Kevin Gaffney is a visual artist working in film. He graduated from the Royal College of Art, London in 2011 with an MA in Photography & Moving, and was awarded the first Sky Academy Arts Scholarship for an Irish artist in 2015. His work is in the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s collection and has been shown internationally in exhibitions and film festivals including: European Media Art Festival (Germany, 2016); Out There, Thataway at CCA Derry~Londonderry (2015); and the 10th Imagine Science Film Festival (New York, 2017). Solo exhibitions include: CAI02 Contemporary Art Institute (Japan, 2014); Millennium Court Arts Centre (Northern Ireland, 2016) and Block 336 curated by Kathleen Soriano (London, 2017).
Interview conducted by Alexis Gambis, CEO & Founder of Labocine
Is your work meant to be message-driven - echoing issues about climate change, environmental activism?
I think this leads to bigger questions about the role of the artist in our society. But, for me, the loss of natural habitats for animals / insects is something I find very disturbing. I am conscious of the affect of not hearing or seeing very few birds, insects or even trees in inner city Dublin has on my psyche. I am very aware of the growing alienation from nature and it’s impossible for this not to feed into my work.
The film “Seeing Colours in an Oil Slick” was commissioned for an exhibition in a former coal processing plan in Hokkaido. It was part of a community-based art project to reinvigorate the town which had become depressed (and, at one point, bankrupt) since the coal industry faded there.
While I appreciated the social aspect of the project, I was very concerned about art being used as a tool to glorify an extremely damaging industry. I thought it was important to reflect critically on the effect of mining, which treats the environment in the same disposable way as it treats its workers. Some rivers in former mining areas in Ireland are still being polluted by inactive mines, so I tried to reflect on these residual effects through filming at these sites.
How would you describe the relationship between character and environment?
Part of the environment would be the world outside the film or the context the film will be shown in. ‘A Numbness in the Mouth’ was funded by Sky Arts who would be broadcasting some of it on tv in the UK & Ireland. There are only two characters, both women who never actually speak with each other - their only direct contact is when one spits an egg into the other’s hand.
So with the character Lily (who emerges from the cake, is in the bath of jelly, etc.), we wanted to re-appropriate the image of the woman as a ‘prop’ on a tv show and eventually disturb it somehow. Jenny Swingler - who performs the role - had made a theatre show called ‘Feast’ working with similar concepts, so we collaborated quite closely on how to formulate these scenes. So part of the context of the film, for us, was the image of women on tv and cinema in general.
How does the theme of death and renewal/birth play into your work?
I have always preoccupied with dying and death in my work, and I’ve been trying to approach the topic more explicitly. Each my recent films have ended with a character expressing a passive death wish, alongside a wider state of entropy and dissociation. I always come back to the works of Yukio Mishima… as within all the big narrations of darkness and war, there is also these urgent accounts of personal struggles with identity and finding one’s place in the world.
What are you working on now?
My new film “Far from the reach of the sun” is currently in post-production.
It is set in a near future where a government approved drug can alter your sexuality, allowing you to be satisfied in ways that were not previously in your nature. While the film is humorous at times, it references pseudo-medical practices such as gay conversion therapy which target vulnerable queer people, and the church and states interference into the lives of queer people.
Far from the reach of the sun