Interview: Maggie Mullin O’Hara
Luca Curci talks with Maggie Mullin O’Hara during THE BODY LANGUAGE 2022, at ITSLIQUID ART SPACE – Grand Canal.
Maggie Mullin O’Hara is a multidisciplinary artist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, currently based in Columbia, South Carolina. Her work exists as a hybrid form, borrowing from the traditions of the mediums of video, photography, performance and installation. It explores ideas of interconnectedness between the physical body and experiences of psychological balance and imbalance while proposing the possibility of fulfillment through the indeterminate. Further, it challenges the trans-subjective nature of our roles in the experience of the work, as well as the potentiality for indetermination as change. The body finds its place in the work as a vital material; her own bodily presence becoming both an object and the object of her art. In her works and the media, she uses a function in a way so that the performances are directed at a disembodied viewer, the camera lens, which function as the surrogate audience(s). The camera is a performer too, acting as a third eye. The work collapses any distinction between documentation, art object, and art act. Art and the artist are inextricably interconnected, even when the audience sees only an artifact; a relic, of the performance itself. Maggie received her Masters of Fine Arts in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015 and her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography from Point Park University in 2013. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Art in Photography within the Visual and Performing Arts Department at South Carolina State University. She has exhibited work both nationally and internationally.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Maggie Mullin O’Hara – I am the daughter of an artist, and so I was raised around and have been exposed to and immersed in the ideas and conversations of art from a young age. I began experimenting with the medium of photography in high school and became invested in the exploration of myself as (an) artist at that time. Though I think I always had an understanding and an appreciation that art is everywhere, all of the time, it wasn’t until I began working with a camera that I started to really see myself as a creator. I studied photography in my undergraduate degree, where I worked under my first true mentor: an artist and academic, Patrick Millard. These were some of the first moments in which I felt seen as an artist, as an individual – specifically, as both of these things with legitimate potential. Naturally and because of this, this was a pivotal point in my career as an artist and as a person in my perception and understanding of my own self. Unfortunately, Patrick suffered a tragic death at the age of 30, cutting our relationship quite short (after just a year or so of working together). It was at this time, the time of Patrick’s death, that I knew in order to live a life of fulfillment, I would need to continue to chase my dream of becoming; of being an artist – to continue to seek out the experience of feeling seen and understood through the work/s I was creating, that in every way function as very real extensions of myself. I have not stopped chasing this dream; this high, so to speak, and continue to use the creation of (my) art as a means of not only the outward exhibitionism that is present in the existence of any artist, but for awareness, understanding, and self-preservation, as well.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
MMO’H – Throughout my years working as an artist, I have faced many challenges. I believe that these challenges ebb and flow; they are cyclical as are all challenges that come with the very nature of the human condition – the human experience. I have faced the challenge of dry spells: of the visual artist writer’s block, (sometimes long) periods of time in which I do not create because I cannot create. While once understood as a challenge, I now accept this as a part of my practice: I have learned that moments of quiet and privacy are required in order for me to be a successful artist. I have also faced physical and mental challenges in the execution of my work. My work relies heavily on the endurance of my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. Oftentimes, the performances that I undergo for my work call on the physicality of my body in ways that arrive at moments of discomfort or pain. Further, these performances are usually accessing the memory of experiences rooted in much of the same; points of trauma and grief. To use creation as an exploration of these experiences serves me in a way that is therapeutic. Like the rise and the fall of the tides, what goes up must come down: to face these challenges – these moments of pain, and to survive… to succeed and be standing on the other side facing the thing itself, is the reward. And then, onto the next challenge.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
MMO’H – My work is a very direct extension, or expression, of my experience, my perception and my understanding of these things. While I believe that all artists, visual and non, are expressing themselves in their work, I believe that I do so in a very direct way. My work is large, if not entirely, self-portraiture, and therefore re-presents to the viewer my self in these experiences. Primarily in my work, I look towards my/the experiences of discomfort and how those moments function in the spaces of private versus public, and why. My work finds its meaning in challenging these spaces and what they hold: what happens when we place the traditionally private into the public; when we subject willing or non-willing bystanders to become active participants in our secrecy.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this exhibition? How did it inspire you?
MMO’H – The body – my body – has always been an integral material in my practice. It has served as an extension; a further dimension of the construction. In my work, I have explored and examined the ways in which my different bodies: my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual (bodies) function in reaction to probing, in reaction to each other, in reaction to their existence themselves. The body is a vessel – and the work, my work, is an extension of that vessel; the body redefined, realized again, and again, in a new form. The call for this exhibition said, ‘(The Body Language) analyzes the hidden parts of our identities, through an immersive experience inside the fascinating universe of the complex labyrinths of our consciousness.’ As stated in responses to previous questions, my works touch on every element of this statement: from tapping into concealed or hidden parts of our beings to exploring the complexities of our consciousness – this concept for the exhibition felt as though it was calling directly to me and my work/s, again – in more ways than one.
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
MMO’H – Language is a construct that has the capacity to reduce a thing down to the stringing together of letters; to a word, or words, which then have the potential for great power: the capability of connecting or dividing us as a people. Twelve letters strung together to form two words, which would be assigned to a person depending on their physicality, more specifically, the ‘color’ of their skin, had the ability and continue to separate, to disconnect, and detach a people from one another. What’s Black and White and Red All Over? challenges the construct of language as it relates to issues of race, identity, and identification, both of others and of the self. The very essence and power of what art is is the fact that it is inherently contradictory; it is in its very nature to confront, challenge, and encourage inquiry. This work provides an opportunity for the reevaluation of the significance of such a system of words for communication, and the weight that it holds.
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP?
MMO’H – Having just recently become aware of ITSLIQUID GROUP, I am very excited and pleased by my discovery. I find ITSLIQUID to be an inclusive organization/platform rooted in the intentions of serving and supporting artists, which of course, for myself as an artist, is great.
LC – What are your suggestions about our services? Is there something more we can provide to artists?
MMO’H – My experience with ITSLIQUID has been a very positive one – so much so that I have decided to continue to work with the platform in another exhibition opportunity in the coming months. The individuals I have been working with and corresponding/coordinating with have been some of the most helpful that I have worked with within the creative contemporary art realm/world. I wished I had been able to attend the exhibition in Venice but was unable to travel. That said, I was mostly satisfied with my experience as a participating artist but potentially could have been more so having additional resources or opportunities been available for those (like myself) who could not be physically present in Venice for the show. Otherwise, again – my experience working with ITSLIQUID has been a wonderful one and I look forward to continuing my relationship with the individuals who are running and working with this platform to support artists and creatives.