Brian Connolly employs a wide range of artistic strategies and processes including Performance Art, Public Sculpture, Installation Art, Collaborative Art Practice and Artist Run Project Development.
He has created a series of Market Stall Performance interventions internationally since the mid 1990’s, where surreal humor is employed to question aspects of consumerism and global political and social ethics.
He has also developed a new genre of Performance work generically entitled “Install-actions”, which are often visually elaborate and contain both political and spiritual metaphors. He is a founding member of Bbeyond and has had several directorial responsibilities within the organization since it’s inception in 2001.
He creates solo and group performances & has exhibited/performed in diverse contexts within Europe, North America and Asia. He has also initiated and curated a number of projects nationally and internationally and has been involved with artist run organizations throughout Ireland.
Since the late 1980’s he has created 12 public art commissions in a wide variety of media.
He is an Associate Lecturer in Sculpture, Fine Art at The Belfast School of Art in the University of Ulster and is a member of the Research Institute of Art & Design within the Belfast School of Art.
“A range of my art practice during the 1980’s & 90’s was ‘site-specific’ and temporary and evolved out of dialogues with specific places or contexts and reflected my socio-political concerns. An aspect of this past work emerged as a direct response to the ‘Northern Irish Troubles’. Artworks, which in my opinion responded to my experience or response to the ‘Troubles’ included a series of by-focal viewing devices with split fields of view, Anamorphic perspective installations which both created and exposed illusions within one work, video installations such as ‘Over View’ in the Project Arts Centre in Dublin in 1993, employed a series of security cameras to spy on a sequence of rotating dioramas of Belfast etc.
These past works reflected on my experience and emotional frustrations of having grown up in a divided society, (or community?), which had resorted to violence as a substitute for a normal means of communication.
My works were an attempt to offer other perspectives, often literally an attempt at changing the view(s) of the audience, in the hope of illustrating the similarities of the perceived differences that were blinding much of the community. (and still do to some extent today.) I had aligned the act of ‘seeing’, or looking with both eyes, as a direct political metaphor. At the base of my practice I wanted to articulate a belief in our commonality and shared humanity as opposed to the prevailing mantra of exploitative rhetoric and emotionally driven political escalations.
Through ongoing political and historical research and my growing interest in ‘performance art’ as a medium and ‘live’ response to the contemporary reality, I started to devise and structure time-based artworks that considered or articulated the longer view of Irish/Northern Irish history. I wanted to find an appropriate art strategy to portray a dualistic political history and how the history of this Province could potentially be articulated within an evolving ‘art’ structure in a given space.
I was saddened at how we, the inhabitants of Northern Ireland, had become captives of our troubled past and how past historic acts generated a chain of reactions and counter actions, which incrementally led to the contemporary troubled reality with which we negotiated or within which we lived. I was thinking how each historic development might be evidenced within an artwork, as adding to, or building on the last, building tension and a kind of intractable complexity.
Out of this thinking I developed the ‘install-action’ strategy, (as mentioned above). I decided to create a durational artwork, which would symbolically travel through Irish/Northern Irish history over a long period of time, with each ‘action’ building on the last. I developed an artwork, which I hoped would articulate the role of historic events in the evolution of the ‘Troubles’ and our contemporary political landscape.
In these works, which I later titled “History Lesson”, I used ultraviolet lighting and worked in the darkness. Over time I slowly and meticulously spun an elaborate matrix of white threads between internal walls, or if outside, between external structures and trees. The ultraviolet lighting illuminated the white threads and other white objects (or materials) within the space and made them fluorescent within the darkness.
The threads were spun across the specific spaces, woven between two small potted trees at either end of a particular space. The trees symbolised the two communities or political perspectives within Irish History. I carried the end of each white thread one by one, across the space and in the centre they were delicately ‘sewn’ through an illuminated Atlas. As a result and over time, this book was slowly lifted off a table and held aloft by the growing number of threads.
At either end of each of these threads I slung an illuminated glass jar containing an image/images/text. Each jar was suspended in one of the small trees. The printed images referred to key aspects of Irish history. Each image was backlit by a candle within the jar and they acted as mini lanterns. Each Image corresponded to a specific aspect of contemporary Irish history, and opposing elements of history were at either end of each of the threads. Each illuminated image was only visible for a set period of time and like history, as each candle burned down, they flickered and went out of living memory.
The differing sources of light - ultraviolet light, candlelight and low-voltage lamps was also important within the work. Members of the public/audience often became immersed within the space among the matrix of threads and were drawn to the illuminated details within the dark space. They could move around the space, view details within the illuminated jars, illustrating specific fragments of history highlighted at the time of their visit.
As time passed within the durational artwork, the historic imagery became more familiar to our own troubled time, with recurrent symbols and the trappings of our familiar social strife.
So in this way the artwork evolved and our shared history was slowly unspooled. One image of a specific political act was counterbalanced at the other end of the same thread by another counterpoint image of a political act. As the artwork evolved the whole network of threads became interrelated and interdependent. Adjust one thread and the others shifted to compensate.
Dressed in black, I was almost invisible in the dark space, and often moved unseen. I would go about my work in a slow and deliberate manner, emerging from the darkness slowly unspooling a length of thread through the space, silently working and creating the illuminated matrix of history.
In the later part of install-action/performance artworks I added stones and other objects onto the threads. Through the addition of weight, the whole network of threads shifted as they were all interconnected through the Atlas. As the weight and tension within the matrix grew they became visually dramatic and emotionally tense.
The increasing tension was a core element within the artwork as this signified my experience of growing up and living through the Troubles in Northern Ireland.”
(* The term ‘Installaction’ or ‘Install-action’ is a description or title for a new area of Performance Art developed and named by Brian Connolly in the mid 1990’s.)