Oisín Byrne: Politics & Art

oisin byrne blue wall picOisín Byrne takes some time out to talk with Maebh Butler about his piece in response to Gretchen Bender’s Total Recall, which is on show in the Project Arts Centre.Through a crackling phone line, Oisín Byrne begins to delve into the details of the late Gretchen Bender’s 1987 work, Total Recall. He enlightens OTwo that Total Recall is a piece which should not be considered as a negative reflection on media. Rather, it is a comment on her idea of ‘electronic theatre’ and the absolute speed at which television illustrates this. For anyone who is not familiar with Total Recall, it is an installation consisting of 24 monitors, with a melange of images such as those associated with Hollywood, the Cold-War and varying logos that are representative of corporations. Byrne says that Bender’s piece undermines the television’s “authority of viewpoint”.“Instead of a single political message going through, you watch multiple screens revealing complexity, contradiction, and manipulation, of political viewpoints… She literally says something about an acceleration into, rather than a resistance to, our multi-layered visual environment.”
I think it’s kind of like (again using a metaphor that I’m not very comfortable with) but it’s a bit like farming.  You have to leave a field fallow for a minute.”
Although created in 1987, there is an eerie familiarity about the way in which we use technology today, almost like a predictability of what was to come. In Byrne’s words, a “kind of promiscuity and mobility of information that’s there, is like what we have now… In terms of attention, your eyes moving around the place so much. We move so fast from one thing to the next thing in terms of research and the internet.”Moving on to Byrne’s work itself, it is a piece that is on show as part of Gretchen Bender’s Total Recall exhibition in the Project Arts Centre and is curated by Tessa Giblin. It is a series of prints on a curtain, and is the first and last thing you will see on entering into view Bender’s piece, as it acts as a kind of door; a framing device, if you will. In response to Total Recall, it consists of an array of images and is “so much choppier” than anything Byrne would usually make. This he credits to his current involvement with filmmaking. “Usually I make these things that would be a single image, in a way. If that makes sense.” With this, however, he says that he thinks “subconsciously, from working on film all year and chopping up images and sticking them together” is what has resulted in the design of the curtain.
“I think it’s so nice to think about how works are alongside each other, ‘cause you know, in art we talk about autonomy as the key word. But actually you know, fuck autonomy! It’s not the only game in town by any means.”
Byrne tells OTwo that as well as his current exhibition in the Project Arts Centre, and another solo one, called On Being Named which will be in London in the Cecilia Brunson Projects gallery in January, he is also editing a film called Glue. The film, he says, is about a person who suffers from narcolepsy. He draws attention to the interesting correlation between how the narcoleptic person keeps attention and Bender’s work “through the way that images move and through the way that the speed of images, or the slowness of images” relate to the person’s state of mind.Looking through Byrne’s work, it quickly becomes apparent that he is no stranger to working with different mediums when it comes to art, and he is not afraid to try out new things. While working with film on one hand, he says that he throws himself into pretty much everything else you could think of. “I very much work in different media for different projects. Sometimes, I worry about it (that it’s so spread out) but I mean, I don’t think I can change. I write, I make films, I paint, I make costumes, I build stages, I build curtains.”With all these different projects, how does he keep himself focused? Byrne says it is down to engaging with the variety within his work that helps him keep his mind set on a project at hand. “You know what they say, a change is as good as a rest. If I’m painting on Tuesday, it’s difficult to paint again on Wednesday, but you could edit a film and then you could switch to something else. I think it’s kind of like (again using a metaphor that I’m not very comfortable with) but it’s a bit like farming. You have to leave a field fallow for a minute.”Byrne certainly gives the aura of a man with his head on his shoulders as, despite seeming to be incredibly busy, he says that he manages to keep his thoughts in order by taking it one day at a time. “At any given time I’m not going to be thinking about everything at once. I say: today is a day when I think about this. And then I do that. Then the next day, I might think about something else.” With his own exhibition coming up in London, in which he will showcase a variety of his work done in different mediums, his cool head will no doubt come in handy.His solo show, On Being Named, he says will experiment with how his different works react with one another. As an artist who works with such a variety of mediums, he wants to explore the effect of putting them collectively under one roof. All his works, all his personalities, are put together “like [he’s] a schizophrenic, and [he’s] like, okay we’re all in the room together!” This will showcase a video which he has created, of two men played by the same character, shouting insults at each other. Alongside this, will be his “straightforward” portraits that he describes as being “pretty, polite and intimate.” He says that the exhibition will be in relation to an essay he has written on the idea of name calling, and that the video of insults will be interesting beside these more conventional portraits.“I kind of like the idea that those pretty portraits are getting a tiny bit bullied by the video. Just a bit…I’m trying to kind of triangulate and make the writing, the film, and the portraits, speak to each other…I think it’s so nice to think about how works are alongside each other, ‘cause you know, in art we talk about autonomy as the key word. But actually you know, fuck autonomy! It’s not the only game in town by any means.”Byrne is certainly not afraid to go his own way and it has quite obviously been working out for him. With a trail of great things already in his past, we can be sure to expect the same excitement and originality on his upcoming and current projects. Make sure to get into the Project Arts Centre to view the exhibition for free before it finishes running on the 23rd December 2015.