Artists Alliance Mentee Profile | Emil McAvoy

Emil McAvoy is an artist and writer based in Auckland. His practice tests art’s capacity to engage contemporary cultural and political issues, often excavating moments in our recent past. He works across a range of media including photography, video, sculpture, painting, text and live video performance. 

How has your work developed? Have you always been interested in socio-political themes?

I see the personal as political, so for me politics is central to everyday life. Choosing to be an artist is political. Personally it comes with a high degree of social responsibility, which is something I think about a lot. My work has become more focused on issues which are considered to be politically charged over the last few years. I’m a utopian when it comes to art’s potential, and believe strongly in its contribution to contemporary culture.

What do you feel is your most successful work (or series of works) to date?

My solo show PRISMISM at Enjoy Public Art Gallery last year felt successful in that it achieved the objectives I established for it, and it was very well received which is always rewarding. I felt the same way about the show that immediately preceded it, Reflections on Lily Pond, about my mother’s dementia and engaging with her photographic archive. Though perhaps this is also because they are some of my more recent projects…I remember Julian Dashper once said to me something like, “looking at your old art work is like bumping in to your ex-girlfriend in the street. It was all good at the time, but six months later you wonder what the hell you were doing”. That said, I hope to look back on these works fondly over time.

I work in intersecting and overlapping series, and the PRISMISM project fits within a lineage of works which deal with current politicised moments in the public sphere. I also work in series which are not as outwardly political in appearance but retain a critical edge, such as my ongoing work with the New Zealand Government’s National Publicity Studios photographic archive.

Are you interested in encouraging or creating a particular dialogue through your work?

Not a particular dialogue, as each work is so project-specific, which in turn frames and guides potential dialogues within each project. However, I am increasingly interested in the space between works – how audiences might see my practice as a whole, and also come to a greater understanding of my motivations, politics, and sense of humour. I have long been interested in the artist’s social roles as a public intellectual, citizen, activist, and shaman. Hence much of my work seeks to test art’s potential in the public sphere.

You work across a number of disciplines, do you have a favourite medium?

I don’t have one in particular, and prefer to see myself as the medium. I have moved through a number of medium-specific interrogations over the years, and like to let the project guide these decisions. My present focus is on photography and text, though my recent return to painting has also reinvigorated my interest in it.

Which artists are you following right now?

There are so many it’s a hard question to answer, though lately I find myself returning again and again to my favourites who have had a formative influence, and finding more in their work. Artists like Marcel Duchamp, for example.

Do you have a time of day or place where you are most productive?

I’m a bit of a night owl, so late morning through early afternoon is the most active in terms of production, and again in the evening for writing, researching, and planning. I need lots of space and quiet, so my studio at home is ideal, though I also take my laptop pretty much everywhere.

What have you got lined up for this year?

At this point all my short term projects are scheduled for early next year, which is great in that I have more time to resolve them, but not so good in that I can’t talk about them in much detail until they’re officially announced. I’m participating in a group show in a Wellington public gallery, an outdoor sculpture project in Auckland, and co-curating an exhibition and publication. There are also some longer term projects bubbling away. In the next few months I’m writing about three artists: Russ Flatt, Shannon Novak, and Ryan Ballinger toward their own publications. All of which I’m really excited about.

What’s your favourite tipple?

Coffee and I are good friends. I also like to drink with the seasons, but I’m fond of gin and tonic and single malt whiskey all year round!