Chris Shaw: There is a piece in your Three Works exhibition that appears to be sliding off the wall onto the floor, another looks like it has been sliced in two and presented so that one part overlaps and conceals the other; a third piece begins on one wall, turns a corner, and ends on another. Are you working with the space or against it?
Mary Furniss: It was interesting to consider the space as an extended element of the work. I like the idea of adding power to art objects by manipulating the gallery space to fit around the work whilst simultaneously incorporating the work into the 'fabric' of the space. I wanted to create a networked atmosphere where the viewer can see the relationships between the works, and extending the objects into the space helps you get that effect.
You paint the walls black in recent exhibitions. Why?
For a long time, I was quite anti-painting so I tried to create ways in which painting could be degraded somehow. I wanted the work to blend into the 'background' and be part of the scenery within the gallery space instead of each individual object demanding your attention. On the other hand, painting the walls can add to a work. For example, Panther Painting No. 4 is actually a small piece but our perception of it is altered when you paint the space to extend the boundaries of the work.
Two of the pieces in the show have your hand all over them and they look as if they've been arrived at over time. The other piece is familiar and found and is presented with little or no interference. Talk about your methods.
Authenticity is probably the main issue with this show, and to discuss that I presented two heterogeneous image making processes. Pyramids represent the physical production process where I have collaborated with friends in the studio in order to collect the social network within the studio space. The network materialises on the canvas in the form of painted footprints, ephemera and organic stains. The second process is the digital reproduction process shown in Panthers. The panther motif in the beach towels, serves as a kind of memetic stock image that has been copied, edited and reproduced consistently throughout the decades. What is interesting is that each designer adds something slightly different to the design of the towel (i.e. adding a moon or enhancing photoshop filters) as if collaborating through a digital network. Panther Painting No. 4 is an attempt at hybridising both these processes into one object. Ultimately, I see each work as a collaboration with known and unknown creatives, where authenticity becomes ambiguous as my own signature/gesture blends in with all the others.
You mentioned footprints - does that mean your materials are in some way temporarily discarded and allowed to fall onto the floor and to make their way into corridors and the spaces of others?
Yes, that’s right.
During the hang, you referred to the panther motif as 'centralised imagery'. Can you expand on this?
In this series of readymades, the panther motif becomes a kind of memetic image that is never off-centre or cropped. The composition is always aggressively centralised in order to demand your absolute attention. This makes the image ideal for its visual consumption/ dissemination on digital tablet technology, hence why advertising and commercial packaging use centralised compositions. It adds to the viral capacity/ potential of the image and that is why it is repeated and ultimately successful, because it demands human attention and is easily reproduced.
Talk about the materials you like to use and why.
I like to use standard painting materials, such as canvas and paint, but at the same time subvert their original function or value. So most of the canvas I use goes through multiple, perceptual processes. The tie dye process is particularly effective not just because of the unpredictable aesthetic effects you can create, but because of the conceptual implications. I associate tie dye with subcultural references such as grunge, goth and Bohemia. When these subcultural styles are appropriated and rehashed by fashion throughout the decades, they become inauthentic. I think painting is no exception to art 'fashions' and market trends. The tie dye paintings attempt to amalgamate their subcultural styles and artistic influences in order to embrace their inauthenticity and become authentic.
How do you go about starting a piece of work?
For this body of work, the composition of the painting has its own particular readymade. I have been collecting these towels since 1999 and some have become worn and faded through use. Other towels are new and have been sourced online and will have different compositions and colour schemes in them which will influence how I make each painting. Each painting then goes through a cut and paste recycling process that can take from one week to three months. The perpetual remixing ends when the work achieves its compositional rightness.
Who/what has influenced you?
I think imagery is interesting when it resonates with me and resurfaces in my work. When I was growing up I watched a lot of science fiction films and the most exciting and ambiguous images were scenes of characters undergoing gruesome transformations. It's exciting to try and visualise an experience of transformation that is completely alien to me and the materials I'm using.
What sort of books do you read?
Most of the books I read are about art and media but also politics and art theory. Visualising questions such as: 'how can I make an accelerationist painting?' pushes my practice into unknown territory.
What do you think an accelerationist painting could achieve?
Perhaps I should have said painting as a means for accelerationist strategy, as this type of work would use painting as a deterritorialising tool to collapse conventions, structures and markets from the inside. Now is the perfect time for painting to be political, when there's so much self-referential abstract painting around. I don't think my work, at this point, is accelerationist, but it is something that is in the back of my mind a lot.
You've just graduated from Wimbledon College of Art. How did you find that experience?
Wimbledon was fun but I think I would have progressed further in my work if the school itself had been more radical and experimental in its outlook.