The Scottish installation artist is again working with newspaper — 18 tonnes of it — for his return to the Galway Arts Festival, says.
The Turner Prize-nominated Scottish sculptor and installation artist David Mach has been given the ideal space for his return to the Galway Arts Festival after six years. He has been commissioned to do a gigantic newspaper installation (a 2002 show utilised 120,000 copies of a newspaper), so the festival has turned over the old Connacht Tribune printworks — right in the heart of the city — as a canvas for him.
“This space is so good,” says Mach. “It’s like something from the old Soviet era. It’s got quite a flavour to it. I prefer spaces like this. It’s marked. It has a history. When you go in there, you imagine what may have happened there before. It wasn’t built to house art. It was built for another purpose entirely. You’re aware of that. It makes it less precious than an art gallery.
“It’s kind of haunted by writers, because they must have printed God knows how much news here. It’s terribly hot. They have the pipes that still provided the ink to the presses and the pipes are bleeding colours onto the floor. I’m trying to work up a short story based on the idea of that. It’s the lifeblood of something, still oozing, still coming out the veins of the building. You don’t get that in a new art gallery.”
Mach arrived in Galway in late June to start work on the installation. He brought his brother with him — as well as recruiting a team of local volunteers — to build it. They’ve scavenged for all manner of objects for source material, including 18 tonnes of newspapers, a car, a yacht, and a caravan (“the cheapest caravan we could find closest to Galway”). It’s a feat of engineering to realise his visions, which are famous for utilising unsuspecting, commonplace items like coat hangers, matches, and furniture. He once inserted a cement mixer into an installation.
“When I make these sculptures, I have to make a core of pallets to build the newspapers around, to be able to use big objects like cars,” he says. “We had an aeroplane in one of these things. You’ve got to be able to drive up those pallets. I’m trying to get the objects in precarious positions that make it look as if the newspapers are carrying them off — that they’ve floated off on a wave of newspapers — but it still has to be solid.
“I remember, we made the aeroplane sculpture in an RAF hangar in London. We were reversing this damn thing up this very steep hill of pallets. It was only on three wheels. It’s always great fun. I like that part of the job.”
Fortunately, Mach has escaped serious injury working on his projects, although he took a spill on that “aeroplane sculpture”. “I was building something about 30ft off the ground and I was standing on a very slim ledge in order to do it,” he says.
“I remember, I stood back off the ledge to have a look at my work. It was one of those cartoon moments, when your legs and your arms are flailing around in circles and you get the bongos to go along with it. I fell, thinking, ‘Uh, I’m going to hurt myself this time.’ I landed on a 6ft stack of pallets, on the cheek of my arse, and bounced off it. I went running around the hangar like a headless chicken. Luckily, I was all right.”
Mach was born in Methil, in Fife, Scotland, in 1956. Growing up in that part of Scotland in the 1960s, among huge industrial engineering activity in his hinterland, sowed a seed. It partly explains why the power of engineering is at the core of much of his work.
“The simplest of applied mechanics is at the root of a lot of [the sculptures], and getting the weight, volume, and weight distributions correct, so that something will stand up. It fascinates me, because, as a kid, I failed applied mechanics exams and they laughed at my engineering drawings. For some reason, when I’m doing this physically, with real things, I can work it out. I couldn’t calculate it and give you real figures, but I can make it stand. I can build a bridge. I can do all of that stuff.
“It’s got to do with where I come from. We were surrounded my huge, science-fiction engineering. They were building oil platforms next to our house, virtually. You’d see these massive things passing your living-room window like a Nasa spaceship; huge things. I grew up amongst that. I think that comes up through the soles of your feet.
“It was an incredible time. Everyone was in full employment. Now, it’s all gone. But, then, I thought this must be the busiest place on the universe. We grew up with a power station behind us, brickworks just to the right of us. A slagheap — a ‘bing’ we called them in Scotland — almost coming into the house. Oil rigs at the top of the road. The docks, the whisky distilleries — it was incredible.”
Mach has created some jaw-dropping public installations. They include a train made from bricks, a submarine fashioned from car tyres, and tumbling telephone boxes — entitled ‘Out of Order’ — on a London street.
In 1999, he used three people as models for Big Heids, a 33ft-high sculpture that sits on the side of the motorway connecting Edinburgh to Glasgow, close to Motherwell. His inspiration was Motherwell’s steel industry history.
“I found three local people to make gigantic portraits of, using various forms of steel to make their forms,” he says.
“Getting those people was really funny. We decided we’d go down the local high street, tell people who we are, and ask if we can take some photographs of them. You would have thought we were trying to sell them a used car: ‘No, no, not today.’ ‘You don’t know what I’m offering you yet.’ ‘No, no, not today!’
“It took ages. We ended up, we found one guy on the street. He was a local fireman. We found an older man in the public library. We latched onto him, because he was such a good-looking man. The third person was a girl we found. She was a Hungarian, a Buddhist living on an ashram next to Motherwell. She was selling stuff on the street. I liked the mix you were getting there.”
David Mach’s Rock ’n’ Roll will be on display as part of the Galway International Arts Festival, Monday, July 16, to Sunday, July 29, at Festival Gallery, Market St.