This Island Earth
Dalziel + Scullion
Tom O’Sullivan and Joanne Tatham
Exhibition shown at:
An Tuireann Arts Centre, Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland,
4 July – 9 August 1998
Curated in collaboration with Norah Campbell, Director
Introduction (from brochure)
Of all places: a few thoughts on identity and location.
Identity is actually quite a hard thing to define. I mean, for example, what do you think defines a Scottish identity?
I guess it might mean that you feel you’re from Scotland and that you identify with things that are Scottish. It might mean that you identify with Scottishness: But that then begs the questions, what is Scottish and what is Scottishness: I mean I feel Scottish but I don’t necessarily identify with all things that are Scottish – I don’t necessarily identify with Scottishness: So I’m not sure why I feel Scottish. Maybe, as I say, quite simply, it comes from a sense of place. Besides, there are so many other factors that contribute to one’s identity. It’s not just a case of being Scottish. Then again, perhaps each one of us has individual Scottish identities made up from infinite varieties and combinations of an infinite number of factors!
Well what are the other things that could contribute to a person’s identity?
Well you might take a lot of identity from what you do. A lot of people take their identity from their work or their job. I think for instance, being involved professionally in art identifies you. It identifies you by way of a sort of association.
What do you mean?
If you’re involved in art, you have an artistic identity. You’re involved in an area, which in this particular case is art. And for many people art is not just a job. It’s actually something, which is an activity – a lifestyle or way of life -, which defines you. Art gives you an identity. and if you’re heavily into it, there probably comes a point where you realise that all of the people you know, all of your friends (or at least most of them) are involved in art. For this reason art is not unlike, say, music or football: people take their identity from the type of music that they’re into, and they identify with performers and other fans. Likewise if they’re a football supporter, they identify with their team and other supporters of their team. Music and football define communities of people that you can identify with and art is no different.
…Its interesting isn’t it that when people are trying to identify you – trying to get to know you – they ask, what you do. Its like you’ve got to do something to have an identity: hello, what do you do? Its not, hello, who are you? What are you like? In answer you usually tell people what your occupation is, not what your personality is like. You don’t say, ‘I am a very caring and polite person’ or ‘I am a nasty piece of work!’
Well it’s to do with appropriateness – what’s apt to ask and answer in a social situation. I mean often people need to slot you into categories quickly and a job or occupation is an easy and fast way of doing that.
Does it follow then that identity is defined by your relationship with other people. If you take yourself away from all these people do you still have an identity?
I would say so, yes. But whether you have the same identity is another matter. I think probably your identity changes depending on whom you associate with. It probably depends on perception. Is your perception of your identity the same as other people’s perception of your identity? How can you know? Perhaps you don’t ever really know. Your idea of yourself might be totally different from someone else’s. In a way it might come down to the way that you behave with people. I mean, you don’t just have an identity and that’s it. Rather, you actually almost perform that identity. It’s as if identity, or what might also be called character, is a form of storytelling. You tell a story about yourself and you continually tell that story to other people about yourself. Of course people have to get that story – they have to hear it – and for people to hear it you have to behave. You have to perform that story to other people.
Quite possibly you behave in different ways with different people. Quite possibly therefore you perform your story of identity differently to different people in different situations. For example, you probably behave differently with your parents than you would behave with the people you work with, or the people who are your friends. Each might have a different perception of you.
I suppose in any one situation you’re not necessarily going to show your whole self and people might only pick up on certain characteristics instead of others.
Right. I mean, does anyone ever actually know a person? How can you be sure you really know the real person you’re speaking to? You’re probably going to give away aspects of yourself because in certain situations it’s only appropriate to do so. Perhaps the people you’re closest to, see you at your truest
Yeh, you’re less self-conscious. You can relax and forget yourself.
It seems that identity can be defined as social and that makes me think of something else – something else related to this exhibition. If there had never been any other exhibitions before this one, and if these art works in this exhibition were the only art works in the entire world, would this exhibition still have the same identity? In other words, does this exhibition, as much as having its own identity, take its identity – take its definition – from other things that have happened in the art world?
Yes, I think so. Obviously these art works in the show relate to each other. But they are also contextualised by other art works, which aren’t in the show. That ‘s as much part of the show as anything else. In turn, the show is contextualised by a wider artistic world. And of course, the exhibition identifies me as a curator. I selected art works I knew about and felt were appropriate. If someone else had selected the exhibition more than likely there would hove been a different group of artists and art works altogether. So yes, the exhibition is defined as much by the works that aren’t in the show. I made certain decisions to keep works out and include other works. It’s about making certain connections with certain areas of art. The exhibition wouldn’t mean the same thing if the works in the exhibition were the only works that ever existed. There have to be other art works and other exhibitions to make this exhibition relevant and mean something. There has to be on historical, cultural and social context – a place – for this exhibition to have the identity it does have.
So we get back to identity being defined as a sense of place – a sense of location.
Yes but I think location – or where you are – can make you feel very differently about how you relate or identify with events, incidents or happenings in our lives. For instance, an astronaut could be up in space orbiting the earth and he looks down on the vastness and beauty of the earth and realises that its tiny in relation to the vastness and beauty of the universe and he’s in awe of that. Meanwhile, directly below him on some landmass, in a town, in a street in a house, there’s a couple on earth worrying about the fact that they can’t pay their telephone bill. They’re focussed on a bit of paper and perhaps it seems to them at that moment as vast as the world and the universe. While both perceptions are real to the people involved, location makes one’s perspective very different. It makes one-see things differently.
I was thinking, with Leon being born: location makes one view time differently as well as place. That moment when he came into the world was totally focused on the present and nothing else. And yet, there is of course the amazingness of the start of this new life and therefore there is this huge potential, this huge awareness of a future. At the same time, that awareness had a complete presentness, to it. Because at that point in time I wasn’t thinking about an embarrassing moment that had happened previously or a piece of work that I had not done yet. I was totally focused on that moment and to coin a cliché it was absolutely quality time. It’s a state of mind that if possible I would like to continue. For I think a lot of the time we do think about the past and the future a lot more than we do about the present. We probably miss the present a lot of the time because we’re thinking about something that’s just happened or is going to happen (or might never happen). Maybe these momentous events (of birth and death and so on) in peoples lives (which are also quite everyday) really make people think of the important things in life. They make you think of your own life in the present. And it seems to me this is to do with time as much as space. Sometimes you can be in a place but be miles away in your head.
I know what you mean. One thing about having a child is that it makes you imagine of what he will be like in the future, when he’s older. It also makes you reassess your own past. But a lot of the time you’re living in the reality of the present because you’ve got to deal with really basic day-to-day things. You’re caring for somebody and that’s a very real and immediate thing.
So location is always moving. You might be in the same place but you’re always moving between past, present and future; between imagination and what might be called ‘reality’.
Iain Irving and Judith Findlay
Text from ‘This Island Earth’ exhibition
publication, An Tuireann Arts Centre, July 1998.