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.
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.
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.
The categories that I have for the images are things that are intimate snapshots of things,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.’
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
I first got the opportunity to meet Nasan when his work Backpacks were shown as part of the touring exhibition Future Perfect
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 vonKapital.
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.
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
I met Steve when studying my masters in Limerick, and his unique way of working meant he was one of the first people I wanted to interview. I’m really excited to share his practice as I have already crowbared his name into many a conversation about art (as many will attest to)
Lets start off with Heavy Metal Detector – that’s a really unique project, especially for music fans!
I’m actually not that into metal! I appreciate it, but it is a more an ethnographic interest. I just think that it’s a very special community and a global community. I’ve met a few people from different countries who are involved in it, and it’s huge. They are a very passionate community, and I think that is passion that we all could do with more of in our life.
I found in art, just as in music, people will often stick exclusively to certain types of genres and won’t check out pretty much anything else. There have been a lot of studies on the similarity of the neural mapping of people who are listening to different musical styles, and it is very interesting. But the same areas of the brain are triggered in people who listen to classical music as those who listen to metal, and that makes sense because the two genres are very theatrical. So they kind of speak to people who like that kind of thing in their music. So when I heard that, I wondered how do we broach that chasm separation of musical taste, and what kind of platform do we create?
Whatever rituals that we seem to find ourselves in, people will dictate what kind of type of artwork they will encounter because associations they create with taste. These are the things that separate us from hearing local sounds.
And how does the project work?
Usually it’s aimed toward some kind of arts festivals, biennales– places where the communities that are predominately participating in the project are going in with an open mind, to experience something different. They are either creative practitioners themselves and they have an idea of what kind of artwork they like, or they’re the general public who are going to see art as it should be. I saw an opportunity in that.
It’s always local bands that are part of the project – I initially started with the local bands in Helsinki, and I’ve done it now in Eindhoven, Amsterdam, twice in the UK. And I’ll be doing it again in September in Bournemouth and I’ve done it in Moscow as well. Anywhere I do it, I reach out to local scenes, and that’s kind of the spirit of the project. well there is a lot around people every day. People don’t seem to realise just how much is around them – I use the detectors that show us how much metal is in our environment as a kind of analogy to local music.
You also have an interesting piece relating to Athlone can you talk a bit about that?
A lot of people don’t know this but Athlone, it was the centre of broadcasting in Ireland, with Raidio na hEireann. So there were two radio transmitters in Ireland prior to the building of the radio transmitter in Athlone in 1927 – there was one in Dublin and one in Cork. But they were low-scale and they didn’t really transmit outside of the cities.
The government at this time, they had two largescale projects that the created at the foundation of the state (before it became a Republic). So they built Ardnacrusha, which is the hydroelectric dam at the end of the Shannon in Clare, and they also built the Moydrun electric transmitter in Athlone. Athlone is in a unique situation in Ireland… it has four generations of broadcasting and that is quite rare in Europe. It’s particularly rare in Athlone. It’s a big town, and a nice town, but it’s not a major city. It was the terminus for many different things like the rail lines, but now you have to go to Dublin or to Galway to get to Sligo. But even before the rail network, everything else went through Athlone because the Shannon goes through Athlone, and it connected Athlone to other parts of the country. So, it made sense then to use the canal networks to bring a lot of the equipment and rail network to Athlone, and then to Moydrum.
Athlone has an original Marconi transmitter – England doesn’t even have any anymore. I recall Marconi worked throughout much of Ireland forming the transatlantic broadcasting technology. Up and after independence. I think it got too fussy for him…. a lot of his Anglo-Irish patrons upped and jumped ship. They were getting pushed out, the big houses were getting burnt down. To be on the site of Moydrum, it is a big house and it is the cover of U2’s album, The Unforgettable Fire. I’m not a big U2 fan but you can look it up!
So I thought all this history was really interesting, and for the project I wanted to work with that history in mind. So we would build crystal set radios, and the idea was to make a documentary about this history and about this workshop, and then broadcast it through AM radio waves and then listen to it through these crystal set radios. The Luan had an open call which I applied for, and I didn’t get it. I thought: ah crap, well anyway look I did all this research, so I’ll try and pull it off myself. So, I applied for Arts Council funding. And I got enough to produce the project myself, and then I contacted the Luan. And they were like, alright! I guess I explained my case a bit better the second time round. This is how galleries work, you can’t just roll up and expect to get anywhere. Only applying to open calls all the time, no-one will ever know what the hell you’re doing, you must be that bit bolder. They lent me the use of their space downstairs for the exhibition aspect of the project, I did a workshop and I collaborated with the local radio station Athlone Community Radio. It’s part of the Craol networks, which is a kind of community radio network in Ireland, and they have an office near Limerick.
Anyway, I was in touch with this woman called Mary Lennon who was the director of the station, and then through art networks, I was in touch with Owen Francis McCormack who was in the same year as me in college. I also knew his brother Cathal when he would come up to visit Eóin, and Cathal had also done work with the community radio station as well. Anyway, he sorted me out and helped me with the project. We also had participants from the local graphic design course from Athlone Institute of Technology, and we had some participants through open call through the radio station.
When I kind of came up with the idea, I didn’t realise how powerful your transmitter needs to be for crystal set to pick it up. AM radio will amplify a signal, whereas a crystal set has no amplification, because there’s no power going through it except the radio waves, so you could pick up radio on them because that is still being broadcast on AM. But that is about the only thing being broadcast on AM except for on the low wave you get a lot of churches in rural communities that broadcast sermons so that the infirm or the housebound can listen to mass. The cathedral in Athlone. That was the idea to see out this project through this community focused workshop, and that is what we did. And it was a great success – everyone was pretty was happy in terms of participation. It was part of this online exhibition called Project Anywhere which is based out of New School Parsons in New York. Sean …… I had gotten in that year.
And that helped a lot, in terms of funding and getting people to take the project more seriously. In that way external accreditation is very useful – the crowd in New York don’t know me from Adam, but the crowd at home are ‘this guy, we should know about him if he is working in New York and abroad’! It’s a way to communicate that you can produce what you claim to be capable of. You must show these signifiers. That’s the aim of the game I wouldn’t knock anyone for it. People won’t know unless you tell them. Don’t assume that people will know that you are this really talented fella, because at the end of the day, they are people with jobs. They would love to be reading e-mails from everyone, but they have to talk to some superior who is in charge of their funding or whatever depending on how the model of their institute works.
Your work seems to have a DIY aesthetic that shows through, and not only in your efforts to get projects going. Is it intentional?
I’m not so concerned with aesthetics. Aesthetics are just going to happen. I’m not saying that I’m anti-aesthetic, that’s a ridiculous position to put yourself in – there’s aesthetic in everything, you can kind of choose to author it I suppose – but I’m not trying not to be aware of the traditional aesthetic authorship that is in fine art for the most part. Because I feel that it is very contrived, and a lot of people are doing things and they don’t really know why they have made things look a certain way. The appearance is just something that is going to happen. I’m more interested in the mechanics of how participatory art works. I kind of do have some aesthetic acknowledgements, I have cultural references within the work, but they’re more kind of like easter eggs to broader ideas. Because ideally those ideas are kind of written in how the ideas are integrated. I suppose because I stop at a certain point where other people might make it look finished, you know? And not really focusing on the core of what it is that is the work.
If I was to say there’s anything that truly ties my work together, it would be that I’m interested in cultural coding. I’m interested in language too. For me, the focus on music and language is one and the same and it is also to do with technology. There is a way of figuring out our environment through these mediums.
Saying that, socially engaged art often has detractors why do you think that is?
Yeah, that kind of cynicism, it comes about for a reason. That is because a lot of stuff that says it’s socially engaged really isn’t what it says it is, and it’s given a lot of social practice a bad name as a result. I think there is just a culture that has evolved from the idea of social practice, collaborative art, whatever you want to call it. That form of art making has wound up filling a gap in local councils’ budgets as a replacement in some cases to social workers, because these projects are cheaper. I think it’s a mistake to conflate the two.
Saying that, I don’t think the majority of people are worn out by actual socially engaged practice. I just think a lot of people are protective of their discipline in a dogmatic way, in the same sense that people are protective of their religion, but I think that there are two sides to it… it has kind of gotten a bad name for itself, but there is an irrational side to that scepticism.
I would like to touch on something that is important to me, and get your thoughts on it: dyslexia. We have both been diagnosed with it, and we both have gone through the educational system.
Dyslexia is a nebulous thing, I think a lot of things get lumped in together with – it’s because it is hard to pin it down as any one thing. There are probably hundreds of different reading disabilities, and I wasn’t severely dyslexic. After having a period in my life where everyone else could read and I couldn’t read, I learned to read a lot quicker than my peers. After fourth class, once I did learn to read, I kind of went very quickly from there. But I think the main thing was that it affected me creatively, and I think a lot of dyslexics have had a similar experience. When many of us were in school and tried to pretend that we were doing work, and also during time when people were reading, we had to invert into our own minds and our imaginations. And meanwhile the schools weren’t identifying that we were having trouble reading. I think they are a lot better now today. I think a lot of dyslexics wound up in art college because they were doodling in their books the whole time. None of the scribbly stuff made any sense to them! That period in my life formed me as a person, but I wouldn’t say I’m a dyslexic, because I don’t think it’s fair on people who actually struggle with language problems for me to say that I am still a dyslexic, because it doesn’t affect my day to day life. I make mistakes when I’m spelling, but I get by with spellcheck.
Let’s talk a bit about your influences.
I’m a bit of an artistic misanthrope – I don’t get really fanboy-ish about other artists. I can appreciate good work but I don’t get into someone’s practice so much. There are a few people that I kind of generally like what they do, like Mark Manders the sculptor – I used to be really into him while I was in college. I do feel if you say that if you say you like an artist, people look for their influence in what you do. saying that I really like my peers. In Helsinki in particular, there is like a ton of amazing artists that I’ve met. Looking back, the majority of the reasons why I make things is because the so much of mainstream art really annoys me. I think the stuff that gets attention is put on a pedestal, and there is far more interesting stuff being made by marginalised artists. Artists who don’t have a whole press office behind them putting their name forward. And when people ask you, what artist are you into? I don’t know. Not to sound like a big hipster,I really don’t care for it. it’s just how I feel. I really don’t like the overhyping of certain work. I don’t want to look at it. I don’t want anyone telling me what is good – I want to decide for myself.
When it comes to painting, I understand there is a history there, and I like a lot of painting… you have to ask what you’re doing when you are physically participating with an art form that has existed for five hundred-odd years. When you think of Renaissance period, there are aspects to painting that are so redundant… remnants of tradition.
So, people don’t ask. There are a lot of good painters we have today been a lot of painters are just focused on pigment which I think is just amazing I think it’s interesting. But then the question is what kind of pigment are we talking about? So, we are talking about pigment and we are talking about paint and pigment through painting and painting through painting and that is cool but then what? I kinda get a bit bored cos people are continuing to have the same conversations and they are not getting to any more of a point, and I’m not saying I do is better or something huge gaps between what I do. But that is what makes art good when there is actual huge cognitive dissonance in what we are doing cos it’s not meant to be perfect it’s not a science.
I could talk about writers that I really like?
If I was going to say writers I would have to say Warren Ellis. That was one of the first people who introduced me to a lot. My school of philosophy was all though these comic book writers that would insert philosophy into their work – Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis. There was a point in time where I was buying anything with Warren Ellis name on it. Another one is Paul Chadwick, who wrote Concrete which used to be under the Dark Horse imprint. Even aspects of comics I like Thargs editorial in 2000AD.
A good book that I got recently is Sonic Warfare by Steve Goodman. He is a DJ and academic. he is more famous for being a DJ than being an academic but it’s a cool book that I’m enjoying reading.
Reading seems to be a big influence and core part of your practice.
I’ll admit, we all bought into this idea of artistic research. I’m as guilty as anyone for doing it. We have to look at the history of artistic research, because in the nineties it came about… it came about because artists wanted to access funding and because institutions expect the scientific model in funding applications. This is why we are all trad disciplinary stuff, or really deep end self-referential art for artists.
I just don’t know how people don’t read a lot about before they go about their practice, you know? You’re making an artwork about something, you are saying you have some sort of authority about the subject, unless you are very airy fairy and all about experiential stuff (and I wouldn’t totally rule that out or detract from that). There are different ways of being creative, but for me, everything creative is: you’re presenting to the public. That indicates you have something to say about a subject, some sort of insight, ergo some sort of authority. I wouldn’t be so brash as to say that I am the utmost authority or that I’m an expert, but I feel that when I say something, I have done what I can to research what I am talking about.
But at the same time… how can you not want to know about things?
You can find out more about Steve’s work through his website link below
Laura is an artist that I’m very lucky to have gotten to know though Painting in Text. Laura’s exhibition The Lost Acre is a great example of pieces from different modes of practice complimenting each other – this interview gives insight into Laura’s practice and the influences behind her work. I really enjoyed the interview, and hope you get as much out of it as I did.
Let’s Start with you Recent Exhibition
My most recent exhibition was The Lost Acre in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre. I was doing a residency there.
The title came about from a story that my dad told me he is into hill walking. He was coming down the mountain and he was talking to a farmer and the farmer had asked him had he gone through the lost acre, my dad didn’t know what it was and asked about it. The Farmer explained that it was a patch of land that you get lost in if you walk through it. You can be lead astray and become disoriented, Places that are familiar will start looking strange and even though your close to home, you feel like your really far away.
I felt it tied in with this residency because Manorhamilton is my hometown.Because I’m so familiar with this landscape I wanted to look at it in a new light and revisit it and look at it in more of an artists perspective compared to how I was looking at it when I was growing up. When you’re younger you don’t appreciate how beautiful it and it’s only when you’re away that you realise that you start missing it. I had recently moved home when this residency came about. And through the residency I got a studio in the town and I was living on main street.
What was your planning for the exhibition?
I knew I wanted to have a few different elements to the show. In my studio I mostly focus on painting but in this exhibition I also have a video, collage and sculptural elements as well.
Let’s start with the painting first
Most of my paintings have come from working with archival imagery that I find online. I mostly use two archives, one is the British library collection and there is the New York Public Library. They have uploaded these huge online archives of images which are copyright free so you can do whatever you want with them and often I would use them as a starting point to trigger memories. I would spend hours scrolling through these websites looking at tiny thumbnails and sometimes one just jumps out at me. I’m really drawn to certain ones probably because they remind me of places within my memory so then I’ll start painting from the images but often I won’t include a lot of the detail from the original image. I pair it down to a very minimal composition. Most of the photographs are black and white and I’m kind of inventing the colours based on my memories. When you see the paintings together they have a strange dream like quality because of the muted and distorted nature of the colours. My painting is moving to be more and more abstract. I think they are still landscapes but they are quite paired down, they are almost empty. It’s been a natural progression of my work. I general work really small I would like to make something bigger, but I also find it difficult. sometimes if I try and go bigger I end up painting something really small onto a big board!
Sometimes I work with found materials like old frames I find in charity shops. When I work with found materials often the first thing I will do is take it apart in some way. I might sand it down or peel away what’s there. I did an installation with the found objects for The Lost Acre exhibition called Fragments. I let the object inform what I would do to it. Another example, this one was originally a religious souvenir and the dome was made out of plastic. So, I decided I would change the image and I scratched the plastic, so it obscured what was inside it. For one piece that was a frame that originally had this twee landscape glued into it and I really wanted to take the image out. But you can see the remnants of it I couldn’t get it out completely, but I ended up really liking the texture that it created! So, I kept it. I spent so long trying to get the image out and eventually decided to just work with it. But these range from everything from things I found in a charity shops to things I find on the beach. A lot of them are coasters and old frames. Similar to the archival imagery I spend a lot of time rooting/collecting stuff trying to find objects. Sometimes it’s the cheaper one’s I prefer to work with because I can be less precious with them and don’t mind destroying them. I quite like how someone’s gotten rid of the object and don’t see the value in it, it could be the material or sometimes I turn the frame around and use the back of it because I like the shape. And create new surface for it.
Material can come from anywhere. My parents were adding insulation to their house and they didn’t know how to get rid of waste because you can’t burn it you and it’s too big to throw it in the bin and they were like oh Laura you will be able to do something with it. It looks like marble but is actually that I’ve covered it in wax, it’s something that was discarded Its very tactile people would want to touch it. And find out what it is your reflex is to reach out at it with your hand and try and figure out what a material it is people are usually surprised about how light it is I also like the idea of putting it alongside an actual rock albeit a strange looking one I look at them kind of like drawings even though they are objects they are something to draw from.
You also do video can you talk about that?
When I first started doing video I felt like I had to have a narrative to it, so I sort of ended up forcing this narrative and it just didn’t work so I I’ve just decided to change tact, it’s more of a purely visual experience. A material exploration and I’m not forcing a narrative into it. I’m self-trained and I would approach video from a painting perspective like composition wise I’d compose it the same way I would approach a painting. And a lot of the time I would see video as a moving painting. It has some elements of landscapes. I’ve even used paint in my video, I’ve had Jelly was sitting on black oil paint on a copper plate and filmed that.
When it comes to my video is almost a scientific process and you are experimenting you don’t know where it’s going to go or what is going to come out of it. I usually surround myself with materials I want to work with but then sometimes I might use something that I hadn’t planned on using just cos it happens to be there.
A scene from The Lost Acre video came about because I was trying to recreate the formation of an erratic rock. I was down in the burren doing a residency. I wanted to see if I froze a rock in a basin of water then melted it would the rock move. I filmed it melting then I’ve reversed the footage.
Time seems to be a factor in a lot of your work in different ways?
Time does feature a lot in the whole show even with my sculptural work I had a big green sculpture it’s actually foliage that I have shaped into an orb. And that came about because I wanted to create a sculptural work that would change over time. When I lived in japan for a couple of years I came across this traditional object made from cedar branches that they would hang outside sake breweries. When the sake was ready to be drank they would know because it would have turned brown so it’s almost like a natural timer. A really long timer! When you see them in japan they are perfectly shaped I left it a bit scraggly. It’s a more interesting object that way. it did turn brown over course the exhibition but it’s so slow you almost wouldn’t notice it. It’s gotten much lighter as it dried out a lot during the exhibition. So, yeah a natural way of telling time! A lot the found objects I was working with also have been changed through time. like the rusty frame,
And with my video work I have manipulated the time, sometimes I speed it up and sometimes I slow it down. Sometimes it’s not straightforward and it’s really hard to grasp what you are actually looking at!
Most of my video work is made in the studio, if I had more time to develop the work I would have liked to film in the landscape and create these experiments that I do in the studio out in the field. One time I carried with me a huge basin of jelly up the mountain and when I got there it started raining. And when I would put the basen down my dog would keep eating the jelly! It was such a disaster and I thought “what am I doing?!? this is ridiculous!” I retreated back to my studio! It didn’t work that time, but I have it in my back of my head that it is how I would like the work to develop.
your collage work is very interesting
In my collage again I’m working with archival images often postcards, I think there’s an element of humour in it, I might do something like place a buffalo in an odd location! There is something really beautiful about the quality of these old postcards though because they have been hand coloured they were originally black and white and they have been hand tinted so some parts are still left black and white and there is a parallel with the way I approach the paintings because I’m working from a black and white image but I’m adding colour.
Will we finish by talking about your influences?
I watch quite a lot of sci fi movies, more older ones because of the D.I.Y aesthetic and the practical effects they used kind of influence my work in a way. I watched one recently called Beware! The Blob and there is this red blog that attacks people, and I really want to know how they made the blob move!
Painting wise I like Fergus Feehily’s work he works with found material and often his work is just so beautiful I saw a show that he did in the Douglas Hyde and it kind of stuck with me just his use of materials and his minimal use of paint.
You can find out more about Laura’s work through his website link below
Craig Mcleod Scottish artist currently living in Portugal. Having gone to college with Craig way back in the bygone year of 2008, I’ve long found his approach to art to be so unique. It invites further assessment and I’m glad to have Painting in Text as an avenue to explore work like Craig’s. The past occupies an important position in Craig’s work, so it’s fitting that our interview takes in memories of our college years, his “blow-in” childhood, and the formative influences on his work.
Let’s start with your work from college, like Becoming Archive.
God, that was a long time ago! What was the thinking behind that one? At the time I remember being interested in archival processes, keeping archives. In the run-up to that I did a series of books, for a project about making interventions in a public space. I made mock-up Pelican books using 1800s geometry books – I blanked out a lot of the text and just left a few words per page, that strangely made this kind of story that tied in with the title of the book, and commented on the current state of society. Making the books got me interested in the idea of keeping an archival record, the act of collecting and keeping materials and recording observations of everyday life.
At the same time, after a talk with an external assessor I started to look at my own personal history. We talked about being a Scottish person living in Ireland and attending an Irish college – I mean, even though in distance and culture they’re not far apart, there was still this notion of the outsider, the “blow-in”. This conversation started me looking at my childhood, family photo albums and archived images of the places I lived when I was growing up. The real foundation of Becoming Archive was a photograph of me and my two brothers when I was around five or six, a standard shot with the three of us lined up dressed in kilts; very rigid, almost military. (Maybe it was before going to a family event.) That led into Becoming Archive. I altered the image of us standing there with our kilts, by obscuring our faces with a blue paint that I had been using a lot at the time, and incorporated text which came from my experience of making the books. And that was the foundation for kind of looking into my own childhood – not necessarily looking at the concrete, real pictures of where I grew up, but more like from memory. Like, looking at how your memory colours things. I was interested in not so much the reality of what happened as a child, but the way that you remember it. That nostalgic kind of memory of the street that you grew up on, and the toys you had as a kid, and all those sorts of things… there are also images of my two boys in there, which was kind of like tying the past to the present.
My next work was Transparency, and that was nearly all about the manual processing of producing images. For Transparency I didn’t take any photographs at all. I just concentrated on the photographic process the images were created from. I was interested in the iconography of other people’s images; my source material came exclusively from Sunday magazines, The Irish Times and The Observer. I liked the way I could alter and subvert the reading of them by the way I displayed them. And I really got into the whole alchemy of the thing. It was like some kind of magic, I would go into the dark room with a bunch of magical chemicals and play around with creating pictures I was using real old school manual darkroom mediums like using liquid silver gelatin, gum bichromate and gum arabic processes. To even get my head around the processes I was using to produce my images was mentally draining – there was no tutor that had any experience of these chemicals, so I had to teach myself everything from books and trial and error, but if had tried to do it other ways like with photoshop it wouldn’t have worked, it wouldn’t have been truthful, ultimately it wouldn’t have satisfied me. I could happily spend all my time in the dark room.
The process of working on Transparency was like putting in a shift, you know? You go to work, you put on your work gear, you clock in, get to the work of producing images and at the end of the day you clock out. Then you come back the next day and see what you did. It was enjoyable every single second of it. Process led everything that came out of it, dictated everything that happened. So I didn’t have to think, what’s my idea? I was very lucky to have the facilities, and the freedom to make this work and also to be supported by the college financially in buying all the materials I needed to realise this work.
When you moved to Portugal you and Marlene[Mar, partner] had an exhibition which you used photography again – what was that like? Especially since you didn’t have the access to the same facilities that you had at GMIT.
When we arrived here we wanted to do something in art, to get involved in the local art community. I had started taking my own photographs while we were traveling in a camper van around France and Spain and Portugal – I’d been using an old 35mm Olympus OM101, a manual film camera so I needed a place to develop. So I converted my bathroom into a darkroom and tried to do my work while the kids were at school or in bed.
How did you find setting up an exhibition in Portugal?
The major adjustment for us (aside from the language) was that we didn’t have any idea how slow the art scene is here, if you live outside the major cities like Lisbon (which we live about an hour outside of). Our plan was to do this exhibition in the little fishing town that we live in, so we contacted everyone we could that seemed in any way involved with the arts. Which was challenging! We talked with several people at the local and district council level – they don’t have an arts council – until we found someone who was like the arts officer of the district. They were enthusiastic about our proposal, but informed us that there was little interest and even less investment in culture and the arts in the area, and that funding was mainly put towards surfing and tourism. Despite this we continued, and eventually we managed to get an exhibition space. The show that we did for this town was very conceptual in nature, which wasn’t the norm here; when they have art exhibitions, they tend to be little more than decorative painting sales. There’s no theme or concept behind those shows, so when our show The Property of Dreams opened, the locals thought it was completely weird, there were no colourful paintings and no price lists. It wasn’t immediately obvious that it was art for sale. Reading material to explain some of the work was a new thing to many who turned up, some were like, “this was amazing and we have never seen this kind of thing” and other people just thought, “what is this?”
In the end, the actual setup was simple: we didn’t do anything too complicated and because we hadn’t that long come from college, we still had fresh memories of our degree show setup and all that was involved. I’m not saying we were trendsetters, but maybe we facilitated some change as after we did what we did. There have been a series of small exhibitions, with a couple being quite conceptual and a few that were borderline, still a few paint sales but there was a bit more cohesion to it. More of a concept or theme, at least! And an art gallery opened in the town the following year as well its great see small development like that happening.
Lets talk about the painting you started doing in Portugal.
It started off purely as an exercise to get back into painting because I hadn’t painted for… I don’t know, since second year [at GMIT], so maybe five or six years? I just felt that I
wanted to make some paintings from some pictures. So the very first paintings were just images, photographs from photographers that I like, that I found online and in books. Most of them by famous photographers like William Eaglston, Paul Graham, Martin Parr, Gregory Crewdson. I wanted to paint and I was looking at these photographers, and I started to paint their photographs, in a kind of Richter style. I used images from books or newspaper cuttings, I’d start painting them, and I eventually started to include my own photography as a subject matter.
After I did that I felt that I wanted to push my practice a bit further rather than just looking at these pictures I wanted to develop my own painting more. I felt there was a language in the painting that I needed to start to understand and explore. That was more of what I wanted to do, rather than just making pictures. That’s when I started making these recent larger paintings – they came out of a desire to go beyond photography, to try to make pictures that contain a fuller story. Not just a picture, not just replicas of the photographs I was looking at. I wanted to try and capture the wholeness of the image, not just the picture. Not just a static picture of one thing – it’s not a still life.
Could you elaborate more on your thought process with these paintings?
I don’t know how to describe it. it’s kind of like the way that you would describe something that happens in your day – you don’t just see the picture. I’m trying to get to a fuller story. There’s a whole bunch of things that went together to make that moment, past and present. I think that’s what I’m after… that’s where I’m trying to get with these paintings. I don’t want it clearly documented and described. I’m not trying to create an accurate documentation of the moment. But I’m trying to get a more complete essence of the moment. There’s still a long way to go, I am still struggling to find the necessary language required within the paintings.
As an example, this painting [Palavras da vida] came about after hearing the accounts of these friends of a friend. We were helping them clear their land and piece their lives back together after the big wildfires that happened here in November. Their house and everything they owned was burned down. In the night, they had to free their horses and flee from where they were living. The basis of the painting came from five or six different drawings based on the events described to me – each drawing was drawn over the last, then kind of different aspects of each of the drawings would come through to the foreground and be kept. All went together to make the story or narrative of the final painting, and it was all done at quite a speed. I am trying to not be overly consumed about the thought process… To be honest, it’s a bit of an anomaly in my recent practice, as more often than not my work usually starts without taking outside influence as a jumping off point.
I would usually start with a blank canvas – often I would sit there and stare, and nearly the whole day could pass and nothing would happen but sometimes it’ll come in a flurry. I’ll start to make marks and those marks remind me of something, and then that something makes me think of something else, and I just keep drawing. I start off with charcoal, and then move onto oil pastel and just keep drawing until it starts to take some sort of form that is interesting. Then I go in with thinned paints. Paint goes on, paint comes off, building it up… I think, for me, the most interesting part of it is the materials and the dialogue with the painting. The actual subject matter isn’t that important to me.
Looking at you most recent work the colour has changed to a much brighter palette – do you think living in a much warmer climate is the reason?
I think so, maybe? I have never thought about it consciously at all, but it does appear that the colours that I use have come drastically brighter.
Let’s finish by talking about your influences, especially since your work has taken so many turns.
Gerhard Richter comes to mind from our time in college. For me, the ones that were the most compelling were those little black and white paintings which came from newspaper cuttings and he reproduced them verbatim. I don’t care much for what he is doing now with his abstractions. I love watching videos of his process, but what comes out, not so much. I imagine they are great fun to make. I like a lot of photography, maybe I’m more influenced by photography and cinema than painting.
I’m really taken by cinema, it’s always played a big part in my life – I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I love a wide variety of cinematic styles and genres, a wide variety of directors, each one is a visionary. I love the work of Coppola and Kubrick, but also equally the work of, say, Wes Anderson or David Lynch… he has a unique vision to his work that’s quirky and engrossing.
Don’t get me wrong though, I love paintings and great painters. At the moment I’m interested in the works of artists like Wilhelm Sasnel , Peter Doig… I’ve just discovered the German painter Daniel Richter (who I found out isn’t related to Gerhard!). It was hugely inspirational for me getting to see Francis Bacon’s work when I visited the Tate, some time ago now, that had a big impact on me. The red triptych with the weird figures [Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion], when I saw that in person, I was blown away. I’d seen it in a book that I had and thought cool, but when I stood in front of the scale of the work… it changes the way you look at it. But for me, when it specifically comes to influence it’s not so much individual artists, more instances that happen in paintings, little things, like the translucency of colours in a painting.
Anna Spearman is an artist tailor-made for Painting in Text. Whether she is analysing influences on her sculptural work or talking about Sligo Global Kitchen, her ability to assess the strengths of the process she is working in and how to take advantage of them has to be admired
This transcript has been edited by the interviewer for the purpose of this blog.
Sligo Global Kitchen has had some recent success, can you talk about its inception?
Well I stepped back from Sligo Global Kitchen almost a year ago now, as it had found a level of independence and I felt the need to get back and spend more time in the studio. But yes, the project recently received the Community Food Award at the 2018 Irish Food Writers Guild Awards. It was great recognition of all the hard work and commitment by everyone involved. The project came about after Megan Johnston, former Director of the Model invited me to develop a socially engaged project. She was really interested in socially engaged work and was keen to open the doors to new and more diverse communities and to explore ways in which they could more actively engage with the Model.
For me knowing that there was an empty commercial kitchen in the Model while at the same time a community living close by in Globe House (Sligo’s direct provision centre for those seeking asylum) who had little or no opportunities to cook food for themselves, the project seemed like an obvious proposal. It was conceived as a gesture of solidarity to those living in these really difficult conditions.
Can you describe Sligo Global Kitchen for those who might not know what it is?
Yeah, it began as an invitation to those living in direct provision to come to the Model on a regular basis to meet, socialise and cook for themselves and their friends and families. Mabel Chah, was one of the first Globe House residents that I met with and proposed the idea to and she was hugely supportive and enthusiastic…encouraging people to come along to meetings and get involved in the project. The project developed gradually, a collaboration between myself and a core group of residents of Globe House and with the support of the Model. In the early days sessions were quite informal and would involve a handful of people getting together to cook for the day and then to sit down with family, friends, staff of the Model and passing visitors. Over time Sligo Global Kitchen developed a more public face as participants gained confidence and a desire to engage with the wider community. Over the past couple of years the project has hosted numerous public events, in the Model and offsite and has continued to bring people together who might otherwise never meet over a plate of food, music, chat and dancing too sometimes. The project is continuing to grow and develop.
Do you approach the socially engaged work differently to your sculptural work?
In some ways it is totally different. When I work in the studio its a very solitary thing, there is a very different kind of rhythm to it and I kind of like to do things in my own time and in my own way, not having to answer to anybody. I have the freedom to experiment and explore without any pressure to come up with a particular outcome. The other side of my practice, the socially engaged and community stuff is different in that there are people and deadlines and commitments. You’re not just working on your own, it’s a collaborative thing which can be equally rewarding but in a different way. There is a common thread in my approach though. That would be that I’m kind of coming with an open mind, a blank page in a way. So, with Global Kitchen I’m coming with an idea but there are not really any preconceptions about how it might pan out…it’s kind of this is an idea let’s just run with it and see where it might lead too and that is how I approach work in the studio too. I generally don’t have a fixed idea when I come into the studio, I am starting with the materials and putting them through a set of processes and seeing what comes out the other end. Mostly I’m foostering around with lots of different things depending on my mood and what catches my eye. I’m not always very good at finishing things but sometimes I will get sick of looking at something and so will persevere until I finish it, or I’m fed up and put it away!
Your work seems very conscious of its relationship with the viewer what is your thought process in regard to that?
Interaction between the work and the viewer is something that happens when the work is out in the world, but it’s not something I think about when I’m in the studio making work. But yes when it comes to putting the work out there I am interested in that kind of encounter between the audience and the work. I’m excited by the performative aspect of sculpture, when its not a two dimensional thing on the wall its going to be something you actually have to move around. Depending on how you do that you might have a different experience, your understanding of the work develops as you move around it. When I’m looking at other people’s work its the excitement of walking around it and the thrill of something unfolding over time. I know you can have that experience with a painting the longer you look at it the more you see but it’s a different kind of a way of experiencing something. I suppose with socially engaged work there is a similarity in that unknown aspect of the encounter, depending on the particular circumstances, all the variables and those involved you are going to have a different experience its kind of an open-ended conversation?
Could we go more into your practice as an artist?
Yeah sure, probably when I think about what I do it reminds me of how I used to play as a child, you know that thing of piling chairs up on top of each other and throwing blankets on top of them to create a kind of secret space. That pulling together of things to transform them into something else – I suppose creating a space to daydream in and about. At its simplest that’s maybe what I’m tapping into. Its interesting watching children react to my work – they can relate to it in a very direct and playful way which I love.
When I’m in the studio I’m not necessarily working towards finished pieces of work…I am trying stuff out, playing around with materials and processes, working quite intuitively. I’ve developed a way of working where I’m not consciously thinking about the outcome of the end product when I work, but saying that I do sometimes deliberately pick processes that make me step out of my comfort zone, there must be some element of the unknown for me whether it be seeing what this is going to look like? or is this going to work? or if it is even going to hold together? I often find myself doing things in a really slow labour-intensive way that is kind of unnecessary but I think that slow process allows me time and space to daydream while I’m making and thats where the work comes out of really.
Material plays a very important part in your work, could you talk about the influences that got you into that frame of mind?
Well I’m very attracted to the that kind of playful quality in peoples work. Phyllida Barlow comes to mind, her use of materials and that ad-hoc way of making work, there is a kind of raw energy there. Franz West is another artist whose work I love. He plays with your expectations of what things are, the way he uses materials sometimes seems to be turned on its head – massive objects that look like papier mache but are made of steel, or concrete that seems like cardboard – unexpected juxtapositions of materials and just really exuberant, playful work. There are so many artists who have made/are making amazing work…it is hard to know where to start…Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Jessica Stockholder, Hannah Wilke, Achraf Touloub and Irish artists like Caoimhe Kilfeather and Sam Keogh are just a few, but the list is endless really. There are so many interesting artists out there.
Do you have any new projects or exhibitions coming up?
Yes I will have an exhibition in the Foyer Gallery at the Model in September of this year, thats as a result of the Model Cara Award from last years Cairde Visual exhibition. I am really looking forward to that. And I have just been selected for a commission – a collaborative project between Age and Opportunity, Dr Sorcha O’Brien of Kingston University London and the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, based on Sorcha’s research project, “The Electrification of the Rural Irish Home: Housewives, Electrical Products and Domesticity in the 1950s and 1960s”. The outcome of that will be an exhibition of work made in collaboration with communities in Castlebar over the next twelve months, that will run alongside Sorcha’s exhibition in the National Museum – Country Life, Castlebar in 2019.
Tricia O Connor is a Kerry based artist who’s perspective on art could not be replicated by anyone else. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and to talk to her reveals the great passion for art that drives her forward. Speaking to her recently about her work, her personality shines through from her painting and her projects like the Feminist Tea Party and her Crafted workshops.
This transcript has been edited by the interviewer for the purpose of this blog.
Let’s start with your project 40 Paintings in 40 Days.
So I recently had an exhibition called Anchor The Flow in Killarney, run by the Art House Gallery, which is run by a former winner of The Screaming Pope prize in K-Fest, Tracey Sexton. I had an exhibition there, and set myself the challenge of doing a painting a day for forty days. I decided to do the challenge to create a conversation around the reasons we create, and I hadn’t painted properly since I was in college. The element of getting back into painting again was a driving force, because I had been doing a lot of socially engaged work and I wanted to get back to what had gotten me into art in the first place – and for me, that was painting. The emphasis on production in the challenge was to get me to create without thinking – to see what type of a body of work would emerge out of that. And it was getting really hard around the thirty day mark, if I’m being honest!
Being Irish, the forty days element has a connotation with religion for me…
Hahaha! It takes forty days to retrain the brain to do anything, so the number was about retraining the brain to access more creative flow! There was kind of a performative element to it. But in the end, the forty day aspect of the challenge was a means to an end. It got me creating. And when it was done I could look back on how the process affected my work, without bogging myself down with thought experiments while I was making.
Can you talk more about how the restraints of the challenge changed your work?
What happened was a huge change – I always used to paint in a quite small scale, and after I had finished the 40 Paintings, I found that I started to make bigger work. And now my paintings are moving toward larger projects, so there has definitely been a shift in my style and scale of work. As a practice, it gave me a lot of confidence to create again, and specifically working at a larger scale. For me as an artist, finishing art college and doing the Masters, I got stuck in trying to say something and trying to make a body of work that is relevant. And what I found was that I got so stuck in my head about it, that I actually stopped creating anything. The levels of mental energy it takes up, creating socially engaged art projects… My art practice is definitely going back into painting. It’s a space where I don’t have to think to create, and I don’t have to be attached to an outcome at the end of the process.
Can you talk about your socially engaged practice?
I guess the best place to start is The Feminist Tea Party. I started doing the tea parties when I was studying my Masters in Limerick, and they were a methodology I used to discuss a wide variety of topics concerning women’s rights and feminism. The conversations from each tea party are documented on the inside of each teacup. The teacups are then kept as an archive of women’s history in Ireland. The Feminist Tea Parties are influenced by my love of DIY aesthetics, and there’s an Irish twist on domestic home life there as well. And I love having subversive conversations! For me, it was a really fun methodology to use. And I think people really enjoyed it.
The tea party was an interesting practice, and I’d created an impressive archive of conversations people have been having around feminism and women’s rights in Ireland over the last few years. So I decided to move it into a more specific subject matter, and went on to create an archive around what men and women were thinking about abortion rights in Ireland last year. It was a really funny one, bringing it into abortion rights to have a conversation about it – you would think it would be easy, because it’s everywhere now, but the conversation around it was very stunted. When I got to the point that I was talking about abortion rights, I actually found that spaces and organisations don’t actually want to have that conversation. It seemed to come up against me when I would bring it up. And this killed my enthusiasm for it, and I just stopped.
I think the conversation around feminism flowed much more easily, because it had so many different elements and there were so many different opinions that could come from that. But with abortion rights, many are very guarded about their opinions for fear of being told they are wrong. I’m not saying it is impossible – I had a tea party in Tralee Institute of Technology and had 30 people at my tea party, both pro-life and pro-choice as well as the chaplain, so it is possible to have the conversation. But it is a very difficult conversation to have. I’m influenced by my methodology from The Feminist Tea Party when it comes to my work and how I facilitate my workshops.
Can you go into that in more detail?
I’m doing a residency this year with Crafted, which sets up artist residencies in primary schools across the Kerry, and I’ve become the regional coordinator for the programme. You go into a primary school, and work with a class for two or three months. It’s just an amazing programme – you can choose to work in any discipline. I’ve been doing printmaking, we’re making a play… The kids in the class are eight to ten years old, and the aim of the art practice was to get them listening to each other, and creating something as a group. I’m coming to the end of that residency now. It’s been great, I have been using my experience with meditation and how to do group work from my time running The Feminist Tea Party: I find I can use what I learned for my time learning about socially engaged practice with the kids, and that has been working wonders with their imagination. I mean, when you say ‘picture an artist’, they only think of a painter. I have been trying to teach them through meditation how to grow your imagination, and how to develop ideas to understand that there are more avenues to being an artist beyond just image making and to get them to tune into very specific things around them – like for example, the colour of a boat, or the colour of the trees, or even the sound of the wind. and all these different elements to create a holistic kind of way to get them to tap into their imagination.
With such an ever-changing changing practice, could you talk about your influences?
For me, I’m really interested in listening to people’s conversations and listening to music more than looking at art. I prefer to be driven by influences that I can’t directly replicate, that I have to somewhat translate into my practice. As an example: my paintings at the moment, they’re very abstract and the colours are quite bright, because they are all inspired by conversations that I have had with people. And because a lot of my conversations are about moon cycles and meditation, I find my work reflects that sort of conversation! The paintings are an attempt at expressing the movement of the conversations, the back-and-forth that takes place. Listening becomes very important when you’re trying to convey this movement, and the work becomes very reflective.
I think everything is my creative practice; to me, everything that I do informs another type of creative practice, whether that’s painting or writing music or any other type of practice. I have my space set up with boards for painting near where I write, so if anything write influences an idea for a painting (or vice versa), I can pick up on that instantly. I might be painting for half an hour and go back later in the day. There is a flow to how I work, where I can move seamlessly to from one thing to another, kind of like jazz; for me everything bleeds into everything else. I love Benjamin Clementine, I love Sun Ra, and improv jazz – and that is the sort of music that would inspire me.
What do you have coming up?
I am on the visual arts committee for K-Fest, an arts festival that shows emerging artists’ works, and it’s been running for six years. On June Bank Holiday weekend every year, the town of Killorgan becomes a space for over 150 artists and pop-up galleries which are set up throughout the town. There are twelve/fourteen people of us on the committee, with Neil Browne as the Artistic Director and Rachel Coffey and myself as the Assistant Artistic Directors. It has a nice DIY punk element to it, and there’s a very good collective mix of painting, sculpture, and others. Every building you go into is completely different from the next. We try and mix it up as well, putting video and paint together in a space one year and sculpture the next, and try and keep the spaces completely different from each other each year.
I’m also working on an online exhibition of my work. I just decided the amount of time it takes to apply to a gallery, to get refused by a gallery and come up with the costs to get my work to a gallery… and in the end it doesn’t even guarantee that the work will be seen! Just all this made me think: ‘why don’t I just use the internet to my advantage?’ It’s accessible to anyone, without the hassle of setting up in a physical space.
Welsh artist Tracey Moberly is a woman of vast talents. You just have to look at the multiple practices that she uses in her work! working as Tracey’s assistant was one of my first jobs post-college, and the experience influential for me going forward in art. I’m delighted to share with you her insights into her work and practice below.
Your work has a strong line of community involvement to it. Would you like to talk about that?
Yes, definitely. I’m just finishing one of two residencies in a South Wales Valley village named Fochriw. Fochriw is quite an isolated Welsh Valleys area, initially built up around the coal mining industry. Since the decline of coal mining, there’s little or no industry or manufacture left and unemployment statistics are high. Fochriw is not a place you would pass through, so you would need a reason to go to there. It has many socio-economic problems, but also a fantastic, unique community.
The main aim and brief of the first project Spinning Yarns Weaving Community was to bring the community together and identify role models that would lead, by identifying and assembling a core steering group for the project. The whole project is based on this community. The industrial scars left from this post-industrial village have now knitted themselves back together to its former rural beauty. Sheep from the local farms far outnumber people, they’re left to wander and graze on the oaks of roads and in gardens. I began with teaching the groups how to spin the raw fleece we found on the hedgerows and within the housing, gardens and fields; this followed by teaching them how to dye the wool with natural dye-stuffs such as lichen, madder, onion skins or cochineal beetles.
From there the project developed looking at the people, the communities, in their houses and homes – focusing predominantly on this as the theme running throughout the project.
This then resulted in professional photographic portraits of people inside and outside their houses, almost Grand Budapest Hotel style… Another residency I am doing with the same community, with a particular focus on the school and a craft group is called Hour Eyes. This is a community photographic project: I’m giving set days and times to children and adults to take photos of what they are doing at these moments. It is becoming a cultural heritage archive of this community. The response has been great – 1,200 photographs to date. I am half way through the project and we have just had a preliminary exhibition with the work so far. It’ll culminate in a large outdoor photographic exhibition where I am also cooking my Cushendall Curry with a group involved in the project for the opening – at which the group chefs will be awarded their food hygiene certificates. For the curry we are using locally sourced meat from the nearby farm and a vegan curry. There is a documentary being made on the Hour Eyes project for the Wales Film Festival 2018. The Spinning Yarns Weaving Community project will also result in a final show, with a book/catalogue detailing the journey of the project from start to finish and a lot of artworks- textile banners, sound installation and photography. The first exhibition I did with this project was at the National Portrait Gallery in London. We were invited to create a response to the Picasso Portrait exhibition that had been curated there, which we did in the form of fabric self portraits titled Face-It. The exhibition title was called Everything You Can Imagine is Real in which I was exhibiting some of my own work.
What did you do for Everything You Can Imagine is Real?
Everything You Can Imagine is Real was an exhibition Inspired by the Picasso Portraits exhibition that was current at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and a response to it, curated by Martyn Ware from the band Heaven 17 and Illustrious. I produced a self-portrait, which I made from the app TriTrace, designed and made for me by
Jonathan Moberly (the app can be downloaded for free from the AppStore). The artwork was made in response to Picasso’s cubist portraits, where I developed the female form of the triangle, the upside down triangle the symbolism representing the female form in history. I have a rare condition of enhanced colour vision found predominantly in women and called tetrachromacy. It means that I can distinguish between colours that may appear identical to most -four colour cones instead of the usual three. It is also responsible for colour blindness in male children from the X chromosome.
Tetrachromacy? That’s interesting as an artist – that means you are literally looking at art differently!
Yes, I’ve always wondered why this has never been identified in any art movements throughout history. This is probably because it is predominately a female condition: if it was male, then it would be a household name with people having a fuller understanding of it. It also has massive implications for the arts world specifically through art history. When one of my sons (who is colourblind) and I went to be tested in a North East England hospital research department, I was shown a painting by a red/green colour blind person. The painting was described to me before I looked at it as vibrant red poppies in a luscious green field. When the image was presented to me, I saw a grass landscape which was the colour of old dead straw, instead of the luscious green I had expected and the supposed vibrant red poppies were depicted as small smoother images which were shaped like poppies, but were a slightly darker shading of the straw colour. This opened a huge range of questions to me regarding colour, sight, the reliability of art history and the questions posed within art between male and female. Especially with that of a colour blind male artist to a tetrachromat female.
It further put into context every argument I’d ever had about colour through youth and adulthood; such as if something like a wall was mauve or lilac, or whether the Central Line on the London tube map was red or dark orange. I knew I was seeing colours differently to many other people. Although happy about my own findings and enhanced colour vision, I was more concerned about my children’s colour vision and the implications it has for them and many other colourblind males. I hope to do a project further down the lane based on this with my sons.
Your work is in so many mediums and has many different outcomes – can you talk about your practice?
Although I work in a multitude of different mediums, my work is of the same overall structure and theme which I have been working on since I was seventeen. This is best explained with the term ‘ethnomethodology’, which is a perspective within sociology which focuses on the way people make sense of their everyday world. I call it the chicken wire effect, so I can explain it through a visual structure … If you can imagine a piece of galvanised steel chicken wire, with the artwork metaphorically positioned inside the hexagonal gap in the centre of each section. Each of these hexagonals has six leads or strands leading into forming the next hexagon – where another art work is metaphorically positioned. The six variables or the strands from the hexagon are the options the next artwork has, with the medium and form it takes as a response to the last artwork.
For example, if the art work was a performance, then some of the six strands could lead to (1) a person’s response to the artwork suggesting it, like a painting at a gallery; (2) someone recommending a film based on the subject of the artwork; (3) a suggestion that a ballet may have resembled some of the movement within the performance… Selecting the most logical response of these suggestions, I would follow it up, and this journey and response would create the next artwork. For example if I chose number (3), the ballet that may have resembled some of the movement in the performance, then I could go along to the ballet as a follow-up and be given a number of variables that would produce the next artwork. I could reject the statement in the ballet and continue on the original theme of the artwork, creating and experimenting with more; I could be knocked down en route to the ballet, which would result in me changing focus on the artwork and including the accident. The variables are non-quantifiable, but the links are endless, just as our journey through life is.
I could be inspired by the movement within the performance liking it to my performance and go on to produce a new dance artwork – I try and keep it to six, but the outcomes and new artworks created are infinite. Themes and mediums are always different, but each artwork follows on from the next. Some artworks go off on tangents and others go in twists and turns within the metaphorical chicken wire structure. I change media in response to each artwork, so for example I make bricks that make buildings; or intricately embroider fabric from text messages; or make large mosaic structures; or work in photography and film; or write books, or poetry and so on…
Approaching all mediums in a similar manner, I believe that every form follows a similar structure pattern: for example that using a piece of fleece one spins it into a yarn, then dyes it with a natural plant dyestuff, then knits it into a jumper, is fundamentally the same as cutting a piece of wet clay, firing and colour/glazing it to make bricks, then building a wall out of those bricks. Because I approach all mediums in a similar manner, I can weave them together much like the pieces of wire in the chicken wire – and keep crossing between mediums. Saying that, everything must be organised and planned out: if you have seen my diary, everything is colour-coded because I’m in a different city or town every few days, and it would become very hard to keep track of everything if I didn’t organise it this way. I’m never usually more than four days in the same place. But once something is in in my diary – if changes happen that’s fine, I go with the flow, but it has to be organised in the first instance. With all of my work, it’s pretty much like that even though it might not at first instance seem it!
whenever I can, I really like doing mass participation projects. Like with one of my projects, Tweet-Me-Up!, I have used a mobile phone and social networking to invite audiences to participate in creating evolving digital exhibitions of photography, art and action – subgenres and counter-cultures that teeter on the mainstream. Another project I like to do is to make a curry at the openings for projects, and it’s become a bit of an institution. Cooking is such a social experience, and I love to use it as a way for people to engage and socialise, the whole chopping and the talking, making the curry as a group thing. There was a Tunisian artist whose work was all about cooking and tradition: I helped him do this piece a huge meal at Void Gallery in Derry last year – this was linked into a project, and the curry I do for Heart of the Glens Festival, in the Curfew Tower in Cushendall. Every year the title is: ’Stay Here & Make Art’. Artists and writers residencies happen here every year where people go and stay in a Curfew Tower, which is the symbol of the town.
What artists inspire you?
There are or were some artists whom slightly inspired me, specifically when I was doing A’levels at school and foundation level before my degree – Egon and Gustavo Klimt. The main inspiration I got from these were their skill and craftsmanship of life drawing prior to the stylised work they became known for. What inspiration I gained most from artists like this was that if you master a basic medium, then you can transform and develop that medium into your own stylised approach. Movements inspire me more than individuals – I liked Picasso, his peers and that period of art history. My favourite and most inspirational movement is undoubtedly the symbolist movement, incorporating both art and poetry – I am also published poet and write prolifically – it was from this movement I became interested in synesthesia and did a masters thesis on both. One-offs of artists work have inspired me such as Judy Chicago’s car bonnets; again I like how she mastered the craft of car body spraying and then the politics of the art along with the designs she created from the mastering of the craft.
I also feel that if you let yourself get lost into other people’s work you don’t really come out with anything that’s new or original. When I listen to music there isn’t a full album I really like, there may be an individual track from any given album and this is the same with art and artists. I like new fresh things I suppose. I’m not saying that what I do may be perceived as entirely original but it just seems tainted to me if I were to approach a piece of work or a project with someone else’s work in mind. My work such as Text-Me-Up! where I archived and used all of my text messages from the first that I was ever sent. This is an original piece because I came at it with no notions of other peoples work and was a new piece of technology then. This became a book; a series of exhibitions and developed into my exhibition and installation at Tate Modern Tweet-Me-Up! and is constantly developing. I lecture on it as history within universities as none of these generations remember life without mobile phones and texting.
Your work has strong social engagement elements have you worked with schools?
Yes, I am currently working as both Creative Agent and Creative Practitioner in Welsh schools based on the new Donaldson Report. I also work closely with schools when I am doing large community engagement projects. Professor Graham Donaldson was commissioned by the Welsh Government to consider new assessment and curriculum arrangements. He identified ‘progression steps’ to provide a more coherent basis for learning, teaching and assessment. I am working alongside a number of agents and practitioners with the Arts Council of Wales on creative learning through the arts as an action plan for Wales. I’m involved in some extremely exciting creative projects. Working with the geography department with the head of geography Nicola Webber in a school in Senghenydd, Caerphilly. The focus was to increase higher levels in maths and english through creativity as a creative practitioner. It became a model project that the Arts Council used to illustrate the programme During the time I was working with this particular year group I’d been invited to Ludwigsburg in Germany which is twinned with Caerphilly to exhibit there in a show called and it was here the Mayor invited me to create work with the city and refugees in the city. I invited ten of the group I’d been working with at St. Cenydd School in Senghenyddand, their teacher, along with ten pupils of the same age from Novy Jicinin in Czech Republic and fourteen refuges in Germany. Gained funding for it and titled the project Yourope, it involved twelve different nationalities.
The project we devised was to make up the flags representing the countries that the participants were from so we made twelve flags by taking 10,000 photos of our host city of Ludwigsburg. You can see the work, photos, film and tv coverage in the link http://www.text-me-up.com/arts_residencies/Yourope/ This has now progressed further as the City of Ludwigsburg holds its 300 year anniversary as a city this year where they are up-cycling the flags and making into bags along with postcards and information on the Yourope project for visiting delegates. The flags included Kurdish, Turkish, Czech Republic, Wales, Syria and Brazil to name but a few. The second project I did in this school is titled Caerphilly Chronicles, it is a project worked on as creative practitioner with Sara Sylvester and Nicola Webber. It is a book based on working with poetry; Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Welsh myths and legends – it focuses on Caerphilly Castle which dominates the town and is the second biggest Castle in the UK, the first being Windsor Castle. The book is titled Caerphilly Chronicles and just available on Amazon and other stores.
I am running projects in two other schools as a Creative Agent; the Creative practitioners here are producing an animation in one school and augmented reality work with fine art in another.
Your practice makes good use of social media and technology with Instagram being used as a tool here and Tweet Me Up! making good use of Twitter?
Because I’m working all the time, I see everything as my work – the internet seems like the most useful platform to be putting stuff up on, really. People think I post my life on Facebook, when in fact it’s all work- and exhibition- related. It’s accessible by anyone: it can reach people who might not be interested in going into a gallery. And I find you can reach people through other interests outside of art that way as well. Here is a link to when I started this in 2005 and titled it Mobilography – this was at the very beginning of mobile phone photography technology!
What work is coming up for you soon?
Oh, I have a lot of things coming up this year. The Spinning Yarns Weaving Community project is coming to an end and I’m putting an exhibition together, with all the photography/soundscapes gathered from those involved (including photos of those involved), their homes and their routines – I’m making a book out that project. The Hour Eyes exhibition will also be happening in a couple of weeks.
Next week I am going to Hull where I am co-directing two plays with Tam Dean Burn, written by Tenzing Scott Brown (the alter ego of Bill Drummond) as part of The Heads Up Festival in Hull – Daffodils and DeathForty Bunches Of Daffodils deals with Bill’s commitment to give away forty bunches of daffodils to forty total strangers each year for the rest of his life. It also celebrates the slow death of photography as a form of documentation, this will be challenging as the play is written about Bill and myself. Totally Wired marks the death of Mark E. Smith; the killing of seven baby blackbirds by Drummond and the Second Coming of Christ in the form of the fish known as the freshwater shark:- The Pike. The last play I co-directed with Tam and wrote with Bill was part of the Hull City of Culture and titled Your Darkest Thought.
At Easter, Bill and I then leave for North Carolina USA where I will be directing two more plays by Tenzing Scott Brown, for the second half of a feature film which will be released in cinemas. March 29th an exhibition titled Power, which I’m doing with Martyn Ware and Sarah Hopkins (Printmaker) launches at the Trafalgar in Sheffield – we want to celebrate the visual and sonic beauty and legacy of the UK steel industry.
I have also started a new project working with bees and beekeepers, as photojournalist and an artist. The BEES project aims to bring together beekeepers from across South East Wales to develop a local/regional Queen Bee breeding programme to work towards sustaining pollinator population and improving ecological resilience in bees. We also want to raise awareness of bees, beekeeping and its importance to biological systems and diversity with organisations, schools and the general public, to encourage and educate new beekeepers. I’m really excited about this project.
Shane Finan, a Sligo-born artist currently residing in Dublin, is a man who wears his influences on his sleeve, and it’s riveting to hear him discuss them in detail. His work is uniquely his own, and I’m happy to give him a platform to discuss his art and his process in this in-depth interview.
This transcript has been edited by the interviewer for the purpose of this blog.
So, what are you currently working on?
Well I tend to have several things on the go at the same time. I just made a list yesterday in an Excel document, it’s the only way I can organise my life these days! At the moment there are seven or eight different art projects ongoing, and I have to keep track of what stage they are at and what I need to do with them. Some are in the documentation stage, some are in the fledgling ideas stage. Probably an interesting one to talk about for my practice would be the project I’m doing with the Pierre Auger Observatory, because I just finished the research and I’ve just started onto making something.
I should probably explain.
The Pierre Auger observatory is based in Malargue in Argentina. They detect showers of cosmic rays, which are radioactive particles that are constantly moving through space. A lot of them hit earth and pass right through it and continue on their journey – their intergalactic journey. What they have in Malargue is thirty square kilometres of water-pools with sensors, in a desert in the Andes, that are there to detect these rays. They are set up to detect why these showers happen and where they come from. And only this year, they published a paper saying that the major showers come from one specific area in the universe. This is ongoing research. Why that happens? We don’t know. But it’s great for speculation. From my point of view this is fantastic – it could be communication from aliens, an exploding star… you could come up with or create anything!
The project came about around twelve months ago, when I got in contact the director of The Pierre Auger observatory. I dropped them a line and I said, ‘Hi, I’m an artist and interested in getting involved in making something off the back of the research that you have?’ And they said, ‘This is great, we would love to have you, and anything you need let us know. Tell us when you’re coming!’ As an artist I have found this reaction sometimes, and it’s always very heartwarming when people are interested. The director put me in touch with a few people who have written papers, and so over the following months I gained a very small knowledge of what the observatory did. My method is so based in research – I do so much reading. I read a lot of theory. I read magazines, newspapers. I love reading material. Reading in general, and listening – I listen to a lot of music constantly, sometimes podcasts too. I also take photographs and collect physical material, drawing up sketches, and being on site when I can. I get lost in my research. I like to have a lot information streams coming at me all the time. I would say if you were to measure it, research is around 70% or 80%, and the actual execution of a piece is quite quick in most cases.
When I’ve gotten through the research I begin to get a picture of what I plan to do. For instance, I will probably be doing a digital installation off the back of this – it just fits with the material that I have. For me, medium is dictated by the best idea communicated by my research, whatever that ends up being. That doesn’t mean I’ll always make something! Sometimes I will realise through the research phase that a project won’t be going any further. I might write a paper about it, which I’ve done a couple times before, or I might just leave it and let it disappear into the ether.
I chose digital installation because I feel I couldn’t express it through a lot of other media. Film or painting wouldn’t get it across across. I want to disseminate what they are doing in the observatory – the type of work they are doing, and the type of research, but also the idea of technology in its highest form being used for a purpose which is experimental and undetermined, I guess. We don’t know where this is going to go, and when the funding finishes up in ten years’ time this will all be cleared out – the buildings and technology will move on to another purpose. They might give some of the 1,600 water tanks to the local farmers, but the observatory will be gone.
Maybe what they learned will be useful at some point. We have this huge experiment – a staff based in western Argentina, from all over the world. And then at the end of it, you know where cosmic rays are coming from, and that’s it! You have this piece of information that maybe ends up playing no part in human progress, but it is fascinating nonetheless.
Technology seems to be a recurring theme to your work.
I tend to focus on transient ephemeral things that disappear over time – things that change the relationship between people and place. Technology is one of those things that is constantly shifts and is constantly in flux… something else I’m interested in is the idea of lost technology or lost ideas. I started a series called ‘Antikhytera etc.’ in 2016, that is all influenced by this idea: lost technology.
The first piece from this series was a project about the Chernobyl disaster – Mugwort, Wormwood, and how little we know about the end of the world. (I made that title as long as possible so it can’t be repeated.) At the time I was looking at the history of the Cold War era coming to an end, and the influence of that on a place like Ireland in a global community. There were a lot of great ideas in the technology from the Eastern Bloc, lost after the wall came down… there was a lot of propaganda in the West, that led to the belief that behind the Iron Curtain there was no such thing as a good idea, but these people put cosmonauts in space!
It was something I was interested in, so I checked out everything around the Chernobyl disaster. Which was an interesting personal event as well, because it only happened four months after I was born. My mother told me a story of bringing me out into the town when I was in the pram, and it was raining –there was so much fear and paranoia, that this could be acid rain. So she rushed to get me into the Quinnsworth Arcade [in Sligo town], to take shelter. That kind of hangs with you for the rest of your life. in fact, I looked back at my research from my first year in college and found old notes on Chernobyl, and realised that this had been rattling in my head for a long time.
All that led to me looking into the history of Chernobyl, and specifically the history of the name Chernobyl – which caught my attention, because Mugwort and Wormwood are both etymologically linked to the word Chernobyl. Mugwort was also the star that heralded the end of the world in the Old Testament. There is an interesting relationship between the blinding light which comes from a radioactive star, and a blinding light that explodes from a centre inside of the USSR. The Chernobyl disaster really marked a point where it was visible to the western world that something disastrous on a global scale could happen beyond the Iron Curtain, and it could affect people beyond it. This notion of the local-global and the end of the world, it’s striking. And what is an end? Is the fall of the Iron Curtain an ‘end’? It caused a major social shift. That question made me think about location and social identity based on the local – which led me to Wormwood Gate in Dublin, which my partner Amy found along one of the points on the old city boundaries. I wanted to do something local that was responding to a global idea. I was very heavily influenced by the Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich and her book Voices From Chernobyl, where she interviews eyewitnesses, and explores the experiences of individuals and how the disaster affected their lives.
Can you talk a little about your practice? You mentioned the relationship between people and place as an important theme for you, as well as the notion of transience, the ephemeral – how do these concepts influence how you work?
Something that I think is relevant to my practice that I haven’t mentioned yet, and I should say before talking about the piece, is that I stopped working with galleries, and generally with all traditional exhibition spaces, around six years ago. Around 2011 was the last time I showed in what would be considered a gallery space. I will work with artist-led studios and art centres, but generally I like to work in spaces that aren’t art related at all. I like to work with places that are transient – as an art space, but also transient as other spaces, and this links to my thoughts on the idea of commonage or the public sphere. The public sphere was essentially a place where everyone would meet up at a specific spot (like, say, the drinking well), and this is where you would have all this communication, because they all have to go to the well anyway. But they don’t just use the well as a place to get water – they use it as a place to have conversations, to open up dialog and to get news. Really, this dual use of spaces resonates with me, and I want to be a part of something like this. There are legitimate criticisms of the theory surrounding this concept [of the public sphere], and I’m aware of that, but as an ideal for me it is fantastic.
I find audiences extremely important, and I think that when you are dealing with places that are established you are dealing with audiences that are already established also. In galleries, or on that route, I’d be speaking to the same audience as every other artist. Artists speaking to other artists is fantastic in a sharing ideas sort of way, but it’s not the be all and end all. I have had some success selling paintings a few years ago and that was going quite well, but I started getting pigeonholed a little bit by galleries who wanted me to do more of the same. You know what I mean? I’m not going to do more of the same, because I’ve finished that series and now I’m moving on to this series. I don’t want to work that way.
So in Wormwood Gate in Dublin, I set up the work. It featured lights that were triggered by pressure sensors, and the sensors were activated through interaction from viewers. The layout of the sensors matched the shape of the biohazard symbol; the layout of the lights formed the shape of the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl plant, days after the reactor fire. The idea was to create an impression of an exclusion zone, but one that could not be properly interacted with unless people stood on all sides (a minimum of three people). Otherwise there were constant ‘gaps’ in this zone. The piece becomes an ‘inclusion zone’, inviting people to move closer and become a part of the work, rather than remaining outside and forbidden to enter. I wanted it to act like a public space of some kind – a point of discussion, of mystery and reflection.
With research being a huge part of your process, how have you found the task of adapting your language to the audiences less versed in much of the theory you’ve been reading?
I suppose I communicate through my visual language anyway. My visual art is a form of communication as far as I’m concerned, and I think that if you spend enough time with an art piece you will understand it even if you have no background in art.
I don’t think I change my practice for an audience. I like to keep the ambiguity that I put into my work. I don’t change my practice for the audience – I don’t want the ideas to be in their face, but I don’t want to be to ambiguous either. I want people to read into the work the way they want to read into the work, which makes me think a little of watching the new season of Twin Peaks. There was one episode that I just watched there, and it has half an hour of mad avant-garde 1950s-style filmmaking, with a nuclear bomb going off, followed by another half an hour of black faced people coming through speaking in tongues! And as I watched this I felt: anyone could enjoy this. And I love that David Lynch is doing this in the form of a popular TV programme to entertain and confuse the hell out of people. He doesn’t compromise, but he trusts the audience to work with him to find meaning. If it is well written and well made, they will get something from it.
Funnily enough, when you make me think about this, I guess one thing has developed since 2011 – I kind of insist that I do a talk with every piece that I do now (I do like to talk! haha). And I practice quite vigorously for these talks, to the point where they become kind of performance pieces and part of the work. I don’t generally talk in a very straight line either, but I always try and communicate in the missing pieces for people who might not know my background, or don’t know my way of working, so I try and bring that across in my talks. And I find that people are often interested engaging in conversation and dialogue after looking at the work again in a different light. So yeah, that has become more of my practice since I stopped working in galleries.
You have such a broad set of tools when it comes to approaching a project – how do you see yourself as an artist?
I’ve been reading about specialisation. One thing that jumps out is the book Chronicles, by Bob Dylan. It’s a fantastic book, where he really defines his point of view as a musician. The artist as musician – he’s not thinking [wholly] about songwriting or revolutionary causes, he’s thinking about being a musician as the thing that is important to him. It’s a form of identity and that singular identity of ‘this is what I do, and this is what I do well’ has been reviewed in what I have read over and over in other sources. I think sometimes that’s the only way to really perfect something – a process or a practice. But saying that, I like being scattergun. I’m not a specialist in anything, but I can be good in a lot of things, and I like that. Sometimes it can be disappointing because it can lead to having more failures, when I have grand ideas for projects because I’m got good enough at programming or I haven’t figured out how to paint something well enough. But it allows me a broader scope, which I’m grateful for. This way of working also opens me up to collaboration with people who have better skills, and that is an important part of my work. A lot of what I have done recently has been collaborative, and I love to develop ideas with other artists or people with other skills or ideas.