Interview by David McLeavy
Published July 2015
Rebecca Molloy uses a combination of video, sculpture and painting to create immersive environments which explore, amongst other things, the human body and the concept of fun. Her practice acts as a tool to understand the role of the artist along with the relationship people have when confronted with multiple emotions and sensory stimulations.
Your work seems to use a variety of subjects as its reference material, from the human body to never ending bombardment of videos and information that we fill our current living space. Can you talk a little more about why you use such a variety of material as influence and the process in which you begin to turn research material into your artwork?
The human body is the basis for all of my reference material, mostly I'm interested in the way it looks, moves and feels but I also like to think about what it means to represent the human body today and how I can do this in relation to the physical and digital worlds that we live in. This ultimately means that my research is quite varied as inevitably the human body, its touch, interactions, movements, thoughts and feelings are embedded everywhere. For me it's important that the body is not just depicted literally, but that instead I show what it feels like to be in a body. For example this could be using sound effects that might resemble the squelching of internal organs, or making videos that give the sense of absorbing large amounts of visual information as well as the sensations from the interactions of the body with objects. It feels to me that working with varied materials and varied research allows for the most appropriate way of exploring the contemporary human body.
My research process happens quite organically and it interweaves with the making process greatly. Sometimes I'll have very specific ideas for an object, or a video clip and at other times the work comes from a longer periods of ruminating and thinking about things but generally the research and making happens side by side. It's a weird process and hard to explain how I get to the work, but generally I fuel my own fire by consistently reading new material, watching things I like and then making things from this. I don't plan works but instead work impulsively within the worlds that I'm developing. Nothing has hierarchy within the research and I like to allow for the possibility that anything can happen, and that anything can be an influence. The work, simply put, is a physical understanding of the world around me.
Just Sit Down and Let the Colours go in Your Eyes, video still, 2015
For the full video click here
I like the idea that your work is an exploration. This reminds me of the romantic idea of being an artist, as someone who navigates their way through life using art work as their vehicle. Do you think being an artist is romantic?
I think the making of art, if you let it, can be about total freedom. An artist has the right to be able to follow any route that they want; to explore, to investigate and to create from the things that they are fascinated by. It's really powerful because so many people don't allow this kind of openness within their lives and I love that about being an artist. I like the fact that things are moveable and malleable, so if I want to start travelling, I can weave that into the work, if I want to start researching some niche subject matter, as an artist I have the privilege and means to do that. It's compelling because it means that as I grow older, as my life changes and as my understanding of the world develops so will my work, it's incredibly exciting because I never know what's around the corner.
In terms of the making side of my practice I work in a very instinctive and spontaneous way, I think this lends itself to the idea of romanticism as for me it's about trying to get the work to an idiosyncratic place that avoids being strict and rigid. So I think the fundamentals of being an artist is incredibly romantic, the beauty of it being that it can be whatever you want it to be. For each artist and their quirks their art can encompass and be exactly what it needs to be for them.
I have noticed that you have a blog. Are the images and videos that are posted on it related in some way to your practice and also I am interested to know if having a space to place thoughts or ideas helps your artistic practice in some way?
Yes, the blog acts as a visual diary, and I post stuff that I like, that I find visually stimulating, or even things that I want to capture within my work. From this, the blog builds up this narrative and history around my work. I can look back at posts from a month ago and that will trigger a memory of an idea that I had or even a feeling that I had about making something. I like looking back at it because with hindsight I start to see the posts differently.... it's almost like I'm an outsider and I can start to understand it from a different perspective. I like the idea that the blog might be an ongoing crime scene for the viewer, that if they wish they could try and work out how all of these things are connected. What the posts mean and how they relate to the actual installations that I make. It's a little bit of window into my mind I guess.
Recently, I posted the finale from the film 'Zabriskie Point' alongside a smiling mouth with a pen tool erratically marked over it, as well as the Tequila scene from 'Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure'. In the work that I'm making at the moment I'm thinking a lot about the idea of partying and having fun, and how this looks in contrast to death, but also how the body plays a part in these themes. These blogs posts were small snippets into perhaps the way we visually and theatrically represent what 'fun' is, or how in Zabriskie Point death and destruction is embodied with these epic explosions of the house with the debris and objects from the house scattering into the sky in a very beautiful and compositional way. The smiling mouth and pen tool is I guess a motif for me, a way that we present ourselves... the smile is this representation of happiness, it shows us that somebody is having fun, but if it's held for too long and it doesn't move back to the resting position it can become maniacal. All of these things are affecting the work that I'm making at the moment and the blog is a database for it all really.
I think it helps my practice as it is a way of curating and managing my thoughts and ideas. It also acts as a barometer, because when I'm really excited about something it will go up on the blog, so I kinda know I'm onto something good, even if I don't fully understand it, if it feels right it makes the cut.
Put That Noise Down, painting installation, 2014
So do you add images and videos to the blog with the intention of people to see it, or is it something you feel you would do anyway even if it was private, similar to scrapbooking?
I would definitely still do the blog, even if it was private and people couldn't see it. It might sound egotistical but I take pleasure in looking at it too, in a bit of a geeky artist way I like it when the blog posts start to work together, there's an aesthetic quality throughout that I like to maintain and when it works, it has the potential to look quite good. I guess I like it to feel branded, so it has something about me all over it. I think this links to my influence from popular culture and following various blogs and websites that have a very stylised aesthetic at their core.
Mostly the blog is purely self-indulgent in terms of my drive to do it, but at the same time it sits in between this space of privacy and publicness which is quite interesting. On the one hand it feels similar to a diary and I feel that I'm sharing quite personal viewpoints but on the other I’m aware that anyone can view the content and perhaps the posts can be understood in a more universal way. I like it to be a space where there's a potential for anything to happen but it’s important the posts remain cryptic so that the viewer has the space to decide things for themselves. The fact that it exists on tumblr is also important, there’s a teenageryness to the site with a lot of self obsession and neuroticism and perhaps this blog contributes to that.
For me the process of making the blog feels very similar to when I'm making physical installations. Both are about construction, collaging and merging ideas together from different mediums, form and content. Once things are installed or posted, the work becomes something else as there are conversations started and new meanings given to the work. This process is important as it allows for a freedom in the work as the components are moveable and able to be altered into new states depending on where positioned within the space. So both act in similar ways for me, it's just the spaces of the digital and physical that are different.
The Printer Likes Magenta, painting installation with projections, 2014
I want you to expand a little more about the difference between the digital and the physical. How do you transfer the information or material you see and archive online into the physical exhibition space? Also as a side question, how do you usually tackle the task of documenting your work when are a number of different and often experiential factors at play?
There are both physical and digital elements within my work. To look at it quite literally anything that exists within a screen acts as the digital and the sculptures and paintings within the installations act as the physical. However there is a large blurring between these boundaries, as I think it's important to explore how these two worlds can interact. For example, I'm currently making work based around the aesthetic of flattened computer graphics from the digital world, I want to see if this flattened surface can be transferred into a physical painted surface, and how when this process has happened can it still nod to the digital world?
Whilst on the Trelex Residency in Switzerland I was making a lot of mini installations, which involved activating varying materials, objects and body parts to create sensations and squeamishness which was finalised in a video clip. I wanted to see if I could make the videos feel like they were paintings, or at least be about painting, so I explored the materiality and lusciousness of paint by using lots of squirty cream and spilt chocolate milk to reference the material, as well as thinking very carefully about the composition, textures, material and palette of these mini stages. So although the final piece of work was a video it felt very much like I was composing a painting, it just happened to have moving parts within it. The making of these installations was intriguing because you can take a physical object and flatten it into the digital world, it then becomes trapped in this strange screen space that is very different to the physical hand made world. There are a lot of shots of hands within my new video work, as this references old school art programs where hands and materials interact, contemporary advertising of products and also the fact that the hands are our part of the body that connects us with the digital worlds. We type, swipe and scroll using our very physical and real digits, and if I think about it long enough I find it quite a bizarre action. I hope that the new videos encompass that feeling of the connection between both the physical and the digital.
I'm also intrigued by the idea of what an art object is, so I've been making a lot of structures that encase video works but that also can be referenced as a sculpture. I find this quite exciting as there is a sense of hiding the machine that plays the video and making this video become object like as it sits within the structures, sometimes seamlessly becoming a part of the object. There's a question of where the physicalness of the video begins and ends as there are parts of it referenced on the objects, or even the walls around it. I like the idea of taking the fundamentals of video, painting or sculpture and putting them into their opposing worlds.
In terms of transferring things from my archive into the physical it is often quite a messy and unsystematic process. Sometimes I will take sound and clips directly from the referenced source, I also record a lot of my own footage, then there's the making of objects and paintings from this source material that is completely out of control and for the most part I don't know where it begins. There is an excess of material, both physically and digitally, that I work with, and then from this new stuff is produced and then this prompts further investigation into archived and new material and so a feedback loop begins. The process of editing within my work is highly important, both when editing videos, choosing source material and then in the final outcome of selecting the work for the installation. This editing acts as a way of finding the potency within the material and objects that I've made. It starts to give a clearer content to the work that I'm making. It's a very scattered and illogical process that is built up over months, and is only resolved or even semi resolved in the exhibiting process, when I can see all of the elements together and then from this decide what is important and what has to go.
Documenting the work is tricky because of the experiential factors, and so far I don't think I've managed to document it well enough to give a sense of the experience. I'd like to make a new website that shows each piece of work in a kind of digital exhibition space. So there could be the usual website shots of the actual work in situe, but alongside this perhaps there is a video or sound piece playing. When the work is in an exhibition space, it is incredibly hard to think of ways to transfer that experience of walking around the objects, or seeing the marks into the digital world without posting a billion photos and video clips. However I do enjoy the documenting process and finalising the work again in a digital version, I really love photographing my work and finding a good crop of a particular section for example. It's a very satisfying feeling to be able to find a certain view point of the work, so perhaps that is enough for now and maybe there is a way, I've just not figured it out yet!
Till Death do us Party, video still, 2015
I recently went to a talk by the artist Heather Phillipson and she talked about the difficulties that she faced when documenting her work as it has similar experiential intentions. She said recently that she has started to use a drone to fly through the exhibitions and create HD videos of the work, including sounds that can be picked up in different areas of the gallery by the microphones in the drone itself. Anyway, perhaps that is a tangent.
You re currently working on an exhibition at Vitrine Gallery, London. Could you talk through what you are aiming to create for the show and why?
Ah man, I would love a drone to fly around my shows! What a brilliant idea...her work is awesome and I can really imagine one flying around her installations and it looking like it might be a part of the work!
My show with the VITRINE is called Till Death do us Party and it's an installation within the gallery's window space on Bermondsey square. The exhibition will be formed of video, sculpture and painting and the idea is that the work explores themes around death and partying, whilst also liaising with ideas around the body, painting and the digital and physical worlds.
So there's lots of body parts, lots of mad paint strewn across sculptures and dancing within video that looks at how far the body will go to to have fun. I've been breaking down this idea of what fun might be to different people and researching the psychology behind partying, people interacting in groups and even exploring the stereotypes of what it is to let go. So the sense of partying will happen in various forms, this can be anything from the sprinkling of glitter and hundreds and thousands on objects much like the way we decorate things for children's birthdays. Or my personal sense of fun and enjoyment when working with paint and allowing things to drip and swish in videos. I've also been exploring the idea of group of people coming together and how generally a party is made up of more than 2 people! So there's quite a lot of multiple pieces of work and repetition within this installation.
There's also a bit of gore and this explores the element of death mixed in with the videos and candy like sculptures and objects. I guess it's the darker side of the work, the pain that people put themselves through to party.... there are limbs that are separated from their bodies and explosions happening in various corners of the spaces. There will also be a performative element happening on the private view as well as random intervals during the rest of the exhibition, but I don't want to say too much about this as I like the idea of people being surprised by it.
It's such an exciting project because after working for around a year producing work in a more abstract manner, this show is much more revealing and gives a lot more insight into my thinking, research and source material. The body in this exhibition is much free-er and it exists within the space in various forms, I've allowed it to be really weird, really wild, really restricted and really loose, it's totally playing by its own rules. I'm really excited about unleashing it to the world and I'm hoping it works as well as me and the Curator, Chris Bayley imagine.
Till Death do us Party, video installation with performance, 2015
You said that you have had fun working with paint and different elements of video and I want to know if you think it is possible for the audience to have as much fun viewing the work as you have had whilst making it?
This is really hard question to answer just because of how subjective peoples opinions on art is, but also what their idea of fun might be. For some people they equate perhaps the way I paint (in terms of my most recent body of work) with that of a child's, as it's quite liberal and free and doesn't really follow rules of representation and they see this as a negative thing. Where as some people take great pleasure in just looking at the colour palette, the textures made by the painting on various objects and the gestural mark making that comes with this territory. There's the sense of the materiality that some people really enjoy and this freedom from representation enables them to think about the objects and videos within an expanded painting sense which can be incredibly exciting.
It's more clear to me in the video work that people have had fun watching it. Particularly within the clips that involve a lot of hands coming into shots which interact with objects, other videos and squirty cream. They've laughed but also recoiled at parts that are quite gory. I think this is because unlike the painting, the video clips are much clearer and easy to define in terms of their content and what they are trying to say, so people can engage with it on a different level and in fact express their emotions more clearly. It reminds me of watching those clips you see of people watching horror movies in the cinema, it's all done under night vision, everyone's wide eyed, jumping at the scary bits, covering their eyes and clenching their fists when it all gets too much. In a way it looks hugely unpleasant but a lot of people absolutely love these films and on their recounting of the the narrative you can see that it's got them all wound up and excited. So, I guess this idea of fun boils down to whether people become completely absorbed by what they're doing/watching/experiencing.
I recently did an open studios where I created a small window like space that encased shimmery fabrics, various objects including an egg, a plant pot, plinths etc and had a video that had really dreamy, slightly David Lynch creepy type music on it, with the visuals including some 80's yoga and other collected footage. I noticed that most of the adults were quite confused by it or for the most part thought it was about yoga. Where as many of the children sat quite happily in front of the video, wanting to pick up the objects, touch the screen and often just mesmerised by what was happening in the video. Now, this might be that children from a younger generation have an affinity with anything screen-like but also they seem to have the propensity to withstand watching something even if it doesn't have a concrete narrative. They are able to look beyond it just being about yoga (which of course it wasn't) and take pleasure in the materials, the objects, the way things interact and what is happening visually. It made me laugh watching visitors throughout the weekend, and realising that perhaps children were my real audience!
Sometimes I've had people say how much they want to make work after seeing my installations and I think that means people have had fun looking at it, perhaps they're able to see the fun within the painting, or feel like it's something that they themselves could construct, and I think its the playfulness of the work that is key to this feeling of enjoyment. I really don't like going to see exhibitions when the work is completely dry, academic and cold. And I don't mean to say that everything should be playful in the way my work is, with all its bright colours, brashly made objects and madly edited videos, in fact the way I do it is probably too literal! But I actually think very serious work can be playful, it can have elements of not taking itself too seriously, or allowing for something surprising no matter how small that might be to exist within the work. I hope that in my work it's carefree and playful enough so that people are inspired to want to just muck in and get down with painting, but that also they're able to view the work intellectually and understand it terms of contemporary painting. Perhaps this is asking too much, but it's definitely my line of enquiry to work on these multiple levels.
In short I'm not really sure whether people can have as much fun viewing the work as I've had making it ...but perhaps it's also important to note that with anything that you create there is also a lot of doubt, hard work and turmoil that you go through that is not seen in the final pieces of work. So, for the audience there is a sense that they can just walk in and enjoy the work for exactly what it is, without having any of the baggage that I bring to it as an artist. Who knows, maybe they can have more fun!
Rebecca Molloy lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include Collaborate! Oriel Sycharth Gallery, Wales, Pretty Peeved, Unit 3 Projects, London, Office Party, Anchorage House, London and Repre LDN ---> NYC, The Tugboat Tea Company, New York.
If you like this why not read our interview with Perce Jerrom
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