Megan Rooney

Polyphonic POV’s in subjectivized art at MoMAW’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Intimacy as Text, Jan 26 – Apr 2

25 January 2017

The Ministry of Internal Affairs. Intimacy as Text group exhibition is on at Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMAW), opening on January 26 and running to April 2.

Curated by Natalia Sielewicz — also responsible for 2014’s great Private Settings exhibition — the show features over 20 artists, all at different stages of their careers, including Hannah BlackDorota Gawęda + Eglė KulbokaitėChris KrausJaakko PallasvuoMegan RooneySteve RoggenbuckAgnieszka Polska, and Amalia Ulman among others.

The exhibition promises to showcase “a polyphony of voices in poetry and visual arts whose common mode of expression is a first-person narrative and a confessional character of statements, while self-representation in language becomes a discursive practice of reflection and questioning and struggle for the artist’s subjectivity.”

See the MoMAW website for more details.**

Dorota Gaweda + Egle Kulbokakaite, ‘SHE, A SKELETON’ (2015). Install view. Courtesy SNOlab.




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PROJECT 1049 @ Gastad, Jul 29 – 21 Aug

26 July 2016

The PROJECT 1049 artist-led group exhibition presents large-scale and site-specfic works in and around Switzerland’s Gstaad, opening July 29 running through August 21.

Co-curators Raphael Hefti and Paul Kneale work together to “encourage collaborative networks of production and dissemination” and to push boundaries of making and exhibiting work. Other participants include Megan Rooney, ÅYR, Vanessa Billy, Laura Mclean-Ferris, Haroon Mirza, Marlie Mul, Laure Prouvost, Dan Solbach, Julia Tcharfas, Ben Vickers, and Richard Wentworth.

Artists involved have been invited to “respond to Gstaad and the Saanenland as a host venue, and PROJECT 1049 as artist-organized—acknowledging the spirit of both core elements to make new and critically relevant work that is engaged in the immediate context, both ideologically and geographically”. Works included vary greatly in form and content and are dispersed across the region to create unexpected “moments of engagement and reflection” for viewers.

The opening includes the world premiere of a film by curator Paul Pieroni, made in collaboration with artist Holly White, live performances at high altitude, a curators’ tour, artists panel discussion, music, food, and a party.

See the PROJECT 1049 website website for more details.**

PROJECT 1049 @ Gastad 29, Jul – 21 Aug

Paul Kneale, ‘Browsing History’ (2016). Courtesy the artist.


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Megan Rooney, Animals on the bed (2016) exhibition photos

21 July 2016

Megan Rooney‘s solo show, Animals on the bed runs at Seventeen Gallery in London between June 3 and July 23, 2016.

A collection of paintings, sculptures, sounds, words and murals occupy the space by creating a sense of floating and providing the viewer with unfolding and recurring encounters of various characters, depicted within the works. The London-based artist’s practice is often filled by soft and grotesque figures, presented on large and spacious backgrounds within mushy blue and pink environments.

Megan Rooney, 'Moons and salads' (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist and Seventeen Gallery, London
Megan Rooney, ‘Moons and salads’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Seventeen Gallery, London.

For Animals on the bed Rooney marks the gallery space as “foreign territory”, where contrasting physical and emotional states drift through, whilst the depictions of bodies are beset by images of confrontation and pollution, awkwardness and discomfort. The painted back of one painting reveals itself to the viewer as it sits on top of and smothers the mural underneath. Large and faint hands fall down the wall and in the middle are several sculptures of cat litter trays cradling plants inside and a cat basket with its cage door open.

An extract from the sound piece:

She wasn’t really sure about his love life. No sex. Well yes but no. Laughing laughing laughing. Birds land on your shoulder. Killing time. Laying on the floor next to a stuffed animal. Letting your hair get greasy. Dying you hair. Ordering coke with ice. Living longer then you can afford.” **

Exhibition photos, top right.

Megan Rooney’s Animals on the bed is on at London’s Seventeen Gallery, running June 3 – July 23, 2016.

Header image: Megan Rooney, ‘Untitled’ (2016). Installation detail. Courtesy the artist + Seventeen, London.

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Hello @ Ashley Berlin, Apr 27

25 April 2016

Berlin’s Ashley will host Hello, an evening of readings by four artists on April 28.

Starting at 8pm, artists Rosa Aiello, Hanne LippardMegan Rooney, and Jenna Sutela will read in the project space nestled in Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor area.

Hello comes at a moment in contemporary art where artists’ words are being offered as work not just in and amongst shows and press releases —indeed, there are none with this event —but in their own right, read out, and settling in poetry zines.

Berlin-Helsinki based Sutela seeks to identify and react to precarious social and material moments, while London-based Rooney, who aqnb interviewed back in 2014 and who was a part of Cell Project Space‘s sets of poetry event, works between fiction and memory, or, reflection as she puts it.

See the Ashley Berlin event page for (limited) details.**


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Susy Culinski & friends @ Fanta Spazio, Nov 28 – Jan 31

25 November 2015

Beatrice Marchi launches a new project titled Susy Culinski & friends for the opening of Milan’s Fanta Spazio, running from November 28 to January 31.

The project brings in a stack of contributing artists, including Megan Rooney, Alison Yip, Cally Spooner, and Chiara Fumai.

Little else is known about the show, but the almost forty participating artists will definitely be bringing in a lot of material of Marchi to work with.

See the Fanta Spazio website for (minimal) details. **

Cally Spooner, On False Tears and Outsourcing (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and Vleeshal, Middelburg.
Cally Spooner, On False Tears and Outsourcing (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and Vleeshal, Middelburg.
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Basic Instinct @ Seventeen Gallery reviewed

22 September 2015

The press release for Basic Instinct, running at London’s Seventeen Gallery from September 4 to October 2, doesn’t give much away. It’s a juxtaposition of two quotes, extracted from two quite different contexts. The first is from Eros The Bittersweet by Anne Carson, a passage which interrogates the concept of eros, its basis in the psyche of an infant, and the identification of desire as implicitly involved in lack. The second is the short section of dialogue from arguably the most famous scene in the film Basic Instinct (1992) in which Sharon Stone’s character Catherine Tramell uncrosses her legs and seductively quips, “I have a degree in psychology”.

The choice of these two quotes introduces us to the historically difficult to categorise concept of eros. On one hand, it points towards a set of concerns in philosophy and psychiatry which, as seems to be customary in academia, use the Greek god Eros as exemplar from which to build a theoretical position on love and desire. On the other hand eros is often used as shorthand for a sort-of classy sexual instinct. Indeed these two divergent approaches to eros can be found in Basic Instinct the exhibition, mainly intersecting with the tactility of materials as a form of eroticism. Curator Attilia Fattori Franchini has brought together ten artists, each of whose works contain some inclination towards the sensual.


Basic Instinct (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.
Basic Instinct (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.

Beatrice Marchi‘s framed pencil drawings point perhaps most directly to the concept of eros as the contemporary erotic a purely sexual force while attempting to undermine its seriousness. In ‘Oh, Summer!’ (2015) a spread-eagle woman lies on the floor, an electric fan blowing aside her pubic hair. In diptych ‘Signorina Culinski cresce’ (2015), one panel depicts a woman bending over in front of a mirror looking at her own ass. In the other she is drawing eyes onto her buttocks to reflect a crude face back.

The time-based works included seem to double the imagery of contemporary advertising techniques. Jala Wahid‘s single-channel video ‘I am a charm’ (2015) feels somewhat like an extended perfume advert, matching seductive high-resolution shots of peeled citrus fruit segments with similarly poetic text. Reija Meriläinen‘s ‘Stabbing’ (2014), depicts the penetration and probing of what seems to be a block of gelatin with instruments including a metal pipe and a knife, conducted on a pastel-coloured set and shot in slow motion. These two works approach the hyper-sensual –too clean to feel perverse. On the spectrum of the erotic, they are sex with a Real Doll.

Megan Rooney‘s ‘Doggy breath, finger deaf, mute, winking. A wink she could only do with the right eye’ (2015) is a pale, fleshy, and almost ten-meter long mural. It’s frantic while retaining its balance –gauged abstract marks, smoothly applied layers of paint, and pseudo-childlike scrawls play both off and with each other. At the opposite end of the painting spectrum, Zoe Barcza‘s deeply considered grids look ripped away from the cotton by even more considered trompe l’oeil techniques.

Zoe Barcza, 'Clyff II' (2015). Install view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.
Zoe Barcza, ‘Clyff II’ (2015). Install view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.

“Sex Sells”, as advertising executives know well. And while on one hand empowerment is meant to arise from claiming autonomy over our own deeply-held erotic inclinations, this power is simultaneously withdrawn from us as these desires are sublimated into advertising campaigns, designed to turn the production of eros into a marketing technique. In Basic Instinct, Franchini approaches this reality with varying degrees of critical distance. She places emphasis on the tactility of making or observing artwork as a sensual act, and one which is necessary to highlight the importance of art in turning away from the often banal mainstream idea of what can be considered erotic. Although some works in Basic Instinct feel like they are straining to prove their sincerity, those works which shine do so effortlessly and with confidence. Our basic instincts are obfuscated by the pallid eroticism of advertising culture. Perhaps in recognising this, and trying to articulate our own grammar, we can begin to engage in honest, maybe even radical, sensual encounters with the world. **

The Basic Instinct group exhibition is on at London’s Seventeen gallery, running September 4 to October 2, 2015.

Header: Jala Wahid, ‘I am a charm’ (2015). Video. Install view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.

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Nicolas Party + What’s Love Gotta Do With It @ S.A.L.T.S., Jun 18 – Jul 26

17 June 2015

Birsfelden’s S.A.L.T.S. is celebrating two new openings this week, with Nicolas Party’s PANORAMA and the performance exhibition What’s Love Gotta Do With It (WLGDWI) both launching tomorrow, June 18, and running until July 26.

With PANORAMA, the Brussels-based Swiss artist brings an installation that takes its inspiration from the historical art of panorama painting, transforming the S.A.L.T.S. outdoor exhibition box into one large-scale cube that takes on the shape of a four-sided canvas, allowing for a full 360-degree painting complete with figures.

Launching on the same night as Party’s opening of PANORAMA is the performance exhibition What’s Love Gotta Do With It, bringing together a dozen artists and friends, including Megan Rooney, Paul KnealeClémence de La Tour du Pin, and Antoine Renard.

See the PANORAMA exhibition page and the WLGDWI event page for (minimal) details. **

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K.I.S.S @ Generation & Display, Mar 20 – May 2

19 March 2015

Generation & Display is celebrating its inaugural exhibition at their new North West location with a massive group show titled K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid!) and running from March 20 to May 2.

While no description is given about the thematics or aesthetic leanings of the show, its lengthy list of participants gives an idea of what to expect. Included in the line-up are Paul Kneale, Jesse Darling and Ben Vickers, who are simultaneously participating in the Berlin Lunch Bytes conference that weekend.

In fact, the line-up features many familiar names, from Holly White and Huw Lemmey, to Takeshi ShiomitsuLeslie Kulesh, Mat Jenner, Megan Rooney, Harry Burke, and Hannah Black, along with about 15 others.

See the exhibition FB page for details. **

BODIES AGAINST THINGS by Caspar Heinemann.


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An interview with Megan Rooney

16 October 2014

Megan Rooney and I both grew up on the frayed edges of Toronto’s sprawling suburbia, and it shows in strange, imperceptible ways that I’m somehow always newly surprised by. You can see it in random, erratic things, in our shared nostalgia for Henry Moore’s monolithic women lying permanently along the floors of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), or for teendoms spent in North American malls as a sort of female rite of passage. You can also see it in the way we react to ‘othered’ things, the equal parts affinity and disgust at the candy-coloured California dreams of the coast, for example, or the outsider’s fascination with sleek Parisian woman gliding through distinctly non-North American boutiques.

Rooney did an entire piece about that, lurking in the shimmering hallways of the Galeries Lafayette, a Parisian department store for which she created an audio piece to be used as a sort of audio tour as part of Paul Kneale and Raphael Hefti‘s Pleasure Principles project. The work arose out of her residency at Foundation Galeries Lafayette, an art foundation historically separate from the luxury retail company despite being funded by it. “I was interested in bringing out that connection to explore both the relationship between art and commerce and my own personal fascination with the behaviours and aesthetics present in this Parisian luxury store,” says Rooney in an email “[B]oth sites refer to each other. At the exhibition you’re informed you need to go to the mall to see all the work. At the mall, your shopping experience, so carefully constructed, is punctured by work that does not directly correspond with the shopping or browsing behaviours you’re otherwise programmed to enact in that space. So you’re doubly displaced.” 

We conduct the entire interview over email, and Rooney painstakingly edits her answers in the way that anyone wedded to language inevitably does. When I inform her we have to make cuts, she balks: “I have answered the questions in a kind of form itself, I think it’s a shame to shred it apart simply to make it shorter.” I get it; I once fought an editor tooth and nail for an entire day over a semicolon. (The semicolon stayed, but I never wrote for that publication again.) To Rooney, I’m sympathetic but unbudging. Still, when I cut one whole answer to make the word count, I feel remorseful; it, too, was good.

'Pleasure & Charity' at Toronto's AGO. Installation view courtesy of artist.
‘Pleasure & Charity’ at Toronto’s AGO. Installation view courtesy of artist.

What was it about your sound piece Pleasure & Charity that belonged at the AGO? 

Megan Rooney: I don’t really like the idea of ‘site-specific’, because I think it implies a static place, and I believe that context is always changing, even in a big museum. That was an important starting point for that work. I had visited the AGO many times growing up in Toronto and that room full of Moore’s sculptures has always seemed very heroic, masculine, and esoteric to me. So I think I had a desire to invert all of those things. Make it quotidian, gaudy pink and concrete. I thought if I could turn this austere modernist city tomb into a suburban strip-club-cum yoga studio it would be an adequate background for the audio I wanted to create. It was an amazing feeling of power to be able to subvert the environment that the authority of the museum designates as appropriate for its masterpieces.

I’m keenly aware of the aesthetics and social codes of place and this lurid suburban taste seemed to me like an unwelcome reality that the museum didn’t want to let in. That I didn’t want to let in either really. There was some kind of self-harm involved in reproducing this taste. Which is also a kind of evasiveness that’s sometimes necessary when you’re facing such a monolithic context. The sound work was developed specially for that setting, with the rented white leatherette furniture and bright pink lighting and yoga girls in mind. I think its one of my most acerbic texts. There are bits that are definitely processing some darker feelings about this suburban culture I’m evoking.

What was some of the thought process behind your Affluent Insights show at Lima Zulu?

MR: I started making the work for Lima Zulu directly after spending a lot of time hanging out at a shopping mall in Paris. It brought me back to my days as a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, where the mall was the most important social space, a kind of corporate public square, where all your friendships, loves and boredom were played out. There’s some kind of rift between how you would characterise the things people are doing there, which are all very consumer-oriented, and the empathetic knowledge one has of the psychological attachments that one forms to the place with real feelings. Real memories.

When I started making my show at LZ, I was really aware of the atmosphere of the space, it’s own cult following and set of attitudes that make it distinct in the landscape of London project spaces. That atmosphere blended in my mind with the atmosphere of the mall in Paris, and the one it evoked of my teenage mall in Toronto, and it became a hybrid in my imagination.

In general the subject matter of one show bleeds into the next for me, it’s all part of one giant work that I’m inviting people into, like a life. The work creates an experience that’s not a replica of life, but more like something where those half-corporate, half-personal memories have been made aesthetic, plastic. Something changes there. It makes you realise how memory is unreliable, always slyly attaching itself like a parasite onto the things around you. You think that its recorded, but actually you’re just seeing bits of your reflection. By making the work I can intervene into that. Create a parallel reality that doesn’t depend on my mind anymore, can have its own existence.

Affluent Insights at Lima Zulu. Installation view courtesy artist.
Affluent Insights at Lima Zulu. Installation view courtesy artist.

I love that­­­­­—memory as nothing but your own reflection. Your work also scales along a lot of different media: drawing, sculpture, text, audio, video. What did you start with? Is there a combination you prefer?

MR: I think of these installations as one single work, with many parts. A type of story telling with objects. There is always a character involved. She’s always been drawn from a mix of personal experiences and the acute observation of woman in public situations (in transit, art parties, openings, at the nail salon, at bars and clubs at the places I have waitressed at). The characters are also drawn from memory, semi-biographical at times. I am always trying to create a specific feeling with each installation. To draw you, the viewer, into some kind of space outside of the universe or outside your computer, your bed, your scene. But inside a social system, or into a dream, a situation, a memory and then maybe you’re back in bed but the room feels different. And for me it’s about weaving things together and creating a space where different positions and experiences can exist at the same time in a network of complex relations. Not to describe the complexity but be able to look at it all and get closer to the real through a certain kind of irresponsibility. But it’s filtered too. The result is never chaos. We’re always managing our intake of the world. It’s an animal thing, but now also a high tech one. We repeat all our biggest problems, make variations based on who’s selling.

Somewhere in the making process the words come but the sculptures always have to exist in some way before that can happen. The words usually flow out quickly, late at night when the feeling is almost violent, like untangling all the various codes and your desires and you’re drinking lots of wine and having lots of sex. And if you push hard enough, maybe you can bring down the whole house, or maybe you don’t live in a house (I don’t). But you are in the studio and all those things exist together. The objects are always made by hand, often constructed out of clay and then cast in various materials. Plaster, resin, cement, faux marble. Messy at times, rough, wonky, imperfect and then other times they appear more finished, sexy and sleek. And I always tend to shy away from conventional display methods like plinths, because they seem to belong so strongly to the world of sales and I think I am always trying to lure my audience into some kind of world where they can forget about such things.

Megan Rooney at Till the Stars Turn Cold group show. Installation view courtesy artist.

You’re also taking part in a group exhibition called Till the Stars Turn Cold at the S1 Artspace in Sheffield. Tell me a bit about what you’re contributing.

MR: For the show at S1 I was commissioned to make a new work. I wanted to further explore the relationship between the audio texts that form the thread of my ongoing narrative, and the sculptural works that produce a parallel dimension. Still circumscribed within their universe, but evoking that universe through materials. Some of the works that are shown are a series of watercolour, ink, and pencil paintings on paper, which are portraits of women I know. Sometimes it’s one person, sometimes a few blended together. Sometimes they’re really identifiable (if you know my friends and family), sometimes more abstract, fading into and out of their likeness. I’ve been making this series for a long time, but only felt like I wanted to show them now. To introduce this drawing and painting process. These works had me thinking a lot about representation, and material hierarchies involved in representation, as some of the marks are made by cheap markers, highlighters even. How they related to the type of likeness that was achieved.

At some point this progressed naturally into a sculptural inquiry. I was making rough figurative armatures, not even sure what they were for, from abandoned couch cushions that Harry [Burke] had left around the library when he stored all his things here for a few months. And I began adding things to these from a certain material language, in a way similar to how I build the texts. Encountering something. Processing and recombining into a new form that still shows where it came from if you glance at the right angle.

From there, the narrative aspect that I had been constructing in the text started to inform how they might fit together or present themselves. I wanted them to be sculpturally autonomous, but also half in another language. Not of craft per se, but this uncanny zone that applies to things like stuffed animals that direct you toward identifying the form with something you know from the world, but aren’t rendered ‘realistically’. This difference, which you are very aware of, becomes a different kind of reality. Where caricature becomes blurred. When Picasso painted Gertrude Stein’s portrait she told him it didn’t look like her, and he said ‘Don’t worry it will’. I always loved that.

Megan Rooney at 0% Promise at SPACE. Installation image courtesy artist.
Megan Rooney at 0% Promise at SPACE. Installation image courtesy artist.

Any themes that you think umbrella your work, or connections between the shows and the mediums that you are always trying to make or unmake?

MR: Yes, of course. There are many themes, although I don’t isolate them from each other in my process. The construction of character, of subject, particularly a feminine subject with which I identify. The beauty and corruption of language. The slippage between its written and spoken variations. The seduction of the voice. The unreliability of narrative. The necessity of narrative. The uncanny lurking in the everyday. The psychological abjectness of contemporary culture. The desire for meaning. The hyperbole of pop-culture notions of self. **

Megan Rooney is taking part in Evening of Performances at London’s DRAF, October 16 and her latest show, Till the Stars Turn Cold is on at Sheffield’s S1 Artspace running October 4 to December 6, 2014.

Header image: installation view of Rooney’s work at Till the Stars Turn Cold group show, image courtesy artist.

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read the room/you’ve got to @ SALTS, Jun 19 – Jul 21

11 June 2014

The read the room / you’ve got to group show is taking place at Birsfelden, Switzerland’s SALTS space, running June 19 to July 21.

Drawing inspiration from the artists-architects-poets group the Reversible Destiny Foundation and pulling a quote from founders Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ The Mechanism of Meaning, the exhibition comes as part of curator and poet Quinn Latimer‘s The Printed Room begun in 2013.

As a program based on “changing exhibitions of printed material and a series of literary-minded readings, lectures, concerts, and performances” this instalment will feature the work of a number of prominent artists and writers, including Etel Adnan, John Kelsey of Bernadette Corporation, and Karl Holmqvist, as well as Sophie Jung, Paul Kneale, Harry Burke and Megan Rooney.

See the SALTS Facebook event page for details. **


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Pleasure Principles Pt. 2 @ 9 rue du Plâtre, Mar 27 – 29

26 March 2014

Part two of Paul Kneale and Raphael Hefti‘s Pleasure Principles group exhibition in Paris is opening at La Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Lafayette‘s 9 rue du Plâtre space, March 27 and running to March 29.

As much focussed on the human relationships around art as it the critical dialogue, Kneale and Hefti will finish up what is a two-part exhibition and group residency conducting “idiosyncratic research while nightly hosting dinners in the foundation’s ad hoc kitchen space”.

They return on the Thursday to host a concert by Anne Imhof and a performance by Bonny Poon, as well as a an off-site sound installation by Library+ co-founder Megan Rooney in Galeries Lafayette’s retail location at Boulevard Haussmann.

There’ll be a programme of talks, performances and music, poetry readings and lectures Friday through Saturday, including new additions to the original Pleasure Principles group with live musical guests Oona ft. Alexandra (Poon, Max Brand, Anna Susanna Woof-Dwight) and Paolo Thorsen-Nagel.

Read an interview with Paul Kneale and see the Pleasure Principles website for details. **

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An interview with Paul Kneale

17 February 2014

The first time I encountered Paul Kneale’s work in real-time was via Skype at Harry Burke’s Poetry Reading at Test Centre in London. After some messing around with connections, Kneale’s face appeared, large and projected on a white wall, live from Tel Aviv and reading (“Profiles unfold. Viagra online. Fuck Google.”) over field recordings of the city, to an audience warmly received and largely familiar.

With that in mind, it makes sense that an interview with the mostly London-based globetrotter, originally from what he describes as a “blighted factory town” of Canada on the US border, should be carried out live via Google Drive. In Paris to organise the Pleasure Principles group exhibition, along with artist Raphael Hefti, there’s no indication of the Canadian accent in script, just a tendency to omit apostrophes in elisions and using double sentence spacing. It gives interesting insight into the processes of the person and his practice.

courtesy of Paul Kneale.
“Bold, semi-bold, matt, eggshell, off-white, raised, embossed, laser-cut,” suggests Kneale jokingly when deciding whether to use italics or bold text to differentiate my questions from his answers. We eventually settle on the latter to fit the aqnb format, Microsoft Word’s ‘Replace All’ coming in handy when it comes to his preference for using two, rather than one, hyphen in reinforcing a point.

Beyond that, there’s a fluency to the way Kneale communicates through writing that one imagines is difficult to replicate in speech. That’s not that surprising considering the role of the written word in his work, from his fore-grounding text in his exhibitions to co-founding Rotherthite’s Library + art space, with Hefti and fellow artist Megan Rooney.

Not so much a curatorial project but a space for fostering “a plurality of styles and positions” from invited artists, the focus of Library + is as much on meeting new people and being social as it is on art discourse: “[It] was basically that we had a free space in this old library, so why not paint the walls and floor and invite people to do something?” That’s part of the reason the February half of the two-part Pleasure Principles –developed and executed at the invitation of La Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Lafayette –will feature Kneale and Hefti’s friends and peers from around the world making the trip to the French capital to take part. More importantly though, this set of artists, including Rooney, Max Brand, Harry Burke, Quinn Latimer, Bonny Poon, Sam Porritt, Bea Schlingelhoff and Jesse Wine, will already “have the nice bars and galleries figured out” before the second lot of participants –invited by the first –arrive in March.

As with Library+, there’s no strict curatorial directive to Pleasure Principles beyond exploring “the role of pleasure in both artistic production and communities today”. It’s a process to be considered in dialogue with its participants who’ve been largely left to their own devices: “we trust the people we’ve invited and get to have the pleasure of seeing what they do.”

Photo by Raphael Hefti. Image courtesy of Paul Kneale.
Photo by Raphael Hefti. Image courtesy of Paul Kneale.

Why the plural?

Paul Kneale: Insofar as our shows at Library + have always involved performances and dinners and acted as a shared space, as well as presenting great works, I think this element is very important to keep everything from being too professional and boring. No last-train takers allowed. But especially, with regards to Paris, there is this very ripe, well-known bohemian artist history from the last century –but what’s been happening there lately?

We thought it would be interesting to explore this there, shifting the context from London. And, of course, ‘pleasure’ today can mean a lot of different things. We’re taking a critical look at things, that’s the plural, but from an embodied position. There’s no remit or assignment for the people we’ve invited. They’ll come up with something way better than we could instruct them to.

So then, do you think that that focus on ‘pleasure’ is something central to this idea of the “bohemian enclave”; hedonism as alternative to resistance?

PK: Yes. In a basic way, art is an alternative lifestyle. Or maybe the things that are involved in making art produce an alternative lifestyle as a side effect. It’s related to the time-frames and scenarios that you move through, but also the people you’re attracted to –free-thinking, fun, experimental –it’s not at all about a type, but a certain kind of openness.

I think when people who share certain characteristics get together under a shared thing, like art, the so-called ‘hedonist’ attitude might be evident. But I would like to reframe it from being a ‘resistance’, in some Marxist sense. I think it is, rather, this organic thing. I would frame a nine-to-five job and watching reality TV as the resistance –resistance to life!

Have you thought about the area in Paris and how art scenes or communities rise and fall generally? Or specifically to where you’re based in London?

PK: The area of Paris, the Marais, is of course a very upmarket area, full of shops etc. It’s also right next to the Pompidou, which I think has been a very strong institution, at least not afraid of the new. I don’t think this area was ever the centre of ‘bohemian Paris’. But the historical coordinates that did produce that period –the waning of the French empire, combined with social liberalism, are significant in understanding that area.

I think the situation in London is quite different today. It’s more of an against-all-odds struggle to persist in a place that’s a crossroads for the rest of the world, due to everything from a lot of airports, to the flow of international money, to a lot of good schools.

Our particular area, Rotherhithe, is at the excretory end of this city. It’s mostly council flats in desperate need of repair and a new condo boom, which just creates bedroom communities for the city. So I think we occupy some kind of liminal space there. It’s a little bit accidental. To me that’s a key characteristic of the scene in London –a kind of scrapping –making quick use of an opening in the otherwise hard-plated economic and urban fabric; a kind of guerilla tactics.

So, I suppose that area of London is a sort of microcosm of that intensified social stratification that’s happening on a global level.

PK: You see that here, definitely. There’s a good flow of people blowing their money at the gambling shop, just a hundred metres from some very expensive high-rises. I think we occupy, again, some space that isn’t really involved in either, but is obviously in the same fabric.

Why, because a library is a shared public space? It makes you think of the fact they’re disappearing, to a degree having been made redundant by internet usage, and what the implications are about the online’s effect on that very social stratification we’re talking about.

PK: I think the disappearance of the libraries has more to do with the fact that the current government has declared war on the poor. The building now is just a brick shell with no heating, on a street that no one wants to patronise because it’s falling apart. I think what we do here is able to happen both because of and in spite of that.

That’s a good point, especially when you consider these art hubs that are made possible in areas where the rent’s low, which more often than not are the neglected ones. Isn’t that what the ‘pleasure principle’ is in a way –‘no pleasure without pain’?

PK: The Freudian Pleasure Principle is something like that, very simply put, the drive to avoid pain. But it’s also important the ‘how’ of that drive. That’s what’s specific to every time and place. I think art is very powerful in expressing this relation, in ways that don’t have to speak the language of the corporate state or media.

It strikes me that you mention speaking the ‘language of the corporate state or media’, because it’s pretty apparent that a lot of art is and has been adopting that very lexicon in implicit critique. Even you use Clip Art on your Pleasure Principles website…

PK: I think the way this relation is negotiated is an important issue for a lot of artists I know and respect. I don’t think there is anything like a consensus, which is also good! It’s naive to think you don’t exist within all these state structures. Of course you do. Smashing the state isn’t the point of art. Or rather, it’s a very ineffective method if it is. I think the microcosm of art is much more potent at the level of the interior life of its audiences. And, of course, those people are social beings.

Image courtesy of Paul Kneale.
Image courtesy of Paul Kneale.

So it’s relevant that you’re working with friends and peers for Pleasure Principles then. Not only in relation to artists as these social beings, but also this organic emergence of art communities.

PK: It was natural to invite people we had already worked with, or that we knew as friends. Since we’re not curators it wouldn’t make sense to invite strangers just because we liked their work. But within that, the people you know has a logic –we’ve been really lucky to meet a lot of amazing people in London, often standing outside of a project space in light rain drinking a tall can.

I think if there’s some praise I would give to social media, it’s that it can help people with a shared interest to find each other IRL. So we’re building on that. But in the second part of the project in March, everyone who’s been invited for the first part gets to invite someone else again. So that’s where the network goes outwards and new people come in, with maybe a degree of remove, which I think is also very important to things growing and staying sharp.

I was going to say there’s a danger in that kind of insularity that social media can also promote, a disconnection from differing perspectives.

PK: Hopefully we have a good mix. Because of the aspect of friendship and geography that’s in play, we have people involved who do nothing but make things from clay, alongside poets and performance, artists and painters. I think it’s conscious there, to not be insular.

We’ve always found it boring when people just surround themselves by work that reinforces their own positions. I’m sure that, within the people we’ve invited, there would be some disagreements about very basic art premises. But I think that’s what keeps it interesting and hopefully it’s an opportunity for some of those antagonisms to be tested and pushed forward. **

Paul Kneale and Raphael Hefti’s Pleasure Principles is running at 9 rue du Plâtre in Paris on February 17 to 24 and March 25 to 29, 2014.

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