Project Ability’s next exhibition, The Residency Show features the recent Glasgow School of Art graduate Flannery O’Kafka, among other established and emerging artists. A large and varied group show with a mix of disability artists and others, The Residency Show incorporates those that Project Ability have worked with in Residence over the last year. Flannery O’Kafka spoke to The Fountain about her involvement in the show as well as her background in fine art photography.

TF: You have a show at Project Ability in Glasgow, you must be excited?  

We have, as a family, for years been coming to exhibitions at Project Ability and it’s genuinely one of my favourite places on Earth, so to be able to make photographs with the people here and also show that work here is really exciting for me. 

TF: The Residency Show is no doubt what it says but what is the premise?

My work in the exhibition is a viewing booth showing a short two minute film, Now I know In Part, made in my makeshift photo studio during my Project Ability residency.  It will be a quiet space (loosely recreating the space I worked in during my residency) entered into through a red velvet curtain installation titled Indefinite Leave to Remain. Large scale portraits (Felix, lover of money, Stigmata Study II  and The Devil and Dorreen Kay) will be hung on the outside walls.  It’s a temporary space, an in-between space, and this is hard to explain, but it will change to something different, and something more concrete on the 5th of June when I learn something I’ve been waiting a year to know.  

TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?   

I tried to approach the residency without a fixed idea of what I wanted to make and hoped that having a studio space at Project Ability would shape my work.  A Spooky Film Night had coincidentally been planned for the time I was there, so I made photographs of people in their costumes, photographed during the kids’ Saturday classes, and also just during other times in my studio.  Although I wasn’t always sure where things were going, I did have definite things that I wanted to research and think about.  Photography specifically has very a problematic history with the picturing of illness and disability.  I wanted to loosely address and turn on its head the recording of vulnerable people as medical or social spectacle.  It’s a transitional work and my thoughts on it all are a bit sketchy, to be honest, but it’s deeply personal and hopefully funny as well.  It involves present experience and is definitely driven by vague intuition rather than hammered out concepts. The film is a bit raw and sentimental, kind of like a home movie.  In a way I’ve appropriated everyone I met during the residency into our family album, and in another way I found myself home for the first time ever.  

TF: What is your history with art and medium, how did you come to be involved in this project?  

I always knew that I wanted to apply for an opportunity at Project Ability and an open call went out for residency applications very soon after my graduation from Glasgow School of Art a year ago. I studied Fine Art Photography, and most of my work is made with my family, usually with 35mm snapshot photography.  My critical journal was titled: ‘THE ONE YOU LOVE IS SICK / Picturing Suffering: stigmata, snapshots, and the family album.’  

I continued working in a similar way and made photographs with folk during my time in the residency, but I also learned a lot in other mediums as well.  People kindly taught me ceramics, printing, drawing, and painting.  I definitely think at least 50% of an artist’s residency is about speaking with people, being in the place, and becoming a part of something outside of your usual.  It was a real privilege to spend time with all the groups, bringing my kids to the Saturday classes, contributing to a publication, and making some good friends.

TF: And what are your future plans beyond The Residency Show

Ha, that’s a good question. Since graduation I’ve had 11 group shows here and abroad, one solo show at Stills Centre for Photography, contributed to a few publications, spoken a few places, won an RSA prize, and 3 of my photographs have been acquired by City Art Centre in Edinburgh for their Scottish Photography Collection.  It’s been really overwhelmingly good but I’m having a bit of a break after The Residency Show–travelling to the States with my kids and cameras over the Summer holidays.  In the Autumn I’m hoping for some time (and funding) to research and develop a new body of work and I also plan to make a photobook of my work, Thin Blood / Thick Water, this year.  So I guess the future looks like carrying on with my workaholic tendencies whilst filling in applications and begging for funding like a real grown-up Artist.  And my days are at all times domestic–I have five kids and a grandson as well, so my future is a continuation of my maternal juggling act, always.

The Residency Show runs from 7th June until 13th July in Glasgow’s Project Ability