Alice Maher: Godchildren

The Irish artist has created a collection of ghostly drawings, films and sculptures that depict the darker side of a traditional fairytale

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The ghostly drawings in Alice Maher’s films, and the sculptures she makes based on them, capture the haunting feel of a traditional dark fairytale. However, unlike folk tales, Maher’s work doesn’t narrate any moral lesson, but in tracing her drawings’ history from the hatching sketches they started as, she tells the tale of her own working process. Set to an original score written by composer Trevor Knight, Alice Maher’s films in her latest body of work 'Godchildren' are creepy and yet mystical.

Dazed Digital: What is the significance of the title Godchildren?
Alice Maher:
Well, the title God Children, you can think of in a general way like children of the gods. I am making a reference to mythic convictions there, but, more specifically, when I showed two of those films for the first time in Ireland, which was last year, it was actually shown in a house that was owned by Lady Gregory and left to her godchildren.

DD: The exhibition includes a variety of mediums. What usually comes first?
Alice Maher:
I’ve always had this non-linear relationship between 2D and 3D forms. In my normal working practices one naturally leads to the other, and backwards as well. So, generally if I work in two dimensions for a little while I’ll go on to work on the three-dimensional form, and then that leads me back to two dimensions and I’ll draw from the three-dimensional forms. In this instance, I made the sculptures last after I made the films. However, the figurines that I cast from – little figurines I bought in an antique shop – they had sat on my studio table all the time while I was drawing so in a way they were present.

DD: The drawings in the films themselves have a feint, ghostly feel…
Alice Maher:
That’s the ghost of the drawing, all the lines that make up the final drawing. It’s the memory of what the drawing was before. The drawings themselves are not classical illustrations in that they don’t actually illustrate anything; they are not depicting a story. I was drawing and then redrawing and when I quilted everything together it seemed to have a fairytale quality but it is not an illustration of any story, it is more like following the metamorphosis of a drawing.

DD: It does feel like a fairytale stylistically with a slightly creepy element but without a narrative, would that be the correct interpretation?
Alice Maher: Yes, but with a fairytale there is a moral to it, it is there to teach something to somebody or to keep them from danger. Red Riding Hood taught children not to stray into the forest or trespass, they are teaching children a lesson, but mine don’t.

The sound was an important element in making it feel like a fairytale narrative. The sound came after the drawing and I worked with the composer Trevor Knight. His is classically trained but actually has a background in punk rock, he’s a rocker. The sound he came up with will probably sound really simple, but it was very hard work to get to that simplicity almost. When you hear the voice that is my voice that we recorded over the sound.

DD: How did the composition process work?
Alice Maher: First I sent him images of all the drawings and then I explained what’s going to happen in the film and he started working on sounds, putting together a sort of sound library.  It’s hard to actually make the sound of something using something else, for instance if I wanted the sound of a head falling on the floor, then it’s pretty hard to get that sound. In the end, we ended up swinging a turnip across the floor, but we had to experiment for a long time until we had the correct sound.

Alice Maher's 'Godchildren' is at the Purdy Hicks Gallery, 65 Hopton St, London SE1 9GZ; until February 26th

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