Fan Mail: Interview with Dara Gill

Each month, DailyServing selects two artists to be featured in our Fan Mail series.  If you would like to be considered, please submit to a link to your website with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.  Keep checking the site – you could be the next artist featured!

For this edition of Fan Mail, Sydney-based emerging artist Dara Gill has been chosen from a group of worthy submissions.  Just back from a project in the New South Wales bush, Gill took the time to discuss his passion for ideas, his creative process and to share his thoughts on anxiety – that omnipresent 21st century condition.

Untitled (Rubber Band Portraits), 2010. Courtesy the artist.

Kelly Nosari:  Your practice is so diverse.  You work in video, performance, sculpture, painting, sound and installation.  Where does your creative process begin?

Dara Gill:  My creative process starts first and foremost with research.  In this stage a formalisation of the research made is complied into a fluid ‘definition’ of the topic as I see it.  This normally includes the ideas of others coupled with my own ideas and this definition then informs the artworks themselves.

KN:  Anxiety is an overarching theme in your art practice.  How do you creatively engage an experience that is both personal and collective?   What is it that interests you most about this universal human condition?

DG:  Anxiety tends to sit at the top of the human emotional hierarchy, thus most emotions stem from anxiety.  It is the ubiquitous nature of the emotion that drew me towards it and its ramifications for daily life.  My yearning to understand the emotion stems from both wanting to know myself and my fellow man a little better, objectifying what is in essence subjective.  Initially my interest tended to sit with the neurotic forms of the condition, that is phobia driven anxiety, but as I discovered more about the emotion its daily ramifications became much more powerful and interesting.

Creatively engaging with anxiety, or any emotion in fact is often the hardest part, because for each it is truly personal.  Therefore the challenge of creating works that do not involve personal motifs or stories, but rather commonly shared experiences, is the trust of this creative engagement.  I always aim to communicate without relying on the texts created from my research or any over explanation of the meaning behind a work, but rather letting the work communicate through is imagery and processes.

Sisyphus Triptych #2 from Dara Gill on Vimeo.

KN:  The influence of the Greek myth of Sisyphus is evident in video works like Untitled (Sisyphus Triptych #2) or To Roll, in which you attempt a tedious or impossible task.  Please talk more about this myth and its influence on your work.

DG:  For me Sisyphus is a parable for anxiety.  Very briefly, anxiety stems partly from a foreboding sense that something is ‘not quite right’ – a negative reflection on ones current place in the world.  Anxiety is a general ambiguous feeling that something is missing or looming (Lack), and a wish (Desire) to rid one of this feeling.  The desire to change transforms into a desire to work or maintain a sense of busy-ness in order to quell anxiety.  This characteristic produces mundane work, work towards a perpetually unfulfilled and ill-defined end result.

My first point of interest within the myth Sisyphus is the mental state of Sisyphus as he completes each cycle of his task; his naive and instinctual habitual compulsion to push the rock up the hill, thinking that his toil will end once the rock reaches the summit, the horror as he watches it roll back down, and the amnesia he suffers each time the cycle continues.  Sisyphus is to constantly work towards a goal that has no foreseeable end to it, born out of a compulsion from nothing.

KN:  In much of your work, you aim not to reconcile or to perform anxiety, but to rather mischievously induce it in others.  Whether aiming rubber bands at peoples’ faces as in Untitled (Rubber Band Portraits) or surprising them with bright lights as in Untitled (Blinding Light Box) you create a very physical stress experience for the participant.  Talk more about this process.

DG:  Often the work that involves the use of people is born out of the research into the topic.  I often think that the best way to explain anxiety is to induce it in others.  For instance, in Untitled (Rubber Band Portraits) and Untitled (Blinding Light Box) I utilised one my observations of anxiety as being both a simultaneous Fight and Flight response, the effect of this causing a paralysing stillness or as Kierkegaard describes a ‘shuddering before nothingness’.  I drew a parallel with this ‘Deer in the headlights’ type moment, where the Deer is both mesmerised by the cars headlights but also fearful of its demise, both culminating again in a paralysing internal dizziness.  This motif was then manipulated into the bright lights in Blinding Light Box and the rubber bands in Rubber Band Portraits.

Untitled (To Roll) from Dara Gill on Vimeo.

KN:  You have described your work as ‘situational based research’.  I see that some pieces mimic psychological experimentation by facilitating discomfort and documenting it.  In Horror Vaccui Experiment (2009), for example, you record an unwitting subject as they wait alone in an empty room.  How do you go about this process?  What is the Knowledge Barter Experiment?

DG:  A key methodology within in my developing practice is the survey, that is, an attempt to engage with the public in situational based research where a subject responds to stimulus or a constructed environment, often with a visual outcome.  These works are performative in nature and documented through video, text, photography, and sound.  Through this process documentation becomes art object.  The tenor of these works is that of objective scientific research, but the parameters of the interaction are poetically manipulated in order for the outcome to become expressive of visual art.  The use of the survey has played a pivotal role in my investigation of anxiety, and is the tool that is used by the sciences to gain useful information on anxiety.  I wish to employ the survey in an almost playful sense, as pseudo-scientific investigation.  This methodology was used during the initial stage of my research and its findings inform more formal aspects of my artistic practise.

The Knowledge Barter Experiment was a fun side project that I always wanted to do but its connection to anxiety is very direct.  It forces a participant to actively reflect and comprehend ones own abilities and weaknesses, what they know and what they want to know.  Here they must define with some confidence their ability on a chosen topic.  This is not easy, as one attaches a value to what they know and thought they knew, and compares this to already existing teachings.  Secondary to this process is the defining of what one wants to learn.  This involves again identifying what one perceives they have little knowledge of and what they feel is valuable to know.

KN:  What are you working on now?

DG:  Right now I’m working on my next few solos that branch out into the topic of Hope and its connection to anxiety.  Hope for the most part sits in direct opposition to anxiety.  For Ernest Bloch, anxiety stems from a feeling of “something lacking and [the] want to stop it… [the] dreams of a better life”.  This hunger never ceases, “we never tire of wanting things to improve.  We are never free of wishes…”.  Friedrich Nietzsche opines that hope is ‘the worst of evils for it prolongs the torment of man’.  It is the space between such varied opinions that interests me, and the space in which I would like the work to exist.

KN:  Can you offer one piece of advice for emerging artists?

DG:  Document everything.