VAN May/June 2015: ‘Watching Liquid Run’ Maolíosa Boyle and Mark Wallinger in Discussion

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Installation view ‘Horse’ Void, Derry 21 February – 18 April 2015 photo by Paola Bernardelli


The concept for the exhibition ‘Horse’ (21 February – 18 April 2015) came about during Mark Wallinger’s 2013 Void show ‘One’, curated by Elaine Forde (10 September – 25 October 2013). Myself and Wallinger spent an evening with his friend Juliette Cooper, a horse trainer / breeder. Over dinner I was introduced to the equine world: the rules surrounding horse naming, the design and colour of the jockey silks and the significance of lineage. I was completely captivated and the idea for the exhibition was born.

I’ve always had an interest in horses, having started horse riding at an early age. Wallinger has a life long fascination with horses – one that crosses his passion with his practice. ‘Horse’ the exhibition we curated together explored the representation and role of the horse in contemporary society, considering its profound relationship to man through countless generations .

Featuring twenty-eight artists, ‘Horse’ combined work from historical collections, an open submission call and invited artists. The exhibition featured a wide range of themes such as the suffragette movement, the traveler tradition and horse identification through a myriad of mediums including film, photography, sculpture and painting.

Maolíosa Boyle, Director, Void, Derry

Maolíosa Boyle: Where did your love of horses come from?
Mark Wallinger: It is one of those passions that happen at such an early age one can only figure out why later in life. I remember running home from infants’ school to see Arkle win the 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup. So I was maybe six years old. I have always loved horses and racing and find them extraordinarily beautiful. Lester Piggott was a hero and the relationship of jockey to horse has magic for me as well. When Piggott was on a great horse like Nijinsky in the 1970 King George, it was as if the horse made its own serene progress to the winning post. I have a video of Piggott in slow motion, which demonstrates his otherworldly balance on a horse at full gallop – he is absolutely still.

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Installation view ‘Horse’ Void, Derry 21 February – 18 April 2015 photo by Paola Bernardelli

MB: Didn’t you describe watching Arkle race as “like watching liquid run”? What is it about horses that fascinate you – aesthetics, representation or both?
MW: In fact that was Frankel in the pre-parade ring at Ascot. I’ve never seen a creature move so fluently – it was like water finding its course. It’s aesthetics and something almost transcendental. Anyone who wonders what the thrill of racing is about should Youtube the Queen Anne Stakes 2012.

MB: When did the horse first inform your practice?
MW: For many years I kept the horse and racing as my passion and hobby, but as an artist of course it had to become part of my practice. I wanted to examine and go deeper into this fascination. The racing world is just that – a world within a world. There is an order, a discipline and an aesthetic that is rich and sustaining.

MB: Ireland has very strong connections with the horse racing world and indeed a long history with horses. Do you think it’s important that the exhibition was rooted in Ireland?
MW: I think that the relationship is special. Ireland is a big lush green island with a rural culture in which the horse has always played a part. Vincent O’Brien, perhaps the greatest trainer there has been, helped create what is now a global domination of the sport.

MB: Your fascination with horses is clear. Are there particular themes within the exhibition that interest you? Did the open submission nature of the exhibition and the context of place and country offer any new or varying insights to you?
MW: I think it was a further realisation of how rich the heritage is in Ireland. There were great works about the traveller community and horse fairs. But also evident was a fond and often surreal attachment to the species. It was a great and unpredictable element of the show.

MB: In terms of representation and symbolism, does the horse differ between Ireland and Britain? I had in mind your public artwork White Horse at Ebbsfleet.
MW: I think the White Horse is symbolic of England beyond all else. There is a resonant history of white horses created on chalky down land that goes back for millennia. The Jutes Hengis and Horsa brought the white horse emblazon to Kent in the seventh century. Ebbsfleet is where the cement industry started in Britain, at the point where the chalk of the North Downs peters out into the Thames – the same downs that host the Epsom Derby.

MB: The Darley Arabian – the progenitor of most thoroughbred horses – features quite a bit within your own work and also as a starting point for ‘Horse’. Indeed the colour that we chose for the wall that the Stubbs hangs on is Godolphin Blue – the racing colours of Sheikh Mohammad – named after another thoroughbred progenitor Godolphin. Why were Darley Arabian and Godolphin important within your work?
MW: I think the initial impetus that drove me to start making work about the horse was the fact that Sheikh Mohammad had started such a huge bloodstock and racing operation, which cited the progenitors of the breed. He named his stud farm in Newmarket Darley and his racing operation Godolphin. I found this kind of fascinating. It was like a kind of post-colonial redemptive exercise.

At the same time he had created a race turf race track in the desert of Dubai, which now attracts the top thoroughbreds from around the world. So the initial work I made about racing was the four life size portraits of horses that stood at the Darley Stud.

The Godophin Turk and the Darley Arabian were imported to England at the beginning of the eighteenth century. 95% of all racehorses are directly descended from the Darley Arabian, which was bought in Aleppo, Syria, by Thomas Darley in 1704 and shipped back to Aldby Park in England as a present for his brother.

MB: Your work Royal Ascot featured in the show at Void and has received many comments from visitors that ‘God Save the Queen’ echoed around the space. This work is incredibly tongue in cheek in its commentary on the Royal Family and its pompous rituals so separate from reality. How do you feel about presenting this work in Derry given the history of this place?
MW: Royal Ascot is a sort of exemplar of how the establishment works in Britain. And in a way it glories in the spectacle that is the sensual, tangible result. Only this weird obeisance and decorum could result in the spectacle of people dressed to the nines, with name-tags attached, cheering at monarchs of an elected democracy. There was a kind of credulous innocence with which the BBC dealt with this and I had noted not only the precise timing of the daily procession’s progress, but also the consistency of the TV coverage – the same cuts to different cameras replicated to a split second each day.

MB: Horse racing has been called the sport of kings, yet much of your practice has had a strong social connection with marginalised people and communities. Do these aspects of your work connect at all or is that important?
MW: In the past I have explored how the racing world exaggerates class divisions in that there really is no middle class. A man enters the room and the toff says ‘you can’t come in here’ and the oik doffs his cap with a ‘sorry sir’ as he backs out of the room.

I used to bet on the horses every day, which was neither healthy nor profitable. But even the smallest town has three constants: a pub, a charity shop and a bookmaker – probably not a sign of prosperity or spiritual wellbeing. Going from apprentice to fully-fledged jockey is akin to a similar process in boxing and similarly is quite often a route out of poverty. At the same time there are racing dynasties and lord knows it’s no accident that the royals and the aristocracy are obsessed with breeding.

MB: You had an exhibition at Void in 2013 when the idea of the ‘Horse’ show was first thought up. What interested you in continuing this relationship with the city and indeed Void for another project?
MW: I had the time of my life in Derry. Working with everyone at Void was a real joy. It has been an enormous pleasure to work with you in making the exhibition and hope we can make another show together before too long.

I want to continue my relationship with Derry. I came back for the Turner Prize last year and was deeply disappointed that the space in the barracks was not retained as a gallery in perpetuity. This should have been the legacy after the year of culture.

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