Sarah Walko recently sat down with New York based artist Brian Fernandes-Halloran. Their dialogue is below. 

Brian Fernandes-Halloran, “NOT PAST: Old Toys and Last Friends”
Installation view, Photograph courtesy of the artist

SARAH WALKO:  How do you usually start your day? 

BRIAN FERNANDES-HALLORAN: I start the day doing emails and research online until I get antsy. Then, I bike to my studio.

SW: What have you been listening to this past week?

BF-H: Podcasts! Here are a few from my weekly rotation.

The Naked Scientist (British Scientists explain breakthroughs and make nerdy jokes)

Planet Money

Comedy Bang Bang 

Professor Blastoff  

Bad at Sports (listen to the Kerry James Marshal interview!) 

Music-wise I have been listening to Vitesse and Metronomy

SW:  What are you currently reading or recently read?

BF-H: Eric Kandel’s “In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind” The Nobel prize winning neurologist intertwines the development of his scientific understanding of the human brain and memory with his personal narrative.

SW: When did you begin to make art?

BF-H: I would draw until being kicked out of class and in Sunday school since before I can remember.

SW:  Who were a few very strong individuals or specific influences (people, places, experiences or things)  that may have served as thresholds or break through moments in the evolution of your practice?

Brian Fernandes-Halloran
“Riding to Cabo Del Gado”, Detail
Photograph courtesy of the artist

BF-H: A group of giant fishing boats I saw in the Sassoon Docks in Mumbai, India had a strong impact on me. I fixated on them for days without knowing why. They were not ornate nor engineered in any spectacular way. They were comprised of found wood. The pieces still carried the markings of the wear of their previous expired purposes. Whatever shape they came in was arranged to serve the structure of the boats. There was no apparent plan for the exact placement of the pieces in the construction of the boats, but intuition and a sense of a greater functioning whole had informed their placement.

It struck me days later that the beauty of these boats was a human beauty, of creatures who collect what is useful to our journey, absorbing the lessons and memories from the people and places we experience. Preserving the character of the sources of our memories may not necessarily require more work; It may even require less but it does require a steady intuition and realistic vision of self.  

The boats caused me to begin working with found objects. They showed me that found objects can be used to fully serve a collective structures without being fetishizes as individual pieces.

SW: Could you talk a bit about the role that healing/catharsis might play in your thoughts/working process (if any) as you make decisions on materials, transformation and symbolism? 

BF-H: Healing is inherent in working with trash, because trash, as objects with expired purposes, is a form of the dead. Giving the dead a new life feels natural and even obvious when it’s an option. 

Working with discarded wood reminds me of the obvious: wood is dead tree. We don’t usually think in those terms because it has been so thoroughly contextualized as a building material and a commodity. When making figures out of found wood, its similarities to muscle and bone can be striking, due to its roles in providing structure and directing nutrients throughout a living thing.

I have lost some close friends far before their time and I cannot help but think their losses has caused my work to go in this direction of giving new form to what has passed.

SW: Are any of your pieces self portraits?

Brian Fernandes-Halloran, “Riding to Cabo Del Gado”, Detail
Photograph courtesy of the artist

BF-H: My piece “browsing” is a self portrait of me on a laptop. The figure is detached, literally separated from the ground without feet to plant on his platform. I think it speaks to the physically ambiguity of living in the digital age. When I am in front of a computer I am alone. I don’t feel my body entirely and I certainly do not feel like I am planted on the earth.  The piece of flooring that the browser sits on was cut from a home in Bushwick. Nails protrude from the bottom of it so the wood on which the browser’s chair sits only connects with the floor on the tips of nails. I think the piece also speaks to living in the city. Its so strange how even when we are on the ground there are layers of man made structures beneath us, much of which was built and forgotten years ago.

I could say all my pieces are self portraits in that they are recreations of my memories but they do not feel as such because they appear as objective exterior experiences to me.

SW: What is one current project you are working on?

BF-H: I am making a memory of my mom dancing to Bruce Springteen in. I came downstairs in the middle of the night when I was a child and she was jamming out in her nightgown. The memory does not make total sense though because I see it from the point of view with the stairs behind my mother but since I think I saw her from the stairs I would have seen her from the back. The figure contains about 15 different overlapping poses. Using projectors I am animating the static sculpture with selective lighting. I am really excited about this and think it will lead great places.

SW: Your work often involves many different materials and you work with many others as you direct projects. So, do you spend a lot of time in the studio alone or need a lot of think space alone time? What is your balance of the need to retreat into a reclusive state to continually reconnect with your individual voice and then also be out in the world working with others, exhibiting, lecturing etc.?

BF-H: I am lucky that my studio at Knockdown Center, in Maspeth, Queens puts me around other creative people on a regular basis. I hated being alone for days on end in my previous studios. There is nothing like the energy of other working people. Though, like many artists, I still have so much alone time. 

Since I have lived in places very different from where I am, Brazil, Mozambique, Germany Texas, there always feels like parts of home are scattered and I cannot really share them with those around me. But this is a common experience in NY. Maybe that is why I feel so at home here.

Collaboration is great, and I want to do it more. I can be pretty specific and stubborn when producing, and installing work but the result of sharing in an endeavor has almost always been valuable. In Berlin, during a three month residency with HomeBase residency, I collaborated with a Brazilian writer Felipe Arruda. We had an instant mutual respect and fascination with each other. Everything he was good at, I was bad at and vice-versa. His writing and poetic way of viewing art changed my relationship to my work. He taught me to respect my sense of wonder.

Brian Fernandes-Halloran, “Riding to Cabo Del Gado”, Alternative view
Photograph courtesy of the artist

SW: What’s your definition of trash?

BF-H: Trash is a contextualization. Trash has an expired purpose with no perceived current purpose. Unfortunately it also is interpreted as something that does not have worth or potential. This is especially true in developed countries where we almost only use trash after calling it recyclables and stripping it of its form by melting it into raw materials. Trash contains a story in its wear and placement. It is a symbol of our current peak of consumerism. It is something we are ashamed of. It is more abundant as a resource now than any other period in the history of humankind. 

 SW: Preference – comedy or drama?

BF-H: Comedy, stand up, sketch and improv all make my life better every day!

SW: What kind of bird are you?

BF-H: I am a vulture. We do not actually wait for weak things to die like floating bad omens. That is a myth! We clean carrion of bacteria in our highly acidic stomachs, converting the dead into living flesh. Why do people look down on us, as we turn waste into nourishment, and look up to the killers of the world, calling lions kings?

Brian recently took part in the Governors Island Art Fair, 2013 and will have a piece in a “situationist junta” at the
Bowery Poetry Club in late October. 

Stay tuned for more from contributor Sarah Walko and her new column with eyes towards the dove: THE RAVEN