The last time we spoke to you was around the time of your exhibition “Flowers from the East”. What has been happening since then?
Quite a bit (laughs) and great to see you again. Flowers from the East was really well received for those that saw it and I got some mentoring with curator Jane Morrow through CCA/D which really helped me pin down and categorise what I was doing. I’ve been cracking on dealing with rejection as an artist does. I mean we reject ideas and notions in our work daily and then, when we’re happy, send the work out to hopefully not get rejected. Todays risk averse funding cycles means that it is a very difficult arena to try and show work and ideas. No such thing as an overnight success thats for f**king sure. That said Persistence and thranness appears to be paying off (laughs again). The Ulster Museum bought 2 works from my last exhibition ‘Worship the last thread as a relic’ for the permanent collection of the Modern History Dept. And another work ‘Jubilee Vest (For Liz)’ somehow managed to get selected for this years Royal Hibernian Academy show which is a bit mad! but also very very pleasing after it had been rejected by the RUA last year! Kind of confirms what I’ve been thinking for a while, that my work is perhaps a little too close to home and that I need to take it further afield which I’m actively looking at. Talking of which a film I made to finish a talk I gave at University of Atypical has just closed Other Movie film festival in Switzerland.
It was a very reflective piece of work?
I think it marked the beginning of me really taking ownership of the work. Almost like stepping out from behind the camera, some people were surprised that i was making sculptures and able to arranged them coherently (laughs) into an exhibition. On that personal note I’ve since included a self portrait in my last exhibition and I also cast my hand to top another work ‘Flagpole’. I think all the research and work seemed to fall into place and Peter Mutschler at Ps Squared with his subtle curatorial guidance and interventions (minimal at best) was at the right time for me. I was extremely happy with the exhibition and Peter helped make it happen.
You were saying you have started to reach a wider audience. Why do you think that has happened?
I think a couple of things happened. I was invited to join The Vault in East Belfast 5 years ago when they moved in.That gave me a base and a space to work in, a space to think about my ideas and also to up my game so to speak. We have a regular exhibition schedule and great social media which always helped to promote the shows and showcase the work of the Vaulters. It is a very supportive and encouraging space. I started to understand fully that my work is durational and hyper-local in that I am looking into specifically localised activities, events and culture. From where I am sitting in my studio, I can literally look out the window and see where the material I am using comes from. I work with ‘found gifted and retrieved’ flags and ephemera, the work is also described as ‘Auto ethnographic which gives me the opportunity to play with that and explore influences. I think I’m most referencing trench and folk art but i am especially interested in the syncretic whereby added meaning and resonance can be bestowed upon artefacts.
The Vault was an important element in terms of shaping your career as an artist?
It was and still is despite our moving from Tower street. I’ve been able to look at my work, to create new work, to move forward with my career and having that space in The Vault was vitally important. The fact that one hundred artists who landed on the doorstep of my local community was important as well. I had already been involved in some challenging conversations regarding art and the community anyway. There was already a conversation about what kinds of possibilities, what kinds of things could and might be done by an artist in the area. Then The Vault arrives, and that emboldened me. I’ve been able to show not just my work but others to hopefully expand peoples horizons and perspectives.
Having your own studio made a difference?
I had been using my front room of my house as my workspace which got a bit cluttered not to say dusty! (laughs) I was invited to make a piece of work for the annual 11th Nov remembrance garden. the piece I made was actually left in situ for 2 yrs, essentially I had an unofficial public art work that the council even cut the grass around it.
Did moving to The Vault allow you to professionalise the work you were doing?
It certainly made me up my game and there was a certain level of friendly competition in The Vault which made you want to improve and work harder. There was support and we would run workshops to help people fill in funding applications and if one of us had knowledge about something we would pass it on to each other. Its an extraordinary mix of talent with some of the best in the world at what they do. This diversity means there is a sense that you had to work much more professionally, and also to take more seriously the promotional side of the work that you to do. For me I had to learn how to express clearly what it was that I was doing
What else happened?
To go back to the presentation of the “Flowers in the East” exhibition, which was very multi layered in terms of the ideas it was looking at, and also multi disciplinary in that it had photography as well as manipulation of found objects, meant that it was a good representation of my work. It’s worth pointing out that I am first and foremost a photographer but I have been looking at ways of adding meaning to the work, to take the image beyond what it is. This syncretic idea runs deep, especially after a trip to Haiti. However we all have mini shrines to memories, fridge magnets, or that pebble you picked up on the beach to remind you of a day trip. Or the piece of gravel from your mother’s grave.
i’m now really beginning to flesh put some of the ideas I touched upon and really need to spend a month or so writing but that will have to take a back seat for the next while as the Vault moves to it’s new locations. Perhaps because I am still a little in disbelief myself and I haven’t really promoted this much but President Bill Clinton now has a work of mine entitled “The impossible task of squaring the circle”. Inspired by the eyelets and cable ties left up on lamp posts I made a cube, albeit an imperfect cube, out of the eyelets and the cable ties which are part of the Loyalist flags I collect; the beauty of that piece is that it is a cube made out of circles. You can take it apart and put it back together again using the eyelets and cable ties but they will never be one in the same.The tensions and positioning of each eyelet will never be the same. The work investigates the ideas of resistance and persistence. It is an impossible task to square the circle but still we try.
And that period is ending now with The Vault closing?
The building The Vault is in now is closing and soon to be demolished. But the Vault will continue I have no doubt at all. Something special was created there and flourished. I think we have inspired other studios and from what I’m hearing making them up their games!
Regarding the vault my neighbour told me only yesterday that he played in “the big field” as a child after a German land mine exploded and demolished half the street in 1941. It lay fallow till the late 50‘s before the old Rupert Stanley College was built. It is kind of ironic that 80 yers on it will again be levelled. Its just a shame that there is no opportunity to create a green space for the kids as they are desperately in need of one. I’m arranging to film and record my neighbour as his testimony can provide unique and generous insights for the future. And isnt that whats its all about ? The future? Making a better one for everyone?