I was presenting work in The Joinery, a gallery in Stoneybatter from May 9th until May 14th as part of my end of year project. It signified the terminus of my second year in NCAD and my first year specialising in Fine Art Printmaking. I thought at the time that it may also purport the conclusion of the wider project I had been working on for the best part of the year, but as the show finished, I realised the project hadn’t.
I will try to give a brief, honest summary of the content of the piece I showed, while I also aim to detail my reaction to the exhibition and my experience with the project. This is something I’ve neglected to really do in public before, but similarly to the recent posts I’ve made regarding things such as my skin and also my training, I think it’s essential for me to present such things in an exposed environment so I may gain from any critical response a reader may give and beyond that, to become more comfortable with being an open person regardless of the subject. I strive for this in my creative endeavors so I think I would benefit from this in my reactions to those very things.
I’ve specified multiple times before that one of my main concerns in life right now is self betterment, something that I feel I ignored for a long time. I’ve recognised attributes of myself that I would like to improve, physically and mentally. This covers a huge variety of areas though, everything from better interpersonal skills to more accurate striking, from working on my patience to ‘getting over’ the very few fears that I have, and one of these fears is what has dominated the past year for me, both in my personal life and in my creative output.
November 2010 marked the first experience I had with this fear, something that had never bothered me before, in fact those situations often comforted me which is why the development of something so irrational was such a shock. The completely overwhelming terror came from any exposure to enclosed spaces. Anywhere where I felt I could not leave. Trains. Buses. Cars.
Things became exceptionally bad when I couldn’t physically walk into lectures. I recognise now and I recognised then how ridiculous that sounds but this fear went past being a mental stigma and became a physical barrier. I would literally lose control of my legs, or so it seemed, my heart would race to a pace I’d never experienced before these attacks. My vision would blur and I’d lose the simple ability to think with a clear mind. I’d hyperventilate, and that was truly the worst. Riding the train became an abhorrent paralyzing experience and made every morning just feel depressing, as if knowing I had to ride the train today was paralleled to knowing I was willingly walking into my own demise, or something equally stupid and something that maybe sounds less ridiculous.
Right from the start I knew I had to do something about this. It was getting worse and worse and I knew I had to try to control it. I would literally break into laughter at night time, realising how foolish it all seemed, I used to love the trains! But what could I do about it? It may have been absurd but it was my reality, so I kept riding the trains, trying to stay on until I absolutely had to get off. I was late for college a lot because I couldn’t last the whole way into Tara Station or even Connolly so I’d walk from wherever I could get to. Company made it better, good company made it a lot better, understanding company made it hopeful. Thank you, Kev!
Prompted by the advice of my Mother and a friend, I went to see a counselor. ‘The fear’ was one of the main reasons behind that choice and one of the main things we focused on in our time together. Having never gone to a counselor before, I didn’t really know what to expect and kind of assumed I’d see her for one or two sessions, but ended up going weekly for about 7 months. She helped me trace the exact source and reason behind these attacks which was perhaps the most important thing to me, although I don’t feel it belongs here. She also helped me to rationalize the fear which was quite comforting. She helped me come to terms with being okay with something ‘so foolish’ ruling all, and we worked on ways I could get past this.
I was quite private about these meetings and until now only a handful of people knew I was going to counseling, but I’ve recognised just how positive of an experience it was and how much I owe to it. I’ve become a lot more proud of my choice to seek help and it’s not something I’m embarrassed by any more. I know I should never have been, but I couldn’t help it. It’s not nice to feel like you’re broken, and it’s not something you usually feel proud of. What I will say is that, if there’s anything you have ever thought you could use that kind of help with, do not hesitate to see somebody because fuck me, it can really turn your life around. My experience was brief, 7 months really isn’t that long in the wider scheme of things but dammit it did me more good than I could know.
I started to push myself as much as I could with the help and guidance I received from the counseling. I started off with simple things like riding the train one extra stop, or going to lectures and sitting right beside the door so I could leave if I had to. This grew and grew since around December 2010 until very recently when I was doing things like the tying myself into a tiny space for six hours or our Re:strict exhibition where we had people build us into corners that we couldn’t leave for a few hours. These were all horrible experiences but they have served me well. It was facing the fear head on that helped me work towards overcoming it. It has been a truly exhausting year but I rode the train today and felt as calm as the day that was in it. The fear isn’t totally gone, no, there’s more work here for me to do but pushing myself to the brink, exhaustingly facing the fear and doing all that I can to get past something so silly but crippling has left me in such a positive place regarding this whole ordeal. I think with some more work I can be completely over this and it has really reassured me that I can achieve a lot more than I previously thought.
The whole time that I was pushing to get past this fear, I was making work about my reactions to it all. I was making drawings, prints, paintings, taking photographs. I was making music and writing. I was being creatively active because of these events.
I’m lucky enough to go to a college where I could spend almost my entire year working to make myself a better human being and somehow get graded for that. I’m also lucky enough to have done really really well so far this year, based on those grades. So there is always a positive.
As the academic year came to a close and I started my final project, I knew I would be covering this topic. I struggled to visualise what I may do. What work I would show and more importantly, how I would show it?
As my project developed I became intent on creating a physical experience instead of a visual one. I could not be happier in print, it was my first choice and I love it dearly but I often find myself completely at odds with it. The idea that a print is finished once I pull it irritates me so much and the thought that a print can only ever be a visual experience is probably what pushed me to attempt to create a physical one.
I regularly find myself bored by visual art. Art that gives you a choice, a choice in whether you want to view it or not, a choice that allows you to react to a piece or totally ignore it. I feel that art should be a full body experience. Something that you feel, that you don’t forget, something that you totally experience. I don’t feel that that is totally achievable through basic aesthetic. I think you need to be in the piece, I think you need to be an essential component of the piece, and then you may have this physical experience.
This is an idea I was wrestling with over the course of my project, an idea I’m still wrestling with today. How could I show work about my fear of places you can’t leave, where the viewer actually feels it?
Well, the answer came a lot more obvious than I had planned and I must thank Aidan for helping me talk out my ideas around this and eventually come to a full realisation.
I decided I would construct an enclosure that the viewer must enter to view the work, I would show a lithograph inside, the lithograph is almost arbitrary, it isn’t essential, it just ties my own experience into the enclosure, which once the viewer enters becomes the piece itself.
The lithograph I chose to show was this. It was made one day during an activity where I worked straight for eleven hours making lithograph after lithograph about the fear. It was meant to be twelve hours. I couldn’t last.
I get annoyed that art rarely involves any trade between the artist and the viewer. You go to a gallery and you ponder around until you see something you like and then you look at that, you can brush past everything else, and once you do find something you like, you are not obliged to stay. You don’t have to look at it for any amount of time. You just take what you like and that’s that. That annoys me. It really does. I think the viewer should have a more active role. I think they should become an essential element.
Maybe it’s actually something to do with my background in the hardcore punk, where the audience really is essential to really complete the full experience. They’re the last component. Or at least, that’s the way I view it.
I don’t really see it any different for art. So I wanted to work on that, to make some kind of trade and if possible take away the viewers freedom or their choice to view or not view the work. Thankfully this went hand in hand with the thesis of the whole project.
I built a plain white wardrobe in the gallery with the lithograph inside.
I put a handle on the door and handle on the side. This gave me the ability to put a chain through one handle into the next and with a padlock, tightly lock the wardrobe completely closed.
If a person wished to view the work they must trade me five minutes of their time. This involved being locked inside the wardrobe for five minutes without being able to leave at all. I would shake hands with each potential viewer to make a deal and under no circumstances would I allow the person to leave until the five minutes were up. Obviously they could just try to break the wardrobe, but who actually would? Nobody did anyway. The box was just the right size to fit me in, so anybody much bigger had a difficult time getting in.
The dimensions were 201cm x 50cm x 60cm if I recall correctly.
The final product looked like this:
Opening night came and I assumed that I would get maybe 2 or 3 people into the box. Being locked inside a very enclosed space isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and it’s obviously not mine. I didn’t have any signs up or anything, so people either saw others go in and out, were told about it, or as I was sitting beside it, would ask me what it was. I’d only interact with somebody if they interacted with the box itself. I wouldn’t tell anybody what it was if they just walked by but if they came up and looked, touched the box, held the chain, then I would talk to them and tell them about it. There was actually a que for almost all of the night during the opening and over the course of that night and the days that followed, people were in the box for almost five hours over all. I still can’t believe that. It was exhausting work because it meant I had to be in the gallery from open to close each day just sitting in the corner.
I hooked up a microphone to the box itself so I could make recordings of people’s reactions. I was interested in the actual sounds of the box itself instead of just them or their surroundings. I was hoping for some tapping, or rubbing, or whatever they would do to those walls but I ended up getting interesting results of what people said both inside and outside of the box and the audio recording up top there is a collection of sounds from that.
The reaction to the box was very mixed. Some people came out visibly shook up, reluctant to talk and would leave and go outside right after. These were the reactions I was most interested in, because they were the ones that I understood most personally. Others came out and talked at length about their experiences, a lot of people exclaiming that in those short five minutes they found their senses heightened and focused on sounds and smells they wouldn’t usually pay any attention to. Some people came out and didn’t really react in any way. Boredom was a success for me for sure. And most people came out and said it was definitely the longest they’ve ever looked at one image without stopping, which was essential to this for me and I was so happy that people said it. I’d love to write more about these experiences but I’m exhausted and I want to go and finish reading a book I started today and of course, I have all of the audio recordings so it doesn’t really matter to me as I can just look back on those. But this was more than a success for me. I had such a lovely variety of reactions and the piece achieved exactly what I wanted it to. Unfortunately it did stop a lot of people from seeing the work because they weren’t comfortable with the idea of being locked up inside. Most notably Michael Timmins who runs Independent Editions, the lithography studio in Stoneybatter. I really would have loved for him to see the work and he seemed so interested in the idea of it, but he was too reluctant to engage with the piece and perhaps in a way those reactions are the most important because it shows me how far I have come since November 2010, when the very idea of that would have been enough to render me useless and now I can take those five minutes and control myself and the situation around me.
I am proud.
- conorpmosullivan said: This is fantastic. Do you plan on making more of these booths/wardrobes for different prints for future shows?
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- pvssykat said: this is fucking awesome dude congrats
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- fuckingbisexuals said: I feel like a proud mam for some reason.
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