Gregory McCartney has curated the exhibition Park Ave + Resident by duo Ackroyd and Harvey which is shown at Void in Derry Northern Ireland from the 31s of May to the 15th of July 2011. The work is displayed in Void’s two main galleries. It consists of a triptych displaying three fronts of houses and a panel presenting the face of a young man. The images are made of grass and displayed in a dark tonal hue. Gregory McCartney talks to Gabriel Gee about Ackroyd and Harvey’s artistic process and the specific work they have made for Derry.
Gabriel Gee: Have you collaborated as a curator with Void before?
Gregory McCartney: This is the second show I have done at Void. The first show I did was by George Shaw, who is a brilliant painter from Coventry. He uses a type of paint which is designed for model aircraft. I always liked his work, and I asked if he would do something for the magazine [Abridged] or if he would lend us a few pictures. He said yes, and when Void asked me to be on their curatorial committee, I said let’s see if he would be willing to show in Derry. He did new works, 12 pictures. There is also a nice kind of PS as the display was included in the Baltic exhibition [in Gateshead] which was nominated for this year’s Turner Prize. So that was nice, and it was the first show I did for Void. Ackroyd and Harvey is the second. They are interested in environment and do lots of big sculptures and public work. They also do grass photography!
G.G: So how does the work shown at Void works, technically speaking?
G.MC: It’s quite a long process, it took about two weeks. We went around Derry as we had decided that the subject matter should be based on a local context: something that would be recognisable in Derry. So we picked houses and the people in them. But basically what happens is that they rubbed clay on the four large panels and then they planted seeds. The gallery was in darkness and they shone massive white light lens projectors onto the grass. Because the gallery is in the dark, the grass catches the light of what is projected, in different shades. They project the negatives in the dark room. It took two weeks, it has to be watered, some patches of grass were going more slowly for some reason… It’s strange nature being involved. If you’ve got paintings, photographs or videos, you feel its almost over when it arrives safely. But nature is strange. You’re hoping it all works together. It did in the end, and people seemed to like it. I was curious as it is traditional landscape but done on grass!
G.G: It’s a technique they have developed for some time.
G.MC: Yes, I saw their work in Aberystwyth in Wales, about ten years ago. They did something locally related there as well. They have had a new kind of grass made for them. They work with scientists, and have invented a grass that doesn’t go yellow as quickly. It lasts longer. Because if you put it outside, light would kill it in about three days. Hence the low lighting in the gallery
G.G: Two things struck me when I came to the gallery. Firstly that the panels were in very sombre surroundings, but also the lingering smell which is very strong. I couldn’t help thinking about ideas of spectrality, and the process of nurturing ghostly figures
G.MC: Exactly, it’s funny because I first saw the work on the day of the opening, because of the projectors. The space became very ghostly. It was like there was a mist or a fog. It was very strange. So that would be a good description of it. There is something weirdly ghost like about it. I think also that the subject matter helps. The three houses are in a row in the Rosemount area of Derry. It was called Park lane at the time.
G.G: How was the choice of houses made within a wide range of possibilities? How did they pick these houses in particular, as well as this individual figure?
G.MC: We didn’t have a peculiar house in mind, so we drove round Derry, or rather the Void drove us, me and the artist, all around Derry, taking pictures of houses. And we didn’t get arrested or beaten up! They were looking ideally for three houses in a row. And there was one that worked well. Normally they make things bigger. For instance in Italy they made a face of an old woman which is about 15 feet big. It’s unusual for them to make things this size. The houses are smaller. There still is something monumental about the finished project, but they actually made them smaller. These houses were quite adequate because one was pebbledash, one was speckled, and one was abandoned. The abandoned one appeals to me because I did a series of abandoned shows for Abridge. But if you look at the surfaces of the different houses, the speckled, the pebbledash and the abandoned one, they seemed to fit the frames. Because I think we took a couple of hundred pictures of various houses. A lot of terrace houses up there seem to be largely occupied by students. The individual is actually a student. Because one of the houses was abandoned, one was empty, and one was full of students. They were business students as well, and were not particularly interested in art. We had to persuade one of them to be in the show. They were quite reluctant at the start. So it was entertaining. I think we used beer! But he volunteered. We just wanted a random person who lived in the house. We could have got someone in the street, but it didn’t seem appropriate. It works well with someone living there and the fact that it was transient, as they were students. It fitted the medium. As eventually the work will be destroyed, after the show.
G.G: The materials are ephemeral. It also seemed to me that you could make a link between the grass seen as a layers on skin, and the facades as the visible recipients of our environment. While set on different timescales, both come to pass away.
G.MC: Absolutely, I suppose photography can capture the moment, so to speak, whereas this ages along with the photographer. There is a Dorian Gray quality to the piece. The picture changes at the same time, though at a faster rate, than the people watching it. It plays with portrait and landscape. It works on different levels. People can see a landscape or something recognisable, but there are also other levels to it as you said. And those in my opinion make the more successful works. That’s what I try to do in selecting shows. I always try to get things that people will find interesting in Derry. If I was somewhere else, I would do something that people would find interesting somewhere else! It might be similar but it might be not exactly the same as in Derry. That is not to diminish its intellectual take, but I rarely do show focussing exclusively on philosophy or on wider art history references – occasionally I do! But I like show which will appeal to non art as well as art audiences. I thought that with Ackroyd and Harvey it would work quite well. Some people thought they had spray painted on the frames, and some weren’t quite sure. But Dan did a talk, and I was curious as to how people would react to when you’re trying to explain that you are doing grass photography! But it seemed to be quite popular.
G.G: And it’s meant to stay till the end of July?
G.MC: Yes, it’s going to be interesting! They were telling me that their piece in Milan is still there eight months later, going strong, so hopefully…!
Images courtesy of Void, www.derryvoid.com