Arts / Culture

Kitty Callaghan on memory, Dora Maar, and the song that inspired her latest show ‘Pixel Asphyxial’

kitty callaghan

Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure. Nothing ever lasts forever...

Kitty Callaghan skipped winter in Australia this year. The photographer, artist and RUSSH contributing editor spent the period travelling instead – to Japan, to Spain, to Italy, before setting up shop in Paris for two months to finalise Pixel Asphyxial, her latest exhibition at China Heights. Having lived there previously, the city feels like a second home Callaghan tells RUSSH, and she loves how quiet the streets become in August. All the better for thinking, observing, wandering.

Between laps of The Grande Roue and stirred by our generation's relationship to data and images – the sheer excess and oversaturation of them both, Callaghan got to work, quite literally threading together the pieces in the show. She listened to Tears for Fear, Taylor Swift's Midnights – a surprise even to herself, and the songs of the late Jane Birkin who was laid to rest during the Callaghan's time in Paris.

Ahead of opening night of Pixel Asphyxial, RUSSH spoke to Callaghan about the fickle nature of memory, Dora Maar, and why Everybody Wants To Rule The World is as relevant as it's ever been.

kitty callaghan

First, let’s begin with the name Pixel Asphyxial. It’s a great description for these chronically online times. How did you land on it?

I guess a key theme for the body of work is Data, so it sort of came from there. I’ve been thinking about how many images we consume day-to-day. We see thousands of photos, videos in relatively quick succession. I’m curious about the way we store and archive that information in our minds. It’s estimated that in the last two years alone, 90% of the total of the world’s data was created. I think about our grandparents generation... they had a few photos that were treasured as physical objects, viewed and consumed in a ritualistic way. It contrasts with where we're at now. I’ve also been thinking about ephemeralization, in the sense that architect and philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller coined it. He described it as the ability of technological advancement to do "more and more with less and less until eventually, you can do everything with nothing”. Although these advancements may increase our power to solve physical problems, they can make non-physical problems worse.


What’s your favourite thing about the real world?

A couple that come to mind are scent and taste. You can’t make them with a computer.

kitty callaghan

You spent two months in Paris completing this series. Can you tell me about this period: why Paris, what your days looked like, and if you think the city left an imprint on your work?

I spent a couple of months traveling around Japan, Spain, Italy, and France taking photos, documenting things, then set up for a residency of sorts in Paris for a couple of months. Paris has always felt like a second home to me, I have spent a lot of time in the city and I love being there in August when the streets are quiet. Some of the images were taken in Paris, all of them were printed there. It always leaves an imprint on the work that I do.


Music is a constant in your life. What was on your playlist while working on Pixel Asphyxial?

I was listening to early Prince, Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone, Troye Sivan, Yung Lean’s Jonatan Leandoer project, Jane Birkin. In one of the weaves I made I took a photo of the city skyline, above the church where Jane was laid to rest, on the afternoon of her service. It felt really powerful, the sun was shining so brightly and there was so much love on the streets for her. I have been in a Tears for Fears puddle, the lyrics to Everybody Wants To Rule The World in part inspired the show. I feel that the sentiment behind the song is relevant to where we are at today, 40 years on from its release. And I was somewhat shocked to get a little hooked on a Taylor Swift album, Midnights. This is the first time I’ve had an album by her on rotation, I’ve never really gotten her music so this took me by surprise.

kitty callaghan

What else were you thinking about, reading, or engaging with while working on the series?

Lots of podcasts about the aliens, the arguments for and against Artificial Intelligence, reading Rick Rubin’s book. I spent a lot of time on the ferris wheel at the Tuileries, just looking and watching over the city. I love the view from up there, across to the left bank and up to Sacré Coeur. Its strangely quiet up there – a special place to sit and think as you gently go round and round.


When did you first begin this weaving technique? What about it is appealing to you?

I got into weaving imagery about 10 years ago but returned to this practice last year. I love that you can interlace two (or more) stories together in the process. It feels meditative. It’s very time consuming but a somewhat calming exercise for me.

You mentioned that Dora Maar inspired one of the works in the show, 21:04:00 (Ascension). Why do you think you’re drawn to her perspective?

I love that she worked across many mediums. She was a true artist and her reportage style of photography was also journalistic. She was a modern woman, she lived life on her terms. She never stopped creating.

There’s a self portrait in the series where you braided together both a blurry and focused image. Tell me about it…

I wanted to document this time in Paris – my face, my eyes, particularly as I will have eye surgery later this year. I spent a lot of time alone making these works, it felt right to make a portrait to honour this window of time in my life. The blurred or distorted image when woven with the image in focus represents visual memory for me – sometimes not all of the image is clear when you think back on core memory but you will always have the vision your mind has told you. I think it’s fascinating how some memories are so clear like they were yesterday, also visceral. When I think back to being a child or a teenager, this warped image is sort of how I remember moments when they pop up into my mind out of nowhere.

Pixel Asphyxial opens at China Heights on Friday, September 22.

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