David Raymond Conroy

At first glance within your work I am often presented with a display of feeling, sometimes triggered by the title, which points me first and foremost in this direction, sidestepping other formal concerns. As a viewer I am naturally guarded and assume there is more at play, that the feelings are a device rather than an end in their own right.

I’m not sure I could divide form or technique from emotion and am ambivalent about the possibilities of doing so. Indeed the fractured and overlapping nature of these qualities is something I find problematic and fascinating. That to some degree these qualities (of emotional resonance and technical construction) are proposed as separable is something that I would want to examine through the work. For instance I find these TV Karaoke shows very moving but I of course know, as we all do, that they are totally heartless and strategic money making exercises. My knowledge of their aims and their construction doesn’t stop the emotional manipulation from working. Perhaps their rather obvious emotional manipulation is one reason why that goosebump inducing hit is so remarkably short lived, it is a sort of emotional MSG, you know what you’ll get and it gives it to you as quickly and easily as possible. What I think is interesting in this now is that this manipulation is so totally obvious and embedded in the program’s production and reception that it can’t even be parodied (except perhaps by the very lamest of Radio 4 comedy shows). I think this has had the odd effect of reimbuing these things with power, it is like the idea that the greatest trick advertisers have pulled is convincing everyone that advertising doesn’t work and so we are immune to it, which, evidently isn’t true.

The artworks that matter most to me resonanate somehow, they have some combination of the qualities of identification and escape. I also always want to take things apart, to examine their structure in order to try and figure out why and how they are functioning. The effects of emotion are, for me, the most interesting tool to do that with. These effects are both the most resistant and rewarding thing to really examine because they are culturally the most persistent and divisive; anger and sadness are the two biggest clickbate generators I once read and I can, from experience, believe it.

Havens Lecture

However I then see you as a protagonist appearing, either through interviews, texts and lectures, or through elements of the work itself. These varying forms act as a reveal whereby you shift position in relation to the audience, in a way that parallels what occurs within much of the advertising that you have dissected. It’s as if you say, ‘we both know that this might not be real, but let’s believe it together’. I’m interested in whether this is in any way intentional, or even avoidable? Furthermore, I’m interested in the idea of how in a search for unmediated feeling within a work, where do you position yourself and what might this mean?

I think the use of the term ‘protagonist’ here is important and the notion of performance, in its many facets, is a fascinating one. “All the world is a stage” was a well worn concept by the time it reached Shakespeare but in contemporary culture this has become instrumentalised for many reasons, not least the ends of various neo-liberal agendas. The proposition that if you rehearse well enough, and play your desired part convincingly enough, ‘you too will win in the game of life’ is a meritocratic fantasy that various political and commercial entities want us to imagine we are living in; it serves their agenda, creating and perpetuating a situation that relentlessly screws people over, or better yet, encourages a situation where people screw themselves over, and then blame themselves for failing. Today’s mindful performance of ‘the better you’ can be seen in things as simple as ‘dress for the job you want’ and the aspirational voter (who votes for a party that will serve their interests when they become rich and successful). I also think here of the innumerable TED type talks where some young entrepreneurial high school drop-out talks about how he made his first billion, whilst living with his single mom, armed only with a great idea, determination and a lot of hard work, and how similar this is to a Phillip Morris employee wheeling out the one nonagenarian chainsmoking cyclist to present him as the basis for, rather than the exception to, a rule.

So on the one hand I think there is a problematic side to ideas around the performative or performativity. On the other, the “do they mean it?’ or ‘is that real?’ have been incredibly important and rewarding questions for me. The unfathomable nature of someone else’s authenticity in relation to ones own, rather maleable, self has been something that has held my interest since seeing Sean Landers text works and watching Andy Kaufman routines in the 1990′s.

In terms of unmediated feeling, I think that one can get a sort of pure hit of emotion or connection but I don’t think this feeling is sustainable, at the point of recognition it evaporates. It is like when a song makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, after that first time forevermore when you hear that song your experience is felt relative to that initial singular moment. Subsequent listening becomes a mix of memory, expectation, desire, hope, prescription and self-delusion. The first ‘hearing’ haunts the song from then on. So this unmediated moment, the first hit, is only one part of what I think Adorno would call “a genuine aesthetic experience”. For me, somehow it feels like the initial moment along with the recognition of that moment and then the subsequent inhabbiting of this kind of rolling mass of cognition, deconstruction, suspicion, emotion, connection and distanciation as a whole ark of experience is what great art provides.

Where I position myself in all this is as someone to whom art matters and who chooses to make art. The voice and narrative and conversation are all important to me, the things I love often use these devices and I suppose I see value and problems in them and because they matter to me. I feel invested in trying to work out how they work and what they, as forms, might be able to help materialise. Literature, comedy, film, music, advertising, fashion, these all have had at least as big an effect on me as Fine Art and so I want to include them in the things I make and I want to use them to reflect on each other, on me, on the viewer. Of course being so interested in things that already exist, that other people made and how these things effect culture or society means that my position as an author within all this is something that I am constantly grappling with. On the one hand I’m fascinated with ideas about disappearance and withdrawal, trying to set up relationships and then kind of get out of the way; it is to some degree a critical urge, and a devotional one, and these gestures seem important to me and are part of what I want to…express I suppose. At the same time though you know, Beckett is an incredible writer and is super important to me but I doubt he would matter nearly as much to me if instead of writing these beautiful, hard, crushing plays he just spent his whole life taking apart the works of James Joyce and talking about this deconstructive project as a meta critique of notions of authorship or whatever.

hartley Talk

This conversation with David Raymond Conroy grew from multiple lectures he has given, namely I know that fantasies are full of lies at Spike Island in 2013. He is currently Performance Writer-in-Residence at Camden Arts Centre. Further information can be found through Seventeen Gallery.