Artist of the week

#113 Eamon O’Kane

Eamon O’Kane has exhibited widely and is the recipient of many awards and scholarships including the Taylor Art Award, The Tony O’Malley Award and a Fulbright Award. He has shown in exhibitions curated by Dan Cameron, Lynne Cooke, Klaus Ottman, Salah M. Hassan, Jeremy Millar, Mike Fitzpatrick, Sarah Pierce, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn, Angelika Nollert, Yilmaz Dziewior and Apinan Poshyananda. He has taken part in EV+A, Limerick, Ireland seven times including 2005 when he received an EV+A open award from Dan Cameron. In 2006 he was short-listed for the AIB Prize and received a Pollock Krasner foundation grant. O’Kane has had over forty solo exhibitions including shows in Berlin, Frankfurt, Dublin, Zurich, New York, London and Copenhagen. He was short-listed for the Jerwood Drawing Prize in London in 2007. His artwork is in numerous public and private collections worldwide including Deutsche Bank; Burda Museum, Baden Baden, Germany; Sammlung Südhausbau, Munich; Limerick City Gallery; FORTIS; DUBLIN 98FM Radio Station; Microsoft; Bank of Ireland Collection; Irish Contemporary Arts Society; Country Bank, New York; Office of Public Works; P.M.P.A. and Guardian Insurance; Donegal County Library; UNIBANK, Denmark; NKT Denmark; HK, Denmark; Den Danske Bank, Denmark; Sammlung Strack, Cologne, Germany; Letterkenny Institute of Technology; University Of Ulster, Belfast; Sammlung Winzer, Coburg, Germany; British American Tobacco, Bayreuth, Germany; Aspen RE, London; Rugby Art Gallery and Museum Collection. Eamon completed a three month residency at Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris in 2008. O’Kane is Professor of Visual Art and Painting at The University of Bergen, Faculty of Art, Music and Design, Norway

1454585196_DGV interir-2

Installation view, Gallerie DGV, Svendborg, 2016



Which themes and what questions are you busy in your artistic practice?

I grew up in a historic Georgian style house dating back to the 1600s in the northwest of Ireland. It was surrounded by trees, a formal garden, and an orchard. A number of the out-buildings were derelict, roofless, with trees growing out of them. So I became aware early on of a fragile relationship between architecture and nature. I have made a lot of artworks about this particular site and this has expanded into other subjects and themes. Currently I am working with the subject of carbon which I am exploring through installations, charcoal drawings, animations and videos. I have also been exploring the term “Baum Test” – a projective test developed by Swiss psychologist Charles Koch in 1952. It is used extensively across the world as a method of analyzing an individual’s personality and underlying emotional history. Patients are asked to draw a broad-leaved tree on a standard 8.5” x 11” blank sheet of paper. A psychologist or a psychiatrist will then evaluate the different aspects of the tree drawing as well as the individual’s behavior and comments while completing the test. I have been making animations and works on paper mirroring the trees to produce an uncanny quality which references another more well-known psychoanalytic tool – the Rorschach or ink blot test.


1454585197_DGV interir-6

Installation view, Gallerie DGV, Svendborg, 2016


Which living and deceased artists do you feel that you have a dialogue with?

Among others Vittore Carpaccio, Giovanni Bellini, Antonella Da Messina, Piero Della Francesca, Albrecht Durer, Caspar David Friedrich, Francisco de Zurbarán, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta Clark, Vija Celmins, Joseph Beuys, Tacita Dean, Francis Alÿs, Pierre Huyghe, Gerard Byrne, Julie Mehretu, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, The Otolith Group, Joachim Koester, Sarah Sze, Karin Mamma Andersson, Peter Doig, Haegue Yang, Philip Guston, Martin Kippenberger, Rebecca Horn, Isa Genzken, Stan Douglas, Jeff Wall, Pippilotti Rist, Ed Ruscha, William Kentridge, Kara Walker, Simon Starling, Fischili and Weiss, Joao Penalva, Ilya Kabakov, James Coleman, Bruce Nauman, Edward Hopper.


1454585197_DGV interir-15

Installation view, Gallerie DGV, Svendborg, 2016


What do you do to push your artistic practice into new areas?

I read a lot of very varied material from fiction to art theory and on subjects such as quantum physics. I also spend a lot of time experimenting in the studio. Play is a fundamental part of my practice and the hybridized and unexpected situations that it draws me to help inform and develop my artwork.



What characterizes the latest discoveries in your practice? What has that added your artistic expression?

Over the last few years I have been exploring the origins of creativity through examining the legacy of Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of the kindergarten and this has let me through histories of art, architecture, design and to interdisciplinary subjects such as crystallography.

Following on from this research I am currently inspired by the famous educationalist Maria Montessori especially her Glass Classroom at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.  For 4 months of the fair’s run, 30 young children attended school in a glass-walled Montessori classroom, providing an intimate view of the new educational model that was quickly catching on among American educators and parents. I am currently collaborating with a climate scientist in Norway too try to find ways of involving children in the climate change debate and this research is providing the basis of developing an interactive installation based on his climate data collected in Norway and Bangladesh.



What are the concrete frameworks for your work? How is making your process itself purely practical?

I work with public institutions and commercial galleries and also within academic networks and the intersection between these worlds allow me to develop the varied approaches I have. I work on the move and between studios in Norway, Denmark and Ireland and this allows me to handle things logistically both locally and in a more international context.



 ‘And Time Begins Again’ C-Print, 122 x 61cm, 2009




 ‘And Time Begins Again’ C-Print, 122 x 61cm, 2009




 ‘And Time Begins Again’ C-Print, 122 x 61cm, 2009


What does inspire you? Where you go for it?

I am often inspired by architecture in my work and over the last few years have actively sought out some of the buildings I have been researching.

Last autumn I did several trips whilst installing exhibitions in the USA to visit Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin, including Talesin, the home he built at Spring Green, WI. I have also been visiting Walter Gropius´s Master Houses and the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany as well as Mies Van de Rohe buildings in Berlin. A number of years ago I visited Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler houses in Los Angeles and all of these research trips have informed my practice in different ways.



What to do when your process gets stuck?

I luckily have never wanted for ideas and when there are technical challenges in the process I usually see them as opportunities. I have found the need to slow down in the last number of years as sometimes the repetitive nature of some of my processes can take their toll physically. I have found that walking, running or playing sport or taking pause for reading and writing all can play a part in providing space for contemplation and stimulation. Charles Darwin used to have a quarter-mile long walking path called the Sandwalk that was his place to go and think when working on a problem. Søren Kierrkegaard is quoted as saying “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.”

I often listen to music while working and have begun listening to vinyl again as I find the length of one side fits perfect in terms of a period of time to take a short pause and step back from the work. I also enjoy the tactile and contemplative nature of turning the LP over or choosing another and it allows me space to actively drift and make associations before returning to work.



What has recently thrilled you artistic?

I really enjoyed Hito Steyerl’s work Factory of the Sun which I saw at the last Venice biennale and again last autumn at Dreamlands at the Whitney. Also Bruce Conner’s work Crossroads at the same show; it is a hugely compelling and horrifying film of the atomic tests in the Marshall Islands in the 1950s. I also found installations by Kai Altoff and Tony Oursler at MOMA really interesting.



How would you describe the Danish art scene and how are you personally with it?

I have been showing in Denmark for almost twenty years and have found the art scene full of energy. I think there is a thriving artist run scene in Denmark and that this compliments the public and private institutions. I had a very big exhibition of my work in Overgaden in 1999 and since that time have had solo and group exhibitions in a number of galleries including Galerie Mikael Andersen, Galleri Christoffer Egelund and most recently Galleri DGV where I will be showing again next year. I have a good relationship with many curators, gallerists and artists and have done a number of public projects, the biggest of which I completed for Odense Kommune last year.



‘Where there are people there are things’ Installation view, CCA, Derry, N. Ireland, 2014


I would like to ask him about the work “Where there are people there are things” and how he worked with Samuel Beckett’s “Text for nothing # 8 (1958)” in this piece. (Question from #108 Sif Ankergård)

In August 2009, I became the owner of a plant nursery complex in Denmark and have been documenting its steady decay ever since. The 6000m2 of greenhouses were in use up until the day we took it over and as the running of these types of businesses is incredibly sapping on natural resources, the act of turning off the electricity, water and ´fjernvarme´ heating supply seemed to hold a particular significance. The process of adapting this complex to a working artist studio/s began the day we took it over, as I needed a place to store and continue working on artworks for upcoming shows. The setup was curiously compatible with the needs of a studio: spacious buildings with good access to one another and of various sizes and heights.

The piece “Where there are people there are things” consists of an installation of photographs of the nursery interior displayed on light-boxes made from recycled light components that were once used in the greenhouses to help plant growth. The photographs, taken over a period of several months, depict details of the place in a state of abandonment. We see signs of the changing seasons and the slow take-over of weeds. We also see subtle signs of human interference. The photographs represent these different and overlapping rhythms of change. The light-box photographs are presented on a large, modular, wooden display structure with an accompanying series of video-monitor works on the surrounding walls. The structure functions architecturally in its own right, extending in three directions across the exhibition space and referencing ideas of transparency and modularity that were common to the architectural modernism of the mid-twentieth century.



‘Where there are people there are things’ Installation view, CCA, Derry, N. Ireland, 2014



‘Where there are people there are things’ Installation view, CCA, Derry, N. Ireland, 2014


One of the videos is entitled ‘And Time Begins Again’, which is a line taken from Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing #8 (1958). This text, as read by actor Jack MacGowran, forms part of a video work of the greenhouses and reinforces a sense of the human as a strange and disembodied voice in this landscape of gradual disintegration. I have read these texts numerous times now whilst living with the site over the last eight years. They provide a textual backdrop for me in relation to how to respond to it in both an intuitive and abstract sense. The text ‘Where there are people there are things’ is also taken from Texts for Nothing and I used it as a title for my exhibition in CCA, Derry in 2013. I am just about to install a new exhibition at the Butler Gallery in Ireland which will include new works from this project. I feel that using the texts as audio accompaniment to the work as well as in titles allow me to implicate aspects of my relationship with the site and the processes in an open-ended way.

The artwork continues my ongoing interest in architecture and specifically considers architecture’s relationships to the human, organic, and symbolic forces that act against its original design.





 ‘Does all the beauty of the world stop when you die?’ Installation view, Butler Gallery, Ireland, 2017


 ‘Does all the beauty of the world stop when you die?’ Installation view, Butler Gallery, Ireland, 2017

DSC07689  ‘Does all the beauty of the world stop when you die?’ Installation view, Butler Gallery, Ireland, 2017



 ‘Does all the beauty of the world stop when you die?’ Installation view, Butler Gallery, Ireland, 2017