Journeying Through a Threshold: The Artistic Transformation of Niamh Murray

What do you do?

I’m a multidisciplinary artist working mostly in the medium of drawing and photography.

Panspermia, 2016. Giclee print, A1

In your bio you talk about the origins of life on earth and panspermia. How do concepts of life and the universe influence the artwork that you are making now?

Well, one of the works in the exhibition is entitled ‘Panspermia’. The work appeared to me like a jolt, a vision; this happens a lot with my art. I drew my inspiration for these two pieces whilst walking around the Natural History Museum in the Rocks and Minerals section. I have always been interested in science fiction and geology and during my trip to the museum I got a glimpse of lunar landscapes, some of which have inspired our greatest writers, poets and artists. I could see distant planets floating in my mind’s eye.

In this particular series I am exploring the question not of our origins but of where we might be headed. ‘Panspermia’ is the theory or hypothesis that life on the earth originated from microorganisms or chemical precursors of life present in outer space which were transported to earth from elsewhere in the universe via asteroids, comets and so forth. These microorganisms are able to initiate life on reaching a suitable environment, such as planet earth.

By suspending the rocks and fossils within the vacuum of a bell-jar I am giving them a new lease of life and exposing their magical qualities. These specimens represent just how little we know about the wonders of our own planet, our solar system and beyond and I hope they offer the viewer an opportunity for Utopian day dreaming.

Most of my practice leads back to drawing and I think this is where it also relates to some form of spiritual, mystic or meditation practice; for me drawing and creative practice has become my meditation.

How did you become an artist?

I came from Northern Ireland to study Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in London and after graduating  I realised that I didn’t really have a realistic experience of what London was all about. I felt privileged to study at Saint Martin’s and after graduating wanted to experience London at a grass-roots community level. I decided that teaching would be a perfect way to do this and what better way than to teach the subjects I love: Art & Photography. I have rented studios on and off over the years but took a short hiatus to navigate life events.

In 2013 I approached a Kundalini Yogini to help me re-establish my creative connections. After following her teaching I felt I was in a lighter space to recommence my artistic practice.

I had been feeling depressed and found this to be a positive spiritual release. The Yogini told me Kundalini was an extremely transformative practice and and that I should be prepared for change within a short period of time. This has been pivotal in the acceptance of myself as an observer and artist. Creating has become part of my everyday meditative practice.

Behemooth, 2016. Digital Collage, 59 x 42 cm.

So you had this turning point, and as things changed art came into play as a big motivating factor as you moved forward?

In March of 2013, only two months after starting kundalini practise, I began to meet people involved in projects that interested me. I was approached by two musicians to design an album cover for for their upcoming LP and singles. This was my first collaborative project across the disciplines of art and music and I realised how enriching it was to work with others in creating a shared vision. Not long after I found myself creating the artwork and liner note sleeves for Moulettes, a Brighton based band whose newest record focuses on the known and the unknowable of the natural world (‘preternatural’). I thoroughly enjoyed working with them; they are such conceptual warriors! Hannah Miller, cellist and singer, approached me to help her bring her concept for a ‘Behemooth’ like creature, who would represent all the different animals throughout the album titled ‘Preternatural’, to life. Behemooth (not to be confused with ‘behemoth’) is a mammal that could exist in the depths of our oceans although no-one has ever seen it…  It is where the mundane and the miraculous exist.  Scientists have only heard what they call ‘the bloop’ which they assume can only be made by a gigantic sea dwelling mammal. This caught my imagination - it sounded so mythological!

These experiences have set the wheels in motion and helped me harness my creative energies. I’ve spent the last few summers touring festivals across the UK and this February was awarded a sabbatical grant from the Goldsmiths Company to join Moulettes as their tour photographer throughout their summer Canadian tour 2016. Next month (January 2017) I will be going part time in order to pursue my career as a professional artist.

A lot of what you talk about is this sense of transformation and journeying, with the asteroids for example, that’s life coming here on a journey through space. So, correct me if I am wrong, your work is a guide or a reaction to change and to transformation.

Krystallos One, 2016. Giclee Print, A1

Yes, I would say that the objects I pick up and photograph become little talismans, they resonate with me, they have significance; it’s also about journeying through and over a threshold. My work attempts to capture that moment, when something jolts you, and holds that fleeting moment or feeling in suspended animation. Journeying and thresholds can occur in everyday reality and also in experiences that move us beyond the everyday. This happened to me especially when I had the opportunity to be under the guidance of a Shaman.  Passing over a threshold can happen in the mundane form literally from one room to another, physically or mentally, from ordinary reality to non-ordinary reality, from the conscious to the subconscious, waking to dreaming.  The most influential journeying for me over these last few years and which I believe have helped cultivate my practice, have been my shamanic journeys. So yes, you are right, my work is about crossing a threshold, reacting to change and accepting transformation.

Are you trying to engage with an audience or is it more of a reflective body of work?

I say to my students all the time, don’t dismiss any ideas or feelings that you have now. Write them down, take a photo; if something jumps out at you record it, because you never know - in ten years’ time you may have an instance in life that jolts you back to that moment and you can use it in your artwork or your everyday life. It’s like a communication with your universal guide or your sub conscience, something that goes much deeper than the surface. It’s about tapping into your ancestry, your past, something that is inside us that we don’t often get a chance to discuss. At the moment, I and many others are feeling highly unsettled and in solidarity with the tribes people of Standing Rock. The world is entering dark unknown territory and we all ought to assess how we are feeling- and act wisely. So although the work is reflective, I also want the audience to participate with me.

As you go further into these subjects what are your hopes and ambitions in the next five years?

To communicate with my audience and to build up my reputation as a London artist. One of the fears I have is that people won’t understand the work. I showed a group of my A-level students ‘Portals: Drawing Utopias’ and they get it. A curator of my most recent collaborative exhibition exclaimed it was ‘Sci-Fi with soul’. One of my greatest influences is film director Andrei Tarkovsky. He made a film in 1979 called ‘Stalker’ - I want to create a series of video pieces based on his zone and the ‘threshold’.  I intend for this current body of work to be participatory in nature and I invite you, the audience to share with me your personal talismans, bringing your deepest wishes and desires into being. Who knows, it may become a Utopian or Dystopian Tarot deck- either way, it’s about opening up discussion and starting a healing a process. It is also about creating a space and a dialogue about the importance of Art in all aspects of our lives- because without an emotional response to each other, we face impending doom. I can only wish that these works offer a portal of hope.

Niamh will be exhibiting her explorative artwork in Focus LDN's 2016 Winter Exhibition at The Menier Gallery this December 13th-17th. For free tickets to the Private View Click Here.