See also Paul Rooney’s YouTube
A Million Darkened Kitchens
5.1 channel sound installation, 4 mins, 2022.
This sound piece for a nineteenth century era kitchen aims to shed light on the historically neglected space of the domestic kitchen – it’s numbingly repetitive, thankless (mostly female) labour, it’s subversive creative resistances. But rather than illustrate these ideas through expansive explanation, the piece focusses on a repeated sung and spoken phrase (“a million darkened kitchens”, from a 1911 poem inspired by women suffragists and strikers). This allows the amplified grain and texture of the embodied female vocal sounds to come to the fore; the sung syllables, intakes of breath, scrap of speech (all chopped and sliced in an echo of the repetitive tasks of kitchen work), creating a space within which a listener can contemplate for themselves the unimaginably numerous histories and experiences that are implied.
Thanks to James Oppenheim, Leon Rosselson, Susan Whitwam, Bread and Roses singers (Frankie Armstrong, Laura Bradshaw, Pauline Down), Mark Ager, Melanie Williams, Sue Starr, Anne Hodge, Julie Dempster and all the volunteers at Colne Valley Museum, Arts and Heritage, Arts Council England. Commissioned by Colne Valley Museum.
Carl Filby (Unicorn Magazine folk blog). 27/10/2022 preview of the work.
The Newsroom (Big Issue in the North magazine). 24/10/2022 preview of the work.
Dai Jeffries (Folking.com blog). 7/10/2022 preview of the work.
The Newsroom (Yorkshire Post). 4/10/2022 article referencing the work.
Ellen Wilkinson (A-N website). 29/9/2022 preview of the work.
HOMER –– HEPHAESTUS
Vinyl text work for corridor space at Storey Institute, Lancaster, dimensions variable, 2011.
This work was commissioned by an art gallery and a literary festival (Lancaster’s Storey Gallery and Litfest) for the corridor space that links the two organisations. The text work has for its starting point the idea of ekphrasis – or the translation of visual art into literature. The two large words in vinyl text, ‘HOMER –– HEPHAESTUS’, are an ‘art work’ by a fictional artist, the late Alec Masterson Forbes, and this art work is ‘explained’ by an equally fictional ‘gallery text’ next to it. This institutional text is in turn ‘notated’ by a disturbing figure called Derek Wilkinson, the fictional vinyl lettering technician who has installed the work on the corridor walls. Wilkinson seems to be using his notes to re-write the legacy of Masterson Forbes in order to aggrandise Wilkinson himself – he may even have had a role in the artist’s death. It is probable that Wilkinson has entirely invented the Masterson Forbes art work and its gallery text, and killed the artist to boot, to secure himself a place in the cultural spotlight if only for a moment. Wilkinson’s notes overrun the space, spiralling up and around the classical architecture of the Storey Institute corridor, turning the discrete conceptualism of Masterson Forbes into a display of expanded confabulation gone entirely round the bend.
Transcription of the full text is here.
The Storey G2 website. 2013 article about the work.
Suzanne Heath (Public Art Network blog). 13/4/2011 article about the work.
Single screen video with stereo sound, 22 mins, 2009.
The film’s main character, ‘Bill’ (played by Paul Hilton), is taking part in an advertising company’s focus group meeting, which is using the conference facilities of an English stately home. But Bill also appears to be acting out or imagining scenarios set in a 1930s New York psychiatric institution, in which he takes on the character of a failed jazz musician recovering from alcohol abuse. Eventually, this 1930s world, and the shadow it casts over the present, entirely disrupts the proceedings. The film draws on the English writer Malcolm Lowry’s time in a psychiatric ward at New York’s Bellevue Hospital in 1935, which informed his novella Lunar Caustic. Lowry’s voluntary attendance at Bellevue (he could check out when he liked), parallels the often privileged position that art occupies in relation to real life.
Originally co-commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella with the Bluecoat, in association with Harewood House, Leeds and Spacex, Exeter.
You can also watch the piece on the FVU watch player.
Steven Bode (Film and Video Umbrella website). April 2021 article about the work.
Sophie Haydock (The Leeds Guide). 28/4/2010 review of the work.
Robert Clark (The Guardian). 26/9/2009 preview of the work.
Single screen video with stereo sound, 25 mins, 2008.
In a dark, apparently derelict Liverpool cinema, Tony (played by BAFTA nominee Tony Schumacher), an amateur comedian and gumshoe detective, chats with other comics in the ticket queue and the bar. He talks of his recent visits to his past life regression therapist, and tells some of the jokes he has written about it. At various points the other male and female comics in the cinema relay messages to Tony from an unknown and unseen man who is trying to contact him. There is clearly something unpleasant that Tony has stumbled on at some time in his past, something that he is impelled to uncover further, despite the risks. Will Tony’s past catch up with him before he does? Thanks to MUCK collective, Tony Schumacher, Alexandra Jones and Kai-Oi Jay Yung. Commissioned by Tate Liverpool.
Purchased in 2012 by the Victoria Gallery and Museum with funds from The Contemporary Art Society.
Tony Schumacher (The Futurist Cinema website). 2013 essay about filming the work.
Laura Davis (Metro). 12/10/2012 review of the work.
Alex Hetherington (A-N website). 4/2/2009 review of the work.
Sue Hubbard (The Independent). 6/1/2009 review of the work.
Robert Clark (The Guardian). 13/12/2008 preview of the work.
There Are Two Paths
Two-part performance installation work for purpose built stage and two five piece bands, 40 mins each performance, 2003.
Two groups of musicians alternating two verses from ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The verses are played by one band, then repeated by the other band but played and sung backwards. Then the verses are played forwards again … and so on. The ‘Satanic’ phonetic accidents of the reversed song make lines such as “there is power in Satan” audible. Following the initial performance of the piece in the Shropshire countryside, the work was next performed in a Birmingham city centre square (this video cuts between the two performances). The popular myths of guitarists selling their souls to the devil in order to play the blues like no-one else. The English need to obsess about a rural ideal to pretend that the selling of their souls to the ‘dark satanic mills’ of industrialisation never happened. Thanks to Nowhere Near the Garden, Sarah Wilson, John Smith, Mark Goodchild, Malcolm Garrett, Freddie Thomas, and Dave Lee. Commissioned by Meadow Gallery/Ikon Gallery.
Six channel sound installation for three monitors, 2 mins looped, 2002.
A former resident of a Liverpool block of flats, which was about to be demolished, was asked to list the objects that filled three rooms in her former flat. This list was set to music and spoken and sung by a female voice, layered and harmonised with itself, which forms the soundtrack to static video shots of the same, now empty, rooms. The description of the hand made furniture made by the resident’s husband, who died just as they left the flat, forms the lyrics for the lead vocal harmony in the piece. The lead vocal could be both a lament for a human relationship and for the failure of art to do justice to it. Thanks to Doreen Hughes and Marie Therese Escritt. Commissioned by Further Up in the Air.
Purchased in 2015 by The Arts Council Collection.
Jessica Greenall (Art in Liverpool website). 9/11/2016 review of the work.
Steve Lee (The Big Issue magazine). 21/3/2016 interview about the work.
Interview With Dr Helen Pheby (Aesthetica magazine). 15/3/2016 interview referencing the work.
John Schofield (Journal of the Arts in Society). 2007 essay referencing the work.
“By listing the objects – like a probate inventory – [Flat 23 is] able to evoke the way in which highly intimate and personal worlds can be constructed through things – even against the modernist architecture of a tower block.” Dan Hicks (Situations website). 15/2/2006 interview referencing the work.
Colin Serjent (Nerve magazine). Summer 2004 interview referencing the work.
“What begins to happen through the repetition of melody and lyric is the conjuring up of the home and the lives of Doreen and Bernie Hughes. This is Paul Rooney’s archaeology.” Claire Doherty (Firstsite Gallery book). 2006 essay referencing the work.
Come Ca Art Prize North Winner Announced (Art Daily website). Oct. 2003 article referencing the work.
Art Prize Winner Announced (Manchester Evening News). 11/8/2003 article referencing the work.
Series of diptych paintings on linen, various sizes, 1995-1996.
The nineteenth century British trade union banners recreated in these paintings are stripped of the original names of the unions, mottoes or images. Only the skeleton of their decorative embellishments remains, often with a simple text describing what may have been pictured on them. Instead of presenting literal depictions of historical events, the paintings aim to create a tension between that implied history and its non–representation, its mere framing, opening a space for a viewer to think about those moments, and the difficulties of their representation, for themselves.
“Rooney revives the almost lost tradition of the trade union banner in paintings full of echoes from working class history.” Jonathan Jones (The Guardian). 9/6/1999 preview of the works.
Robert Clark (The Guardian). 15/5/1999 preview of the works.
Martin Vincent (City Life Manchester magazine). 12/5/1999 review of the works.
“The potential for social and political change that the exponents of an artistic avant-garde and the banner makers hoped, in their own ways, to achieve are played out in these works. Rooney’s work takes the fragments of the past, the pieces of Victorian decoration, the tasteless kitsch of the fair ground and the political slogans that for some were an anathema to Art, to open up the false divisions and allow a space for wider interpretations, not driven by a self serving hierarchy.” Pam Meecham (Pump House (National Museum of Labour History) exhibition brochure). April 1999 essay about the works.
Steve Oxley (The Big Issue). 30/11/1998 article mentioning the works.
The Newsroom (The Northern Standard, Ireland). 7/11/1996 article about the works.
Robert Clark (The Guardian). 19/10/1996 preview of the works.
The Newsroom (Eastern Daily Press). 1/1/1996 preview of the works.