MICK KELLY AND ISTVAN LASZLO DISCUSS THEIR WORK FOR THE LUAS/RPA DOCKLANDS PUBLIC ART COMMISSION, WHICH WAS MANAGED BY VISUAL ARTISTS IRELAND.
Jason Oakley: Mick and Istvan, what’s your background in terms of working in the public realm?
Mick Kelly: During 2005 I had made some pieces for an exhibition entitled ‘Save the Robots’ in Dublin and there I met Chico MacMurtrie, an American kinetic artist and sculptor. At the time, I had been working with young people in Rialto. Chico and I spent the summer creating a fantastic mechanical mural, which we wheeled through Rialto for the summer festival. It wasn’t long before I found myself in New York working with Chico – it was a very creative time.
I met like-minded people there, all kinds of maker-artists from around the world. The most important turned out to be Susan Williams, NCAD-trained, from Virginia, county Cavan, who was to become my business partner.
Back in Dublin, I set my sights on getting a workshop. I’m not sure if it was procrastination but I realised I didn’t have the money to pull off the ideas I had and I couldn’t just live the life of an ‘artist’, whatever that is. So I set about starting a company with Susan in 2006 – Spiderfish Limited – to make and sell products and designs that I had developed in my workshops. Susan and her husband moved back to Dublin to give this a shot. I also started work on projects with the Science Gallery, including ‘Hear Hear’ for the Biorhythm show in October 2010.
These were busy times. My workshop began to fill up with ideas and the tools I needed. I’d do one job, buy the best tools I could afford and keep them for life. We did well but the crash came and much as we tried not to we had to move the Spiderfish endeavours back to New York. During 2008, I was asked to create a couple of rooms to celebrate Irish scientists and engineers in the new Wax Museum on College Green. It was here that I met Istvan and developed an interest in and respect for his work.
Istvan Laszlo: I was born and grew up in Romania as an ethnic Hungarian, where I studied art from a really early age. At the time there was this education model for arts and sports that was designed to glorify a social and political system that was no longer in place. By the time I went to university my interest shifted towards what was happening in the contemporary art world and became more focused on a global rather than local visual language. I was the founder and member of a contemporary art group that focused on ‘art for the masses’ and started exhibiting internationally in 2002. It was around that time that I became interested in how creative input can readjust our perception of the urban landscape and its active or passive agents.
In 2003 I moved to Dublin and it has been my base ever since. From that point on, all my works have dealt with intervention that I call ‘readjustments’ – photographic, video, sculptural etc. I am interested in re-contextualising historical events, objects and images; I view this as being the material itself.
Outside of this practice, I had a great experience here in Dublin working on a variety of creative jobs in theatre, museums and galleries, an experience that I can channel in to my work. I met Mick in this context and have worked on numerous jobs and projects since.
JO: How did you hear about the RPA Luas Docklands commission? And what especially interested you about the project?
IL: In July 2011 we saw the commission advertised on the VAI website. It came exactly at the right time for us. We had already been developing ideas about how we could creatively intervene in the cityscape.
MK: From the beginning it was pretty straightforward. We walked up and down the Docklands Luas line for days studying the space, discussing ideas and searching for some kind of anchor that would fix us on one thing, in the end it was the limitations of space. There were defined ‘red lines’ we couldn’t cross, pedestrian spaces, rail space and the power lines but we found freedom in the poles, those beautiful poles. Istvan noticed how the lights looked like figures with heads; all of a sudden we had the ‘characters’ we needed to express what it was we felt this place was all about: a gentrified place full of new and old – a mix of locals, newcomers and passers by.
IL: It was totally natural to add expression to these characters and, when we did, we loved it. The funny thing, the excitement we felt on discovering the idea is the exact same excitement we notice in other people when they see the works. We came up with many characters, some site specific and some interchangeable. We also realised that for these pieces to become part of the community here, they would have to blend in and to do that we decided to use the system’s anatomy to build the arms, the connecting cables, turnbuckles and tubes.
JO: How did things proceed once you were appointed, in terms of working with Visual Artists Ireland as mediators between yourselves and the RPA?
IL: There were numerous meetings, on and off site visits, factory visits, workshop meetings, complex communication processes and coordination between all departments. This was a new challenge for me, a bit more routine for Mick perhaps, but I do think that all parties involved did their best to realise the pieces.
The deadline was 16 September 2011, so we worked on it for over a month. After being shortlisted, we had a meeting with VAI’s CEO Noel Kelly. We made a revised second stage proposal. After being notified that our second round proposal was successful, we received a €500 honorarium for the completion of the second stage. According to the structure of the commission, there was supposed to be site visits on request, which did not happen. Mick and I did our site visits and received maps of the site from the RPA. We were notified that we had been granted the commission in October 2011.
The first meeting we had with the RPA, with Noel Kelly in attendance, we presented our plans in detail, including budget management and a work structure. We had further meetings where Alex Davis from Visual Artists Ireland also assisted us with various contractual issues.
JO: Did you face any challenges in making work for such a complex context? I’m thinking of the infrastructure and utilities embedded in the site for Luas lines: power supplies for the streetlights etc…
MK: Yes, there were many challenges relating to these factors. It wasn’t as straight forward as making a traditional piece of artwork; but why would you choose to do something easy anyway? And of course there were some communication difficulties; there were a lot of people involved, so there were learning curves on all sides.
JO: Having addressed these issues, how did the design and fabrication processes then progress?
IL: Fabrication started in April 2012, after receiving the first instalment of the budget. We initially worked out scale prototypes from light materials, to see how the sculptures would work. The proposed deadline for completion of the commission was March 2012, but this changed because of the nature of the project.
We took a meticulous approach to deciding on the movement and expression of the arms and hands. We went for an exaggerated and animated look. One of the most challenging things was make it work on that scale, to translate the digital models and renderings into the physical form. This took quite a long time, as we wanted to achieve a natural, organic look from every angle.
Having built and assembled the sculptural additions to the street lamps ourselves, they were sent down to Kent Stainless in Wexford around August or September in 2012 for testing and reinforcing. Kent also undertook the bespoke fabrication of the smaller ‘child’ street lamp made especially for the Mother and Child piece. The finished works were sent back to Dublin in May / July 2013 and then sent to Galco in Ballymount for galvanising and painting. The work was installed in August 2013.
JO: What’s your appraisal of the project, in terms of meeting your initial hopes and expectations and the experience of working with all the various project partners?
MK: It was a long process but I think we managed to do what we set out to do, which was to create something fun and inclusive.
IL: I believe that we managed to get our idea across and it has been a great team effort from the RPA, VAI, Veolia (the Luas management company), Alstom (the company that does all the physical work on the Luas, they installed the pieces), Kent and Galco. From the workshop to the meetings and factory experiences, the installation process and working with the people to bring this to life, it was a great experience.