Even as a child, I could sense something isn’t right. My art practice is my philosophical enquiry into what. Digging at the margins of history, current affairs, popular culture, and personal memory. I have no answers but am learning to give form to the feeling, I now know to be symptomatic of the meta crisis of late stage capitalism. Capitalism is a skilled storyteller. So I counter with what ifs: past, present, future, in opposition to conflict and control, and rising authoritarianism. My storytelling starts with the desire to retrieve histories’ sublated good, recover some of what has been lost or overwritten along the way and build agency. 

The image of history – history painting is my chosen medium. A distant but familiar space where I set my critique. Contemporising the outdated and problematic genre as a new kind of civic space, that creates mental space for speculative thought. Where discourse can focus on prevention and repair, and symbolic and real positive actions can take place. I wonder whether new ways of imaging history that encourage participation, can place us in a new relationship with the present, in our story as it unfolds.

I approach each piece as a painter; however, I often choose not to paint, finding painting historically not able to convey the complexity and leakiness of my themes. Choosing instead, to construct hybrid theatricalities, that fuse traditional processes, with interactive and immersive methodologies, audience participation, simple technology and broadcast technologies.

I love getting under the skin of my protagonists and giving theory a live beating heart. Allowing myself to be different people and speaking through their voice. In sampling my cast of characters, I am trying to understand what makes them tick and build empathy. It’s worth feeling uncomfortable.

Much like historical painters before me, in the making, there are many creative and technical processes involved. Research is distilled through a lengthy process of writing, collage, drawing, and storyboarding. Drawn together, through iterations of choreography and feedback.  A vast array of objects, handmade costumes, props, sculpture, and text are crafted with precision and slow labour, and animated with photography, green screen, digital video and VFX, and a mix of live and mediated performance, sound, and significantly silence.

Out of the chaos and solitude of the studio to the vibrant control uncontrol of performing live, each piece is threaded through with vulnerability and humour and emanates a wry and unapologetic charm. From room-sized graphic novels that people can walk around, drawn in pencil, ink on gesso on board, or painted in oil on laser-cut powder-coated steel, brought to life by Arduino circuits and proximity sensors; to 3D animated characters and environments; artist books; collaboration with AI.

The end is where we start from. Essay by art writer and critic Anne McNay.