Davy Polmadie: I want to begin by asking you about something you said at the recent conference on Memory and Memorials, at the SNGMA:
Art does not touch us through facility or technique, but through its fidelity: truth not just to materials but truth to life itself. After all, the world is the world, and what differs is the way that each of us shapes our passage through it.
Can you say something about this quality of ‘fidelity’?
Alec Finlay: The passage that you’ve chosen comes from a longer piece dedicated to my dear friend, the Dutch artist Hans Waanders, who died last Summer. The speech was an act of commemoration for Hans, and an inquiry into art. But the word ‘fidelity’ comes from my other dear friends, Alexander & Susan Maris, also artists.
They use of ‘fidelity’ as a central value of art – their belief and their lives as artists impresses me – and the word suggested the ways in which Hans art succeeded. Hans last great project was kingfisher ‘perches’, found wooden sticks that he placed in the banks of rivers around Europe – for a kingfisher to fish from – and photographed. The stick is so fragile and transient, but it seems hard to justify or explain their effect these little sculptures have in objective terms. What makes art art is this quality of gesture and the life it arises from reaching us. The work is just the field in which that encounter happens. So, ‘fidelity’.
DP: We seem close here to John Cage’s adherence to an art true to nature, ‘not as an imitation of her forms, but true to her manner of operation’.
AF: Yes, exactly. And what I have become more and more curious about is, how does this effect happen, or how is the affect effected. How is it that art moves beyond facility; how is this ‘bridge’ established between discrete lives and conciousnesses.
DP: That curiosity might also be prompted by your involvement in collaboration, where you have worked with artists – poets, artists, photographers, even recently, two dancers.
AF: All people with a gift of facility, for sure, but rather than just seeing that as a division between my conceiving a work and their realizing it in a proficient or beautiful way, i’m more interested in what it is that happens in the space between us. I like to think of a collaborator as a first audience, like a reader or viewer within the usually inviolate circle of creativity...