Valerie Driscoll: Domestic Disturbance
by Alex Schady
Valerie Driscoll’s interdisciplinary practice is concerned with the overlap between the human body and the information machine. Machines are given human characteristics and the human body is rethought as machine in a practice that is both irreverent and humorous.
Considering the conceptual intersection between human and machine, the glitch is the moment when a machine does the unpredictable, it forces us to reconsider our relationship with it. Conversely when faced with an efficient machine the human body can be made to feel inadequate, sloppy, messy and in disarray. Machine and human body are both capable of both precision and malfunction.
Embodying the everyday experience of the fusion of man and machine, Driscoll’s work plays with the notion of technological determinism and reflects the Deleuzian assertion that ‘Machines don’t tell us anything’. The central tenet of this body of work ‘Domestic Disturbance’ is the role of the photographic apparatus in the age of information, investigating the materiality of the photographic machine, with specific interest in the political and hegemonic forces embedded in the apparatus of capture as a desiring machine.
In this body of work, Driscoll focusses on the material qualities of the photographic machine rather than on the visual images it produces. It shifts the focus from the output to the producer and sticks two fingers up at photographic conventions, in the process. The work Icarus for example, is a giant, floppy tripod made out of wire, bubble wrap and tape. Here the sturdy tripod is imbued with the human, physical attributes of softness, bulge and wobble. Questioning the sturdiness and precision of the tripod, this work embodies the merging of man and machine. This flabby, self-depreciating tripod hangs by the neck from a rope and draws attention to the fascination with everything that is erect, solid and controlled in photographic practice.
This work highlights the implicit masculinity lodged in the very essence of the photographic apparatus and suggests that despite claims to the contrary, photography is an embodiment of an oppressive and suffocating patriarchy. Further, the cherry-topped, sculptural work Camera Cake plays with the patriarchy by domesticating the camera and forcing it to eat cake.
The video work Dog’s Dinner is a decidedly domestic event. Rattling utensils and scraping spoons render a Canon DSLR defunct by dipping it in batter and deep frying it. Asking the question with Jo Spence, ‘What can a woman do with a camera?’ Driscoll answers with Martha Rosler and says, ‘She can dip it in batter and fry it in hot oil, that’s what she can do’.
In the sculptural work New Year’s Resolution camera cable releases are aggressively jabbed into a rubber exercise ball, rendering them useless as they have no impact, their function defunct. As they bounce around in their futility, they also puncture the exercise ball itself, making it semi-deflated and flaccid. This work reflects on the perception of women in society as ‘not good enough’ and always having to be striving for better; a better, new you- smarter, leaner, fitter, stronger.
With ‘Domestic Disturbance’ Driscoll successfully challenges our perceived notions of masculinity, sexuality and machinic precision. She does this with a humour and irreverence that is engaging, thoughtful and entertaining. Poking fun at both the implicit masculinity of machinery and the implied femininity of the domestic environment, Driscoll forces us to think again about what we know, or what we thought we knew, about humanity’s cybernetic relationship with machines.
Driscoll recently graduated from Central Saint Martins with an MA in Photography and was awarded the Art Gemini Public Choice Award. Driscoll is based in London and has a studio in Ireland. She is currently making work that is centred on the body, incorporating performance into her practice.
Alex Schady is founder and co-curator of Five Years Gallery, London. He is also Director of Fine Art at Central Saint Martins College of Art, London.