Conor McFeely, The prisoners' cinema project (2014-15)

In his latest project entitled The prisoners' cinema, Conor McFeely explores the phenomenon known as the Ganzfeld effect, which describes the optical illusions experienced by people kept in long term darkness.

Gabriel Gee: Your interest in the phenomenon of the Prisoner’s cinema and the Ganzfeld effect pursue a longstanding exploration into the conditions of human consciousness. How did you start the project, and more specifically what were the components of the Prisoner’s Cinema that you found particularly enticing?

Conor McFeely: I had previously made some work connected to the idea of captivity when developing a site-specific project for the Maze prison and I have had an interest in experiments, sometimes gratuitously carried out in the name of some indeterminate pursuit. The architectural structure of the prison is intriguing, an abandoned experiment of sorts, built to confuse and disorientate it brought to mind in Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View that essentially deals with a view of the world through constructed half truths and mistakes. I discovered the site of the Leenan Fort, in West Inishowen, an abandoned military installation that also echoed some of these qualities. It had been partially demolished beyond any pratical use and become a set of the sort that one sees sometimes used for early Westerns. Nothing there but a series wooded fronted buildings with nothing behind but a few support beams.

G.G: There are mechanics of vision, the Prisoner’s cinema explores the emergence of matter from darkness.

CMcF:Yes, I realise how much of my thinking is influenced cinema. Your statement immediately brings to mind a scene from Nick Roeg’s Eureka where in one scene light projects from the eye of the protagonist into the sky only then to take a trajectory that cascades into a gold mine. The subjective hallucinations associated with extreme conditions, caused by deprivation, religious hysteria, hunger or self-induced by any means are a central preoccupation. In the case of this work I am presenting them for others to decipher, not that I see it as a code of sorts that can be translated, but rather one more small extension to an established canon of images and ideas.

G.G:You refer to a ‘collapsed cinema’, is the prisoner’s cinema the nemesis of industrial cinematographic production? An obscured and yet revealing (almost silver iodine in its photographic and chemical effect) visual production, which can lead to an unveiling of the hidden logics behind its industrial counterpart?

CMcF: The idea of revealing process and mechanism, and the idea of the reality of material has been a central characteristic of modernism. In terms of my own practice I used to consider that 50% of what it is made of is what it is “about”. But the truth to material tenet doesn’t seem to matter as much post-digital. “New media” has its own inherent quality. Chemical darkroom or computer? Art and cinema have their own morphologies and we now have the digital branch whose roots lie in earlier processes all striving towards common ends. I hope this history is evoked in the current work.