PART 1 - Interview with Connie Michele Morey – 5 February 2013 with Debora Alanna
(Parentheses are descriptions by Debora Alanna)
DA I find these very moving. Sculpturally, they impact. Would you please start with this?
( "Language as Longing:, earthenware, glaze and dissection pins, dimensions variable, 2010)
CM Sure. This is work that I did a couple of years ago. All the work in the exhibition is part of my studio research related to my doctorate. This work is about the relation between desire and dominance, or the threshold between them. At the time I made this, I was thinking about birds, and how much we learn from our experience with birds. We may not be able to make a formula for what we learn – it is something much more intuitive. I was thinking about how our relationship with animals is one where we feel inspired by them, and sometimes awestruck by them, and how that experience is so positive that it results in desire to capture that experience and that desire teeters over into dominance. It’s not only this way with our relationship with birds but our relationship with anything that is different from us.
There is a quote that’s by Luce Irigaray [i], where she talks about her experience of butterflies. She was enthralled with them as a child but she also wanted to control and capture them. How is it possible that we can have a relationship with birds - or anything we deem different - and it not become one of control or dominance, to be able to appreciate what it is, as it is.
DA These are almost egg like, contained in their own visceral environment.
CM I like that interpretation.
The original image was a bird that looked like it was both dead and alive. I don’t know if that is apparent.
DA It’s successful. I saw that.
CM I started with rectangular tiles, but they felt too rigid, too controlled for a work that is negotiating the line between desire and dominance. Dominance almost becomes a violence against something. If I have to capture something to be able to appreciate it, I’ve imposed some violence on that creature. And if I was to appreciate something in a space of its own I don’t want to have that element of control. For me, these tiles have the sense of being free but also restraint because of the dissection pins holding them in place. I am trying to play between that tension of freedom and being controlled.
DA Could you talk about the lines around the birds?
CM The work evolved intuitively. When I look at them now I think those lines show that there is no space that isn’t activated. There is no space that is empty. The lines give movement and motion. The fact that the birds are cropped or cut off implies there is something beyond this space.
DA Connie, is there any reason you have put this in a horizontal stance?
CM I would have to say no. Again, it is intuitive. I would have to say the reason is not a formulated conscious objective.
DA The birds have become the landscape. It’s almost as if they have built some consecutive landscape and the formation is almost mountainous.
CM I love this take. See this is where you and I together make meaning of the work. It’s never just me. Often when people tell me what they see in the work, it makes perfect sense. It alters my perception a little bit. But it also adds to it. I think the colour is important in the work. I find that I am very attracted to this range of reds and pinks that some people would consider as me expressing some type of violence. But I think these are like the life lines that makes us who we are.
DA Blood is red.
CM Yes it is. But I don’t always see it as violent. I know it has the potential to be red in that way, but I also see it as something that is intensely beautiful. For example, for a child to be born, it is sort of - I hesitate to use the word, but it is sort of a violent act. It is intense and involves some rupture. So I think in that sense, out of things that are very difficult, there is an opening – that is a positive thing. Red, for me, is something that shows the complexity of that. It has some sense of beauty.
DA A dichotomy?
CM . A dichotomy implies they are opposites. I would say they are completely dependent on each other.
DA Okay. I would like to talk about this work.
("Small Bird Trap (Learning to Sing)"; 2011-2012; wood, crocheted thread, stain; dimensions variable, collaborative work with Christina and Irvin Morey)
CM This work I did in collaboration with my mom, dad and my son. It was done not very long ago but I’ve redone it several times…. Can I show you how they work?
CM Normally what would happen is there would be a tree, maybe a sapling, that would have a hole drilled through it, and there would be a rock with a little noose on it. And this (top) would be pointed so the bird wouldn’t land on it. The bird would land on this perch, and the string would fall out, causing their foot to get trapped in the noose. I have been thinking about how I can make it more apparent without me demonstrating it. It’s has the idea of a trap, but it also has this net below it, which catches it. I wanted it to feel a little bit like a nest, a home - between nurture and control. Again it’s this desire, which is both complete appreciation of the beauty of the bird and the dominance of the capture of holding something down. It no longer exists in a space of its own or has its own choice.
I am really interested in mixing craft with traditional art practices like sculpture and installation, and playing with those boundaries. If you look at the work there are a lot of the elements that have some sort of contemporary craft incorporated into sculpture.
I am interested in craft because it is women who have been excluded from the traditions of fine art and because of that so have their practises. I think also non-western cultures have been excluded from western fine arts, as well as others. The male trajectory of what western fine arts used to be. Not any more, but what it used to be. I am interested in this boundary of inclusion and exclusion. I am interested in that history.
DA I would like to talk about this piece. (continuing to talk about Small Bird Trap) Besides the meaning behind it, there is the visual structure. I have discomfort with this work, with what you have embraced here. Not because it is disturbing, but because it is very beautiful. And that in itself is a problem for me.
CA Because it is aesthetic?
CA And is it because it becomes an object?
DA No. Does the repetition involved earlier enable it or disable it?
CA With the repetition, there are two things. There’s me, in the process of repeating and making something over and over. And then there is the object, being repeated. It is very hard for me to make a singular work. I always work in series. That work (a single work in the corner titled Embodiment: Stomach Growls) is the one that makes me the most uncomfortable.
The reason is that I have problems with the preciousness of an object. And objects for me become a part of the way I feel about the world. I see the world as always engaging a community. I see it being even more complex than an ecosystem. There is always more going on than the singular. Western traditions have a tendency to see you as an individual. We talk about isolated individuals, as autonomous individuals. That any decision I make comes solely from me and largely impacts me and my future. I don’t fit with that way of thinking. To make a singular object, an isolated object, emphasizes for me, that the object exists by itself. There isn’t anything in the world that exists in this way. It always involves relationships. However, I think there are a whole bunch of reasons why people would approach the repetition and see it in a completely different way.
DA I like multiples. That isn’t what I was referring to. I was referring to your crocheted work. And I love the stone associated. I had no idea of the system you have evolved. I really like what you are saying. Ojbecthood in itself is powerful. A point of reference, and is a possible way to incorporate all things material-wise. I think this has a lot to say about isolation, what the meaning of community versus isolation is.
CM I am not saying that I find objects on a whole problematic. I love objects. I make objects. I am not denying that I make objects. The perspective that I am looking at the world from right now is one that is about being dependent upon much more than myself. Who knows? In ten years I might be – I have never done it, but I might be making a whole bunch of single objects. I don’t dismiss other people making objects. There is so much work out there that is... I am thinking of Abigail Doan who makes these gorgeous little crocheted nest-like balls that are objects. We seem to see objects as not placed in a context. This is less the case within critically engaged contemporary art practice, I think. But when somebody comes to an object or comes to an individual we tend to talk, in Western culture, about people as if they are not dependent upon nature, as if they are not dependent upon animals, as if they are not dependent upon - me talking to you, as if my voice is just going across to your ears and entering at one point, there. There is so much more going on. That is what I am interested in.
DA I would like to talk about ("Taxonaphonia" (DETAIL), Library cabinet, pyrographied letters, faux fur, thread and paper, 2012-2013 ) I have to say, it is problematic for me.
CM I like that you say that openly.
DA I have seen cabinets of curiosity before. It is not you, particularity, it’s the genre. This is almost the antithesis of what you were just saying.
CM I don’t know that I would see this as a cabinet of curiosity. And I also don’t know that I would see my art as promoting my view of the world. I see it more as me critically engaging with both perspectives and trying to figure out what I think about it through that. Engaging with the degree to which we are individuals and the degree to which we are dependent is a negotiation that I do through my work. I wouldn’t say that my work promotes the idea of interdependence. I am not interested in doing that.
CM I don’t want to preach anything. I am just trying to figure things out for myself. My work engages with the process of questioning the boundaries between those two things. So it’s always a threshold or a boundary. When I think about something being contained or being porous I think it is a negotiation or questioning. This work is a questioning, not a statement.
This one ("Taxonaphonia”, Library cabinet, pyrographied letters, faux fur, thread and paper, 2012-2013) is about language. About how language can be used as something that separates us from other species or something that connects us, making the world something that is much more experiential. If you think about the difference between a poem or definition... when I enter a poem, I enter it experientially, I can get in the poem, I feel like I am a part of it. If I look at a definition if feels more like I am on the outside looking in at this definition or thing defined.
DA Your labels on the work are poetic descriptions.
CM Yes. They are poetic descriptions of things that are usually referred to as more precise and definitive. And in that sense, they are trying to open meaning up. This comes partly from the fact that I am doing a PhD and I am housed in a department that is situated in the social sciences – which tends to rely on the sciences and its methods and I have a background in art, which is much more experiential. I have to negotiate language in a way that bridges those two traditions.
DA Is that why the alphabet is all jumbled here?
CM I think this is an opening up of language, so that language becomes a pattern. When I burned the letters in I was thinking about stamping and branding that happens with animals. That practice, functions, in a way like a definition, it holds something down as a method of control or domination. I think there are moments when we dominate language. Where we say, you are a homo sapien, and you are something else. There are political ramifications and cultural roots for these definitions. But we make them as though they are universal.
DA You have used Latin for the titles and I don’t know what they are.
CM Cilium is eyelash in Latin. I wouldn’t know this except I looked it up. And sapien is the word ‘wise’. I mention a little bit about this in a small book I made about the work. Around 250 years ago, human beings… man at that time… was labelled homo sapien. So man named himself ‘man the wise’. But, in doing that, he essentially said this is what sets man apart. The thing that makes man a particular species is wisdom. This act disallows wisdom to some extent, to others that aren’t humans. By including the word ‘sapien’ in the labels on the work, I am playing or pushing the boundaries of what is meant by ‘wise’. I’m proposing that ‘wise’ isn’t something that just belongs to human beings. To see wisdom as a human possession, I have to understand myself as a human being that is completely isolated, in this sense, I didn’t get wisdom from the birds or another experience with the world. Each label includes the word ‘wise’ because the work is playing with or pushing the boundaries of what is considered wise. It is also playing with taxonomical language that holds something down, in that sense the work is an attempt to open meaning up.
DA They (works in drawers) are really high contrast in texture and development – even the case in relation to the objects in the drawers. They are almost worlds, even galaxies apart.
CM They are meant to embody difference. They are meant to be unnameable. It seems that I know what an apple is and I don’t know what an apple is. I call it an apple, but there is no particular apple that is like this generalization. We have all these stereotypes. These words that make us seem that we know what something is, but we don’t know. Even if we experience it, we only do so from one perspective. These works are meant to embody difference. They are very different from the cabinet. When you open the drawer, they seem like they don’t fit in. They are others that have been excluded; they are not quite animals. We could say they are and are not what animals look like.
DA If you put all the cabinet drawers to a certain level, you obliterate the view (inside the drawers).
CM Yes, it’s true. I want people to play with this. I want people to do things with it.
DA This book(s) is/are in association with your exhibition?
CM I don’t think the work needs the book. It’s me contemplating the work in another medium. It’s a reflection of the work in another form. So it can exist separately.
DA This ("Following (Rumination)"; acrylic, photographs, encaustic and string on paper & cradle panels; 25 panels; dimensions variable; 2012) looks like a child’s wall. With string that connects the pieces.
CM Craft is seen as something that is not critically engaged, not serious. We tend to categorize anything we deem as ‘different’ and can’t relate to (like the creatures in “Taxonaphonia”), as disturbing, threatening or we sentimentalise or infantilize it. So that it is so childlike that it needs our care; this is the approach of colonial history. We rationalized violence through the language of nurture and disallowed choice. I think the same is true with our relations with animals. They either become this wild beast we are fearful of or they become these really sweet, cute things that are intellectually inferior, like how we think of a cow or a sheep. Craft that has been excluded is a little bit different. I don’t know if we have been fearful of it, but certainly fearful of women’s traditions to some extent. Like ‘femme fatales’, for example. But definitely we sentimentalized craft. We’ve made it not politically or socially engaged. Not subversive.I have a friend who recently went to South Africa. In the small village she visited there is a group of women who are mostly grandmothers and are there caring for their grandchildren. The community has a high percentage of HIV positive people. The women there have been making tapestries, which are embroidered with unbelievable detail, they are gorgeous. They are also very politically engaged. They show the politics of HIV, of children dying – they are about issues that are both intensely personal and political. I think even the word ‘decorative’ is problematic here, craft, even sentimental craft is about more than decoration; it is highly political.
This, "Following (Rumination)", is both about that and about animals being sentimentalized to the point of no longer having any power. If I was to put this string here (disconnecting the string connection to another part of the work) this sheep no longer has a power of speech.
DA This is string, not wool. Why? You have all these sheep, but you have used string, not wool.
CM I don’t think it needs to be wool.
DA I don’t know if this applies...When we were kids, we used to play telephone with cans, and use string attached to the cans to carry the sound. That’s the way I look at it – that’s what you are doing. You are using string to carry the speech. And you have speech bubbles, too.
CM Right, and there are strings coming from their ears too, at times. I hadn’t thought of that but I think it’s a legitimate thing to see. It makes sense.
I am interested in string, there is string in my work, there’s thread. I stitch up things. I am interested in it because string shows the connections between things. The work is, in part, about how things are connected and disconnected. This work is a good example of where I am not interested in making a statement or trying to promote something. I am really questioning. There are moments when you can move these strings so they are disallowing speech. There are some that don’t have anything and are completely isolated. And there are some that are connected only to each other. And some that are connected to speech bubbles. I am not really interested in making a firm statement, I am interested in questioning… although I have ethical concerns about our treatment of animals.
I think these animals (sheep) are really sentimentalized. Sentimentalizing animals is a highly political act. And I think to say something is sentimental it makes it seem as if it is passive. But how is that passive?
DA No. It is very strong.
CM It’s very strong. It’s hugely political. Especially when you think about how much has been excluded by deeming something as such. The more sweet and toy-like they look the more political they seem to me. You don’t expect that to be included within serious art discussions, although I am sure there are instances where it has been.
DA For me, this work is about being seen and heard. It’s very powerful. I was struck by the presence of the voicing. I find it very moving.
CM Thank you.
DA You have the dots again. Dot, dot, dot. It is interesting because it is almost a separate dialogue happening.
CM It’s in the holes as well.
DA Yes, and the holes with the fur, feathers.
Do you want to talk about the heads? ("Dysphonia (Mouth Stuffed Full)"; 2011-2012; clay slip, glaze, graphite & fur; dimensions variable) / ("Osmophonia (The Porosity of Song)"; 2012-2013; clay slip, glaze, & feathers; dimensions variable)
CM I never think that one thing is just one thing. A dot is both a dot and a hole. It is both a positive and negative, present and absent. When I think about the thresholds between things like desire and dominance or nurturing and control – those lines between everything, they exist almost like a dot or hole. There is a line where they are interdependent, much like life and death. If you think about the point of death, being like a hole – a loss of something that is on one hand tragic. And this, almost negative hole also provides an opening where you can see things in a slightly different light than you did before, the hole becomes a presence, a possibility. One thing existing as two things. There is complexity of presence with absence. Stuff is around us all the time that we cannot name. When I communicate with you, it’s not just me talking and it going straight to your ear. It is the exchange that happens between us and the space involved.
DA The light between us.
CM And also between the work. Salmon Rushdie, in his book Haroun and the Sea of Stories, talks about a P2C2E, which is a process too complicated to explain, which I just love. These dots are like the P2C2E, this process too complicated to explain but doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It is still there. I can’t name it. It would be a shame to scientifically put it under a microscope… even though we try to explain it.
DA Like hope.
CM Yes, it is. I have the idea that something exists beyond me. That the world is not just me and the ideas that come from me. I am not wholly in control of these thoughts or ideas or wholly on top of them. It feels kind of liberating to me. I can breathe. Being an autonomous being sounds hard. I don’t want to be in that space. I feel appreciative that there are all these other things that are at play in whatever I do. Things I don’t understand.
DA You are like a shaman. You allow things to happen. It’s a thing that happens. You are an intermediary.
CM I would be cautious to use that language, because I don’t know what it is that I am.
DA Let’s talk about the feathers.
"Osmophonia (The Porosity of Song)"; 2012-2013; clay slip, glaze, & feathers; dimensions variable
Because you have taken the birds’ feathers and made the work enlivened with them, all the feathers are now stuck all over the heads.
CM This piece, the bird traps and the birds on the wall – they started at about the same time.
A few years ago my daughter and I bought bird feeders and put them outside our window. We spent a huge amount of time watching the birds, noticing the birds. At that time, I went into her school and did an art project with the kids about local birds. They drew birds, built birds’ nests. Birds can teach you something. But not in a sentimental way. I can learn something from them, although it might not be possible to make what I learn into a formula. I think this is partly about me being able to gain something from the experience of being with birds, something porous. The work is partly about that and partly about blurring the lines between what is human what is animal.
DA Your heads are really hard and blue.
CM Yes, they are china blue.
DA There is this huge anxiety here.
CM I know that is what some people see in it. And I know sometimes people feel the same anxiety in the piece that is on the opposite side of the wall - "Dysphonia (Mouth Stuffed Full)"… the fur in the mouth. I know they can make people anxious. I am not saying that I make them without knowing that. I think they make people anxious because they are different.
DA No it is not that. It is because of the fur. Fur and feathers are huge. They come from the animals. Creatures. And they are misplaced. And they are not functioning the way...
CM We don’t have problems with going to the grocery store and buying meat that comes from animals.
DA Some people do.
CM Some people do. But we don’t see that as being displaced. It is because it is placed in a different context. It creates a point of difference.
DA Also, it disallows the speech, which would normally be evoked from the mouth. And you have this scribbling, so it is as if whatever was held in the head has now become distorted on the faces, instead of coming through the mouth.
CM You are quite perceptive.
They are meant to disturb but not necessarily sensationalize. I don’t want to disturb for the purpose of sensation; I am interested in art that makes us look at things differently.
DA Like the cow, with the magnifying glass.
(Regurgitation; toy cow, clay, acrylic, paper, ink and synthetic grass on wood shelf; 2008-2013)
DA Did you make this whole thing?
CM I didn’t make the cow. I made the intestine and constructed the rest of the piece. This (text) is actually my Master’s thesis.
DA That’s funny.
CM The cow is regurgitating. I think academics get really serious. It becomes as if you see everything. When you write a thesis it seems, in a way as if the object and ideas exist on their own. I think, however, there is way to write that is more questioning, but traditionally a thesis is written in a way that is like a statement. It’s meant to be solid so that people can’t poke holes in it. In a way it is quite different from how I see art practice, which is for me a process of questioning, of me engaging questions. I have been trying to find a way for the process of writing to feel more honest. Ten years down the road you might look at what you wrote and decide it doesn’t make sense. So it seems odd to take it so seriously, as if it is the absolute truth.
DA We like to try and figure it out.
CM Yes, I am trying to negotiate and engage with this honesty. At times I have to poke really far in one direction or the other to be able to say… okay it is not quite that. I can say there is a difference between what academic practice of writing has been and what, let’s say, poetic writing is. Those are different forms. One, you tend to participate and engage with. And the other is a much more objective process. You have more distance from the world when you write a thesis. Traditionally, objectivity has been seen as something that is considered valuable in academic writing, only recently has it been questioned.
DA I think your approach, too for me is subjective
CM How can you not be subjective? You are there. It just feels honest to acknowledge that you bring a presence to whatever it is that you engage in.
DA What about this fuzzy furry guy there?
("Articulate Bodies"; 2011; watercolour, acrylic, graphite, pen and thread on paper, 2 x 22" x 30"). He looks like he’s in the midst of blood. And he’s stitched. On top of that. And these... (spots) all are these all organisms?
CM They are something like organisms. If we think of organisms as something that is a molecule, we tend to think of something that is physical, that doesn’t have consciousness. I wouldn’t say they are just biological organisms. They are things that exist that make up the complex world that we are a part of. That is the reason for the title ‘Articulate Bodies’…
DA Sorry to interrupt you. I need to talk about this.
("Symbiophonia"; Pen on paper; 3 x 22" x 30"; 2013)
I have been avoiding it and I don’t know why. I would like to know why I am avoiding it.
CM For me it is different than the other work.
DA The figure has its back to the viewers. And the animal is forefront. So this figure is getting lost in whatever is here. His head is almost in it. What does that mean?
CM It’s called Symbiophonia - phonia has to do with sound. There’s a whole bunch of things going on in this work. I don’t want to present a relationship that is oversimplified. It is about the complexity of our relationship with the world that is around us. I’m trying to show the complexity of the relationship we have with the world and with animals. And that is where the “symbio” comes from. The theory of evolution has often been interpreted as the survival of the fittest, which is based on competition, which emphasizes to some degree the separation of different species. Originally, I don’t know that Darwin wrote it in that way but it is often interpreted as this type of competition, of species against this species, where one species is going to come out on top. There is a writer named Lynn Margulis who writes about evolution as a form of symbiogenesis. She talks about how the smallest parts of us – microbes and protists evolve collaboratively. They are completely dependent on each other. If you look at species from one perspective - they appear to be competing with each other, but if you look at them from a different, more intimate or micro perspective, species evolve through entanglements with each other, it is a collaborative process. So, Symbiophonia is me thinking about language and all the ways we communicate with each other; all the ways we experience and know the world as beings that are intricately entangled.
DA I heard about that before, and I really liked that idea. I feel that idea. I have difficulty with... it is presence and absence at the same time.
if you look at the tethering of the rock, "Small Bird Trap (Learning to Sing)" at the nest, is, to me a reflection of that also, what is happening. That’s to catch birds and this is...
CM To hold on to animals. Yes, there is an element, a question or suggestion of dominance in the piece. And I think there is a question or suggestion in "Following (Rumination)", in the strings that connect or tie down and in (Dysphonia) with the pieces with fur in their mouths. There is a suggestion of dominance in those works. This is where our ethics comes into play. That moment of dominance where, whatever it is we desire, even if it is me not desiring this thing that is in front of me, this cultural other or this animal – it ends up involving some complicated chain that possibly involves dominance.
I like the conversation with you because it makes me more aware of how this is important to the work.
DA I am happy to have been involved.
ba_ble: inarticulations on human-animal relations
1st February – 24 February 2013
[i] Luce Irigaray: Belgian-born French feminist, philosopher, linguist,psychoanalyst, sociologist and cultural theorist. She is best known for her works Speculum of the Other Woman (1974) and This Sex Which Is Not One (1977).