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Photography by Kathy Lo, installation by MSHR

Brenna Murphy: yoni-shaped synths and tribal treasures

The experimental artist shares personal stories behind the objects that make up her Eyebeam art residency

TextKate NeavePhotographyKathy Lo

Taken from the Autumn 2014 issue of Dazed: 

Brenna Murphy’s studio in New York City is a labyrinth of curious occult structures. Inside it, objects conjured from some half-remembered dream of a distant wonderland lie scattered around. “The symbols I make are not directly from any specific cultures,” says the net artist. “But I’m trying to create resonant shapes that feel very human. I’m attracted to traditional artforms because they cut right to the point of magical objects that can be used as tools for transcendence. That’s what I’m interested in making.”

Murphy is currently sharing a five-month creative residency at the legendary Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in New York with her collaborator, multimedia artist Birch Cooper (together they form MSHR). They’re hand-building analogue synthesisers and embedding them into offbeat found objects. NYC gives them space to experiment. “There’s a lot going on here. We’re living in Chinatown so that’s been really awesome – there are glowing hieroglyphs everywhere.”

“I liked the idea of making something that looks like female sexual organs. In tantric art, there is a form called linga-yoni that represents the shape of sexual organs as a powerful universal form. I love exploring these fundamental shapes. I just went to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Judy Chicago exhibition and she had a lot of really great vagina shapes in her show. It was interesting to learn how she had to struggle to bring those shapes into the contemporary western art conversation.” 

“Here’s another synthesiser that we use. We embedded it into a conch shell with the circuit hidden inside. This one we use for a piece where there are two metal plates on the ground linked to the shell. If we stand on each of the plates when we touch it completes the circuit and makes a sound. We like to use shells and sand a lot. The beach at night has been a big theme. It represents a zone at the edge between two worlds.”

“This is a blanket that Birch and I got on a trip to Peru three years ago. We use it as a blanket on our bed, but it’s also part of all of our performances. We just went on this major tour of just about everywhere in Europe and we used it every night. We laid it out in each different city we visited and set up all our musical equipment on top of it. It’s sort of been like our magic carpet.”

“This book is a huge inspiration to me. The Navajo had this day-long ritual ceremony during which they would create these complex sandpaintings. Every single character they used was part of a particular story. The painting itself creates a holy, sacred space that imbues a certain energy – a person would sit inside it and be healed. At the end of the ceremony the painting was destroyed as it had fulfilled its purpose.”

“We made this as part of our musical set-up – I wear it around my waist. I put on special gloves that have light sensors in the palms and modulate the oscillators by moving my hands. It makes a square-wave sound that goes from metronomic to high-pitch. There are three inputs cross-modulating each other, so you can get some crazy noises out of it.”