Louise Manifold – Artist
Louise is a conceptual artist working with film, photography, sculpture and text. Having exhibited widely both nationally and internationally, one of Louise's recent collaborations was with renowned author, Kevin Barry
Tell us a bit about yourself, how you got involved in the art world?
My mother is an artist. I suppose I've always been really creative. My family are creative; my sister is very good at art, my mother is an artist, so I've always been surrounded and creativity all my life.
How did that translate when you were a kid?
I think my mother used to give us a lot of art materials to keep us quiet and show us fun ways to draw. She was giving us knowledge as well as keeping us entertained. Because she's an artist, but was also an art teacher, she was able to relate to us in a good way. She wasn't one of these creative artists that needed to be on their own to think; she was very much engaged with her kids and very keen to encourage our creativity. I was always very interested in objects and collecting bits and pieces of material, which I'd assemble badly. So I really didn't have a particular longing to make a career as an artist; I just knew I liked art and I liked putting things together. I was also very interested in film when I was younger. I actually really wanted to be a film director at the start. I remember some awful career guidance thing that they try to do to determine what you're going to be; they were flummoxed at what they could do with me. I mentioned that I'd like to be a film director, and the career guidance teacher looked at me like I had ten heads.
So I did Art in my Leaving Cert. I was good at it, I always leaned towards exploration and creativity as opposed to trying to hone my skills in drawing. I wasn't very focused on drawing, I just liked the idea of creating. I got into GMIT and that's when things took off a bit. In school, you do art and there might be one or two other kids in the class that are interested in it, then you go into the college and you're surrounded by 110 other kids who are interested in art and it completely flips your thinking about it then. That's when I said, 'Right, I am interested in this, I'm an awful lot more interested than I think I am' - because I was surrounded by so many other people who were interested in it.
It must have felt like coming home
It did actually. I remember feeling quite happy to leave school. I didn't feel any degree of sadness, as I'd say like most creative people. Generally creative people don't fit into the narrow setup of school. You do feel a little bit restricted. So in some ways, it's quite liberating. I think it started from there and I also had really good lecturers. I went into sculpture and there was this great energy there in terms of working outside these very conventional three dimensional media. There was a great sense of possibility in what you could do and I really like that because it kind of fed back into being a kid again. There's this kind of awakening in you as you go through art college that brings you back into being a child in the sense that you almost say, 'right, this is something that I was always drawn to'. For me, I was always drawn to these strange objects, I was drawn to stories and developing narratives. I then discovered that I could use film - that I didn't just have to work with a big lump of stone. That's the thing, the parameters of sculpture at the time were way broader than the other disciplines, at least I felt that particularly. I also felt that the lecturers there were incredibly open; you could say anything to them. You could say, "I'm going to do x, y and z", and they would never question why; it was more like 'how?'. And that's what I liked. The why did come in later on, but I think if you start from the how's, then people get their own strength from that.
When I finished my degree, my work changed an awful lot, and it's still changing. I knew quite instinctively then that I was very much interested in time-based things, I was quite interested in performance, I was quite interested in film. I was quite interested in sculpture, but I was interested in sculpture that was temporary. I was never really interested in the traditional forms. Then I decided I needed to leave Galway; I wanted to leave Galway. I knew I needed to do a Masters, so I went to London to college in St Martins, which is a really dynamic college. It's very interesting, very different, because you're in a much bigger city. The kind of community that was your college in Galway was a lot smaller, it was a lot cosier. This broke up the cosiness, but I was working with people who were from South Korea, New York and all these other ideas, other practices and how other people work all fed into my work. One of my very good friends, Jennifer Jacobs, was a filmmaker who came from UCLA straight into work in fine art. She did experimental film, and I started thinking a lot more about experimental film. As all friendships, when you have artistic friendships, your relationship is both a friendship and it's also symbiotic; your creativity feeds off each other, so she was incredibly influential to my work.
College finished and I was broke, and I came back to Ireland. You always have that desert space after you finish college. I always thought it was an academic thing that when you finish college, you'll feel like that, but I think it's after any big effort - there's this 'What do I do next?'. I came back to Galway and there was a lot going on in 2005/2006; it was exciting. It was actually really nice to be back in a smaller space where you knew the community and you could speak to people, that it wasn't like you had to take two or three tube trains to book an appointment to see someone. I really enjoyed being back in Galway and then I started to get more projects in and I decided I'd stay here. I've been here since, but I've done a couple of residencies. I try my best to work in and outside of ireland as much as possible and that's one of the big bonus points of being an artist - you can get artist residencies or fellowships and to me, it's absolutely vital.
Why is that?
I think it's really important to make work within a context of locality, but you must also look outside of that in order to look at it correctly. You can't be inside looking out all the time; you have to be both, And I think it's really important to try to merge this idea of your immediate space with the wider international context as much as you can. Plus, it's good fun; you meet lots of people and it's travelling. The thing is, you go away, you return and there is something nice about even that process of returning because you'll appreciate what's there, or you see it in a different light. There might be something that was always there that you completely overlooked because it's familiar to you, but you go away and suddenly that thing becomes important.
How would you describe your work?
I often say it's lens-based as in I work with film, video, photography. I work with installation and sculpture. I see sculpture and installation together, and they're the main components. I work alot with text, so I see my work as interdisciplinary, but it's quite broad. In some way or another, it's going to manifest in photographs or video or film somewhere or another. Sculpture is something I'm very interested in, but I think people confuse it because I work alot with found objects, as opposed to working with particular materials. If people hear you've studied sculpture, they assume that you're getting all dirty with a big heap of stone and carving away, but no I don't do that at all. I just think there's a particular memory locked in particular objects and I think it's an artist's job to find ways to access that memory and that very much connects with history and anthropology and storytelling.
How do you know when you're happy with a piece? How do you know when you're done?
That's a terrible question - I'm never happy with a piece! Generally, what happens is someone else says 'Ok, it's done', because the show is opening in ten minutes. That's why the deadline of shows is so important because you're never going to let go of a piece. What I try to do now is if I'm not comfortable with a piece of work and I don't have a deadline, I just really delay it. I just say, 'Look, this is going to the side until you stop picking it to shreds' and I get it to particular points and nit pick at it as much as I want. To me, work is only really finished when it's put on display. Even then, it can go back and change again, and I quite like that; I like having the freedom to change things. I think it would be amazing to have the gift of being able to say something's finished. I don't possess that gift I'm afraid.
So where do you find your peace then?
I don't. It's torment, but I think you have to be comfortable with torment - that's my perspective. Many artists talk about how they get the 'great satisfaction'. I don't. I see my artwork as being quite anxious in a way; it's constantly looking and searching. I really enjoy the process of making work. There's great satisfaction if you shoot a roll of film and you see it for the first time projected or you see if for the first time up on a big screen. There are certain pit stops to being finished that are hugely exciting and I love that. But I think it's very complex. You have this excitement and the excitement sparks you to think about some other part about what you could change, so it almost propels you to move further on with the work or view it in a certain way. That's where this anxiety comes in because you're constantly thinking and I'm very guilty of overthinking. You can't think too much about your work and it's hard to say to yourself to let it go unless you've somebody actually pulling it out of your hands and saying, 'Right, let go of the work. I get really excited about having a new idea. I get more excited about a project at its inception because at its inception, the potential is there and then you go along all these different roads and there'd be little milestones that you'd get excited about again. When you're finished, there's always this point of questioning going, 'Is this the right way to present it? Should I have done it another way? And I think it's important as an artist that you do keep questioning that so no, in short, I'm never satisfied with my work.
How you you work from day to day?
I do very long days and I break them up with breaks in between. I do feel, as I'm getting older, the importance of not getting stuck in a space trying to make something because if it's not working, you need to walk away from it. You know when you've lost your keys and you're going mad looking for them? It's only when you stop and actually take a step back that you might find them. I see my work like that. You have to step back, you have to allow yourself a lot of breathing space. I try and structure my days in terms of working quite intensively, taking a break, working intensively again, taking a break. And also listening to yourself as well. If it's not happening, then it's not happening.
What projects are you most proud of
I do like a lot of my work. Sometimes I get a bit critical about my film work, but it depends how I see it. If I see it from an experimental film point of view, it's really exciting. If I see it from a perspective of being more in the lines of cinema or film, then I'm going, 'Oh God'. I've done some interesting collaborations. I worked with Kevin Barry on a piece, and that was really interesting, I really enjoyed that, and I really enjoyed working with him - he was amazing. I enjoy photography work in the sense that there's something instant about a photograph; it condenses ideas. If you get it right, it can probably be the most powerful way to express ideas.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on an installation - it's called 'Automation is a Boy'. It's about these clockwork automatons, called the Jaquet Droz Automata, in Switzerland. They are so amazing and are nearly 300 years old. It's a female harpsichord player and two little boys. There's a huge amount of history around them and they work perfectly - you can programme the writer to write. It's been a muse for surrealists for years, there's this huge legacy behind them, so they're quite loaded. I had to go over to Switzerland to work with them - I've been working for the last year with the Museum of Historical Arts, Neuchâtel, in Switzerland on its production, I am also developing a visual project for the next volume of Winters Pages,Edited by Kevin Barry and Olivia Smith
What's the Galway artist community like to work with?
Brilliant. I work with a lot of different people. I see collaboration as quite central to my practice. I've worked with a good few artists. A lot of the people I've worked with are people outside of my discipline - that's interesting for me, so it might be with writers or storytellers. I've worked with a lot of different practices that aren't really aligned with creative practices either. When I worked last year with 'Wild-screen', I collaborated with Úna Quigley; she's an amazing filmmaker and it's an incredibly enriching experience to work with other people. Galway is great because there's a lot of people you can meet quite regularly and get to know. There's a lot of people in Galway that I've worked with over the years, you might not produce work together, but you'll sit down and discuss ideas - that's collaborative, but it is like an exchange - which is brilliant, because you get that chance to talk about what you're doing and by talking, you're conceptualising it in your own head.
What do you think can be improved on with regards to the creative supports for Galway?
There's always the question of space, having new space and having access to spaces. That's always the big issue in Galway; having more space to show and make work. I'm in Art Space studios, so I'm lucky; I have a pretty nice studio space. You see a lot of spaces in Galway that have amazing potential to present work and there is a great history in Galway of people using slack spaces in interesting ways. I'd like to see that strengthened almost. I know it's hard, because real estate and property is starting to rise again, but it would be amazing if there was some way of securing access to slack spaces in Galway. We're all trying to come out of this recession and everyone wants everything to improve in every sector, so it's very hard in some ways if you're trying to pitch a case for places for you to show work.
I think the idea of having spaces for once-off events would be really exciting. You have some amazing points in the year in Galway - you have Tucla, you have the Arts Festival, but there's a lot of space in between those that you'd love to see other things happening or have a bit more space for people to just try events. There's enough room for another gallery or two in Galway and hopefully it will happen - I see a lot of people making a lot of effort to make things happen
If I were to describe myself, I see myself as the polar ends of every kind of opposite, At one end, I can be very, very excitable and energetic and sometimes, I can be very introverted as well. The only thing I never am is calm. I think I could have on my headstone, 'She was never calm, ever, this is the calmest she ever got'.
Who have been your influencers along the way?
I'd say every lecturer I've ever had; they've all been brilliant. I've been very lucky. Both Cluain Mhuire and St Martins have been fundamental in how I think and fundamentally in how I approach work. What they do particularly is that give you confidence and having confidence is the lynchpin to committing to make things, because so often in your life, in your career, that's going to be tested. So you have to go back to that to restore your confidence every now and again. The community in Galway is a wonderful network in giving this kind of support to keep you going. Both Galway Arts Officers - Marilyn Reddan and James Harold, and Maeve Mulrennan in the Galway Arts Centre have been brilliant. There's a huge amount to be said for being in a space where you can actually meet people.
I've had a huge amount of very generous people who have been incredibly patient, because believe me, I wouldn't say I'm the easiest person to teach. In 2013 I was selected by Artist and film maker Tacita Dean to work with her on a project in Santander Spain, the experience was incredibly influential on my practice even today. Just about all my friends have been hugely influential because when you make art, it's not something that you shut the door on - it happens all the time in your head and every interaction you have with people somehow feeds back into it. I've brilliant friends and collaborators. Family as well have been very supportive. When a lot of families would say, 'You're absolutely mad, what are you doing?', they've always been incredibly generous. I've been really blessed with the amount of positive people I've had in my life. Now I sound like I'm receiving an Oscar!
Updated: 1.30pm, 14th March, 2016