Fion Gunn’s portfolio is filled with sculpture, VR video, and thought-provoking collages using printed images and realia. The artist is both an example and witness of the developing trade between Asia and Europe, working between Ireland and China for decades. Her work combines visual references from both East and West, past and present.
How would you describe what you create?
I combine and transform "stuff" to create alternative worlds, spaces where viewers can be charmed and beguiled, where they will find endless interest in the visual journey.
In truth, I try to make the sort of art which moves me, poetic explorations which are complex and beautiful, meaningful and surprising. I also like to play with scale because it can break through those barriers of self-consciousness and formality – which many people feel when looking at art.
In material terms, I use anything and everything, although I'm pretty careful about being "archival": My 2D work is often a combination of canvas/handmade papers/acrylic paint, collage, ranging in size from small to very large, sometimes stitched or manipulated in other ways; The 3D work may be free standing or wall hung and combines transformed objects, clay, 3D scans, dead bonsai trees, acrylic water, fabric etc – the list is endless; Installations have often involved knitting with various materials, creating environments in which viewers can interact and co-create, so they are generative; Virtual reality/film work where I create in a headset, making environments, which I then film, add sound, poetry etc, I often add in 3D models of tangible work I've made and scanned so there's a direct relationship between my virtual and tangible practice; Finally, there are performances where I process with a boat on my foot while having conversations about the Odyssey with a medical doctor or write poetry in water etc and they are usually linked with an exhibition or a protest.
What are the fundamental messages you want to get across with your work?
That we are all connected, that our personal stories are part of global history and all of it matters; that we should remember; that we should be ethical in our explorations and our journeys; that the experience of art can be transformative because our imaginations are limitless and that art can make us well.
What have been the key influences in your work?
Reading is massively important for me – poetry, history, science, philosophy, mythology sci-fi and diverse fiction. As a child learning to read early was an effective escape from a not very happy upbringing, it gave me windows to other worlds. My training as an actor, when I was young, has influenced the way I present ideas and curate works. I am drawn to theatrical encounters – the multidimensional and multimedia nature of this experience.
Growing up in a house above the family antique shop and having a great grandfather who was a boat builder, have left me obsessed by the nature of memory and how artifacts can embody it, and of course, all things maritime.
Other artists whose work has influenced me (I recognise that this may not be obvious at all to the viewer!) include Joseph Cornell, Artemisia Gentileschi, Anselm Kiefer, Bill Viola, Louise Nevelson, Hieronymus Bosch, William Turner, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois and Marina Abramovic.
How does your work bridge cultures, past and present?
Well, I certainly hope that it does – so thank you for framing the question positively! For example, when I work on my painting/collages I begin with a particular idea, a story, feeling, memory or a sensation I want to explore – there is usually a convergence of a few of those elements. Once I start this process I see so many connections between my own stories and those of others across the globe and down through the centuries that I am compelled to include as many narratives as possible in any given piece. Time does not feel linear to me when I'm making work and other cultures feel ever present.
How significant are your material choices in your work?
The idea comes first and that will determine whether it's 2D, 3D, VR, film, performance etc whichever feels appropriate and there's a lot of crossover anyway. I don't believe in a hierarchy of materials or techniques, I will consider any material or medium in order to make the work come to life in the best way possible. Often the material or medium is something I'm not familiar with and I give myself terrible technical headaches. However, I've come to realise that I play this twisted, tortuous game with myself so that I can come to each work as a new experience, one that I have to learn how to make from scratch.
When did you realise you wanted to become an artist?
I'm one of those boring people who says "since always" – seriously. I remember first saying that I wanted to be an artist when I was two years old, having been fascinated by a painting in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. My father was very thrilled by this at the time but the thrill soon wore off, he saw what I did years later at Art college he was horrified. As an adult I went back to see the painting that inspired me again – a blobby image of a woman in a hat, it was pretty awful, I was obviously a very undiscerning kid.
What's the latest project you are working on?
I'm working on a number of different projects simultaneously and am constantly skipping from one to the other as it helps me to keep a light touch. They are:
- a canvas/painting/collage (I've just finished this) and a Virtual Reality piece which will be filmed, both to commemorate Mary Wollstonecraft;
- an infinity, mixed media landscape (3D) constructed inside a wooden chest;
- a collaborative VR women-led project with a group of international artists;
- a local collaboration with a composer/performer, an animation artist and a poet;
- 4 mixed media canvases for a large scale work inspired by port cities, it comprises 7 individual panels, three of which I completed last year;
- a number of other VR solo creations.
Name a formative experience you've had in the art world and what it taught you?
Visiting the Elles exhibition in Paris (Centre Pompidou) in 2009 and realising that my lack of "success" as an artist was perhaps not my fault. The global artworld was and to a large extent, still remains, excluding women practitioners. Seeing the exhibition and reading the statistics radicalised me, it made me think about what I could do to change that negative landscape. From then on, I embarked on curatorial projects where I would invite other women artists to join me. I made sure that any project I initiated would have gender parity and cultural diversity. I also began to mentor younger women artists and creatives. In short, the experience taught me that if you are excluded from a clique then start your own clique and make it an inclusive one.
What does art mean to you personally?
Art is a possibility to create whole worlds. Art is the reason that keeps me from getting bored. Art is hard work. Art is life.