Sunday, June 7, 2015

Interview with Niamh O'Doherty

The Long Still (partial clip of installation) by Niamh O'Doherty, 2014

Emerging Irish conceptual artist Niamh O'Doherty is currently inspired by the landscape and near-constant sunlight around her. She is completing a month-long artist residency at The Old School Arthouse (Gamli Skóli) on the island of Hrísey off Iceland's northern coast, just south of the Arctic Circle (full disclosure: so is this interviewer). Using things like Super 8 film, installations, and other means, she explores the notion of time. She has a B.A. in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art and Design in London and an M.A. from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. Her work has already been exhibited in galleries and art spaces in both Dublin and London.

When not under Iceland's midnight sun, she lives in Dublin. She was interviewed from her shared living quarters at the Old School Arthouse on Hrísey.

Arts Community Connection: Briefly describe where you were born and raised. Has it had an impact on your artistic perspective or method?

Niamh O'Doherty: I was born in Donegal, a town which is on the northwest coast of Ireland. It's quite a small town of 5000 people, and it's in a location that - in comparison to the rest of Ireland - is pretty cut off. It's only connected to the Republic of Ireland by a single road and a six mile stretch of land, with the rest of the county bordering Northern Ireland. It's a fairly particular place in that respect.

In terms of my artistic approach or method, I don't really know (its impact)'s a bit like asking someone to describe why they are who they are... One of the things that was good about growing up in such a small community is that there was no separation of pupils. There was one school and everyone went to it. I think that was something that kept me grounded and aware of the reality of different people’s situations. Also I think it’s good that I had no choice but to leave home to go to university. I went to London aged 18, which really gave me independence and I learned a lot about life.

One of my works, The Long Still (a seven-screen Super 8 installation in 2014), was produced in Portnoo County, Donegal where I spent my childhood summers. I set out to find a place where 'clocked time' was less central to life. So, I ended up going back to the place where I spent my holidays as a child. It's a beautiful place that is pretty isolated. I would say that my summers spent there influenced my work because I was able to comprehend of a place like that.

I don't fully know what impact the place where I was born and raised has on my art work. It's probably a question that would be better answered in a few years, when I have more perspective.

On Reflection by Sofie Loscher and Niamh O'Doherty, 2013
ACC: You received your first degree in London, England, and your second degree in Dublin, Ireland. Since both degrees were arts-related, and an arts community is often shaped in part by the place and culture that it lies within, what were some of the most striking differences between the arts communities of the two capitals?

Niamh: Well, obviously London is one of the art capitals of the world and that is one of the most significant things about the place. It was great to be there, in that there was so much going on, so much to see, and you were constantly faced with brilliant artwork...and I mean really brilliant artwork. You could just pop down to the Tate Modern, or pop into Matt's Gallery, which is really fantastic. And really top-rated artists were always around. But that was normal. At the time I probably didn't appreciate how significant that was. London can also have a feeling of being very...up itself. Sometimes it really felt like you'd never ever get to the top of it, or maybe even really have a chance of getting anywhere. 

I left a year after my degree. I kind of left at the point where, it felt like 'Ok, I either leave now or I'll never become an artist'. 

ACC: You really felt that to be true? 

Niamh: Well yes, because I couldn't afford to live there, so I would have had to secure a full-time job. At that particular time, that would likely have prevented me from creating and creatively growing as an artist...

The reason I was in London was for the art, and if the art was going to go, then it was time to leave. So I applied for my M.A. in Dublin and got accepted. I applied for it in September and the program started in September. So I left London rather quickly...the day after I found out I was accepted.

Dublin was also a new place. I was from Ireland, but a very different part of Ireland. At this time I had lived in two different cities - London and Berlin (for erasmus) and I knew that I would need to get a new group of friends, and I knew that a good way of doing that was to go back to university. In a way, I never really felt a part of the community in London - I loved it, but always felt like something of an outsider. In Dublin, I feel very much part of the community. 

You asked what are the most striking differences between the cities. The size of the two cities and their art scenes is the most striking difference. London’s size is a real advantage in the making of art work. I you want to get materials - and I mean anything at all - you can find it in London. In Dublin a lot of the things I need have to be ordered online and it takes longer to get materials. Also in London you have more choice in art events and what to attend - which is good for artists as the focus of their work can be quite specific. In Dublin the smaller size of the art scene does have a negative effect on criticism. I don’t feel that one can speak their mind in Dublin, which has a real impact on the quality of art that emerges. I always felt I could question everything in London...even the best artists. I do find both cities pretty insular. There is a whole world outside both places. 

ACC: What does it mean to create time-based art? Elaborate on how you incorporate time into your work. 

Niamh: I don't think you can really say my work is 'time-based', because to me 'time-based' refers to either film or performance. I would say that the subject and material of my art is time...

I guess I would say that it is part of a larger, ambiguous approach to self-reflection - a term you (referring to the interviewer) use a lot - but that it ultimately creates the medium in which I can begin to speak through.

For awhile - about two years ago - I tried to reject time as being the subject of work. And I tried very, very hard to see outside of it, and get beyond it. Ultimately, I failed. I returned to it and it was more interesting than everything else. Until the day comes where I'm at the end of this research, which at the moment I can't foresee, this will remain the medium and the subject of my work. But through it, I can point to and refer to something much broader.

First Light (series) by Niamh O'Doherty, 2015
ACC: You seem to alternate the means through which you deliver your artistic message. Currently, you are experimenting with watercolor paint and photography. Would you say your message is consistent while the tools change, or do both morph as you expand your methods?

Niamh: Ultimately the medium never changes because my work has always been conceptual - meaning the concepts or ideas involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. That I use different 'tools' such as Super 8 film, installation, and medium format photography to communicate these concepts or ideas makes it seem that the medium changes, but because my art is conceptual, it doesn't actually.

To answer the question - does your message remain consistent - no it doesn’t. I used to think I needed to maintain a singular message or a consistent artistic ‘theme', but as I got older I could see that this was too limiting and that it is better to let the message evolve with the work. 

ACC: Since we are both completing a residency here on Hrisey Island off of Iceland's northern coast... How did you become aware of this residency and why did it appeal to you?

Niamh: After making the work The Long Still, I knew I had to go and experience a situation in which the sun didn't set. So, I researched any possible residency in Europe that would be far enough north, and applied for them all. I got a few and decided this one suited best. So I did this residency to be under the midnight sun. 

I'm blown away by just how inspired I am by this place. I've been waiting about four years to make this work. 

ACC: Name three artists who have deeply inspired you.

Niamh: John Cage, whose work 4'33" was pivotal to my early practice. When I first found out about that work I couldn't even fathom it. It took me about three years to comprehend it. The inspiration behind it, and the way he created that work - saw that as music - but also that he created a situation where, the first time it was performed, the audience could not comprehend it. It's just so brilliant. Anri Sala, who made me realize that 'ruptures' or disruptions in life, especially during childhood, can really help form an artist. And Francis Alÿs, whose work...well, I could hold in my head forever. I saw his exhibition at the Tate in 2011 and what really struck me about it was the presentation. The hanging of the exhibition fitted his practice so well. The exhibition resonated with me...that's what I want for my work, and it's how I want people to see it. But there are so many great artists who have made me think 'I want to make work like them'. 

ACC: Is there a question you've always wanted to be asked?

Niamh: What was the biggest revelation of your art career so far?

ACC: What is your answer?

Niamh: One day, soon after I moved to Dublin, I was sitting in class and names of around ten artists or art critics were mentioned. These were pretty successful figures in the art world. When I thought about it, I realized that I had either attended a lecture and therefore been in the same room or had actually met and talked with (every person mentioned). I don’t think any of those people would remember me, but that didn’t matter. Since I had only been in the community for five years and really knew very few people, I realized then how small the art world must be. It was a pretty empowering revelation. 

Jameson Freeman interviewed Niamh O’Doherty for ArtsComCon.

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea that Time IS the subject! Beautiful work and inspiring interview.