Category Archives: Art Practice

Reflection – collaboration with Corina Duyn

I have known artist and writer Corina Duyn for several years and have long admired her ability as an artist, and particularly her commitment to remaining so productive while having lived with the illness M.E. for many years.

When she approached me with an idea for a puppet-based project “Reflection” I was immediately intrigued. Corina’s concept is to have two identical puppets, one intended to represent a reflection of the other as though in a mirror. While one of the puppets will remain quite stationary, the other will be designed to move and dance, either by being manipulated by a performer or animated through the use of a small motor. The outcome of the project is expected to be a short film, but we are open to the possibility of other forms as well. According to Corina, this piece will explore the duality experienced while living with an illness – the reality of reduced physical mobility contrasting with the complete freedom offered by the mind and the imagination.

While Corina busily works on the two puppets to be featured in the piece, she has asked me to explore the idea of using motors to animate the dancing puppet. We started off by buying a small motor kit from an electronics shop, and I began to experiment with getting it running and seeing what it was capable of.

In some early tests, by using the motor together with a combination of small hooks and twine, I was able to get some movement into Jimmy (a puppet Corina had made some years ago, but very similar to the ones she’s now working on.) So far I have been able to animate his arms and upper body at a slow speed. In the future I hope to be able to get a greater range of movement into his arms and also legs to give a more convincing and fluid sense of movement by connecting the motor to different parts of his body. I would also like to explore having different areas of his body move in such a way that they do not necessarily remain in sync with each other, so that the movement isn’t repeated constantly on a loop. This would hopefully make the animation more interesting to observe.

An important issue to address while working on the piece was to find some sort of structure in which I could suspend Jimmy while exploring his movement. To do this I hit upon the idea of resurrecting a modular sculpture I’d made a few years previously, called DLV (Dimensions, Location Variable). This is a “kit” made from several hundred identical interlocking components, used for making a range of artworks, which I’d always intended to use repeatedly in different situations. While initially planning to use it as a temporary measure, it soon became clear that the simple timber and dowelling aesthetics of the piece were a very good match for the materials Corina had used to fashion Jimmy and the cross from which he is usually operated. We are now considering using it in whatever form the project finally takes.

I’m delighted to be working on this project with Corina, and look forward to seeing where it takes us!


ArtMovement is an interactive educational resource designed to introduce some key ideas behind abstract art, a type of art where there is no attempt to depict people, places or things, and is free from visual references to the natural world.

This website, developed as part of my MA in Digital Arts & Humanities in University College Cork, allows you to interact with and make your own versions of important abstract works by some famous artists from the twentieth century.


Please visit the site here, and then come back and leave some feedback or suggestions!

A fully illustrated dissertation, detailing the research process and production of the site is available here: supplementing-fine-art-education-with-digital-interactivity

Digital Arts Project

For my digital artwork for this module I chose to produce a short video piece based on the theme of surveillance, a very apt suggestion by one of my classmates. The starting point was a selection of small sculptural models I’d made previously while testing out potential ideas for larger works.

some wee models

These were vaguely architectural in style, and I began to make models of them in Sketchup, a free 3d modelling program used to make the models of buildings found in Google Earth.


Sketchup allows you to import imagery to texture the models you build, so I photographed the surfaces of the actual pieces and after a little Photoshopping for consistency, applied these to the models.

When the models were built I did some copying and pasting and created a sort of quasi-futuristic (or something) cityscape out of them.

Finland art test11

Sketchup has some useful tools for exporting video footage of the assets built within it, so I experimented with those to simulate the panning of security cameras back and forth from several different viewpoints. The finished video is below.

Narrated Visualisation – Russian Modernists


While considering a subject for a project on data visualisation, in order to make the research as relevant as possible to my overall course objectives, I decided to focus on three prominent Russian artists of the early 20th century. Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko were all important figures in the Russian avant-garde movement of the 1920s. Each working in a variety of art disciplines, generally in the style of geometric abstraction, their work has been highly influential on many artists in the west throughout the 20th century, and they have been the subject of a considerable amount of critical writing outside of Russia. In order to trace the trends of the writing that exists about these artists, I used Google Books Ngram viewer, Google’s online search engine that allows users to search for the frequency of occurrences of particular words in a given language.

The diagram above shows the results of a search for the three names, in the English language corpus, from 1920 (roughly when they first became prominent) to 2008. The graph shows a pretty steady increase of references to all three and then a tailing off, with Tatlin and Rodchenko being particularly equivalent in pattern. There is a marked peak for both around 1990 – 1991, probably related to the collapse of the Soviet Union at that time, which would have afforded Western academics increased access to their works. Also after this point many works from all three artists would have been allowed to travel abroad for the first time in decades to galleries in Europe and elsewhere, generating considerable interest. Another reason for the similarities in Rodchenko and Tatlin’s graphs may be that they were both associated with the same movement, Constructivism. Many books have been written about this specific movement and both would very likely be referenced in such works.

Kazimir Malevich has followed a somewhat different trajectory, remaining a prominent subject for discussion well into the 21st century. He is associated with a separate movement, Suprematism, in which he is by far the most notable figure. He was himself a prolific writer, and among the reasons for his increased popularity may have been the publication in the late 1990s of several volumes of his writings with English translations. There was a major exhibition of his work in Paris in 2002, followed by major retrospectives in Berlin and New York in 2003 and 2004. Such exhibitions generate a good deal of attention and renewed critical writing. In 2014 the Tate Modern gallery in London held a very sucessful exhibition of his work, so his prominence is likely to continue for some time.

I wanted to experiment more with the data from the Google Ngram Viewer. While it’s a great source of information and a very useful tool, I wanted to be able to play around with how the information looks visually, especially given my interest in fine art and aesthetics. There are many good tools available for data manipulation, but I was keen to try a more hands-on approach, so I decided to use the open-source programming language Processing, specifically developed for coding within the context of visual arts. Since my dissertation is likely to heavily feature its use, I also needed to gather more experience with it.

Malevich & pals 1

The above diagram was generated with Processing, and contains the same data from the ngram viewer with a different visual approach. The first task was to get hold of the raw data from the graph. Google Ngram Viewer doesn’t appear to have any means to be able to download the data from an individual graph, but I discovered that by viewing the source code of the webpage, the data existed as a distinct array for each search term on the graph. I was then able to insert the information into three separate arrays in my own code. This was a useful exercise as I hadn’t used or written an array before, and I understand the use of arrays will be important to produce sketches with good quality interactivity as I intend to do.

I used the data from the arrays with a for loop to draw the bars with varying length. For clarity, I retained the same colour scheme for each artist used on the Google graph, though I adjusted and desaturated them for aesthetic reasons. I also tied the opacity of each bar to its length, so the colour fades out with lower values, allowing the ones behind to be seen. This also produced a subtle modulation of colour across the graph. Finally I added a couple of for loops to produce gradients in the background for a little more atmosphere, and to contrast with the rigid geometry of the bars.

Malevich & pals 2

I was particularly interested in the variation in opacity I was able to get from the data, so decided to write another sketch to exploit this further, seen in the diagram above. Here, there is no variation in the length of the bars, but the difference in tone against the dark background has been exaggerated to produce a sort of contour effect.

My visualisations currently have no textual information of course, so arguably have less functional use than the original Google graph. However, in visual form all the raw information is still present, and my goal was to focus on the aesthetics to produce something which could on some level be thought of as an art piece. This was a good learning exercise. It was fascinating to see that when you have the ability to acquire and properly store and retrieve information, it gives you a lot of control over how you present it.

Sketchup & Google Earth

This was an experiment with using 3d modelling tools to recreate artworks and to locate them in a virtual space. I used the freeware 3d modelling software Sketchup (formerly Google Sketchup) to model versions of physical artworks I’d previously made and exhibited. This was a good exercise in getting to grips with Sketchup, which is a pretty powerful and user-friendly tool. I also indulged in a little blue-sky thinking, and fabricated a very large public sculpture too, eventually making an entire outdoor sculpture pavilion for myself!

As Sketchup’s original use was to enable people to upload 3d models of buildings to Google Earth, I was able to preview my work within that environment, all I had to do was provide a location. I decided therefore, to locate my pavilion in the grounds of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (why the hell not?)

Unfortunately, I was only able to view the work on my local machine, those picky Google Earth people not being inclined to include objects online that don’t actually exist. It was fun though.


Experiments with Programming

In 2013 I was particularly interested in exploring the nature of the decision-making process of making art, and the idea of authorship generally. I began to experiment with allowing aspects  of physical artworks to be generated by chance. I started by throwing dice and using other games of chance to decide the length and directions of various lines I would draw on a wall. Soon I realised that computer programming could be an ideal replacement for this, since it can be programmed to generate randomness, and also seemed to me to provide a more active agent in the decision-making process. I had a few early attempts with applications running an old programming language called BASIC, which I’d played about with as a teenager on an old Sinclair computer.

I was able to generate a few interesting things by setting up loops which would run repeatedly and draw sequences of lines, some of the coordinates being randomized by the computer. I wanted something which would allow me to interact more with and influence what was happening on the screen. I soon discovered Processing, an open-source programming language, and did my best to get to grips with it. I wrote some code which made a grid, and plotted lines from one point to another with each key-press. I had made a similar physical grid on a wall with screws, and used coloured wool to trace the design exactly as the computer directed me.

I was able to change the variables in the code to make the program favour particular regions of the grid, or make diagonals etc.

I later tried to write programs that allowed the user to generate their own imagery, giving them a degree of control over where elements were placed by clicking regions of the screen, but having the computer randomise aspects of the design. This one, for example, would place a rectangle of random dimensions and density where the user left-clicks, while right clicking darkens and partially erases what is already on the screen. The colour is randomly generated from a set number of options, to give a sense of aesthetic consistency.

This was interesting, as the user has a lot of control over aspects of the design, but encounters an element of risk in adding to a composition the they might like. An unexpected shape or colour may throw off the balance of the  work. In this way the interaction with the program becomes a sort of game, with elements of reward and penalty depending on the outcome.


Dimensions, Location Variable

DLV is a modular, interactive, open-ended artwork I made in 2013, consisting of several hundred wooden components which can be assembled together in many different ways. I first exhibited it as part of the final show for for the Crawford School of Art & Design fine art masters program. It was designed over the course of several months, and each piece was individually cut with a band-saw  and assembled by hand.

The idea of the piece was to challenge the static, finite status of most artworks, and to explore the nature of creative authorship and decision-making. Essentially, rather than make an individual artwork, I wanted to create a system for art creation, with a number of possibilities for construction, that I, or someone else could use to create their own artworks. During the exhibition, which ran over the course of two weeks, I changed the configuration of the work nightly.

As part of the exhibition, I invited a group of Interior Architecture students from St John’s Central College Cork to interact with the piece for one day, allowing them to create whatever they wanted out of the pieces, which would remain in place for the next day. They ended up making a Christmas tree (it was that time of year!) and a model of a penny-farthing bike. It was a fascinating exercise in which I got to see what other people, from a very specific background, would do collaboratively with the work.

The piece reappeared in 2014 in the Cork Film Centre Gallery, Ballincollig, as a collaboration with Cork-based artist Cassandra Eustace. I made a dome-like structure from the components, and Cassandra projected a moving image piece onto and through the structure, and added additional reflective elements. In the fully light-proofed gallery this made for a very fluid and dynamic installation.


“Unfold” Exhibition & Discussion

On 30th January, 2016, the West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen hosted a questions and answers session with with the six participating artists in their current exhibition “Unfold”. The artists were myself, Johnny Bugler and Rosie McAuliffe – members of Cork Printmakers fine art print workshop, and Cork County-based artists Simon English, Sarah O’Brien and Rob Monaghan. Also present were Ann Davoren, director of the centre and Valerie Pentek, director of CorkPrintmakers. The project was funded by the Cork County Council Arts Office, and the participating artists had been awarded their places by a selection panel on the basis of written applications submitted earlier the previous year.

The preparation of work for the exhibition had begun in the Summer of 2015, when all six artists had come together for an intensive two-week residency in the Cork Printmakers workshop. During this time, the aim was for myself and the other two Cork-based artists to provide tuition in printmaking techniques to the other three artists, who in general had little experience in the area, in order to allow them to explore print within their own practice, and possibly make a body of print-based work. There was no expectation of this however, and although all six artists ultimately had printed work in the show, there had been no expectation of this on the organisers’ part. The only obligation was to deliver a show in the venue with work from all six artists, coming out of the collaborative process, with no other themes set or specific curatorial input.

The residency in Cork had been extremely busy and productive, and we’d ended up giving the three visiting artists a thorough grounding in pretty much all the major print techniques, including screenprinting, relief, lithography and etching (both traditional and photographic.) We’d had concerns along the way that this amount of information may be a bit overwhelming, but the visiting artists’ appetite for knowledge was insatiable, so we kept up the pace! By the end of the fortnight a great deal of work had been completed to a great standard, with all the artists really getting to grips with the methods and techniques. A lot of decisions were quickly made about what aspects of print worked for them individually, and what parts of the processes and methodologies were maybe not so relevant to their work. The option was also there for the artists to come back after the fortnight and spend more time finishing and refining their projects, which they did.

The show in the West Cork Arts Centre opened on 15th January 2016, and was a very diverse collection of work, comprising projected and screen-based video, painting, mixed-media installation, and a large amount of printmaking of many different types. It took place over both floors of the gallery, with the six artists’ bodies of work being split up and allowed to flow into each other, and distributed over the entire space, giving a good sense of continuity between the two main exhibition areas.

Installing  “Unfold” at West Cork Arts Centre

The artists discussion was a nice addition to the program, and was very well attended, with a lot of good input and thoughtful questions from Valerie Pentek, Ann Davoren and the audience. It ran for the best part of an hour and covered a lot of ground, but a few issues in particular came out of it that stuck with me.

An early question was asked about the motivations the artists had for taking part in the project, and the answers ranged from an interest in showing work within the architecture of the building, to a desire to learn about the particular processes of printmaking, and also a more general interest in the artists expanding their general experience of collaboration.

Some good points were raised about the nature of working within the very specific environment of a busy printmaking workshop, and what effect that had on the experience of making work, particularly for the county-based artists. It was generally agreed that it was a positive experience, with one of the artists stating that he wanted to immerse himself in this experience as much as possible, enjoying the often ordered, sequential approach needed in some of the techniques. Others remarked that they found this aspect of printmaking to be more of a difficulty, and could have done without some of the more time-consuming, labour intensive aspects. The Cork-based artists made the point that this was one of the more challenging aspects of the residency, trying to find techniques which would cater to the visiting artists’ particular interests and working habits, which was a matter of some trial and error.

The more general point was made that the experience was very good in terms of forcing all the artists to consider ways in which to push printmaking into areas not traditionally associated with it, and to tackle the still widely held misconception that it is a form which remains strongly tied to restrictive historical conventions. All three Cork-based artists’ practices incorporate aspects of printmaking but with a heavy emphasis on installation, video, sculpture and mixed media works, and all agreed that they benefited from the opportunity to expand further on this. It was emphasised that although it is important to learn the methodologies of printmaking well, it should never be treated in a precious way and should be adapted to whatever a particular artist’s needs are, and that aspects of it can be a very responsive and immediate if required.

Everyone agreed that the projects and exhibition had been  well planned and organised and had been a very rewarding and worthwhile experience to be involved with.

“Unfold” opening and my installation “Gunpowder Wall”

Nozze di Cana – Latour & Lowe

Good article about the painstaking fabrication of an exact replica of the painting “Le Nozze Di Cana” by Veronese, which is currently in the Louvre in Paris, having been removed in 1797 from the Fondazione Cini in Venice. The replica now hangs in Venice in it’s rightful location. An extremely advanced, painstakingly complex procedure was followed to scan the painting section by section, and print an exact copy of it onto a specially prepared gesso surface, with a custom-made printer.

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“Le Nozze Di Cana” by Veronese

The essay focuses on the relationship between the original in Paris and the replica in Venice, and examines the irony that the replica, despite being clearly labelled as such, appears to be the more authentic work, as the artist had painted the original to fit entirely within the context of the Fondazione Cini, in terms of the architecture, lighting and general context. The point is made that when considering the impact of an artwork, we need to consider its context in terms of all the reproductions or copies that have been made of it, and how good they are in terms of quality. The argument is that if an artwork has spawned lots of quality copies, and therefore has great fecundity, the original will be valued even more greatly than if it hadn’t, and this overall picture (what they call the “career” of the artwork) must be considered. The “aura” of the work is brought up, the usual argument being that only the original can truly possess this aura. But we’re asked to consider the example of a Shakespeare play, which may be have been interpreted many times. If there’s a particularly good version, critics may claim it gets closer to the original intent of the work than has been done before, giving us an ever clearer version of the “aura”, and we don’t even think to mention notions of originality or copying. So why one rule for the performing arts and another one for visual art?

They argue the point that on the basis of the amount of effort, expense and resources required to produce a replica of a painting, less is required to produce the replica than the original, justifying the perception of its superiority. Every time a new version of “King Lear” is performed, it takes a similar amount of effort and resources, leaving us with no real sense of a tangible gap between original and subsequent versions. A good point is made about caring for original works of art, that even if no physical reproductions are made, in order to maintain a single work of art it needs to be cleaned, repaired and restored periodically. So even with the original, there appears to be no single, constant state in which it can be said to exist.

These are all good points, but to me, it seems the intent of a reproduction is the important  thing. If the intention is to simply ape, or mimic an artwork, then this is inherently less worthy an endeavour than a reinterpretation or reworking would be. It doesn’t matter the amount of effort involved; you could argue that somebody who paints a reproduction by hand will put as much work in as the original artist, maybe more in order to successfully mimic their style. The important factor is that there is no creative agency there, or valid artistic reason to make the copy, unless it’s being explored through another medium or style. That would bring it closer in line with the performing arts examples.

A really good example of an artist whose work speaks to all these topics is Sol LeWitt. He produced a long series of wall drawings during his career which he would distribute to multiple galleries in the form of written sets of instructions, which technicians would then draught on the wall. From one gallery to another, the same piece would of course vary slightly, and the question raised was which one of those is the definitive version, or was the written set of instructions the real artwork?