Over the next few days we will be introducing you in turn to our seven resident artists who will be exhibiting in the June Mostra on Friday 17 June. With the mostra opening at the end of this week we meet with Damien Duffy to find out what artwork he has made for the exhibtion and how his residency at the BSR has affected how he appraches his practice.
Damien Duffy (Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow)
Damien Duffy’s work continues within the thread of taking landmark works as ready-mades in order to shift their agency to address new meanings and contexts. Looking awry at history painting these works co-opt an appropriation of Jasper Johns’ White Flag and Sturtevant’s copy of the same. False Flag opens the question on ambiguity of authorship that morphs into questions on recent history, counter narratives and 9/11. Back Stab similarly looks at the nefarious Operation Gladio within the ‘anni di piombo’ in Italy in the 70s.
This is your second mostra at the BSR, how has your work changed in the last three months and what have you chosen to exhibit this time?
Making the piece for the last mostra made me rethink how I approached my original idea and it is this reassessment that has been one of the most positive aspects from my time as a resident here, it has also given me more confidence to adopt a certain approach about how I make work.
I have two pieces of work for the upcoming mostra. In a strange kind of a way they are history paintings that have been born out of recognising the appropriation I used of Twombly’s motifs in order to deal with current events in the Mediterranean. That’s not to say I simply want my work to engage solely as history paintings because these works are a more skewed approach to history painting, like Hegels’ owl of Minerva hitting a sheet glass window, there’s a kernel of subversion in them.
They are looking at events within the 20th and 21st century, but through counter narratives. History is written by the victors, however with the super abundance of other information the victor’s narrative is now more vulnerable to counter narratives and these are often denigrated as conspiracy.
With the two pieces of work I’m making for this mostra, one looks at one of the pivotal events of the 21st century, 9/11. The title of the piece is False Flag and it harnesses a system of suggested references.
As soon as you paint an American Flag there is an immediate reference to the artist Jasper Johns as he made the American flag pivotal in his work. The second painting of the flag that I’m working with is Stutevant’s copy of the Johns.
The copy and the original together brings up the question of authorship, the pieces will be hung quite high on the wall with the stripes of the flags extending down the wall in a very mute grey, that also being an indirect reference to Daniel Buren, an adaptation of his work that gives the two flags the profile of the world trade centre towers.
The term ‘false flag’, although at first glance might reference a question of authorship, is actually a term used in a military event when a country attacks or stages an attack upon itself in order to attack a particular target or a particular enemy. So the false flag narrative or counter narrative is something that exists in the popular sub-cultural consciousness,this work then proffers this idea that there is another narrative to be looked at when concerning 9/11. These paintings along with a small sculpture of a tin foil hat in the foreground. This object inserts an element of subversive humour into this piece. Like a memorial to the fallen, with the helmet of a solders, or the folk memorials to first responders, so the tin foil hat represents the denigrating headgear of the conspiracy theorists. In its ambiguity it seeks to question the counter narrative as much as it profers it.
The other piece is an indirect reference to events in Italy during the ‘anni di piombo’ or the ‘Years of Lead’, a period of political instability in the 1970s and 1980s. Within my research of that which has come to light is the American intelligence’s involvement in generating some of the nefarious events of the 1970s in order to destabilise an Italian left-wing government. This suspicion that has been evidenced as ‘real’ in this case underpins the counter narrative in the other work. This piece is called Back Stab as it stabs backwards into history but it is also a back stab at making a political art, as it gets subsumed into an aesthetic.
This piece is made by a pouring of white lead paint over a black background – this gives an appearance of a lead mirror, alongside this a vase of white Gladioli, a reference to Operation Gladio. So what might appear as just a pretty piece of gallery decoration is basically the sublimation of this piece of political artwork into a generic aesthetic, or its subversive presence within these generic aesthetic references. It flickers between these two states.
Both of your pieces for the upcoming mostra have this 3D relief effect where the artwork extends beyond the wall. Is that an intentional move to create a theme in your work?
The flag piece is something that stems from the original painting from Jasper Johns and his intention to underscore the objecthood of the painting. It will always flicker between being a painting and a representation of the flag, but it is also a flag at the same time. However, one of the things that has come to light in how I approach making work here is a desire to keep pieces of work in as close proximity to the ‘real’ as possible. Trying to avoid distractions, stripping out the ‘painterliness’, make them more ‘in’ the world. They are not idealised, their matter-of-factness is what I’m trying to underscore.
Looking at your practice more closely, you seem to be someone who — once you have an idea — will work on it as you create the art. I have seen the False Flag piece a number of times during its creation and each time it is different. Do you often work in this layered process?
One of the things that has come to light in the process of working here is that I have made pieces of work that appear to be almost too complete at a very early stage of their creation. What I’ve learned from the residency is possibly allowing that ‘completeness’ to rest and work with it. With these two paintings, because they are concerned with a certain replication I’ve been trying to get that replication right. This has created its own problems that requires a renegotiation of how that looks and what I want in the work. The various transformations that you have seen are the physical evidence of where I have worked through it mentally and then physically changed tack.
Is there anything in your practice that has particularly changed since being here that you are wanting to take home with you. Either ideas or ways of working that you have adopted since being a resident of the BSR?
Definitely in terms of how I approach things, being at the BSR has given me more confidence in terms of how I approach making work, even though my work is primarily painting they come from a conceptual background and that has very much intensified here. In terms of taking ideas away there is a huge swathe of ideas that I have that I don’t have time to address here. I expect the processing of that will occur when I leave Rome and there is a very specific body of work which I want to make which will be specifically about my experience of certain aspects of Rome.
Damien’s work will be exhibited alongside the other six resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 June until Saturday 25 June 2016, closed Sundays.
Photo by Antonio Palmieri, interview conducted by Katherine Paines.