Conall McAteer: ways of working as an artist

“I think the best advice I can give is to be open and honest with the people you’re looking to engage…”

Artquest: Could you describe the main ways in which you work ?

Conall McAteer: Currently I’m using the Life Boat studio residency to develop a gallery-focused body of work – along  with a couple of new works for the upcoming Catlin Art Prize exhibition in May. However as an artist I’m equally interested in the potential of certain sites away from the gallery space and exploring how people can directly or indirectly engage with the work I make. I feel art can be at its most powerful and provocative when it’s encountered in unexpected locations. Much of my practice is inherently collaborative; this might be reflected in the research leading up to a work, its display, the comment it makes or its element of interactivity.

AQ: Do you see these as distinct and entirely separate strands to your practice or related? 

CM: I feel there is an underlying conceptual concern and logic that runs through my practice regardless of location. Indeed I often find the experience of working in one context benefits the other. The importance of audience interaction is paramount in greater and lesser extents from project to project. The work could come about via a direct poetic collaboration, as in White Moon / Strong Wolf, made public via a freely downloadable eBook. Crate, for example, encourages the viewer to engage physically with the work – in its materiality and scale – whereas a work like Not For Love Nor Money enables people to use their smartphone to discover a curation of the world’s most expensive artworks hidden beneath a uniform matrix barcode.

AQ: What aspect of having different ways of working do you enjoy? Why is it important to you?

CM: As an artist, to not be limited by one particular medium can be extremely empowering but it is also integral – in my opinion – for the outcome to be professionally realised. If I’m looking to explore a medium where I may have a limited experience I’ll often look to friends and other artists who may specialise in that field. Sometimes it can be great to collaborate with a film-maker or a designer. Not just for their practical experience of working with Final Cut or InDesign but often for something different they can bring to the project and the creative process. Certain projects and works will have their own intended outcome. Sometimes this may be obvious and other times to bring about an idea you have to experiment with a few different methods until you find the solution that resonates best.

AQ: How did you get the engaged commissions that you have realised?

CM: The idea for the publication Q&A came about after an initial project I instigated at Goresbrook Village Estate, Barking and Dagenham in my first year at Central Saint Martins. I knew it would make a fantastic project it was just about getting the funding to make the publication happen. Two years down the line in the summer of 2012 – after several meetings with the local council – I finally secured the funding. It just goes to show if you believe in a project you should never give up on it.

AQ: What things would you have done differently with the benefit of hindsight on these commissions?

CM: I think the best advice I can give is to be open and honest with the people you’re looking to engage. If there is a concept behind the work and you’re looking at a very serious social issue – that’s important so don’t feel like you have to disguise it. But bear in mind the context of which you’re working and (if there is to be a physical, exhibited outcome) where this will be shown. Finally, be aware with any socially engaged practice there will be people – that for whatever reason – just won’t want to know. On the flip-side it can often introduce you to some incredible characters who (in any other profession) you would never have come across. In hindsight the good experiences far outweigh the bad.

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