Friday, 12 July 2019

Elective Affinities

It's been a week of introductions.

Hi, I'm  Aodhán, in Studio One. Yeah, like A-gon, after O’Rathaille, the poet? A writer actually. Yes, it's short residency, just this month and in connection with the literary festival...

And I find myself relying again and again on the word ‘introduction’ even as I introduce myself and we, in our Cork way, locate ourselves.

Right, it’s something of an introduction really - to people here at Uillinn and to the other artists... No, no, I live near Inchigeelagh, near Lough Allua, near where the Lee begins.

And each time trying to rephrase a little what it is I've said I'd do or what I thought I wanted to do with my time here. And each time perhaps, getting closer to understanding how I might go about it and where it might lead.

Then, of course, there are online introductions to make. Happy announcements and updates, busy projecting a self-image. Public panels also require an accompanying image: an artwork, book cover, an artist headshot. The latter I ordinarily consider a humbling ritual best avoided but within the portrait taken on the first day is a surprise, an image within an image. It will serve. 

Studio One. Day One
I can see it’s related to a curious genre of self-portraiture, the ‘gallery-selfie’ in the reflective surfaces of glassy architecture that makes a habit of coy stagings of indexicality. But still, I am surprised to see someone recognisingly me projected onto the elevation and etched into the Corten as if picked out in the patterning of rain-darkened rust. Most pleasing to me is the way my own ‘image fantôme’ is visually integrated with the elements of the drawing installation spilling out from Tomasz Madajczak’s next door studio. Reflected in the glass, the ink rhythms on the torn strips of paper seem less graphic and more elemental, taking on the character of the rust of the building’s weathering steel. They flock about my head, enigmatic ‘thought clouds’, as I look out at Skibb and a long linear carpark defined by the Caol Stream, now encased in her concrete walls.

Looking again I notice it’s a double portrait, not only of me in abstracted mood taking in the view, but a portrayal of some of the experiential qualities of the buildings’ architecture. As Micheál O’Connell observes, Uillinn is a beautiful building,
simultaneously bold but appropriate to the landscape, monumental not domineering, standing out, blending in, having a colour, not submitting to the ubiquitous corporate aesthetic, functional and open, penetrated by light.
It’s fitting with those design principles of ‘just proportion’ and ‘openness’, that Tomasz and Micheál and I (all currently artists-in-residence) readily established a code or policy amongst ourselves: if the door of our neighbouring studios is open then passing heads are welcome in. And as an art writer that’s where I want to be - participating in the kinds of conversations that can take place in places like artist’s studios. Or in the corridor. Or on the stairwell, or anywhere where people who value critical exchange might wish to speak. 

Art writing for me has always been a personal experiment - one’s initial thoughts and intuitions are the inchoate materials the writer endeavours to assay and bring into connected discourse. Thoughts are never conquered; they resist command and ordering; ideas change over the course of their exploration. But through the discipline of a creative practice, what starts in conversation or idyls in the run of one’s private thoughts can lead one to discovering a territory of engagement. 

My project, 'Elective Affinities', is, at heart, a proposition about mutual inquiry. What the arts does best is point us to the inherent affinity between intellectual cross-fertilization and the expansion of our imaginative vision. I believe our best chance of reimagining the world is simply to begin with an open question:

Hi, I'm Aodhan. What are the questions of importance to you?

Aodhán Rilke Floyd is an artist and art writer living in West Cork. As part of his research and critical writing residency this summer he has been invited to write in response to programmes at Uillinn and at the West Cork Literary Festival 2019 on ideas of ‘collaboration’, a recurring theme in both our programmes.