|Photo from the Blue Oyster website|
The first time I met artists Zoe Crook and Aodhan Madden was as the Blue Oyster Project Space while they were part way through initial preparations for their Fringe Festival performance piece, “Suspicious Minds”. They had moved the gallery's office to a backroom, covered the entire front window and soon were to set up a whiteboard with a seemingly random list of nouns, which they planned to tick off each day.
The second time I met them, after several days of mulling over our initial conversation, was on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. Both artists were still dressed in the blue overall and karate pants attire but this time Zoe had a bucket and sponge to clean the steps with. Aodhan held a copy of The Art of War to read to her from while she cleaned. We sat down together to discuss "Suspicious Minds".
Aodhan: I feel like we look like a church ornament with our clothes.
Zoe: We’ve been told we look very religious
Aodhan: What do people mean when they talk about religion? What place does religion hold for people when they are trying to assess something? Today viewing someone as looking religious feels like a person is saying ‘you don’t fit into the normal order therefore there must be some sort of higher cause for you to be doing this or you must be with God. But we’re not in that sense. We’re interested in the divine but not in active way with this project.
Zoe: We don’t want what we’re doing to be definitive ...
Aodhan: ... or programmed in that sense, but there are things that we’ve become interested in through our processes.
Zoe: For a lot of the ideas we’ve had initially and that we’ve had throughout the week our feelings about them have changed. Some ideas we’ve had aren’t relevant anymore. It was the same with organising the Blue Oyster. Our initial conception of how the show was going to be was edited hugely before it opened.
Aodhan: But we’re always doing something, we’re always ‘in it’.
Zoe: The act of being is very much a part of the performance - walking through public space, being in the public eye, interacting in the supposed 'social' of the city.
Aodhan: It's been interesting when we've gone to Glassons and Hallensteins. The shop assistants clearly know we’re something else and that we’re not there to buy the product. This division becomes uneasy. There’s disruption and confusion.
Zoe: We went into these stores and attempted to investigate and understand what it is to be a man or a woman. We had a conversation between us about what symbols were in the store.
What uneasiness was created?
Zoe: The shop assistants didn’t know what to do. Their initial reactions was to find out what we want because then they could help us and make a sale. But we didn’t want to buy anything so we didn’t - in their eyes - belong in the store. They didn’t understand our intentions.
Aodhan: Yesterday we also went to New World and we walked around the store, making random decisions on where to go. If our paths met we had this briefcase that we would change over. People were freaked out. The management thought we might have something to do with the baby milk scandal in New Zealand.
Zoe: Maybe in that same way the Glassons and Hallensteins shop assistants didn’t know how to deal with us. Maybe because they couldn’t put us in a box they resorted to thinking that we might have been there to steal something.
And so you were creating suspicious minds? You were going into spaces with clear constructs on how you should act and by not following these norms but in a completely harmless way it’s immediately seen as suspicious and negative.
Zoe: It’s corrupting the flow of space.
Aodhan: So much of our show has hopefully been about engendering some kind of suspicion in the viewer or interactor. It’s really interesting what people do with that suspicion.
Zoe: On the street I think people feel that they have more agency to talk to us - like there’s more equal footing - whereas in the shops, the shop assistants decide not to ask us what we’re about. Instead they remove themselves completely and see it as kind of symbolic .
Oh, everyone is pointing out the vomit on the steps. Maybe I should get onto that. We should properly clean the steps before church tomorrow.
So you’re pretty open minded with your schedule?
Zoe: Yeah, that’s part of it. We feel like it needs certain things that are planned but it also needs to be open in order for us to think about it in that sense.
Aodhan: What we do informs the flyers that we make. For example, one we’re going to make today is “Forever Friday 13th”.
Zoe: It’s constantly elaborating on itself.
Aodhan: That then influences the the things we tick off on the board in the gallery and then that influences the performances. We can‘t determine what we are going to do each day without the day before and the day before that.
Zoe: The more understanding we can have the more pertinent the judgments we can make.
Aodhan: Art just goes on and on and on and on. I feel like our performance also goes on and on and on and on.
A shorter version of this interview was originally published in Critic.