Tactile Simulations

SARAH HAYDEN INTERVIEWS PÁDRAIG SPILLANE ABOUT THE TRAJECTORY OF HIS PRACTICE AND HIS RECENT EXHIBITION,  ‘WHAT PASSES BETWEEN US’, AT SIRIUS ARTS CENTRE.

Sarah Hayden: For several years, your practice has tended towards three dimensions, and yet it maintains a preoccupation with surfaces. How do you conceive of this development and how does it interact with your interest in interrogating ‘depthless’, two-dimensional images?

Pádraig Spillane: My interest in surfaces centres on how they can be reordered. This can involve searching the innards of materials, or cutting and tearing printed matter, to examine how things look and feel in proximity to each other. The images and objects I use – whether found or sought out – are generally commercial, industrial or mass-produced materials. These things are often familiar, ubiquitous or communally experienced in some way through our shared visual culture. I deconstruct these images and overlay them, looking for prompts and frissons and creating unexpected effects. The work’s evolution from two to three dimensions came out of this inquiry and from my desire to produce tactile transformations within an image-saturated contemporary context.

I do like the ambiguity of the word ‘depthless’. It suggests something that has no depth and can vastly extend. I originally worked with ‘flat’ materials, such as printed matter for collage and décollage. I am often attracted to how a figure or a body is placed within an image. I focus on considerations such as the significance of colour, the space around a body, what gesture is being shown and the props or symbols being used. I am also interested in how a tear or cut may operate within such images, particularly with regard to the tensions created by disparate elements coming together. I also work a lot with mirrors to harness the seemingly virtual spaces created by reflective surfaces.

SH: Much of your work seems hyper-attuned to instances of proximity and points of physical contact. What motivates this fascination with making artworks that appear preoccupied with touch?

PS: Using a collage strategy, the relationship between image fragments (or images and objects in my sculptural assemblages) is guided by proximity; relations and associations emerge, based on the placement of these images. Contact and nearness are fundamental to how I work. It is the excitement of breaks and interruptions – the openings generated through alterations to context and content – that drives my practice. I am interested in concepts of mirroring and doubling, as well as what makes something completely distinct. Tactility, stimulation and the simulation of haptic desire are central to this process.

SH: Your work has been featured in several group shows recently. Is there a constellation of artists, movements or tendencies (either current or art historical) with which your work seeks to connect?

PS: For me, it comes back to a very simple artistic priority of making work that I want to see. I admire artworks that do not merely reflect or reinforce the status quo, but critique it, break it down or twist it into something new through different forms of representation. Isa Genzken, Hannah Höch and Jimmy De Sana are artists that I would regularly look at and think about. I admire their ability to configure objects alongside the figure and their commitment to developing commentary through the use of manufactured materials, as well as the idealised ‘push-and-pull’ that manifests in their work.

SH: To what degree do you think of your practice as being research-led? What are you reading at the moment and what have you read that has informed your recent work?

PS: My background is in philosophy and as such, my research is directed towards absorbing new theoretical perspectives, to see how they can help generate new work. For my recent exhibition, ‘What Passes Between Us’ at Sirius Arts Centre (2 September – 15 October), I have been rereading Zone Fragments for a History of the Human Body, edited by Michel Feher, and From Communion to Cannibalism: An Anatomy of Metaphors of Incorporation by Maggie Kilgour. Both are insightful in examining both how and why we have generated many diverse constructions of human embodiment.

In addition, Space, Time and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of the Body by Elizabeth Grosz and Cruising Utopia by José Esteban Muñoz propose that how we speak brings the body into social being, and that the body is something constantly being produced and refashioned. I have also been reading Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s new book, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility and #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek. These have all fed in to my work. China Miéville is a sci-fi writer whom I also admire. While working on my exhibition, Miéville’s short story collection, Three Moments of an Explosion, was always somewhere in the back of my mind.

SH: To what extent was ‘What Passes Between Us’ conceived as a site-specific project?

PS: To borrow from Alice Jardine’s discussion ‘Of Bodies and Technologies’, a suitable orientation for the exhibition might be the phrase “rituals for future bodies”.1 ‘What Passes Between Us’ contemplated modes of production that bring forth different transformations of  – and within – the body. When devising the concept with the curator, Miranda Driscoll, the location of Sirius was used explicitly to orientate the exhibition. The arts centre is located within the industrial global hub of Cork Harbour – a site that holds a concentration of pharmaceutical and technological plants producing products and commodities to alter human bodies. The idea that bodies are subject to intervention thematically underpins not just this exhibition but also my wider ongoing practice.

The works presented at ‘What Passes Between Us’ borrowed from minimalism in their use of simple structures, repetition, grids, outsourced fabrication and industrial-grade materials such as mild steel and PVC. They were also influenced by post-minimalism and queer minimalism, with bare assemblages aiming to engender bodily feelings. This minimalist aesthetic was subverted by the introduction of a repeated palm which, in turn, was manipulated and made strange using the logic of the grid, which heightened the sensation and affect. Something that exists ‘to touch’ has been turned into something ‘to be touched’, viewed and felt. This image became both captivating and horrifying, through its repetition and rearticulation within the array.

SH: What prompted your decision to incorporate a sonic element into this installation?

PS: I was interested in investigating the voice as a site and generator of desire. I was listening to a lot of choral music, as well as enjoying vocals, ad-libs and refrains in house and pop tracks. The erotic potentiality of vocal articulation is something that both my collaborator, modern composer Simon O’Connor, and I are fascinated by. For the show at Sirius, we created two musical scores, based on the themes of attraction, repulsion, intimacy and encounters between bodies and objects.

SH: Given the future-oriented, speculative attitudes manifesting in your recent work, I’m prompted to finish by asking: What happens next in your practice? Do you have a direction in mind?

PS: My intention is to examine how embodiment is culturally and technologically produced, in a Foucauldian sense. I wish to open cracks in how we understand our biopolitical relationship with technology. In 2018, my work will feature in a group show at Crawford Art Gallery. Together with photographer Claire Ryan, I will also curate an exhibition at Sirius Arts Centre for the biannual Cork Photo Festival 2018. Since 2013, I have been a part-time photography lecturer at Crawford College of Art and Design (CIT) and critical discussions on how compositions and images are structured have become an increasingly important strand of my research.

Pádraig Spillane is a visual artist who works with photography, collage and assemblage. He is based in Cork.

Sarah Hayden is a writer and lecturer at the University of Southampton.

Note

1. Alice Jardine, ‘Of Bodies and Technologies’ in Dia Art Foundation’s Discussions in Contemporary Culture Number One, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1987), pp.151-158.

Images used: Pádraig Spillane, Wish Landscape Dream Lover, 2015, installation view, TACTIC, Cork; photograph courtesy Roland Paschhoff. Pádraig Spillane, Pulse Positions, 2017, digital collage on Hahnemühle 310 gsm, 32 x 37 cm. Pádraig Spillane, Eyes Future Tense, 2017, digital collage on Hahnemühle 310 gsm, 25 x 16 cm.

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