Now Featuring Kelley O’Leary
Kelley O’Leary uses mapping in her collage and photography based practice, reconciling personal geography with the clinical vocabulary of Google Street View and other forms of big data.
MH: How do you compile your image for collages? Are they sourced from your own photography or do you gather them?
KO: I source my images from newspapers, my own photographs and Google Street View. I rely on newspapers and my own photographs for architectural interiors, and Street View for the exteriors. Recently I have been gathering more imagery from Street View by dropping into a place and taking screenshots. This method is particularly interesting to me because I have many questions about data collection, privacy and surveillance that I intend to address with my work.
MH: Can you speak to your architectural references? There’s both a neutral palette and a sort of 60-80s architectural style that come through.
KO: I am inspired by the pastel palette of the Sunset neighborhood in San Francisco where I live, and where I collect most of my imagery. The architectural style is representative of the homes and buildings of the San Francisco streets I walk. Most of the houses in the Sunset were built rapidly in the mid-1900s in reaction to the baby boom. I am struck by the washed out colors and blue shadows of the houses that seem to fade into the dunes they were built upon.
MH: Have you worked with other sets or architectural/geographical vocabulary? What was that experience like?
KO: I began working with this vocabulary when my family sold the house in Massachusetts where I grew up, while I was going to college in California. I made quilts from memory that mapped out my old neighborhood, and the interior of my old home. I am drawn to the way memories move through space and the distortion of reality that is created in recollection.
MH: What’s your relationship to San Francisco? The super-compressed space of your images really evokes the density of the city.
KO: I moved here four years ago and despite my deep love for this city, I am overwhelmed by it. I am most comfortable in a place where I can see the horizon. Horizons are lost in the density of the city and at times it feels confined and congested. At the same time, I am inspired by the energy of the city and the ideas and people it brings together. We are experiencing a time when the city cannot adequately accommodate the rising demand for housing. I hope to capture the feeling of not-enough-space.
MH: What is your physical studio process like when assembling a collage? How much his planned and how much responds to the process of building and layering?
KO: My physical studio practice is intuitive and improvised. I give myself structure by printing and/or collecting collage material and cutting it beforehand, so I have a stockpile of imagery to work with. Then I put on music and begin laying out a composition. Sometimes I glue the pieces down immediately, and don’t determine the composition until the very end. I like the process of creating a visual problem to solve. Sometimes the collage calls for painting and drawing, and sometimes it doesn’t. I am taken by the feeling of surrendering to what I don’t know, and letting the work almost create itself.
MH: What’s next for you in your practice? Are there any things you’ve been wrestling with or are planning to try for the first time?
KO: I’m excited about making a video collage from Google Earth Tour (KML) footage. I’d also like to try larger, 3D collage installations and explore more of the dynamic between the interior and the exterior.
MH: How does time feature in your work? Because you work from photographic images, there’s a feeling of seeing not only an imaginary neighborhood, but also that of seeing a multitude of real places as a multitude of times, all out of order — it feels a bit filmic.
KO: Buildings and streets, more often than not, last longer than we do. We live and travel through these semi-permanent structures everyday. Our lives change so quickly in comparison to the slower decay and transformation of the surrounding buildings. There is a layered sense of time and decay. There are infinite stories happening simultaneously, and in the city it feels exaggerated. In this condensed city, I don’t know the person I share a wall with. I don’t know their stories as they play out at the same time as mine.
I’m also interested in the imaginary, parallel world of digital environments like Google Maps. The photographs are taken at various times and stitched together, resulting in another city built digitally-a discontinuous, fractured depiction of our own.