Artists in Conversation: Oliver MacDonald

In the first of our Artists in Conversation series, we speak to sculptor and conceptual artist, Oliver MacDonald, recipient of the 2016/17 Adam Reynold’s Memorial Bursary (ARMB), organised by Shape Arts. The prize includes a three-month residency at Turner Contemporary, Margate between February and April 2017. MacDonald discusses his ideas for the residency and his practice, with input from CEO of Shape Arts, Tony Heaton and Director of Turner Contemporary, Victoria Pomery.

Shape Arts set up the ARMB in memory of the life and work of Sculptor Adam Reynolds. It is designed to support a mid-career disabled artist or artists, looking to develop their practice and build their profile by offering funds and a three-month residency at a high-profile arts venue.

Artists in conversation: Oliver MacDonald Full Audio Description Text

This is a short film, lasting four minutes, which introduces the 2016/17 recipient of the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, Oliver MacDonald. The film presents an interview with Oliver Macdonald about his work, the themes his artistry touches on, and how he feels about being awarded the bursary.  The conversation with Oliver takes place in the Turner Contemporary, Margate, and includes brief interviews with Turner Contemporary director Victoria Pomery, and CEO of Shape, Tony Heaton. This audio description of the film includes their spoken words and descriptions of Oliver MacDonald’s work. It will take about 7 minutes to listen to if read aloud.

The film begins with a black screen and the title in white lettering: Artists in conversation: Oliver Macdonald. Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary recipient, 2016/17.

Next, the film presents a montage of exterior shots of the Turner Contemporary on a crisp Autumn morning. We then see Oliver Macdonald, seated for interview in one of the Turner Contemporary’s studio spaces. Oliver says: “I’m a conceptual artist but I’m also a craft artist. But I prefer to describe myself as a conceptual artist because that’s what predominantly my work is”. While Oliver speaks the film cuts to a still of his work “The Pack”, which is an installation work comprised of a snooker table with a surface entirely filled with green cue chalks.

Next the film shows a view of the sea seen from the upper windows of the Turner Contemporary. A montage of exteriors of Margate’s seafront follow, including a lighthouse, boats, and sea gulls, while Oliver continues speaking.  Oliver says: “Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the start of New Year 2000. Six months after my diagnosis I’d started at Goldsmiths, and that was kind of where my art started in London in earnest.”

The film cuts away from Oliver to the lower level of Turner Contemporary.  Visitors to the gallery are walking past the camera, towards an installation by the artist Yinka Shonibare.  In voice-over, Tony Heaton begins to talk.  Tony says “We create an opportunity that’s just there for a mid-career artist to grab hold of”.  Tony is now on screen, interviewed in the same space as Oliver.  He continues, “and artists in the past have said it was a real paradigm shift for me and my work”.

The film cuts away to a neon installation in the Turner Contemporary’s lower gallery.  The work is a book whose pages turn as the neon illuminates in sequence. Next we see a shot of gallery visitors looking around the space.  Tony’s voice over continues, saying “I think providing opportunities for artists is one of the really significant things that Shape can do as an organisation”.  The film cuts to an exterior time-lapse of clouds passing over a “Welcome to Turner Contemporary” sign and then more montage shots of visitors exploring the gallery as Tony continues in voice over.  Tony says “The Adam Reynolds bursary’s been going for 9 years and it’s great to be working with a wonderful gallery like Turner Contemporary and to introduce a new artist here for a 3 month residency”.

The film cuts to Oliver’s interview as he begins to describe his past works.  As he speaks the film presents a montage of still images of Oliver’s graduation work, which is a giant wicker gramophone horn for an ice cream van. The images show the massive scale of the gramophone in relation to the ice cream van, and the outdoor location it is presented in. Oliver describes the work in voice over, saying “For my degree show at Goldsmith’s college I produced a gramophone horn for an Ice Cream Van. 14 foot by 25 foot snaked over the roof. it was a monstrous piece of work. The technique I was using was willow weaving.  The construction defied the function; sound could not  travel through it so it was kind of redundant which further boosted its absurdity.  There was an absurdity in its scale in relation to the Ice Cream Van but an absurdity in that it didn’t function as well.”

The film cuts to stills of Oliver’s work “Rorschach’s Banana Party”.  We see a black painted rubber traffic cone surrounded by dried banana skins that Oliver has found.  The banana skins lie in a circle around the cone in different shapes and arrangements, open to interpretation by the viewer.  The following montage shows closer examples of the banana skins, one that looks like a bird in flight and one that could be a figure, stretching their arms away from their body.  Oliver describes the themes of his work while these images are displayed.  In voice over, Oliver says “I like to explore often darker themes. My mode is to tackle these darker themes with a playfulness, with a lightness.  That has progressed more to disability”.

We see a still of Oliver’s work “The Grey Room”, an installation of zimmer frames jumbled on top of each other in a small alcove space.  Oliver continues speaking, saying “But I think the brilliant thing is with art, and knowing I’m an artist, is that I actually don’t think it matters how disabled I become. My art won’t stop”.

The film cuts to the entrance of the Turner Contemporary as visitors wander in.  Oliver speaks in voice over, saying “When people encounter my work I like there to be a hook. I like there to be something which is just that bit different, just that bit other, a wonderment of what this could be, that’s my hope”.  As Oliver talks the film cuts to stills of similar untitled works of his comprised of expanding plastic sheeting, filling with air from an electric fan.  In one still we see a huge translucent bag with people crowded against it as it expands.  In another set of stills we see an equally large opaque white bag in a warehouse type space.  At one end is a knot, presumably to keep the air from escaping.  At the other is a doorway, inviting brave visitors to explore the bag from within.

Next we see Oliver, seated in interview, as he begins to describe his thoughts for his residency at the Turner Contemporary.  Oliver says “So I have started to think about some of the ideas that I’d like to do on the residency. I don’t want it just to be about me, I’m very interested in passing on the ancient skills of basket weaving. The beauty of the willow is when you’ve constructed something and you feel the strength in that object that strength has come from you utilising the strength of the willow so there’s such a beautiful connection between the two”.  As Oliver describes willow weaving we again see shots of his earlier woven willow gramophone horn for an ice cream van, alongside exterior montage of Margate’s seafront, including a clock tower and distant light house.

We then see Victoria Pomery, director of the Turner Contemporary, seated for interview against a white wall with art works in the background.  Victoria says “I’m sure our visitors will be very curious – they love engaging with artists. I think having met Oliver that he will love working in this way and that members of our audience will learn a lot from him, enjoy the discussions, and that it adds to the life of Turner Contemporary”.  As Victoria speaks the film cuts to montage of visitors exploring the Yinka Shonibare exhibits in the Turner Contemporary, including a large see-saw with brightly outfitted figures at each end and bookshelves filled with classic novels re-jacketed in brightly patterned textiles.

Next we return to Oliver seated for interview in the studio space.  Oliver says “Being an artist is difficult, finding the time, finding the money is hard”.  The film cuts to a still of an untitled work by Oliver presenting a day-glow pink painted concrete monolith on a pebbled beach.  Oliver continues, saying “This bursary, it’s such a great feeling to have been awarded it because I’m feeling a freedom as an artist that I haven’t felt for so many years, and it’s exciting”.

We see a final still of Oliver’s work, this time it’s the opaque white bag inflated and shown from the inside, with visitors filling its space.  Oliver speaks in voice over, saying “and the great thing is this bursary will continue and do the same for others”.

The final credits show a link to [ENDS]

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