Extracts from a conversation between Aoife Desmond and James Greenway, September 6th 2017
Written for the booklet to accompany the solo exhibition Something Momentous Germinating at Galway Arts Centre September 15th - October 10th 2017
JG: I guess all of the work, all of the different elements of the work describe states of being maybe, or try to, yeah or what it is like to be in the space of the house.
AD: But then how that is something that is universal, that anyone can relate to, it stops, it stops being about the house in a sense.
JG: Its the feeling of, I guess we were talking about, somewhere, about looking for somewhere that you belong but the reality of being in the space, where it’s, like what describes that state of when you are in the place, like when do you ever feel like you belong there, I guess, when you are in the home and you’re thinking about where is the right place for you to be. Belonging and longing, isn’t that what we were saying?
AD: Yeah, I don’t think we phrased that way but yeah.
JG: Maybe that’s a good like hyphenated word.
AD: Yeah, Belonging and longing.
JG: Or like a parenthesis in the B or something , that was cool a few years ago wasn’t it?
AD: Yeah, I could rename it that.
AD: Be longing.
JG: That’s actually pretty good stuff.
AD: I suppose, I know it’s just because it’s the newest thing I’ve done, kind of the last addition to the show has been adding the bricks.
AD: But for me that shifted it, even though the decision to use the bricks was sparked by well seeing the bricks and liking them, but then thinking that relates back to the physical material of the house, a redbrick house and so on, it’s suggestive of a structure, but then when I was using the bricks and built it, for me it took on a completely different quality then expected it felt almost like it was slightly post war, I know thats a bit strong, that it felt like these salvaged bricks, pulling something from the debris and then trying to, just that the smallest gesture of trying to create a home out of that space, I don’t know but I found that quite resonant, that it….
JG: I guess this area is a bit war vibes though because of the barracks behind and a lot of the people that were in there were using these houses?
AD: Yes, I suppose there is a military history to the place, I wasn’t even thinking of that side of things, I was more thinking of, well in the wider world at the moment obviously there is a lot of destruction and homelessness and people trying to set up home in very un-ideal circumstances and I can’t say that I am in that situation but at the same time the act of building a home or making a home, it’s quite complex and multilayered and psychological and like how you say its a lot about how you feel in the world regardless of the actual physical space you’re in or it’s an action that needs to be…..
JG: The image that I saw of the redbricks, that we were talking about, when you were saying that it is quite minimalist, maybe it gave a different result to maybe what what you thought, before you were just attracted to the bricks and then suddenly it was this form or partition, or whatever, framework for what needed to be, for what you wanted to happen inside. I do the same thing in my environment, I am constantly changing it like even when you are in the space you don’t ever arrive really at a place where everything sits where you put it, you don’t find the perfect place for things even within the house.
AD: No because I think it changes all the time. So even if you had it all, again I think it is an energetic process that is constantly changing as to what sits right. Not that you can possibly afford the time or anything else to redo everything all the time, but just even on the level of what stuff to keep or not keep or to have around you, I guess you kind of slough skins of your former self, or that’s what it feels like a bit, so its kind of trying to to pare back to get a clearer visibility.
JG: to become minimalsit
AD: become minimalist, aspiring to be minimalist
JG: become, become, what was that thing, becoming, becoming unrecognisable or something?
AD: Oh yeah, I don’t know is there always a chasing of, I guess there is always a thing of a slight chasing of this better version of yourself or something?
AD: But it’s also trying to create space for new things to come in, for new parts of yourself to form aswell.
JG: Is it like a better version of yourself or like a purer version of yourself, how you establish order around you, there is a very certain sense of when something is right and when something is wrong in your living space. And you can be very sensitive to that, so I guess it is just getting something more in tune with your sense of order maybe? What do you think about that? I mean in the work that you are making aswell there is this sense of order to how you make these little interventions with blankets or with figs, I mean placing the branch in the first place, these kinds of decisions or non-decisions, it is a sense of order I guess. Which you could do in your work but you can’t really do in your house in the same way.
AD: No not in the same way, they end up being quite different languages in the end there is a relationship between the two but they are also quite distinct from each other, I guess the language that gets developed in the artwork is, its very intuitive, and it’s tapping into things on a different level, it’s not, so you’re in the day to day and you’re worried about heating the house, cleaning the house and that there’s food, or washing the clothes, that the door works, there are practical things like that the garden has not completely overgrown and taken over the house, within that there’s moments of just being, over a long period time of being an artist, or just your natural inclination, that you collect things, you see things in a certain way, things seem to have an importance, even though it is possibly, I guess it’s hard to articulate the need to make work and the language behind it and even more that you are…
JG: But the work is the articulation aswell, it’s always that thing that when you are in college and…
AD: Well I’m calling it a language but I don’t mean a verbal language, I suppose a visual language, and that this visual language I found that working on this show, I was surprised, I had these film fragments, and these drawings and these small sculptural pieces but then when I was working into the work for the exhibition and expanding on that, I was surprised to revisit a language from a couple of years ago when I was still in Dublin, something that got slightly put on hold with the moving and everything, things have still been in storage and its like now unpacking things, it’s revisiting that language, revisiting the gold paper, the plant drawings, the mirror, the blanket, reusing these things that seem to have become charged in some way, that these certain elements seem to attain a certain importance for a certain length of time and need to be worked through.
JG: Or certain objects
AD: Or certain objects, yeah
JG: I guess like the gold blanket, it’s like the heat blanket sort of thing.
AD: It’s a bit like the heat blanket, it’s actually made from chocolate wrappers.
JG: it’s not actually a heat blanket so?
AD: It’s not a space blanket no, it’s not a survival blanket but it has the appearance of being a survival blanket, but really I’ve just been hoarding gold paper, and originally I thought that the blanket would be something that would be worked on with drawings but then it actually had so much, it just seemed to have enough going on as it is, it just seemed to have a sculptural presence and it doesn’t need anything else. So I guess the work is moving between the abstract, the sculptural and the figurative, it has these different layers of approaches…
JG: And so you know how you are going to do this sculptural set up with the blanket like it was set up the last day with the figs and the branch and the mask, and now the figs are cast in bronze, what’s the thinking behind that piece, was it like a stage to play in for film, or was it a sculpture?
AD: It became a stage to play in, for some reason it suggested performance actions for me, but that wasn’t the starting point, the starting point was really the fig tree, the main element of the sculpture is what remains of the tree that was cut from the chimney. So that it is that pivotal moment that I decided to re-explore for the show, that seemed full of, full of potentiality and then the tree died so then it seemed like that potentiality is now gone possibly, but then I felt like it is not necessarily gone and then searching for a way to tap back into that moment, or if the moment seemed so significant is it possible to tap back into that moment and reclaim it. That kind of hinges on…
JG: Like was in the text that you’ve written about trying to get back to that…
AD: So really the gold ties back into to that aswell, it seems like the gold blanket was like a companion piece for this tree.
JG: I suppose thats interesting that it kind of…
AD: The blanket had been used in another piece aswell where I had made this structure for ‘Spontaneous Togetherness’ the show I did in The Guesthouse and there were performance elements to that, so that body of work, that I was tapping back into was The Fifth Bardo, so there is a kind of undercurrent of revisiting certain elements from that, but I don’t feel like the ideology is the same, it’s a bit more open, I’ve kind of deliberately not latched onto anything else in terms of writing or theory for this show.
JG: But it is interesting in terms of writing, what you just said there that there was this moment with the fig tree in the fireplace where it just took root.
AD: In the chimney
JG: Something very hopeful, within the process of whatever you were exploring in the work and then that didn’t work and then that didn't work out for whatever reason but later remembering that feeling of seeing it and wanting to get back there I suppose it’s interesting to just think about all, what we’ve just talked about now, just all the directions of longing, like physically in space, if you were desiring to be in another place like Greece or Turkey.
AD: or Iceland.
JG: Or Iceland, or else just within time, like longing to go backwards to a state that you once felt before or with the ship piece, the kind of longing to gain direction of going forwards, lots of directions, but it’s interesting, one other thought completely unrelated, going back to the blanket, all of the colour choices they seem very purposeful, how you maybe put together those sculptures, or how in all of the work, like in the moving image work, with the gold with the green that comes through, with the mask with the green and the pink that hangs above the blanket. How do you feel about, I suppose that is kind of a natural thing that you don’t think about.
AD: That was kind of deliberate, I had forgotten until you said it but that whole language of the two shades of pink and the two shades of green was an abstracted version of the colours of a fig, between the fruit and the leaves, so it was actually a deliberate choice of colour and it kind of comes up in the drawing there is the same colours repeated as a geometric pattern.
JG: Oh wow I didn’t see that, that’s a really nice drawing.
AD: So that’s kind of like a geometric colour essence of the fig, broken down.
JG: So does the geometric element relate to prismatic light or something?
AD: Sometimes it does, so the use of the hexagons, the coloured hexagons is very much about prismatic light and sometimes that’s really visible within using film that you see those hexagons of light really clearly. So that does tie back into it, an idea of energy and colour and light, like if you are breaking matter down to really basic components thats what you are left with, so there is a sense of coming back to that elemental stage as well in the work.
Surface Memory - Maureen O'Connor
Written for the handout for the launch of RetroReflection at Crawford Art Gallery May 6th 2017
Aoife Desmond’s film, RetroReflection, begins with a series of extreme close-ups of different pairs of eyes, so that the audience feels scrutinized, creating a potentially discomfiting circuit of looks and reflections. The eerie, echoing, non-diegetic soundscape dominating the first thirty seconds contributes to the atmosphere of unease, introducing a gothic note that will recur at times throughout the piece. The gothic unfixes distinctions between past and present; an appropriate atmosphere, then, to open a film that challenges perceptions, especially those that erect destructive distances between, on one side, culture, science, and the human; and, on the other, the “natural” world and the nonhuman. The film suggests that seeing is not knowing. Knowledge is not the establishment of fact, but an ongoing process of discovery, an accommodation with the limits of knowledge.
The film takes as its central focus the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at University College Cork. The work conducted in the ERI is dedicated to researching sustainable energies, supporting conservation, and tracing biodiversity, all potentially lonely pursuits in a world where humanity seems bent on its own destruction. The building itself, an exemplar of innovative sustainable design, stands at a distance from the university’s main campus centres. Situated on the River Lee, it cannot easily be seen from the road, except by the rare pedestrian who wanders onto the grassy verge. The film’s first evocative shots of the building, shots that approach the structure from the river’s edge, establish its remoteness. The building appears at once insular and open to its verdant setting, somehow both abstract and concrete. The juxtaposed reflections and transparencies of inside and outside that dominate the film’s imagery disrupt the relative positions of not only inside and outside, but also those that organise relationships between science and art, human and nonhuman. The film’s laboratory space is acted upon and enabled by its setting on the flood plain which has absorbed the building, shifting and growing around it. The film’s stitching together of inside and outside is uneven and obliquely gapped, as, for example, in a shot of a glass-encased staircase—a liminal space where no work, as such, occurs, not properly inside or outside—against which the reflection of clouds mass and bloom in a dreamy image of blended stasis and movement that juxtaposes hard acute angles and evanescent curves.
The ERI is a relatively new building, but it is built over a Victorian sewer, sits on the bank of an ever-changing river, and houses a constantly rotating population of researchers and administrators. The occasional ghostly flickering in the film, the shadows, opacities, and transparencies of light and glass, sometimes shot in black and white, sometimes in colour, all remind us of both the transitory and the timeless; in other words, the essential hauntedness of existence, the persistence of the past into the present. The building is a site of intersection between the products of human labour and what we think of as “natural” processes. This intersection is a place of productive and mysterious becoming, which is never closed, never finished, like RetroReflection itself, a film which lingers in the memory.