strong role in both Reconstructing memory and JUMP.

Repetition is also really important to me: I don’t know if it is my rhythm or if it helps my mind to stay clear. Even though my paintings are different to one other, there is still a form of iteration to the paintings. Even if you go back, back, back, there are elements which are reused continuously in my practice.

The death mask was another element from Reconstructing Memory. I have three death masks made. The masks were made because I think that people are celebrated when they die but not while they are alive, and I find that quite interesting. Why? Why this way and not the other way round? Why does Irish culture or culture generally prefer to celebrate the dead and not the living. This is what the death mask asks.

When it comes down to it, there are similarities between Reconstructing Memory and JUMP. As I continue to develop this state of “in-between” in my practice I am aware of things becoming simpler, of a paring back. Of allowing the essence of my subject to be more …  perhaps subtle.

I am also looking out more for references whereas before I always looked within.

 

Going back to what you said about eyes; one of the paintings literally depicts eyes. That has to be deliberate?

The eyes in the painting are a reference to the hand-blown glass balls from Reconstructing Memory. They are direct replicas of my eyes. I should say that the painting is called Ways of Seeing (which is based on the title from a book by the writer John Berger). I believe that, as the title says, you don’t necessarily need your eyes for seeing. If you just remain still, you can see with your heart or your emotions. There are so many different ways of seeing without your eyes. And when you die, the first thing to go are your eyes. I have a lazy eye myself, and eyes have always been important to me. I’m aware of the many other ways of seeing.

 

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Ways of Seeing, (2019), oil on linen, 152x152cm

 

 

I love titles, but I think that once you title something, that’s it. It can often close ways of interpreting a work, so it can be a delicate balance.

 

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JUMP, still, (2019)

 

 

That’s interesting that the name comes from Berger’s book. There seems to be text written into the painting itself.

I have scraped the text into the painting. It says, “I dream of dead people”. And I do – I dream of dead people all the time because they are alive in my dreams.

Reading is something that is really important to me. I am a voracious reader. I have book shelves  which I live vicariously through. I’ve just read Marina Abramović’s memoir.

I like to write and often write in my work, I wrote a book which is now finished. Most was done in solitude over an intense two-week residency in Cill Rialaig, overlooking the Skelligs.

I’m now awaiting an agent to find the correct publishing house.

JUMP as the book is also called is a fictional memoir. A tale of wicked truths interwoven with dream, imagination and dark thoughts. JUMP is a celebration and a curse about dysfunctional families.

It is about addiction and the search for a way through.

The protagonist is a young woman whose experiences and memories (both real and perceived) are outlined from her birth to the death of her brother, when the story abruptly ends.

Writing it has enabled me, as an artist to have more confidence in my practice.

 

Let’s delve into your influences. Are there names that come to mind?

That’s a hard question but I can say that seeing the work of Francis Bacon when I was either ten or eleven had a huge impact on me. It sticks with me as the first time that I really became enthralled in a work. Because I was brought up around art, I didn’t notice it most of the time but I remember seeing Bacons painting well. We were visiting a little chapel in the south of France and the Bacon painting was there. I remember just going, “woah!”.

 

What’s next for you?

I’d love to make a feature film but I need time to breathe first. The film has been picked up to premier at the New York independent Film Festival (NYIFF). So, I would like to let this digest. I’ve only just started painting again. Where is that going to go? I don’t know. I have to keep working in some capacity. If you don’t, things won’t happen. You can’t just switch it on and off. It’s something you have to keep active but I’m keeping my options open.

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

Home

thank you Emer Mc Hugh & Meadhbh McNutt for both your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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Interview, Painting

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Marcus Cope

 

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Marcus next to an early version of Handshake with a Giant (2018)

Marcus Cope is an English painter working out of APT Studios in London. He’s also a curator and the co-founder of the Marmite Prize, an award for painting. His thought process, not only on his own painting but on art in general, is fascinating and insightful – my conversations with him have really made me think differently about how I look at art and its relationship to the viewer. I hope this interview is as thought-provoking for you as it was for me.

Let’s talk about the painting that you’re working on at the moment.

This painting is a story of a moment in Turkey over a decade ago. I went with my girlfriend, travelling from Northern Cyprus to southern Turkey by ferry – there was a delay once we were on board which made for a really long journey, almost 24 hours I think – and this ferry was very basic, no café, or shops, not quite like the ferry you would take from Wales to Ireland.

Once we arrived transport was difficult, we got on a bus but that didn’t quite work out so we got a dolmuş, one of those shared taxis. When we got off in this little town called Silifke, there was this old guy sitting there, under a tree… and he just came up to me and shook my hand, and he was so happy to see us, and welcoming. At that moment for us, everything was new because we were the ‘out of towners’, but he saw us, and we must have stood out, both looking like we were new to this town in southern Turkey, both with wild blonde hair. For him it must have been like, ‘Wow, look at these guys!’. Something different to the norm, coming into his town. For us, it was like this whole weird thing, and we were so knackered from travelling, so I guess that made it a memorable moment in that sense. And he is represented in the painting by one of the figures.

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Handshake with a Giant (2018), oil on canvas, 300x210cm

 

Part of the work of making the painting is trying to remember that situation, I mean, to ask ‘Where was he?’, ‘What was the situation around that moment?’. So the process then is me finding an image of the tree and whatever else surrounded it, substitutes of the situation, the scene, finding this stuff, finding the right images to try to recreate the moment in an image. The [image I used for the] guy comes from a postcard that John Kasmin had collected. John established the Kasmin Gallery in the 1960’s, but he’s also an avid postcard collector. He’s produced a few of these books of his postcard collections and I found a picture of this guy in one of those books, and he seemed to fit the bill. The other figure in the painting is a partial redition of a guy I had taken a photo of in the Serpentine Gallery, looking at a painting by Hilma af Klint.

So, there’s a little bit of me trying to remember the scene, but I’m also putting things together so it feels organic – those decisions are in the editing. Most of my paintings are total compositions of other stuff… I either make up a space, or I find an image that seems like the right thing, or an image of the actual thing, and then everything else comes together during the painting process.

I’m always a bit cautious of leaning into representing memory – this moment is a fleeting memory, he’s kind of there but he’s not there. From my point of view everything should be a little transparent in the picture, not just the figures. I think this painting… maybe it has a slightly filmic quality, imagining these ghostly figures in the way you remember a place where something significant has happened. There is something about how a person is central to a painting, and yet I tried not to overemphasise that, or ‘over-paint’ their features – it could be a slippery slope, I think. I just tried to keep that sort of feeling of their simply being part of the painting, part of the place. It’s quite a tricky thing to do, every time I paint a face I wonder, ‘How do I do this?’, it’s like I haven’t ever done it before…

I intend to call it Handshake with a Giant. In this situation I’m the giant, but you can’t see me because it’s from my viewpoint (which is quite a high vantage point). I want it [the title] to be intriguing, or something to make you think, because there isn’t actually a handshake going on and there isn’t a giant. Titling paintings is a tricky one, because obviously with every painting I make, I don’t know if I am even going to get an opportunity to show it. I don’t really think of the title, maybe sometimes it just brews up and appears as a thought, or I think about the title, but not in relation to the audience. When you show a painting, the title becomes your opportunity to have a little influence on the conversation with the viewer, which is something I’m always debating, how instructive or descriptive it should or could be.

 

There is something very unique, very personal, about your work.

Yeah, all the paintings are stories of people I’ve met, or places I’ve been. I just had an exhibition (in May 2018) at studio1.1, an artist-run space in Shoreditch,– I had five large paintings in the exhibition, and four of these were scenes from Cyprus and the other was of my kitchen in London with a little story from Ireland thrown in. I’m kind of painting my history.

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Stealing from the Natives, (2017), oil on canvas, 300x210cm

I could have marketed the show as Paintings of Cyprus, because all the stories came from time spent in Cyprus or people from Cyprus – it’s a place I’ve been to several times, a place I went to when I finished my degree [in 2003 to do a residency at the Cyprus College of Art]. I don’t feel like it works in that way, where there’s a strategy or a tagline. They are just the pictures that I want to make, so they are personal. It just happens to be that a lot of it is in Cyprus. I do sometimes think I should make some London paintings, but I don’t want to force that.

At one point I felt that every (solo) exhibition I had had to be a complete 180 turn from the last. It was madness, that I felt that way. I remember quoting Lichtenstein in an essay for college, where he said that when he was 31 or 35 or something he discovered his way of making paintings – that we all know as the dots – but before that everything that he was doing, even though he didn’t know it at the time, was him experimenting, trying to find his way, his visual language.

Looking back at my desire to make things different all the time was part of me not having my voice yet… I wouldn’t say I was looking for it, or didn’t realise I was, it sort of fell on me, you know?  It found me! I did paintings that were tight, photoreal paintings, and now they’re quite loose, never really abstract but sort of verging on it. Two ends of the spectrum I suppose, and that probably comes from learning about paint and what it does, how to use the mark making, and the simple stuff, maybe? It doesn’t feel like I’ve got that urge to change that I used to have, and even now that I’ve just had a show… I’d like the next show to look a bit like that that one, because it was really good! Yeah, I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.

 

Let’s talk about your day-to-day practice.

My general routine is either I do a day of work and childcare, and I come here at nine pm when I’m a bit tired, or I come here at nine in the morning. I think it probably affects my approach, because at night I’m much more relaxed, a little worn out from the day. If I’m here during the day, it usually means that I’ve got to go pick up my daughter from nursery later.

 

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Marcus’s studio wall in APT Studios

 

So, in the morning I try and do watercolours or oil sketches and then come downstairs and do an afternoon of painting. Painting can just take over – so it’s really important to keep creating drawings for future works, even when I’m painting and I’m in the thick of it, because you can come to an end of a painting and feel like ‘What the fuck am I going to do now?’. I need to continue generating the ‘stuff’ that goes into the paintings. I also have things to work from, or to work out within the painting that I might try and resolve with a sketch. I work on several large paintings at the same time, and also I do other things that come up, little sketches, note taking, thinking! It’s a little bit more of a natural process, even with the best intention of ‘finishing’ something, I will find myself working on something else. I sometimes need to take myself away from painting for a bit, to contemplate what’s happened, then do some drawing… I need to be bouncing between them. But when a painting is at the point where it’s close to completion, when it takes off and I have that feeling that’s it’s all open for manouvre, it does take over; it does become my whole focus. There might as well be nothing else.

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Eight Years Ago, (2018) in studio

I have this way of working with a lot of the paintings – I’ll paint something on and I’ll flick paint on it, or some turps and then I’ll get a rag or some off-cuts of canvas and I’ll soak it with some other paint and push it on [the surface]. There is a lot of physicality in the process and yet it’s kind of a vague thing to describe. When you look at anything in the world, nothing is flat clean white – green – red- etc, there are always details, there is stuff in everything, even just due to light, and I try and give every surface of my paintings that feature. I often think, for me things begin to get tighter and neater as the work progresses and gets close to completion, and when I find that I’m going in that direction I’ll pull back in some way, and that is the moment when it can all come together.

 

 

8 years ago, 2018, oil on canvas, 170x130cm copy

Eight Years Ago, (2018), oil on canvas, 170x130cm

 

Your work often references some of your older pieces – what is the thought process to that?

I guess the most immediate example of this would be Out the Back (2017). In it, there is a vulture’s eye, and yeah, I think it was kind of symbolic of the end of something, and the beginning of something else. The vulture’s eye comes from a series of vulture paintings I did in 2011 called Carrion, where I had based my work on research I’d done into vultures. On reflection it led me down the wrong path, in a way. Anyway the eye seemed to fit in with this outdoor studio which is taken from a photograph I took over a decade ago of the old backyard of the Cyprus College of Art in Limassol. I suppose putting bits of the vultures in there – it’s sort of like putting bits of me, my history of painting, into the work. It’s something that led me towards where I am today. In the end, regardless of content for me, every painting is a series of decisions I have to make, and I try to be very careful with that.

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Out the Back, (2017), oil on canvas, 170x250cm

 

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Aegypius Calvus, (2011), oil on canvas, 120x85cm

I would add though that those references made to older works are fading fast. And when they do appear I’m not usually completely conscious that I’m doing that. There aren’t any in any of the current work.

As we all do I look at other people’s work on Instagram, and for example… the other day, someone posted a painting of an old Spanish lady with a turquoise face, and I thought, ‘Why does she have a turquoise face?’.  It sort of seems like people can be flippant with the colour they use. For whatever reason I can’t do that at the moment, that’s not for me, but it once was and could be again, but for now I want the colours to be representing reality, or at least my perspective on reality. I guess that’s what they were doing for the turquise lady painter too. In the past a turquoise face wouldn’t have been something I’d have questioned.

 

I see you worked with Sacha Craddock on some accompanying text with your last exhibition – would you care to touch on that?

It’s always interesting when someone else engages with what you do. Sacha came in here, and said: “I don’t want you to tell me what you think they are about – I’ll tell you.”

She is interesting. To have that perspective, that comes from forty odd years of experience dealing with art… she has much more experience than me. So often people don’t really tell me what they really think. Or maybe they say what they think I want to hear!

 

I had asked her to write a text for the exhibition, I respect her opinion. She was adamant the paintings are not about the stories, it’s still about the painting and what it looks like. The story is the starting point for each work, and directs the collection of the visual materials, but from there it becomes about my relationship with making paintings. This is totally true. That relationship is formed through decisions (editing), and that’s how the piece of work became this thing in front of you. For so many years when I went to the studio, I wouldn’t know what to do, so I would just do anything! I’ve always been very productive, and I do sometimes think, when something went against the last thing I did, I thought that was enough. That sort of confusion in what was going on, it meant there must be something going on, but now I just get on with it, because there is something going on. No questions. There’s another story and another encounter and another situation that is occupying me, and that directs the image search, becomes the sketches, develops the paintings… so it feels really positive.

 

Finally, can we talk about some of your influences?

For a long time I was really into Pieter de Hooch and Gabriël Metsu, those old Dutch guys. And whenever I go to the National Gallery or the Wallace Collection, those are still the ones that I’m drawn to. But these days I’m more influenced by people like Daumier, or Jean-François Millet, their paintings and drawings of real people in real situations. Especially the sort of paintings Millet did, a lot of paintings of people working in fields – they were a big influence.

I’m a lifelong fan of Philip Guston, that never seems to abate. And Goya of course.

One of the big recent influences was seeing the Daniel Richter show at the Camden Arts Centre a year and a half ago. That show, I thought it was really hit and miss, but the ones that hit, they really hit. And that’s what made me realise my desire to do my paintings really big – because when you’re confronted with a painting that kind of size, and the figures in it are almost life-sized, you have that real sense of it being an actual space that you can interact with. I suppose that’s kind of theatrical. I like that. I remember I came away from that show and ordered some big stretchers straight away. It was a very immediate response, almost overwhelming that desire to do that.

More recently I’ve been thinking about the subtleties of Vuillard and Bonnard – and perhaps even Sickert – and how they got their figures into spaces without them dominating. It’s great stuff!

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

https://www.marcuscope.co.uk/

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, 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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Interview, Painting

What Paint Can Do: Eileen O’Sullivan

 

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Eileen O’Sullivan next to her painting Spending Time, Coffee (2017)

Eileen is a young painter from Meath, currently residing in Dublin. I came across Eileen’swork while doing research for the blog, and her paintings caught my attention instantly. Her use of colour is so eye-catching and carefully considered, I just had to find out more! I was glad I did – talking to her even for a minute will show you how enthusiastic she is about her work, and that enthusiasm is infectious.

 

 

Let’s talk about your current exhibition.

Meanwhile, Rummage until Combined is my first solo show – it opened on the 25th of October and it’s running until the 22nd of November. I was introduced to Catherin O’Riordan, the director of So Fine Art, through Neil Dunn, who was an artist who was a year or two ahead of me in college. He introduced me to Catherin, and I’ve just been working with her since. I was in her exhibition Young II,  In summer 2018 Catherin and I Planned my first solo exhibition. For this exhibition, I wanted to show a group of paintings together so they could have a conversation, between one another. And I hope that the contrast between the paintings will enhance their features. As an example, Concreate Mixer which is a much more expressionist and energetic painting contrasts with Continued From Before that has more elements of realistic representation. Paint is so versatile that it allows me to do both.

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Concrete Mixer (2018)

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Continued From Before (2018)

Paint is fascinating to me. For me when I’m painting, it’s more about creating something out of paint, really using the materials. I like to push the paint to its limits. To keep pushing myself to see what else I can do with paint, or what else I can draw from it… I don’t see myself like Jackson Pollock where he draws attention to who is making the marks – for me, the material makes the painting. I’m not doing some performance, the property of materials spark an interest in me, and that’s what I hope to get across to the audience.

I’ve always had a need to make things from other things. I think that there are so many options for how you can go about creating. I used to work in the ASTI [Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland], on the reception desk, and one of the jobs I had to do every day was open the post. It’s just something inherently in me to make stuff out of materials around me, so I started collecting all the envelopes that I opened for work – I made Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, loads of other things, just from this one material.  I’m really influenced by what’s around me every day, and it’s just something about me that I have a need to create.

I’m kind of funnelling my creativity through a specific prism – I’ve gotten so used to paint that that I really connect with it and it really excites me when I go to galleries, and I’m like, oh, look how they made those marks, or the surface of that is really lovely. I love Joseph Albers, who has this book called Interaction With Colour – it’s a whole book of tricks around painting, how you can create a sense of space with paint. There are so many tricks that you can do with it, and that fascinates me. Amy Sillman as well, she talks about paint in a way I really connect with. She gave a talk about what it means to draw, to mark, to explain, to map… she uses loads and loads of different verbs to describe what it means to draw. I just think it’s exciting; it fits with my ethos, that you can do so much with relatively little. I think creativity is for everyone, but you do it in your own way.

Let’s talk about that process.

Well, when I first come into the studio, I’ll put up a huge page on the wall. And then I’ll either listen to music or listen to documentaries, and while I’m doing that, I try and get all the things that are in my head out and onto the page, so I can start fresh.

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Selected Observation (2018)

Before I paint, I like to choose between a few different ways that I approach painting. So sometimes I will put like all colours out around the pallet, and mix about the colours as I go. Other times I’ll have like, say, three colours, and I’ll mix them up, and then use those colours and the colours derived from those three to make the painting and no more. At times the colours develop in tandem with the image, and other times it’s completely separate. A friend observed that I don’t really use colours transparently very much; a lot of the time, you can’t see one colour under the other. When I put a colour on top of the other, that one becomes the most prominent. I use colour solidly.

I tend to work on a lot of paintings all at the same time, so they all kind of develop together. I might have around ten works going at the same time, and some of them could be in the studio for like two years before I feel like they are finished. My paintings are formed from lots of layers built over time. Some pieces might take me a year and a half to make, but during that time, I actually spend more time planning than painting. The mark-making is quite immediate in a lot of them, but there is a lot of time in between, to see how they are developing

How do you begin a painting?

I tend to work from photos. Most of them are either ones that I have taken myself, or photographs from my mam’s family album. I feel if I have a personal connection to them, it makes more sense to me.

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Living With a Painting (2018)

The categories that I have for the images are things that are intimate snapshots of things,

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Fabrication (2018)

where I think the colours are really interesting; it could just be that wall against that grey, or something that I think would look really cool to take and put into a painting. Then other ones are more kind of about body language or composition. A lot of the time I crop photos – I’ll take the photo, but it might only be one area that I’m interested in. So I’ll print that and cut it, so that I just have what I want and the rest of the information isn’t getting in the way. I go through my photographs and select ones that I feel merit being translated into paint. That is kind of how it’ll start, and then when I’m going through the process of adding different layers, I’ll go through them again to try and find the element that the painting needs. But it could be, you know, ‘I really think this painting needs more circular shapes to balance those harsh lines’, or ‘I need something that will frame that section of the work’, or ‘I need something that slows it down’… fast marks that really need something that has more time built into it, something slower, something with more detail to be observed. If that makes sense?

I suppose, you know, ‘sometimes the person’s just there so you can look at the window.’ I have that written on my wall in the studio. And what I mean by that is that sometimes I’ll include a human in a painting as an excuse to draw what the person is standing beside. You might think that the object is more important or exciting than the figure, but an individual is a natural focal point that you can draw someone in with, and then you have an excuse to draw the window.

I really find the names of your paintings intriguing – can you talk about that?

To be honest, I kind of hate naming paintings, because I don’t think that you can put words on a visual thing. They’re like two different languages. Words will never describe what you see visually, or how you interact with the material. But I don’t like calling things untitled, it feels a bit sad! Sometimes I’ll call things after a theory that I have been researching – I love reading about behavioural psychology, other ways of looking at how people work, all that kind of stuff, and I think that kind of links in a lot with how I feel about painting.

I’m not so much interested in portraying a very specific message through my work. I do have different topics that I like to portray to the viewer. But for me, they are more a platform for the material. It’s a process of doing, of making. I always say, it’s not a poster – it’s not trying to like explain something specific. It builds itself up from… you can reflect and put meaning and onto that afterwards, as a viewer.

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5 Languages (2017)

I called one of my paintings Five Languages, which comes from an idea that you have five different ways that you can show love. (1) You can show someone love by giving them gifts, (2) you can show someone love by saying affirmations, (3) you can do things for people and (4) you can be a time spender, or you can (5) show love through physical touch. Those are the kind of things that I love reading about, and I can talk about that all day. How do you translate those kinds of things into a visual and get that across to the viewer? Or for instance, there’s another kind of concept that interests me, the idea that you tend to a need when it comes to the fore. So it’s like, you won’t do something until you need to do it, so you won’t process something emotionally until you’re ready to. It might lay dormant for a while until you’re prepared to deal with it, and that is kinda the same thing to painting. I can leave a painting there, and then I’ll really need to put some like pattern on top of this! And then I’m like, I have to let that sit and then I might do three or four levels on it. But I definitely think it’s linked to your emotional being, without sounding really airy-fairy about it. I think it’s good to think about it in the holistic sense. But I’m still trying to understand this side of my creativity.

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Blend to Make (2018)

My process is definitely affected by my emotional connection to things, so I find if I’m in a certain mood I’ll look for a certain kind of information. I might look for something more familiar, or if I’m in an indifferent mood, I might look for something more of a pattern.

                                                                       Let’s talk a bit about your influences.

I love Jules de Balincourt. I’m mad about his work – I saw his show in London, and I was just enthralled by it. The colours alone are a huge influence. I also love Diana Copperwhite, I was lucky to have her as one of my tutors so she was influential, learning from her and Robert Armstrong (another of my tutors in college), it really developed my practice.

My peers like Elinor McCoughy and Emer Murphy are really close friends of mine. We work differentially, but cos we talk so much about art I definitely feel we influence each other. I shared a studio with Alex de Roeck, and he is so good at throwing new artists out that I had never seen, that really helped broaden my horizons. I think you learn a lot from your peers.

Do you Feel your practice has changed since college?

Yeah, for sure. Especially the layers of paint are so much thicker now. I had a few of my older paintings at my mum’s house, and I’m like, oh god, the paint is so scabby!  Also, I think they are a lot more chaotic now and a lot busier. Whereas before they were like like two, maybe three colours, now it’s like one million colours all kind of mushed together, trying to push and pull in a way that creates a space for people to mentally move in and out. Hopefully that way, I can engage the viewer’s creativity.

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

http://www.eileenosullivan.com/

thank you Adrian Mc Hugh for your work editing

 

You can support Painting in Text through Patreon, link below

https://www.patreon.com/PaintinginText

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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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