As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. Today’s interview is with John Rainey, our Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow.
You recently participated in EVA International. Tell us more about this experience…
EVA is an international biennial that takes place in Limerick, in the west of Ireland. For this year’s EVA I was commissioned to create a new piece of outdoor sculpture – an architectural intervention onto the facade of a Georgian building called the Hunt Museum.
The commission demanded much of my attention in the first 3 months of my BSR fellowship and was finally delivered in mid-April. There were a lot of new approaches for me with this project, including working on a much larger scale, and working with a steel fabricator in Ireland, while I was based here in Rome. This kind of remote management of the project was a challenge, but ultimately good experience.
At the end of March I returned to Ireland to do the final stage of the fabrication, and was based in a studio at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, where I had a short production residency. The finished work was a staging of a section of the building’s façade falling into ruin, so the development and production periods coinciding with my fellowship in Rome felt especially relevant. My time spent at ruined sites around the city, particularly thinking about fragmentation, destruction and conservation practices are still influencing my planning of new work.
Will the work you show in the June Mostra be connected to the work you presented in Ireland?
Not directly, though it will share some of the thinking about control, destruction and imitation with the ruins project. This time I’m picking up on a dialogue with classical statuary form.
In visiting collections in the Museums of Rome, my existing interest in the copy has narrowed in on ideas about repetition, states of repair and provenance. Specifically copies of Polykleitos’ Doryphoros, one of which I saw recently at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. I will be presenting a series of variations of this form on a reduced scale, developed through 3D printing and traditional casting processes.
I am working with new materials in Rome, such as silicone, jesmonite and printied vinyl (as with the interior ruins piece I showed in the March Mostra), so the work in the upcoming June Mostra will feature a combination of these.
You recently visited the excavations at Pompeii, as you were particularly interested in the plaster cast bodies. Explain how this trip affected you?
The Pompeii casts are especially interesting for me because casting in one of the main processes I use in my work. I create moulds to cast into, but at times I’m also casting from life.
More aligned with the tradition of death casting, the cavities created by the bodies in Pompeii acted as ready made moulds after the decomposition of soft tissue. The results of this natural casting process (following the intervention of Giuseppe Fiorelli who filled the spaces with plaster) are artefacts that resist classification – part artwork and part corpse.
Similarly, seeing the artefacts first-hand is not a singular experience – they’re beautiful and horrifying at the same time. This dual experience is something familiar to a lot of the corporeal work that I make.
There’s another significant resonance between the Pompeii bodies and my practice in terms of the use of digital scanning processes. In recent years the bodies have been subject to CT scanning which has revealed the skeletal remains and other matter that lies inside the solid forms.
This information has really expanded our knowledge of the society they represent, while also correcting long-held assumptions about the victims, such as the causes of death, gender, and social status. This example of material and digital technologies rendering the human past with greater lucidity, when applied to this historical, real-world investigation, has been useful for thinking about the wider context of the processes I use.
John’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 June 2018, closed Sundays.
Interview by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events). Photos by John Rainey.