This is Niall Bingham | Mirror Images: A Solo Exhibition



Mirror Images is the first large-scale solo exhibition of Johannesburg-based artist, Niall Bingham. It follows on from where the the autobiographical short film, I am Niall, leaves off its self-reflective inquiry into what being an artist means, exploring the corollary of artistic authorship through a series of artworks created in collaboration with other Joburg artists. Through this, and together with accompanying manifestos, the artistic process is foregrounded, adding another layer to the overarching theme. The film and the exhibition are both separate pieces and interconnected parts of a whole, playing off each other in a kind of call and response; a then-and-now, an I-and-we. Niall spoke to us about this tension, his somewhat unusual approach to a solo show, what’s laid out in his manifestos, and what’s next.



This is your first large-scale solo show, how long have you been working towards it?  


The conclusion of the I am Niall shoot was the catalyst for this new body of work, so about 10 months or so.



This exhibition includes works in several different mediums, some of which are relatively new territory for you. What compelled you to explore this broad range, and how has this impacted your practice? 


I have always had a problem with the question of medium.  I never know what to say to people who ask me what medium I work in.  My technical abilities are very firmly vested in Printmaking. But I love music, film, the smell and look of oil on canvas, hand-printed photographs and many other things.  My process of making is all about learning and acquiring skills.  I get bored when I’m not learning.  I think that a comfort within a medium is very dangerous for my work because I sometimes forget the possibilities of chance.




Please tell us a little about how your style and approach to art making has developed over the years and specifically leading up to this show…


I remember telling my lecturers in undergrad (during critiques) about my fascination with the mundane.  It’s difficult negotiating the aftermath of growing up in the comfort of white middle class South Africa.  I don’t have an interesting artistic story according to recent trends.


Back in those days I was too self-conscious to fully realise the potential in my post-apartheid narrative.  I have learnt to make what I want to make, and ignore the voices of self-doubt. Often my attempts end in failure, but I work harder now so there is more scope for edit.



You say that in this exhibition you foreground process. How does this relate to the finished piece; how you define an/the end point? 


In the past I had a formula for making art.  This became a hindrance.  By collaborating with my cohort of artists and friends I am able to liberate myself from this formula and allow the work to manifest of its own accord.  In short, the process of making art with people has liberated me from those obsessions with control.  I think the manifestos are interesting in relation to the work because they clarify my inability to control the process.  In most cases my best work comes from an open mindset where the work develops out of the simple acceptance that it is a journey.




In this exhibition you acknowledge collaboration both thematically and practically. Please tell us a bit about this…  


At the beginning I earmarked a number of people I wanted to work with based on my respect for their work and their skillset. I presented them with my vision and offered them the opportunity to participate. This probably sounds terribly exploitative, but I sat down with each of them to draw up a contractual manifesto.  All spoils will be shared if I sell any work on this show.  Some of the people I approached were not interested in collaborating, so I moved on.   In some cases I ended up doing most of the work anyway, in others there was an equal exchange.


All of the manifestos accompany the artworks on the show.  They document conversations and musings leading up to the actual collaboration.  In some cases the results do not echo the documents, sometimes they do.  I entered these collaborations with an agenda, and I ‘directed’ the choice of subject matter and technique, but then I just let the process lead us forwards, sometimes via some very scenic routes.




Following on from the previous question, how does collaboration impact, question and explore notions of authorship in your work?


I developed an interest in artistic authorship through my involvement with printmaking collaborations.  The Modernists were some of the first artists to interrogate authorship through collaborative practice in the 60s.  This is by no means a groundbreaking development.  On this show I have presented manifestos to disrupt perceptions of what an artwork constitutes. In the context of my show- who is to say that the manifesto is not the artwork?  If this were true then the work becomes subordinate to the process of making it.  With all this in mind, it is my firm belief that by making work with likeminded people I can find my space in relation to theirs.  It is a way of finding clarity through creative relationships.



Working so intensively with self-portraiture must have been quite an introspective experience. Do you care to share any thoughts or insights that arose from this?


Survival requires an ability to adjust to various social contexts; self-portraiture provides a means to interrogate my various personas.  This work is actually an extension of who I am, I don’t really know how else to approach imagery.  The last year has seen a massive change in my lifestyle after taking a succession of blows that lead to a big decision.  I got to a stage where I felt it was time to slow down and take stock.  I was getting things wrong, basically trying to get away from myself through destructive cycles.  I now use my work to subdue the dark thoughts.  I am determined to make better use of my time.




You have created manifestos to accompany different works in this show. Does this exhibition as a whole serve as an overarching manifesto in any way? 


Making art is story telling, and it can serve as a means to document the passing of time. Each piece that I make is a marker that defines a personal milestone, much like a photograph captures a split second event and then becomes a memory.  In some cases this involves “collaborating” with past versions of myself.  By re-working old images or appropriating objects from the past and present, I feel I can make sense of a personal narrative.  I guess an overarching manifesto would articulate an acceptance of the past, and a letting go.



How do you associate to the here-and-now of Johannesburg as a city, as well as the Johannesburg arts community? 


I am an outdoor enthusiast; many of my friends are at a loss as to why I live here.  The conflict between nature and the artificial is an ambivalence I don’t yet fully understand, but I think the discordance of it comes through in my new work.  Johannesburg asks so many questions about the nature of survival.  There is an energy here that I can’t get away from.




What do you hope that someone might gain from attending this exhibition? 


My hope is that people see through the possible narcissism of it, and can tap into the humor and sincerity.  I’d like to think this work articulates a commonality in the experience of life and the passing of time.



Which artists’ work have you been most inspired by whilst working towards this show? 


Walter Oltmann’s work ethic has been a source of inspiration for a long time.  He made me realize how much time one has to invest in order to progress.  Wim Botha’s recent show at Stevenson blew my mind- the man is a rare breed.  Zander Blom’s freedom, and his understanding of oil paint are intriguing.  Chuck Close is a constant source of inspiration.



What’s something someone might be surprised to find out about you? 


I am lost without my music collection.



Does this exhibition mark the start of a new trajectory of thought and practice, or the end of a journey? What’s to follow? 


I’ve started working on a new video piece with Nicholas Turvey, and I’m throwing washes on some canvases I stretched a while back.  My next show may be all canvas and paint – I guess we’ll find out soon enough.  I have fallen in love with oil painting all over again. That smell in my studio at the moment…sometimes I just stand there and bask in the odour.


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Mirror Images is on until 8th June 2014 in the new basement space at MOAD in Maboneng.

Check the event page for info on artist walkabouts and film screenings.


Between 10 and 5