Roisin Byrne Artist Profile by Michael Hampton
I’ve been chatting with the artist Roisin Byrne in the cafeteria of the V22 building, Bermondsey, where her studio is located. She clearly doesn’t subscribe to the orthodoxy of having a studio just because she’s an artist. No, the facility seems ironic as for Byrne distribution of her work is the work, and the studio a quiet corner to catch up with correspondence and send a juicy rumour spinning off via a hot Facebook page. She is in fact thoroughly au fait with social media, a given for someone whose practice is dedicated to infiltrating systems, tampering with default settings and protocols until they crack and fall apart.
Last year she initiated a project by masquerading as a collector. It’s not you it’s me (2011), a bizarre attempt to displace the Italian artist Cuoghi from his own CV and become him, is a typical Byrne ploy that carries with it a degree of legal risk, and which started with an old-fashioned crush on Cuoghi’s oeuvre and, by implication, his body. The eponymous It’s not you it’s me, in London’s Alma Enterprises, showed Byrne’s dedication to the job in hand, its bank of printed-out emails to the real Cuoghi’s gallery Massimo De Carlo concerning past Cuoghi shows (RE: The Hammer Show, RE: A Secret Service: Art, Compulsion, Concealment) displayed alongside sloppily framed ephemera such as a British Gas bill for £72-38 addressed to Reberto Coughi (the misspelling only highlighted the unstable fiction of social identity). This sort of ambivalent investigation and co-opting of celebrity challenges the slick way high profile artists endorse their brand, thereby removing the need for critical evaluation. Yet paradoxically Byrne’s website reveals her own attraction to the mystique of art world names. Key phrases re-occur in the blurb: she has been ‘motivated by an admiration’, ‘motivated by a desire’, ‘become besotted’.
Quizzing her about the value of disregarded currencies such as invisibility and deception, she fires back a reply that rumour for instance is ‘underrated’ and that focusing on its production is a type of antidote to the authentic art object. ‘Duplicitous Storytellers’, a 2012 group exhibition in Mexico City’s Casa del Lago, gave her a platform for such ideas: ‘the show was basically about murdering the father…. Good fun I say’. Byrne’s multifarious crooked practice ridicules singular authorship and lofty genius, demonstrating the artist to be an everywo/man, a silo of historical references and unwilling stooge of power structures. A quotidian producer and consumer caught inside economic frameworks similar to those that exist outside the deregulated art industry. Question marks, however, remain about the relatively soft-targets she selects for ‘Byrning’. But stalking other artists and tunnelling out their work is a career move for Byrne with psychological foundations as much as economic ones, informed by early training at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts, as much as later academic studies at Goldsmith’s.
She seems pleased when the residue of communicative processes arrives at a simulated objecthood, extended nodal discussion points rather than post YBA fetishes. Look what you made me do (2009), part of a 2011 Moscow group show Translate/Transcribe, was a 24 carat replica gold bar financed and manufactured with funds skimmed from the bank account of Danish artist Jochem Hendricks. Such ploys, says Byrne, enable her to be part of what she calls a ‘big conversation’. A collection of invoices, emails, cards and envelopes became the official paperwork of the intervention, again problematising the issue of whose work this ultimately is, not to mention copyright control. A partially black lined email from Byrne to the unfortunate Hendricks reprinted in the zine Schizm #3, betrayed a skilled charm offensive, the tone chummy yet cautious, frank too about her sneakiness.
The dreaded word ‘parasite’ comes up, and I ask her how she thinks she is perceived, not only in the art scene but other circles too. Again she is cool, and carefully explains some of the finer points of You don’t bring me flowers any more (2009), her bad girl appropriation of Turner prize winner Simon Starling’s artwork, with its Ryan Air excess baggage receipts as proof of her act of botanical appropriation. A cynic would call it spin but for Byrne, Starling’s rhododendrons were fair game, specimens to simply uproot and replant. I try pointing out the difference between an action that has permission and one that doesn’t, but she just shrugs and asks who has the right to grant this permission in the first place’ Who owns anything’ In the final analysis the Starling escapade was just another Roisin Byrne story and doesn’t seem to have scarred her like the TV exposure in BBC4’s Goldsmiths: But Is It Art’
So bearing in mind she has previous as a ‘shoplifter’, I wondered what she made of the August 2011 smash & grab street riots’ The response is guarded, but yes she did get messages on her Blackberry, updates about the pandemonium, and indeed coyly admits to having dodgy connections on the wrong side of the track, quickly putting me right when I remind her of the illusory nature of the material world, and the vanity of human wishes. She is absolutely western, with a voracious appetite for the consumer goodies she hasn’t got, not because Byrne is a materialist, but because acquisition of de luxe objects, clothes, equipment or whatever is proof, in an Orwellian sounding phrase, that desire is desirable. The riots emphasised this, and for Byrne their inflammable violence masked a hunger, the hunger that seems to drive her own expansive range of projects and interventions.
Significantly the only restriction she imposed on the interview process was to ban the use of a dictaphone. Make of that what you will’ It’s been useful to meet face to face and dispel some of the unjustified tittle-tattle that clings to her second hand. As we wind up I find I’ve been doodling a bunch of different sized overlapping circles. It seems an apt description of Byrne’s methodology.
Roisin Byrne was born in Dublin 1981 lives and works in London. She studied at the Dublin Institute of Technology and The Russian Academy of Theatre Arts before completing an MFA at Goldsmiths in 2009. Recent exhibitions include It’s Not You It’s Me at Alma Enterprises (London) and The Goma (Madrid), the group exhibition Duplicitous Storytellers at Casa Del Lago, Mexico City, and FAX at Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Upcoming shows include Komplot’s YEAR magazine and show in Brussels (April-June 2012) and Appropriation at Essays and Observations, Berlin (May 2012). She is represented by The Goma, Madrid.