Quick Draw Artist Interview #34: Christopher Healey

Quick Draw Artist Interviews are a series of interviews conducted by Otino Corsano using Facebook's IM Chat feature. Spontaneous conversations with international artists and influential members of the art community are recorded and documented specifically for publication on this blog.

Quick: Gasp. Short-lived gifts sharpened. Heated iron; forged steel. An open door leads out to a drawn out passage never previously uttered. Ambling yet cultivated, curving and carving across the grid to save time and retrace your form. I going back to make gains where you could never breathe. It has taken you this long to surface so ever slowly and if I continued to follow from my depth my blood would surely expand too rapidly towards another, all too predictable, early demise. I’ll return with relics. Those are the bends. Draw: art about art.

Christopher Healey (Ottawa, ON) studied Fine Arts at Concordia University in Montreal and is completing a Masters of New Media & Communications at Hamilton’s McMaster University. Healey has always been interested in digital media and approaches this photo collage work through his painting and drawing sensibilities.

Christopher Healey

Chat Conversation Start

Hi Otino - is tonight’s interview happening?

Sure. Is now a convenient time for us to discuss your work?

Yes, it's a good window. You?

Now is fine. I think this discussion should be interesting since you are also known for your interviews with artists.

Wondering if you can tell me how the entity ArtListPro began?

I landed in Toronto in early 2009. I was living in Parkdale in tight quarters with no studio and new to the city.  However I was invested early in social media and contemporary art so I started visiting art exhibition and conducting interviews with artists using YouTube as a media platform.

The interview format was a great excuse to interact with artist and learn more about how they approached art especially within the Toronto community.

You were one of the artists I met through recording live lectures: first at the inaugural Toronto Alliance of Art Critics lecture at Double Double Land and then at the Biennial Panel at the White House in Kensington Market.

I know the Toronto community greatly appreciates your work in documenting these types of events.

Let's focus on your current work. It appears photo-based yet I understand you are reluctant to be pinned to the term photography. True?

I am not a photographer!

I imagined that would get a reaction.

Haha yes, you did get your anticipated reaction.

Photographers have a technical expertise and carry certain philosophies, relationships or even a loyalty to the outside world. I don't care about these traditional or even technical-based approaches to the medium.   

I like photography, as it can be painterly and prolific – as in producing a lot of material to work with – as well as experimental. I really do admire photographers like Lynne Cohen and Isabelle Hayeur and have been influenced by their work.

I was thinking your practice is more akin to the Richard Long types since many of your photographic documents are linked to your walking around local areas.

Your site-specific investments seem to be focused on the ‘specificity’ side of the equation with an added political perspective.

Yes, Richard Long… This is why I value interviews as I’m reminded of artists and concepts relevant to my practice.

Were you born and raised in your current Hamilton context?

I grew up mainly in the suburbs. Upper middle class. These soul-less suburbs helped me ride the wave from criticality to creative urbanity.

Although, since then, I have always - and I mean always - lived in depressed areas predestined for gentrification at best: St. Henri in Montreal; Parkdale/Hintongurg, Ottawa; Toronto’s Parkdale and now Barton Village in Hamilton. What makes these places most "poor" is the perspectives of these locations of people who don't live there. In my view they are the least boring, visual environments one can hope to find these days.

So yes, I think this context carries the political into my walks and camera work.    

How do digital formats help you investigate these social issues involving the economics of space?

Social media has emerged as the space to put digital images into. This platform is an essential part of my post studio practice process of taking digital pictures.
A constant, methodically and considered series of photos are harder to explain away in political rhetoric than a quickly written blog post           

So would you describe yourself as a social media artist in the overarching sense of the term or more as an artist invested in social issues via a variety of digital media?

I don't know. I just don't know anymore and have stopped trying to define myself as an artist. For the last four years, sure I post content online, yet the performance and the printing is all part of this mess as well.

Some artists cited an interesting term: "post-internet" which is to install work from the web into a space and then insert the documentation of that work back into the web. Accordingly, I admire A. Bill Miller's approach best as is no longer makes any distinctions between "real life", "online" or "social media" anymore. It is all considered real life.

Nevertheless, as far as social research goes, I feel more like a cranky anthropologist along with a camera and Photoshop.

Do you intend your extensive depictions of urban plight to activate real life solutions or are there only aesthetic concerns at play here?

Seen 7:46pm

My insight is to reveal real life solutions remain unattainable because we don't yet understand the problems - or are even aware there are problems.

My view of the practicality of the public sphere has descended into a Baudrillardian world of simulacrum and simulations. I think once you start thinking of "solutions" you are already on the wrong path.

I am archiving my work as interviews, photos and/as documentation through social media platforms. I do not carry airs to know what will resonate with a future audience or even a current one. I feel very reassured knowing I am not the only artist with this mindset, thanks to my practice of conducting interviews with other artists. I guess I like to get new perspectives on artistic issues I am trying to figure out.

A singular, almost eyewitness perspective seems to be pervasive in many of your series.

Is autobiography key to understanding this work?

Is there an appropriation of news reporting angles at work?

Yes… yes… and no.

The apparent autobiographical aspect is hard to escape from since I am using social media so much over the last four years. Still, when applying devices formally, I don't like the idea of being too 'slick' with the work, hiding myself - or my reflexivity - in the environment. How something is completed, or rather attempted is more interesting to me and somehow more honest  - even if perhaps the results are problematic.

In the Hamilton series about my own neighborhood, I am the epitome of what some middle-class, middle age white business dude from the suburbs might look like when scoping out the area to exploit it – previewing derelict properties to develop or neglect for profit, etc… I am often approached and challenged. So I leave evidence of myself in many of the works to comment on the phenomena.

I am exploiting this area as well with my gaze right? At the start, ArtListPro definitely had a news/reporting angle and I think this view is still there because it's how I understand media.

What are the dead ducks about?

Hard to define - a tragedy?

I mean, it was so odd, curious and heart pulling to see these large birds crashed and somehow meeting death on a long expanse of frozen beach. Where were they going? Why here? Does anyone care enough to find the answers?

It seemed fit to take pictures of what runs counter to the very often pretty, shiny images of the typically depicted civic sphere (I heart >insert the name of your city here<). These tragic images are as real and relevant as any other community picture and deserved to be noted for the record. My record, but still a record nonetheless.

Did you ever discover the cause?

Some hypothesized it was effect of a long winter; yet it was odd the birds were still around in the winter at all. It is not the way these birds behave normally in places such as Ottawa or Montreal.  I also heard reports of someone allegedly shooting birds in the Hamilton area. See? I don't even know what the real answer is. However I think it is the area and the discussion I am most interested in - the media space between the art and the public.                    

Given the digital context of your work playing out on the web and via a full range of social media outlets, is it relevant to ask: "Who is your audience?"

More specifically: Is it important to you the content you produce is still considered in the traditional 'visual art' arena?

Seen 8:15pm

I am making work with a few people in mind and as alluded to earlier, a future audience.

I believe the physical component of creating hundreds of works is very powerful. So as I undertake this, in part online, art project I don't always have a clear destination or audience. I’m fine with losing some people and then letting others step in.

I've settled for being more intervention than a headline draw, so to speak. I’m more comfortable as a media entity than as an artist. I just don't know if "visual artist" means what we individually may think it means anymore. So it does not matter I guess if I am that or not.

Your recent "Mountain Path" project appears to stand out as a poignant and important addition to your multi-disciplinary practice.

Seen 8:25pm

For "Mountain Path" I used my iPhone's panorama camera setting to scan the path as I walked it. This feature straightened the path out artificially in a series of very distinct and unique images for the series. Some are badly transposed - others feature weird shadows especially forming when I turned corners.

There are obvious aspects of endurance and performance in the production of this work, yet I could not plan the resulting immediacy of the images along with the challenges of managing the "mountain" of photos produced and installing the resulting pictures in different spaces and formats - most currently on Twitter. The results of uploading countless images using very counter-intuitive, although readily available social media platforms like Twitter enacts an interesting problematic. Social media has the preset expectations set for quick, concise messages and not a long, drawn out visual series with no obvious meaning, ending or beginning. It's becomes problematic for my audience and I like offering this new challenge of reception.

I think this problematic also operates with our preset expectations of contemporary art as well. In other levels, it is about looking at undervalued space equally representative as any other part of the space, in this case the mountain, or scenery, or the map or whatever. This themes of a journey as a large drawing is a topic I hope explore more in future work.

I have been deliberately producing a large quantity of new work over recent years not providing me with enough time perhaps to reflect on my practice, however I agree this recent project is significant to my art interests in exploration.

Should one be able to draw parallels between these meandering Mexico documentations and your Canadian projects also involving the documentation your local wanderings?

"Slower" is a work pointing to the possibility of this post-geography.

Good question as it points to a personal conflict I am facing in my practice:
After four years of producing work in Hamilton, I am considering new directions. Yet since the local space I am focusing on here is disappearing I wish to continue to explore the apparent opportunity. In new locations such as Mexico I can sometimes lose this addition of personal signifiers to a degree.  

I created the Mexican series in a few days before my trek back to Hamilton however I faced serious creative blocks prior to this final, intensive, production time.

I projected "Slower" on the front porch of my house in the middle of this winter.

We are a product of our environments, for better or for worse. If I move to Mexico I don't yet know how this will affect my production until I am immersed in the experience of the new space and context. I could just as easily start drawing and forget about the camera. That could happen.

Well whatever the future brings I wish you and your art only the best Chris. Thanks for taking the time to speak to me about your work.

Thank you Otino! This was very helpful dialogue.