Epoch – in conversation with Conor Coady

by Sara Muthi

Coming off the back of a performance at K-Fest Music and the arts Festival I sat down with performance artist Conor Coady just before he opened the group show GROUP as part of PLATFORM 2019 with his piece Epoch commissioned by the Draíocht Gallery.

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SM: So the work you’re performing here at the Draíocht Gallery to kick off GROUP is the latest rendition of Epoch. I must say that I, and perhaps many others would instantly recognise this work from various IG posts over the past year. Would you like to share a little about this work beyond the surface imagery?

CC: I was very keen at looking at extensions of the body and making an internal non-physical thing come out into a physical form; and in that highlighting parts of the body. I suppose I wanted to depict an act of a kind of ongoing struggle.

SM: And you’re doing this through your use of the briars which of course have become quite iconic in your work.

CC: Exactly; I’m using that very specific material and the connection of my hands and going from there so it’s that kind of ongoing dialogue with myself and the material; emulating feelings through the briars and making energy come out through that.

I’m manipulating the material in a way so it becomes the body and the body becomes the material. In my mind there is this exchange between the two and that was the basis of my intention and thinking around the materiality of the briars.

SM: And where does this connection between you and your material come from?

CC: I was looking at rural landscapes for its physical aesthetic and the idea of the brambles came quite naturally while walking through a space such as field or a landscape. The natural dynamic of brambles and what they do and the difficulty present in them appealed to me and my research in a very real way. They felt like an appropriate kind of material to engage with from a mental health perspective, a queer perspective. Then there’s also a cultural recontextualization from my own basis that would be on the deeper planes of what that dialogue is.

SM: Working with materials found in natural landscapes is quite prevalent within Irish artists, particularly working in performance art. I can think of a few names already, but for you, what is it about the natural environment that makes it so irreplaceable? Or perhaps irresistible?

CC: To put it simply I think I’m drawn to it because it is exactly what it is.

SM: Does that relate to the fact you’re scantily clad in your performances?

CC: For me, yes definitely. I was very intentional in highlighting this very bare element. Showing the bareness of the body was also quite minimal in aesthetic which I was leaning very heaving on while developing this work. At the same time however it was also scary. I was often asking myself “am I so bare that it’s too bare?”, but in actual fact that was a breeding ground to push more and to bring out more.

I think with the natural it’s like somethings that’s been coming out of my work more strongly in the last year maybe two. I’m very much focused on the natural, what is natural, what’s not natural, what we deem to be one or the other. The body, nature, environment. And speaking of environment, it does goes out in that direction in an environmental sense to an extent. Of course I am aware that I am bringing in this raw natural material. I’m presenting and working with the natural, but it is because it is what it is, as I said before.

I think looking at it from a queer perspective when you go through so many layers of growing up and you finally arrive at a point of independence and begin to contextualise for yourself and being to process all these things you’ve gone through i.e. so many layers of conditioning and social systems and conformities and distractions. So, for me just looking at nature for what it is – is kinda in itself something I want to emulate from that perspective. There is no fluff with it, there is no walls to be pushing down or people’s minds to convince. Nature is what it is and connecting that to the body, that being part of the body and me as a performer would be where the natural perspective is coming from.

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Conor Coady’s briars are both fashioned from five or six thick, dried and hardened stems that were bound together with woven pink wool to form handles from which they reach into the space. They remain fastened to the gallery wall from which they were picked up and returned during Epoch. They form a sort of natural arch reaching into the white cute. Stains from his hands and belly remain on the gallery wall as a symbol of the body, of the gesture, of the artists presence elevating the work beyond what might otherwise be seen as a sculptural object.

 

Epoch was performed at the Draíocht Gallery on 20th of June 2019 as part of GROUP curated by Sharon Murphy. GROUP presents Conor Coady, Victoria J Dean, Sarah Farrell, Cara Farnan, Anna Hryniewicz, Riin Kaljurand, Oran Leong, and Éanna Mac Cana. The exhibition runs until the 31st of August 2019.

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Trying on the Body

by Sara Muthi

It is needless to say that present day Belfast is a very complex, sensitive context tightly wound up with the well-known aftermath we know to be the Troubles. Stepping in from the outside onto Northern Ireland’s traumatically unresolved terrain it is difficult to feel you should have anything to comment, as if doing so would be wholly out of place and ignorant of the fragility of the context. Oona Doherty’s Death of a Hunter at the Golden Thread Gallery translates the contemporary conditions of working class lives in Belfast to an audience outside of the context from which her movement is spawned.

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London born, Belfast-bred choreographer Oona Doherty works within the context of such politically and historically charged spaces. She however does not look back to Belfast’s Troubles, nor does she deal with such political matters explicitly. With that said, indirectness is not indifference, in fact quite the opposite. As many Northern Irish artists must, she deals with unimaginably sensitive spaces carefully and considerately. Doherty however aware of the socio-political context she must be pays forensic attention to the seemingly familiar patterns present in the working class culture of today.

Death of a Hunter is Doherty’s visual arts debut. Trained as a dancer and now a practicing choreographer, her work is not what is expected to be found in a visual arts space. Her subject matter and execution in collaboration with video makers and sound artists give the work the oomph to seamlessly slide into a gallery context. One space in the gallery showcases a multi-part video work while the other hosts an installation composed of the heart-breaking presence of a crashed car.

The multi-part video installation is difficult and at times uncomfortable to watch. Each short film deals eloquently with a differing aspect of the physico‐sociological state as witnessed by her within Belfast’s urban culture. The first episode of Doherty’s video installation is titled Lazarus & The Bird of Paradise. Here is where I believe the cream of the crop of Doherty’s practise lies. Her lone figure lies motionless against the indistinguishable clamber of familiar loutish behaviour that acts as the score for this work. Soon she gently arises like a man possessed, being swiftly glided to her feet in relation to the weight of her own body. Her movements following this is the result of forensic observation of “smicks”, a derogatory term used to describe young lower-class persons of brash behaviour. It is the energy of this culture, the subtleties of an unsteady stance, a shrug of the shoulders and a rub of the nose which by itself may not be doing much but is threading a line between anxiety, fear and unrest that Doherty “tries on”, as someone would try on an outfit. She splits and splices these urban gestures with her unique style of contemporary dance that I can only describe as guttural. Unlike our general perception of contemporary dance in which the face stays motionless, Doherty utilises facial expressions to further try on these urban attitudes wholly to become completely engrossed in the character she takes from.

Her movement is visceral and sets the scene for the following episode, Sugar Army, which abstractly regurgitates recognisable gestures of young defiant girls, posturing to the camera. Once again this work is generally not consumed by those considered to be the subject matter. Rather what Doherty does is she delicately and intentionally presents to us these characters in order to suggest an understanding of the deep psychological past that may have created such a culture. The work through her movements and direction are humanly honest and reveal a painful society which far too often lacks empathy.

Oona Doherty’s Death of a Hunter runs from the 20th of October to the 3rd of November 2018 at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast.