Genesis Project Artist Interview #4: Fergus Byrne

The following interview took place on August 21st, 2009, between Fergus Byrne (2009 Genesis Project Artist-in-Residence) and Arturo Vidich and Aki Sasamoto (Culture Push co-directors). We conducted the interview via Skype chat, which we found to be an interesting medium, somewhere between a recording and email correspondence. We sat at the same table.

Fergus ByrneAki Sasamoto: What are you working on right now in the residency?

Fergus Byrne: I’m working on various collaborative projects with Saul [Melman] and Meghan [Flanigan]. They can be related to work I have been doing recently back in Ireland. Embroidery with Saul. Dance work and drawing with Meghan.

Arturo Vidich: How has the work you came with to this residency been influenced or added to by the other artists? I’m thinking in particular about the skipping. What strikes me is that you decided not to skip after the first 2 weeks of the residency because it was a hold-over from the work you were doing before you came to Philly. How does, or does it play in to what you’re doing now with drawing, in the last few days?

FB: The drawing work with Meghan is comparable. The sheets are similarly large in scale to accommodate a mark made by an action of the whole body. We are working with a repetitive mark.

AV: About the “mark”– I like this quote from you about the skipping from the day you all wrote on the sheets in the studio: “The mark is a consideration of drawing, how rhythm and time might be conveyed through the skipping. If the space of a body above the page becomes evident that is an interesting reading. The mark is the presence in a previous moment. The extended moment gets condensed on a single plane, single image.”

FB: The work with Saul also includes skipping although now he skips, rather than I, and I throw soil beneath his feet. The skipping back in Dublin featured another person on a sewing machine it is appropriate that here it is also a duet.

Dirst Skipping
AV: The soil as a reference to the graveyards you’ve been skipping in.

AS: How involved have you been with mark-making in your own work before coming here? Is that (one of) your big interests?

FB: The drawing with Meghan is also about an accumulation of marks (a line drawn down a page). Collectively I think the drawing becomes interesting. Because of the scale one might wonder how it was made. It is very dependent on time, and its every twist a result of a physical action. A double plain in this case, not a single. I haven’t been skipping in graveyards. The idea of this came up  when I mentioned to Saul that I like graveyards. The association to the skipping (for me) is that the drawings made on the floor are similar to graveyards in size and orientation. Saul considered graveyard skipping. I visited a graveyard and thought about this. Soil replaced charcoal as the material upon which Saul skipped. This was because then we were considering the graveyard as a site. Mark-making is fundamental to drawing. These purely mark-based abstractions come from an interest in drawing with the body. Repetitive marks accumulate and I find it can produce interpreting drawings, though not always.

AS: These drawings are about containing a record of a duration/action of a performance.  You can argue that any drawing is that, but in your particular case, it seems to be intentionally going away from depiction of an image and involving more about materials and site?  So the drawings are not about making an interesting looking plane anymore. Or do you still strive for a balance between a good looking object and a good concept (behind it)?

AV: It’s seems to be about interacting with a plane and the mark giving some sense as to what the body was doing. Aesthetics play in, from what I see, in that you’re very meticulous about preparing the plane, and then meticulous about how you interact with it. Like the accordion book skipping drawing you made.  And your use of color and different qualities of pigment. As an object, it’s well taken care of.

Accordion Book Skip Drawing
AS: Is your goal is an (interesting) object? It may be irrelevant to talk about the goal now, during the residency… but I’m asking more to you as an artist, I guess.

FB: Well yes it is definitely going away from depiction. It refers to the activity that made it, although it also is referring, unintentionally, to precedents in modernism and contemporary work. The lines that Meghan and I have drawn remind me of Barnet Newman‘s work.  The skip drawings could be compared to a guy who does drawings with basketballs. So while not depicting a thing, other artifacts are called to mind. They are entirely about themselves. As the process continues I am considering these parallels.

AV: The skip drawings also remind me of the boxing painter, Ushio Shinohara. I see a great sense of the process vs. practice question in your work. The body as a conduit. Your background with Min Tanaka and Body Weather, and martial arts seem to come out in the rigor and I see it with your focus on the energy of what you’re doing as you do it. The wrestling project with the Kennedy twins took many different media, as though you were walking around a large building to get an idea of the size, even though no final “product” ever came to fruition.

FB: I find that the amount of preparation adds to my investment in the work and also the quality of the image. I would not be happy to just make simple marks with a rope and present this an extension of the concept of drawing. To go beyond the concept is to make it an interesting image prior to knowing the method. The preparation, measurement, surface quality are all related to the ways of painting or drawing. A ground is prepared and then the act of skipping is relatively short  but changes the look completely. That’s a good metaphor, the large building’. It was like that. Doing it made me look as much at myself and question what I was doing.  I learned a lot through working with them, mostly about working with others and teaching, also my own sense of martial arts. That huge building is one reason why this current work is more focused on singular actions.

AV: The length of time of the skip is as long as it can be, which is part of a cycle of exhaustion.

AS: Are you after making objects for the experience of the viewer, unfolding beyond the surface? Like a backwards performance?

FB: I’d like to keep the body involved in the work although sometimes I think one might be better off to just draw and do martial arts separately. There is so much ‘art’ in martial arts and practise-based learning that to make art about it is not easy. This type of dichotomy makes me think of how one cannot comment from outside without having been inside.

AS: It’s interesting to think that the moment you reach the point of making objects based on your body-involved practice, the backward experience is waiting in front of you.  You can track the method, because you do it.  But like you say, it does speak more to people who do it.  That is also a problem of dance; one can say that dancers appreciate dance more.

FB: A backwards performance. Evidence of movement. Presentation of a page as a space of activity. But there are so many other drawings and paintings that one could say this of. I think even great portraits record the time of sitting of a person, the time of engagement between two people.  In the first workshop the double portrait drawings have a small element of this, though. I am interested to remove the ‘you sit, I draw’ scenario.

AV: Right, both parties involved in both actions simultaneously. And neither action (sitting or drawing) is fully realized than if they were separated.

FB: Neither fully realized. Yes, perhaps this is a loss as the immersion in that engagement has much to it.

AS: But when you bring in ‘abstraction’ you are deleting the referential depictions. Can’t we say it goes deeper into the practitioners?

FB: The objects thus far are for the experience of the viewer. Some of the images are strong. Though I do think the performance of the skipping, previously done with a spoken text, can be independent of the drawing. This makes me question: why keep producing the drawings? They take up a lot of space. What do  you mean by the ‘referential depictions’ in this case?

AS: Portraits, that look like the queen. I’m interested in the importance of having marks for the sake of collaborators, though. Perhaps, it’s not the purpose of attracting a stranger’s recognition, but it certainly heats up communication between you and the other resident artists, it seems like.

FB: It is interesting to take a different approach and come up with similar images. Rather than using the hand, the ‘creative implement,’ the body is there. Of course Pollock is the big reference there. I like the repetition though so as not to get so wild and open as Pollock. The drawings emerge from limitation and decision to make one action.

AS: What would be different? If you just share the movements vs. if you share movements and the marks made?

AV: Contact Improv.

AS: There are people drawing the jazz musicians while they are playing in the street.  I like watching them draw, while hearing the music. But I certainly don’t want to buy their drawings.

FB: The drawing has introduced a means of collaboration; a subject matter, a medium. By the end of the last drawing with Meghan, movement could have gone on without the marks but with the same concentration and energy. With retrospect the drawing task could become a score to open a channel for a particular relation, not so easily obtained by bodies unlimited by their task. Regarding Contact Improv, I’m interested in finding some ways to move that don’t endlessly depart the forms created. Contact seems to do that. A repeated action simply amplifies itself and there may be a freedom found in that (Ben Spatz mentioned such a freedom in his own choice to ask us to do repeated movements).

AV: The freedom within structure idea. If you know where your grounding is, and where you’re returning to, the middle contains infinite possibilities. Starting with infinity can be daunting.

FB: Difference if I just share the movements. I came here and thought I want to keep doing what I have been doing and not get lost in a whole new lot of activity. I am trying to find some consistency to work. I think by making the invitation to engage with some of these drawing ideas I opened up a way for it to develop in a different context. At this point the advances made are great and highly collaborative, not more of the same yet still things that interest me. Yes, this jazz drawing. We can all do that. It is an easy release but so subject to the jazz. I’m more interested in the drawing considering it’s position within drawing.

AV: About keeping the body inside the work– We were talking with the other artists about documentation, when it works, when it doesn’t. Besides writing and marking planes, what’s your approach to documenting the action, the performance of the work you’re doing here, and how does it function in relation to the performative aspects of the action? We’re talking about how the making of the document is or is not included in the performance-for-the-viewer scenario. I’ve seen your use of video as a way to get outside yourself and move to the next stage of viewing “the big building.”

FB: Well, now that drawing from the bedroom is now torn in two. I have kept the purple part because I like the colour. The drawing was more important for the act of doing it in that room, and to make the video.

AV: As a tool more than as a finished document or presented thing.
Skip Drawing
FB: The video shows this tight room better than the drawing. And the sound may even add to the tight space. They are veering in their importance between drawing and document. I like the way video can show how the drawings are done but also be an image in itself. For instance that overhead shot presents me skipping on the page. You know how the drawing is made but cannot see it because as a video image it becomes part of the overall image. A kinetic still. The object doesn’t fully explain itself and the document does not fully document. In this way it is not a document, and I didn’t set up the shots as such.

AS: By the way, this is a question to Arturo, what was your idea behind asking Ban Spatz to come in to lead a workshop with them?  His workshop was talked about by other residents, too. That happened in a first week, and everything beyond that point was open-ended.

AV: My thinking behind inviting Ben to lead a day-long workshop was that none of the artists in the residency work in the realms that Ben works, namely theater and song. Honestly, I wanted to jilt them a bit, knock them off their centers, which in my experience tends to open people up to new things. Meghan said that song opens up the body, even if it’s not included in the performance. I had an acting teacher who told me to sing before I came in to do a scene. Ben’s work also has a rigor and deep seriousness that I appreciate as a performer, and I wanted to impart some of that to the artists without leading anything myself. Even if the work didn’t spark anything directly, I wanted to give something for them to rebound against and see their own work, and the work of the others, in a fresh way.

FB: That workshop was helpful in letting us get a good look at each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

AS: A quick light question at the end: what does your typical day in Genesis Project look like?

FB: There is not much light until I get to the kitchen. Then the sunlight comes in so things are worth seeing. Yoga with Meghan has been great. I normally start the day with some body work so this has been good and also fruitful in getting to know her and Saul. Then time passes in this infinite space with a lot of warm sweat until lunch at some point of hunger. Some ridiculous time like 3pm. Then before I know it, it is 5pm and I am working with Saul on embroidery. Then it is evening and I am hungry. I have a very open sense of time here. The morning rigour is great because it is not so easy to schedule the rest of the day.

AV: It took you a couple weeks to arrive at this routine.

FB: No, this is hardly a routine. I’d say it kicked in during week two because my first week I was out visiting Philly. This week I have tried a little more of lunch at 1pm to some degree of success. OK.

AS: OK.

AV: Very OK.

FB: Bye Bye.

Fergus Byrne is a multi-media artist working in Dublin, Ireland. His work spans writing, drawing, sculpture, video, dance and other performance.

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