When art and literature collide to create something new

Recent Crawford graduate Billy Dante is one of two Cork artists representing Ireland at a major festival showcasing new talent in Amsterdam, writes Alan O’Riordan

THE Elia New Now Festival opens in its new permanent home in Amsterdam next Tuesday, showcasing the best of new artistic talent emerging from the academies and arts schools of Europe. The lineup for 2015 features the work of two recent graduates of the CIT Crawford College of Art: Billy Dante and Brian Mac Domhnaill.

Mac Domhnaill’s selection is entitled Catafalque. In an unsettling collection of photographs, the artist takes as his subject the places where human remains rest prior to burial or disposal. Locations including a funeral home, a crematorium, a crypt viewing box, a morgue and a family home; are all shot with a haunting sensitivity.

Billy Dante, meanwhile, describes himself as a painter first and foremost, but his multidisciplinary approach sees him branch off into sculpture, video and performance. This summer, he has had an exhibition at the Black Mariah gallery of work featuring large-scale cut-outs of human figures, while he’s also curated a show at Cork’s SampleStudios that featured live performances from poets and spoken word artists.

It’s this incorporation of live performance that he’s channeled for New Now. Titled A Poem Dedicated to the Past, Spoken for the Future, Dante’s is a solo performance by the artist, of poems based on a cut-up of the 02 residential listings and the Golden Pages.

“Literature has always been a big influence on my work,” says Dante, busy in his study as he prepares to leave for Amsterdam. “For my thesis I wrote on Dylan Thomas and his interaction with artists. I’ve always been interested in the crossover between literature and fine art and I became very interested in the structure and form of Thomas’s poems, so I began applying those poetic techniques to this cutting up of names using the residential listings.”

William Burroughs, you feel, would be proud of someone taking a scissors to a telephone book. But, lest sceptics think otherwise, there’s more than random sounds and throwback abstraction at play here. Dante has shaped everything in strict syllables and rhythms. In his rich-toned delivery, the names and sounds become incantatory, suggestive, flowing and allusive, shimmering between language and music. The pieces achieve the status of poems, yet, in their senselessness, there is a challenge to our aesthetic presumptions, or hierarchies of what specific art forms are for, or should be.

“I am a painter, that’s my main practice,” says Dante, “but I really don’t differentiate. You can make a good painting without achieving art; and I’m really just interested in creating art in any medium. I look at writers like Kerouac, Ginsberg, Joyce and Beckett, especially, they are all pushing to create art. I try to create this whole experience and, for me, you achieve that moment of art when you are transferring some sort of energy to the viewer.”

The whole experience in A Poem Dedicated to the Past takes the viewer into a darkened theatre, where they, an audience of one, are greeted by Dante. That live setting, he says, gives the piece a whole new dimension.

“I’ve pared the piece back through the application process, honed what was my degree show by taking away the paintings and the sculpture aspect just to focus down to myself and the poems. I was only scratching the surface for the degree show; now, you have this darkened theatre, with viewers who will queue up individually to see the work. As they enter, a light bulb will go on and I’ll be standing at a podium to deliver one poem to the individual. So I have this idea it’s a personal experience. In a place where you should have a big audience, you have an audience of one, so it’s focusing on one person to give an intimate, intense experience. A poem that’s made for you, delivered to you.”

New Now is at Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek September 9-13; www.elia-artschools.org/festival

Recent Crawford graduate Billy Dante is one of two Cork artists representing Ireland at major festival showcasing new talent in Amsterdam, writes Alan O’Riordan


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