James McCann is an artist and PhD student who recently started a ReSearch project with Project Ability. Rather than collaborating with one person like in previous ReSearch projects, James will document and work creatively with a handful of Project Ability artists and produce filmic pieces “which are either an extension of or descriptive of an existing body of work or their artistic practice as a whole.”
“My name is James Mc Cann and I am the current artist in residence at Project Ability.
I am a sculptor, performance artist and film maker. I usually work with quite low-fi processes and materials. I am currently studying for a PhD at Glasgow School of Art, my research is based on the idea of making documentary film as an artist, and weather this process can be theorised as allegorical.
I have been at Project Ability for 2 weeks now, and while giving an introductory presentation on my work I realised it has taken me up until this point to discuss my work as having any relevance or engagement with mental health as a discourse. I don’t think I am unique in not wanting to discuss mental health in relation to my artwork, even if it has a real relevance to what I am creating.
There are a number of reasons why as an artist I am reluctant to do this, one is that obviously it is an issue which is very close to me which I would not want to defend in a critical setting, but mainly the issue is one of thematics. To make the connection between an artwork and mental health can imply a singularity of meaning, it is the difference between making ‘political art’ and ‘making art politically’. Signposting an artwork as ‘about mental health’, I feel stops the viewer from having their own engagement with a work. Also, there is the problem of an assumed functionality, that if I make an artwork which relates to a condition I may or may not have, it may be viewed as a purely therapeutic exercise, and this I believe undermines my voice as a creative practitioner.
The first thing that struck me, and I would assume most people who discover Project Ability, is the standard and variety of work that it produces. It is arguable that my tentativeness in referring to mental health when discussing my artwork is a lot less stifling to creative endeavour than the gaze of an aloof art world of hyper-criticality and perpetual postness. You will see a lot of great painting at Project Ability, feats of technical skill and work that contains an unapologetic humanity which is instantly engaging. My goal at Project Ability is to help facilitate a hand full of artists in making filmic pieces, which are either an extension of or descriptive of an existing body of work or their artistic practice as a whole.
In my own practice, I have recently finished an experimental film entitled ‘MONOMANIA 5’ which was a culmination of different projects and a collection my own imagery and sound from different sources. The piece is a response to cognitive diagrams that were given to me as part of CBT treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was perplexed by a diagram, which allegedly mapped out my own cognitive loops and the functions of an internal space. The diagram fulfilled its therapeutic function as a means of helping externalising thought processes and helping one ‘step outside’ oneself. But I also became interested in the cognitive diagram as an art object which itself was descriptive of the art making process.
The idea of the art object as cognitive diagram interests me in that it is a didactic empirical communication of an interior space, which is anything but. This is where the theories of allegory I am researching are of relevance, because in its traditional form allegory is the mode by which an inaccessible ‘divine’ world can be communicated to our ‘profane’ understanding.
I am interested in my research in looking at how the artwork functions as a document, and how an artwork can be used as a self-reflective or auto didactic tool used to communicate an unknown or inexpressible truth back to ourselves. It is allegory that allows this operation, as it allows the art object (or document) to exist both simultaneously as what it is and what it is not, to both be materially in the world as object and point away from it as idea. My argument in terms of my research is that the problems of allegory and of faith based image making can help us understand the seemingly paradoxical position of the artist/ documentary maker in a secularised art world.
It is unclear at this moment whether my research period at Project Ability will form part of my PhD project or if my residency will take a different direction all together. I did not want to arrive with a fixed set of goals and assumptions at the expense of leaving with a real experience. I would like to thank all those at Project Ability for this opportunity and also for the warm welcome I have already received.”