• Leo Russo

[Art] An interview with Moira Maloney

In a time of societal and environmental chaos and turmoil, how can we learn to work with our creativity as a potential source of shared stability, and what will it mean to be an artist in the future? 

All too often, our incentives to contribute to the world creatively can manifest in individualistic ways - and in a future where the systemic risks to our planet know no boundaries or borders - interconnected collaboration online (and in person) provides a beacon of hope for the change we all want to see.

We had a digital chat with Moira Maloney, an interdisciplinary artist from Detroit, Michigan (USA) as part of a new series of interviews with inspiring creatives from around the world. Moira Maloney graduated with an MFA in Sculpture from Cranbrook Academy of Art, one of America's most esteemed art schools. Her work has encompassed a variety of forms: from installation and sculpture to photography and video art, demonstrating a set of bold new perspectives and stories that interact with the world at large. 

Moira in the Studio

According to her artist statement, her practice draws “inspiration from digital tools to show how innovations that are culturally understood as potentially productive of a better future, actually reproduce and remix existing forms of inequality and exclusion". Maloney’s work throws hegemonic symbols associated with digital capitalism into disorder... by representing the digital through the use of analog materials and the analog digitally, she brings into question the novelty and promises of our digital devices and the software they run”.

I first became aware of Maloney’s work after we met in 2019 at Periplus, a workshop and residency in Greece, to generate community centred creative responses to sustainable development in the run up to the first Athen’s Design Festival in 2021. The power of cross-collaboration between a spectrum of creative practices, to propose and inspire new approaches to the world’s biggest challenges, is an emerging yet crucial activity in a time of global need. I was curious to talk about: Maloney’s practice, the effect that the quarantine has had on making art, the nature of increasingly living on the internet, and her advice for emerging artists.

PG: How did you get into being an artist, and when did you first know that’s what you wanted to pursue? 

MM: I started as a painter. After investing years in painting, I was introduced to mixed media installation, sculpture, video, and graphic design. This discovery shifted my practice and expanded my interest in using different material and technical processes. As I developed my work, I began to use my practice to explore a larger set of social and cultural issues that exceeded my individual experience and which solidified my relationship with art.

PG: What are some of the things which inspire you at the moment? How has the lockdown affected your practice?

MM: During the lockdown, I have started developing a body of work around the way digital technologies mediate more intimate aspects of our social lives. One aspect of this work focuses on the idea of ghosting, which Urban Dictionary defines as the situation where "a person cuts off all communication with their friends or the person they're dating, with zero warning or notice beforehand.” With “Ghost or Be Ghosted,” I am exploring online dating culture and the way it accelerates transformations in power specific to romantic relationships.

MM: I’m using this work to address how experiencing the sudden absence of a potential partner on a digital platform is particularly eerie. My use of the term eerie, here, is inspired by one of cultural theorist Mark Fisher’s definitions of the term as “the sensation [that] occurs when there is nothing present when there should be something” in his book The Weird and the Eerie

Another concept that I am using in my work is “Full Thottle,” a portmanteau of the terms thot and full throttle, which deals with rapid transformations in gender norms and sexual expression online, or sexual exploration at hyper-speed. I do not presume with either of these projects that power is irrelevant in the structure of gender norms. However, I do think digital culture allows room for play within and outside these norms. I’m interested in exploring how these aspects of contemporary culture are not simply a source of empowerment or liberation, but are also traumatic and complicit with systems of oppression. 

PG: Is it possible to be a commercially successful artist without making commercially orientated work? 

MM: Many artistic careers follow this old patronage model where you have wealthy folks or galleries investing in your work, whether or not your work is commodify-able. I also think a lot about Hito Steyerl’s essay “Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy,” where she discusses the gendered nature of underpaid and free labor in the art world. I think her point is that despite the supposed cultural value that we ascribe to art, women work long hours under terrible conditions for no pay and without guarantee of commercial success. I think being an artist often involves being highly exploited, particularly for people who are not white cis men, when success is defined by art’s performance in commercial or speculative markets.

PG: How do you think the way that art is made and experienced will change in the future?

MM: I could picture cultural production happening in a way that’s not entirely dependent on wealthy donors, collectors, or institutions without turning ideas or art making into producing commodities to sell on a platform like Etsy. Instead, maybe the future of art could involve creating networks of like-minded cultural producers who are supportive of one another. One practical solution might involve organising a digitally-mediated network of mutual support, possibly involving cooperative financing and creative collaboration.

What we are seeing happen with galleries and museums during the pandemic has made transparent a failed funding structure and forced a free and exclusively digital experience of art, which might have broader implications for our approaches to art making, processes, and ideas.

PG: What do you think the potential crossover is between art and other things like philosophy, spirituality, or sustainability? Does the artist have an obligation to society? 

MM: Art is inseparable from the social realities in which it is embedded. To give an example, artists rely on globally expansive supply chains through which we acquire materials to produce our work. Art is a part of social life and not separable from its contexts, which also include aspects of philosophy, spirituality, and sustainability. So, cultural production is unavoidably wrapped up in existing social relationships whether or not an artist’s work directly comments on those relationships. Conceptual and critical artists tend to think a lot about their relationship to these things and it is a useful practice to recognise the way we’re indebted to people whose ideas or labor we draw inspiration from.

By developing networks parallel to institutions and instead of abstractly speculating on technological futures, we can collectively use our resources to elevate and engage with artists whose narratives have been historically suppressed. As a point of action, I am starting a project called New Practice Lab, where we will work with and support current organisations who are actively combating white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, anti-blackness and other forms of racism, xenophobia, and the art worlds silence and tokenisation of these issues.

PG: Do you have to go to art school to be an artist?

MM: It is not absolutely necessary to attend art school, but it can allow for professional development. More importantly, it forces you to understand how your art fits into the broader landscape of the art world and the subtle, and not so subtle, ways that its institutions are sites of power and exploitation. Maybe what’s best about art school is that it helps you build networks and teaches you to confront or grapple with ideas, experiences, and narratives that you’re not familiar or comfortable with or that you haven’t already considered in your practice. This is not to say communities can’t provide or re-invent a relationship to professional art practice, and I think it is worth exploring art learning outside of larger institutions. 

Proceed to the Route: Your (Pre)destination is on the Right (2019)
Proceed to the Route: Your (Pre)destination is on the Right (2019)

PG: What advice would you give to someone trying to pursue their career as an artist?

MM: Developing a career as an artist takes time and, in most cases, a supplemental income. I would suggest that we shouldn’t always assume that our careers as studio artists are going to take off right away and to consider how we define what it means to be a successful artist. Being clear about our expectations of ourselves can help determine pivotal goals going forward.

Creative careers require cultivating relationships—that is part of the work—and exploring different trajectories. There is a lot of sitting with discomfort while you experiment with your work and try to build a career, and while necessary, that discomfort can be challenging to get used to. It is very important to ask yourself these questions: Who does my art speak to? Who does my work talk over? How am I making space? How am I using my platform? How am I using my access?

"Maloney aspires to reflect critically on their own social position in a high-speed, networked world in which the perennial issues of economic inequality, systemic racism, gendered forms of domination, homophobia, and xenophobia persist. Their various works of art, therefore, attempt to re-establish links between our knowledge of the trash fire that is our contemporary social world and a sense of outrage, scandal, and embarrassment."

PG: Thanks Moira!

You can see more of Maloney’s work at: moiramaloney.com and find her on instagram @moiranmaloney

Maloney has an upcoming show running September 12th through to November 7th at The Sculpture Center in Cleveland, OH. The exhibition is titled: The Shape of Sculpture

- Psychic Garden

Leo Russo is a designer and musician from London. You can read more about his work at: harmonic-design.org