Interview: Leer en la Nube.

November 19, 2022

Installation shot, Measure – A Stone’s Throw, Sala José Saramago, Madrid 2022

Here’s a translation of the interview I recently gave in Spanish to Leer en la Nube about my show Measure: A Stone’s throw. La versión original se encuentra aquí.

More photos on instagram.

On the occasion of the MEASURE a stone’s throw exhibition,  which you can see  until October 26  at the Sala José Saramago in Leganés, we have interviewed the artist, Kevin McCourt .

Leer en la Nube: We have been struck by the eclectic nature and breadth of vision evident in the images that appear in the exhibition catalogue. On the one hand, there are two photographs showing the same landscape (in black and white, and in colour), some branches painted with connotations of naïve art, and a low contrast black and white photograph of paper shaped to form a mountain on a cupboard. Do these elements form part of a whole?

Kevin McCourt: These are bits and pieces put together to give the semblance of a whole. And these pieces all have to do with how we experience and perceive time and distance. In this sense, they are ideas and experiences, perhaps irrational, perhaps shared, that I have tried to organize in a logical way. The most logical way, in this case, was to organize the objects as if they were part of a new walk, since everything in the exhibition has come from a series of walks through the parks of the city of Madrid and the surrounding countryside. For me, eliciting an emotional response in the visitor is important; I don’t want to reduce objects to a singular or didactic meaning through interpretation.

Having said that, while I am interested in the concepts of time, memory and space, I am not so interested in making works that depend on a metaphorical interpretation to work. I prefer to present objects as they are as far as possible, I mean with the fewest changes required for them to function as works of art.  The key is to establish its relationship between objects. This is not the same as being boringly literal. It’s about noticing things and playing, which can be very creative.

This exhibition focuses on an exploration of familiar places and objects. So we are talking about perceptions rather than discoveries. It is about perceptions, subjectivity and possible commonalities in how we perceive. Although our life experiences are generally very personal and individual, we often share certain feelings in our perception of time elapsed and distance travelled in terms of our experiences throughout our lives. The work Concertina refers directly to how our perception of time, with respect to memory, seems to expand and contract. Things that happened a long time ago can meld in with the present or suddenly interrupt it, for example.

Some objects already come with metaphors included and this can cause a lot of confusion between cultures and languages. At the same time, new objects that seem metaphorical can be produced, for example, the colourful sticks in this exhibition. Here, however, their titles actually directly acknowledge their origins as living beings and that, despite being dead, they have become something new or renewed. I would even say that their aesthetic relevance depends precisely on the interaction between their two new realities, that is, they are natural objects and artefacts, although this dance is revealed in a very discreet way.

A lot of the art I see around me seems very exuberant or elaborate or heavy with symbolism, even works that are described as minimalist or conceptual. For some reason, I am moving more and more in the other direction, towards the simple, direct and elegant. This can be seen in the works that I am doing now, I hope.

Formally speaking, this space, the Sala José Saramago, is a very big neutral space. I think the photographs create a more welcoming context for the other objects and vice versa. The context of an exhibition or presentation, even online, is always important. In other circumstances, I might work differently. Anyway, I have tried to build a new walk that involves a conversation both between the objects themselves and between the objects and the visitors. On other occasions, perhaps I would work in a more minimalist or conceptual way.

Regarding the photographs, they are very detailed images taken with a large format analogue camera, but we should always keep in mind that photography can make the invisible visible or vice versa, the visible invisible. These images have not been manipulated, so the choice of lens, exposure time, aperture and technical decisions in printing have been the deciding factors in what we can see here. I am referring to how the photographic process, from the interactions of the photographer and his camera with the environment, gives shape to something new, an image, a surface that, in some cases, may seem traversable.

The mountains in the Mountains of the Mind photograph were made with onion paper one day during confinement. This work speaks of the importance of creativity and optimism. The paper mountains are concrete manifestations of distance and time reimagined.

LN: First of all, we would like to know what is the trigger, the click that activates your creative process. Does the idea come up first and then you look for the what and the where, or is it the other way around?

KMcC:  It’s a bit of both. I find myself inspired by the work of many other artists and this makes me come up with certain ideas of what I’m going to do. These ideas are modified based on what I experience along the way, conversations and fortuitous encounters; I organize myself again and so I continue forward. So it’s a somewhat chaotic process, driven by the constant emergence of ideas or awareness of the need for modification. However, I always pay attention to how the different things I’m doing can form some kind of whole.

The processes of collecting, editing, adding, re-editing, reassembling, and re-presenting are informed by reading, theory, and my recent experience of interdisciplinary collaborations. But I think the work of other artists is the main inspiration. For this reason, sometimes I put the name of another artist alongside the title, as I have done here.

LN: Once you are clear about what to do, what is the creative process that you follow until you reach the final result? Do you have an objective and a marked path or does the process modify the objective to reach results that may surprise you?

KMcC:  Again a bit of both. There is always experimentation conditioned by experience. A part of my work could be considered conceptual, that is, it has an objective and a marked path, but there are always surprises and changes of opinion along the way that force changes. And I would add that what I do is not always focused on the idea but also on the process, for example, of creating images or text. It is possible to speak, and it is not new to do so, of the three studios: the first is the conception or the mind; the second is the physical place where the work is crystallized and manufactured, and the third is the place where you install the exhibition.

LN:  What kind of stimuli activate your creativity?

KMcC: Everything! Conversations, observations, things I find, vital experiences, books, films, artistic works, philosophy, theory, even science. However, my inspirations in terms of the processes and form of my work are mostly artistic.

I also like working on collaborations and collective projects. In fact, a few years ago I worked on an online collective writing project with a theoretical physicist and a group of coders. I have also been around collaborative teams that use digital, electronic and telematic media. Now I am planning collaborative activities that take place one hundred percent in the real world.

LN:  What is the message you intend to convey to those who are going to see the show?

KMcC:  There is no manifesto attached to the show. The goal is to create a situation where people stop running, an event, an opportunity to stay and reflect a bit and see the value in those ways of being because that way you connect more with the world through your life experiences, in the moment and afterwards, even with other people. I hope that my work, in creating certain physical environments and creating sensations, will encourage us to rethink our attitudes towards the now as we face the future.

It is clear that the exhibition focuses on several very specific concepts: measurement, time and physical distance. It talks about displacements and landslides. What is presented is the result of reflections on how these concepts interact with the notions of loss of value, function and perfection.

In a much broader sense, I have tried to establish a balance between content and formal aspects, between immersion and contemplation, so that sensation and understanding can coexist.

LN:  Does your Scottish origin (understanding that your work is linked to the forces of nature: earth, air, water…) have anything to do with your approach?

KMcC:  I don’t consider myself a Scottish artist in terms of the work I produce, although I am Scottish. I say this because my inspirations are eclectic and I have lived and worked in several countries. However, some of the artists who have inspired me a lot live and work in Scotland and there are always certain concerns or issues that have to do with your own development.

I don’t know if my work has anything to do with the forces of nature. I would say that it is more about the contemplative gaze and personal or collective perception, which are rather cultural or social issues. In any case, I think of nature, if it comes without an adjective, as something omnipresent, not as something necessarily elemental, grandiose or austere. All life is nature, just like the elements, and therefore nature is not divorced from culture.

The images featured are large and detailed, but they are also quite simple and to the point. They are what they are, images, made with a large format camera and the movements it offers, but, in the end, they have a very simple formal structure.

In short, my work is always linked, in some way and almost by definition, with a specific place, but this place is the space where I am working. And my works are done close to home, travel is not normally necessary, but I hope they have universal relevance.

LN:  Is the manipulation of nature in your works a way of explaining the strength of the primal or of questioning and putting other possible realities on the table?

KMcC:  Nature doesn’t promise us humans anything; but it is not cruel, it is indifferent. And we have to treat it with respect. Here I have tried to use local raw materials, collected while walking, ready-made things, and less polluting processes. The economic question also plays its part, of course. There is no explicit message, but it is there as a logistical feature. It is not necessary to use very expensive or wasteful materials and processes, nor to travel great distances to make valid works. You can use what is at hand.

I would say that, with the manipulation or reconfiguration of the collected sticks, I have done the minimum necessary to get to talk about the main concepts addressed in the exhibition: measurement, time and distance. By the way, I have plans for these sticks, a kind of return to their original state and function.

LN:  You mix realism (even detailed with GPS references), with photography (color and BN), with primary painting and you wrap everything in a conceptual reflection. Does this use of multiple apparently conflicting arts bring unity to your proposals? Wouldn’t you provoke a more direct and clear message by focusing on a single language or medium?

KMcC:  I can think of many interesting artists who mix media more than I do!

Here what I’m trying not to be is reductionist. I believe that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, and I say this from my experiences in both artistic and scientific fields. Here there are elements that point in different directions, or that use different materials or processes, but this sometimes helps the whole to come out better and more present.

I provided the GPS references for a very similar reason. They allow anyone to put themselves in the same place where I was. It is an approach or invitation.

I could have done what is here with drawing or concrete poetry, without the need for more. It’s true. But I decided to proceed with the idea of ​​variety and of establishing conceptual and formal relationships between the different elements presented. I hope, because of how it has been arranged, that each idea that arises is connected with another, and that the relationships that I have tried to suggest, between the objects presented and the pictorial elements in the hanging photographs, can be seen. Perhaps my goal is not to seek outright coherence or to insist on conveying a crystal clear message. Nor do I want to insist that the visitor arrive at an interpretation. But I do want to build a journey and facilitate an experience of a more complex, fluid and, at the same time, inevitably fragmented whole. That is life.

LN:  I am referring to the option of Land Art artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Jon Foreman, Lee UIfan, Richard Long, or Richard Shilling among others… and I want to ask you about your artistic references or about any artists who have left their mark on you.

KMcC:  Sure, the basis is a walk, so there’s a pretty obvious link to Land Art. Also with Arte Povera, if we think about the use of humble materials. They are all inspirations. My artistic inspirations are many and diverse: Ian Hamilton Finlay, Alec Finlay, Joan Brossa, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Susan Derges, Bernard Lassus, Lothar Baumgarten, Jochen Gerz, Juan Cruz, some things by Gabriel Orozco, to colourists and artists who work mostly with text. I am also very interested in minimalist interventions, for example. In fact, I have some interventions planned

LN:  We would also like you to tell us about a project you have in mind…

KMcC: I have other projects for the future that have a little bit of a different focus, some more participatory projects, for example, a children’s event; a type of treasure hunt where they have to walk around the country house looking for a series of places with the help of a map. In these places they find some rubber, ink and postcard stamps and they complete their own postcard. It is a tradition that is called letterboxing in English.

I also want to finish a project that is halfway done. A project that combines text with photographs taken in Scotland, Spain, Ireland and Mexico, places that are part of my past, present and, I hope, future. I have done the first part in Spain and Mexico. Now the second part is pending.

And I will continue producing mail art, that is, postcards. Simpler, conceptual things, sometimes with a bit of humour. I have started to publish my ideas and proposals, and some small works, on Instagram. I like to challenge myself to post regularly.

LN:  And finally, recommend us a book and a movie and/or series that you have read/seen lately.

KMcC:  I would like to recommend two books, one a classic and the other recently published: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) and Robert MacFarlane’s Mountains of the Mind (nonfiction, 2020). Both are masterful explorations of the complicated relationships between the gaze, perception, and obsession.

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