Contemporary artist collaborating with, playing with and harnessing matter in various assemblages, arrangements and structures.
McKeagney graduated in 2017 with First Class Honours from a BA in Art at Dun Laoghaire IADT, Dublin. During her BA in 2016 she attended an Erasmus term at The Academy of Fine Art (KUVA) in Helsinki.
Upon completion of her BA with the Project Glacial Till; removed, refined, dried, dissolved 2017 she was awarded with The Most Promising Graduate Award 2017 by Talbot Studios and completed a year long residency there in August 2018.
McKeagney's practice often incorporates written research and in 2016 she carried out a practical interview based thesis which investigated Artist-run Spaces in Dublin city and the effect of neo-liberal capitalism on their growth. This thesis won an Award for Academic Excellence from IADT.
Emma won a Workshop Sculpture Award at Firestation Artist's Studios Ltd. in Dublin in Feb 2018 where she fabricated work in the lead up to her first solo-show entitled Unstable Categories which took place in Pallas Projects + Studios in Dublin from 14th-24th of June 2018.
Totally Dublin, May 2018
Written by Rachel Donnelly
“There are these really active materials that have a life of their own that will probably go on to live longer than you do.”
For recent graduate (2017) Emma McKeagney, her time at university was marked by feeling a pressure to intellectualise her work. “I was very self-conscious about ‘just’ making. I’d always work very directly with materials and then feel I had to bring in political concepts to create deep reasons for what I was doing.” It was only after discovering New Materialism, a school of thought that collapses the hierarchy that places humans above and separate to the rest of the material in the world, that McKeagney came to feel that ‘just’ working intuitively with the materials without preconceptions was an equally valid way of art making.
“I was interested in this symbiotic relationship between myself and the material I was working with. And I realised there’s so little you can plan at the start of a process – the more you try to control what you’re working with, the more you take away from what it is. In my grad show, I was working with clay. I felt I wanted to get to the very source of where clay comes from, so I refined my own clay. It was almost like stepping back from the process and allowing the clay to be more of a vital component in that process, and like I’m almost a catalyst for this material doing its thing.”
For her show at Pallas, McKeagney is working with a rock she found while walking on Killiney beach. She felt immediately attracted to it in the way that sometimes happens with inanimate objects – its shape and size and texture highly alluring.
“It fits perfectly in your hand and you get this immediate reaction to it. The sensation you feel when you pick up the rock is a really primitive thing – it’s the perfect shape of rock you’d be looking for to craft an axe-head to go and hunt.”
McKeagney is interested in the apparent differences between ‘natural’ and ‘designed’ objects, and the idea that, while we might think we’re methodically shaping the world to our needs and desires, the world is pushing back and shaping us in equal measure. A strand of her current research focuses on the origins of the word ‘ergonomic’, and trying to overturn that concept to look at how objects shape humans.
“I think people separate the materials around us into things that are manmade and designed, and things that are just ‘natural’. But our relationship with all objects, whether designed or natural, is completely symbiotic. The piece in Pallas is kind of about the way we obsess over certain commodities, and then there are all these other objects we gravitate towards, like the way people collect rocks. We commodify them in a different way, where it seems like this really natural thing, but actually it’s very similar to the relationship we have with, say, a phone or something that’s very designed.”
Inescapably, and much like Sibyl Montague’s work, there’s an ecological resonance in the ideas the artist is interested in. Really looking at the materials in the world around us as animate in their own particular manner might go some way towards starting to shift ideas around waste and consumption.
“I think now it’s really coming to the mainstream, the idea that everything you interact with is a material and it’s not going to disappear once you throw it in a bin.”
VAI News sheet – Lectus Review – March 4, 2019
Written by Brendan Fox
McKeagney’s sculptural series embodies notions of new materialism, conversing with geology and the primal impetus of finding a single ergonomically shaped rock on Killiney beach. A satisfying photographic triptych of hands clutching the kidney-shaped stone anchors her central sculpture. From an open birch ply box, three steel rods blossom white polymorph cradles. The central sprout elevates the naked ‘origin’ rock above the two ceramic homages to its left and right – one glossy black, the other a muted metallic gold. A further three ceramic iterations sees the artist interrogate the original granite form in speckled spritely yellow, turquoise and gentle pink glazes, each caressed to the wall in the foamy white polymorph like poisonous mushrooms to a tree. In rusts, mossy greens and sepia tones, McKeagney’s ‘Continues’ series comprises of square glass frames displaying pigments derived from coloured pebbles, also sourced from Killiney shores. Each offering resembles a map-like formation, playing with the elemental origins of her materials. The entire series has a warm tactility that only an artist who has developed a keen intimacy with her materials could achieve. It elevates the natural object, with each support mechanism feeling like an extension of the artist’s hand, asking us to reconsider all objects in the world around us.
Annemarie Churrain – File Note II – Firestation Artist’s Studios
‘Everyone has had that experience of picking up a rock and feeling a response to it’.
Emma McKeagney is keen to talk about New Materialism. McKeagney, a 2017 IADT graduate, is primarily interested in the relationship between artist and material, how this relationship develops through process and how this development can be brought into exhibited work.
In a busy city centre restaurant, amid the din of cutlery, plates and trays, she explains that ‘as humans we are not separate from environment’. We’re part of an interconnected system in which every thing possesses energy. ‘For me, rocks are at the centre of that idea’.
In February 2018 McKeagney began work at FSAS and ‘straight away my hands started making’. As an art college graduate the space felt familiar ‘…high ceilings, concrete floors, noise in the background’. She smiles when she recalls the clanging of copper made by an artist next door. ‘I loved that sound. It stops you overthinking’. We banter back and forth about different types of noise, the interference of conscious thought during the act of creating, and the hypnotic effects of radio. She remembers one particular day spent attuned to a West Cork podcast on the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier and how the hours that day at FSAS seemed to pass as if in a disorientating dream.
Arriving from her part-time job each afternoon, McKeagney was at FSAS from lunchtime, often staying until 9pm. Winter was cold and she was sometimes exhausted. ‘Of course there were times when I asked myself does it matter? Is it relevant? Who cares? But it’s on days like those that the material drives you’.
‘Slipcasting, trimming, drying, heating up and cooling down, cleaning… If you act too quickly the pieces may melt or burst’.
There is a strong sense of rhythm and ritual to the intensely physical nature of firing that McKeagney outlines. She describes with excitement the process of glazing, of waiting weeks, of opening the kiln to finally remove the fired thing. ‘With makers, it’s like you’re an addict. It’s like your obsessed’. Revelation and the slow intuitive unfold of ideas is central to her practice. It was a ‘relief’ to discover that concept was not something she had, by design, to consciously engineer into the work.
Most recently the material has thrown up questions around ‘the divide we make between naturally formed and human-made objects’. Given the eco-sensibility of McKeagney’s approach, how to limit wastage and the use of toxic materials is often on her mind. ‘It’s a challenge. Some artists can plan meticulously for no mistakes, but I don’t work that way’. At FSAS she began using Polymorph — a material comprising beads that when combined with hot water produces a hard, stiff playdo-ish material, which can later be melted and reformed. Another important consideration for her is that of object display. ‘When, for example, I make small ceramic things I don’t want to just put then on a plinth. Really, my work is always an attempt to equate materials, artist and the exhibition’.
McKeagney created over sixty rocks at FSAS. Truly, it’s odd talking about rocks in this way. It’s a bit like talking about air. I’m suddenly aware of—and frustrated by—my empty palm. What was the biggest outcome of the FSAS award? ‘The biggest outcome for me was being able to work towards my first solo show Unstable Categories which ran at Pallas Studios in June 2018. I was also selected by FSAS to participate in a partnership with MART Rathmines. But really, the physical things I made on site are the embodiment of my time there’.
Intersecting Interests Blog – February 2019
Emma McKeagney’s selection of sculptures spread in the front gallery creates a tension between art and body by raising unexpected questions about how we engage with objects. The project features colourful, shiny rocks placed on rods in the space, and installed on the gallery walls. These bring up thoughts of body parts: an ear, a kidney, a decorated spleen. Together with frames that include compositions of natural and human-made materials, and studio photographs of the colourful objects hanging alongside them, the project read as a study of treating material in artistic practice. It is an invitation for the audience to explore whether the material is the work’s physical substance or is it its raison d’être. Does material even have raisons d’être?...