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Interview with Ciara Scanlan!
by Colleen Keough
I first met artist Ciara Scanlan in the summer of 2009 in Galway, Ireland. I had submitted to an open call placed by MART founders, Ciara Scanlan and Matthew Nevin earlier in the year for the exhibition “Open Door Policy”. My work was accepted and I found myself installing a small video installation in an old thatched roof cottage on Henry St in Galway. MART had been in existence for a couple years back then, and Matt and Ciara were busy creating grassroots opportunities for emerging artists in the form of pop up shows, screenings, performances and exhibitions. It’s now seven years later and MART has evolved into a thriving arts scene with galleries and artists studios stretching across Dublin, Ireland. I’ve been lucky and honored to have participated in several exhibitions and screenings produced by the MART team, and Ciara was one of the first artists/curators that came to mind for my very first interview for Fem-Media-Art. Here’s the interview.
CK: How would you describe your current artistic practice and how has it evolved or changed over the years?
CS: I recently tried to deconstruct by practice and filtered it down to something basic: generating stories.
I realised all my video, interventions, performance served a purpose to create a conversation in the public everyday realm. I am not interested in making art for an art audience as it seems futile and preaching to the converted. I prefer to step outside and be part of the public creating situations that upset the status quo of the everyday. I have most recently started writing, and exploring word as a tool to surprise people.
CK: You work primarily in video, performance and web-based media. Tell us about that choice. What draws you to work in these mediums?
CS: I find these mediums the most used and instantaneous form of media that the general public also use. I like to use crude basic technologies and have no interest in using sophisticated forms of video for my work, as I like to use DIY aesthetic to communicate.
Hungry Again, 2011, Mixed Media Interactive Installation (image courtesy of the artist) ©ciarascanlan
CK: In your performance works “Hungry Again” 2011, and “Winners” 2013 – (ongoing), you demonstrate a need to interact with the public, to interrupt public space and engage directly with the community. Where did this desire originate? What is it about public interaction / reaction that inspires or intrigues you?
CS: I grew up in a small rural town in the west of Ireland where everyone knew each other and even though it could be like a fish tank there was a sense of community. I have always sought to find this ‘village’ in an urban environment. I am curious about strangers and their stories and lives. I personally enjoy watching people and imagining what they have experienced and their untold stories. So this is my drive behind wanting to engage with the public and entice a sort of collective experience and unity in the people that see and interact with my work. I also like the idea of the artwork being a surprise, like with ‘Winners’ I wanted to make unsuspecting people prize winners even if they don’t know what and why they won. I like to imagine the audience tells a story of encountering the event and the thought of this story excites me more than hearing it in reality.
CK: An aspect of your work I really resonate with is your humor. Whether we’re looking at “Soap Opera, ‘Your Street’ 2011“ or “Dirty Look at the Dali” 2011, there’s a bit of a jester, trickster, provocateur in you. (I mean this in the most complimentary way) Comments?
CS: Yes this is very intentional. I am interested in the role of the jester in society, going back to Shakespeare and up to Chaplin. Their role was on the surface to make people laugh but it went deeper into a sense of freedom to be social commentators, the voice of the people. With ‘Dirty Look’ I was commenting on the very ‘Irish’ trait of being apathetic and being arm chair politicians when it comes to the incompetence of our government. In Ireland a ‘dirty look’ is not sexual but a passive aggressive look and disproval. To represent this inactive and useless action I wanted to rally 1000 people to come and give our house of government a dirty look. To my surprise this event attracted huge media attention and I ended up on National news and Radio. Some people were angered by my seemingly useless protest and other saw what I was trying to do. But i like diving opinion!
Dirty Look at the Dali, 2011, Performance and Single Channel Video (image courtesy of the artist) ©ciarascanlan
CK: Given your interest in community it’s not surprising you’ve found yourself in the role of Co-Director and Curator at MART in Dublin, Ireland. (I have to give a quick shout out to Matthew Nevin here, fellow Co-Director and Curator with whom you built and started the organization with). Has your role in developing MART, and curating influenced your practice? How so?
CS: To be honest at the moment it has eliminated my practice! But I’m ok with that. For the first year of setting up the gallery and studios I battled with slight resentment that MART was taking all my time away from my art making. But suddenly I realised it had become my practice in a way. I was making art happen and providing studios for 140+ artists and that is the story I am interested in telling for the foreseeable future. I have started writing stories and that has become in some ways an easier flow of creativity for me and I am excited by the possibilities of words.
CK: The critique of capitalism is a running presence in your work. It’s subject matter that many artists explore and negotiate. Art and business can be an uncomfortable relationship for artists. How have you navigated this terrain? What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
CS: I am at my core also a capitalist as that is the society I was born into to. But I have as an artist lived on the fringes, and money was always a scarcity for many years. I am also the first generation of my family on both sides to not be a farmer or farm laborer, and I am always aware of this stark contrast to my present and family history. The consumer interests me as an artist because I can relate but also objectively judge. I don’t want to comment on it and seem like I don’t partake, as I do, I merely want to create discussion and turn the consumerist camera on myself for others to see.
Product Service Company, 2010 – Present, Installation, Performance, Intervention (image courtesy of the artist) ©ciarascanlan
CK: As a curator, what do you look for? What excites you?
CS: As an artists myself I personally like to work with emerging talent. I am interested in meeting the artists and seeing what drives them. I am inspired by artists that have a strong drive and passion to continue to make work often resulting in living in near poverty! Mostly I like to work with artists that make brave and political work as that is my interest but in ways all art is political in the action itself.
CK: What’s the most personally fulfilling part of being involved with MART?
CS: The people! The MART team has grown and we are excited to see where we can go from here. The Gallery which we renovated in an old firestation is constantly improving and we look forward to the 2017 programme. We are going to LA once a year now bringing Irish artists work to different galleries and establish the irish art scene as something to be valued.
CK: Are there any big plans on the horizon for MART?
CS: Los Angles shows in CB1 Gallery, 101 Exhibit and LACE in next 3 years, a new gallery programme in Dublin MART Gallery and lovely new additions to the team. We also hope to buy a building in the next few years and not depend on landlords anymore!
CK: What’s next for Ciara?
CS: A baby in November! And I hope to finish some writing I have been working on. I will be back in MART in May and looking forward to our show in 101 exhibit La in July 2017!