Silvia Calderoni in conversation with Avril Corroon
Avril Corroon is an Irish visual artist, a 2019 graduate of Goldsmith University. Corroon uses different media, such as video, performance, sculpture and installation to explore the precariousness of everyday life related to neoliberal policies that regulate housing in both its public and private dimensions. Specifically, the artist focuses her research mainly on the housing crisis topic and the consequent acceptance of precarious living conditions. The artist represents these daily experiences through elaborate visual narratives that use a satirical and paradoxical communicative form. Silvia Calderoni met with her on January 29, 2021, to talk about how her artworks confront Western urban, architectural and domestic design and how housing justice activism has influenced her practice.
Silvia: Hi Avril, thanks for being here. I wanted to meet you because my curatorial research explores the concept of the body in space, and I’m studying different urban, architectural and domestic practices from a queer transfeminist point of view, giving special attention to space from both a formal and a political-symbolic point of view. That’s why I’ve been very interested in your work Pinxto Boate (1) realised during a residence in Bilbao, with which you respond to the Zorroatzurre (2) project by Zaha Hadid, an architect I’m personally exploring (fig. 1). How did you reason about sculpture as a metaphor for amputation and how does the theme of food fit into this work?
Fig. 1: Avril Corroon, Pinxto Boate, Kutxa Kultur, Tabakelara International Center for Contemporary Culture, San Sebastián, 2018. Sculpture with video. Styrofoam thumb with embedded mini TV screen displaying a 3-minute video of construction work on the Zorrotzaure Peninsula.
Avril: The assignment I was given was to make an artwork that could represent what I had absorbed from the culture of the place. I was told about the Zorroatzurre project and the fact that they were going to cut away the peninsula to make a luxury island. Cutting away the land means cutting away the people who live there. I found it so interestingly perverse: I’ve studied the history of colonialism and power, and both are very focused on owning the land. I also did some research on architecture and design in the neoliberal marketplace, coming up with Richard Florida, who wrote about how to create and redesign cities to make them richer and more attractive. Many cities have implemented these tactics and I think this phenomenon is closely related to the phenomena of gentrification and dispossession of people who have lived in these areas all their lives. These methodologies exploit art and culture as a disguise, inviting the artists to enter and regenerate the place while getting rid of the inhabitants. The decision to create Zorrotzaurre, talking to the people, seems to be one where Zorrotzaurre should be the next big postcard of Bilbao, which, before the Guggenheim, was extremely poor and had no tourist industry. Zorrotzaurre represents an attempt to create its own Manhattan in New York. In the video, I talk about the story of Zorrotzaurre from the perspective of two stacks that are located near Bilbao’s Hendaye Beach, known as “the sisters”. I used food to illustrate the construction process, because during the residency I ate some wonderful food and I had the impression that the culture of the Basque Country was very much about gastronomy, the act of socializing, meeting after work and having a pinxto boate.
S: The theme of spoliation is also linked to Wish you were here (3), in which you talk about housing justice and hyper tourism in relation to AirBnb (fig. 2). What was the process by which you came up with this work?
Fig. 2: Avril Corroon, Wish You Were Here, Dublin, 2016. Made with Eilís Carey and Rebecca Thompson as Airbnb guests 1 and 2.
A: When I named this project Wish you were here, I was thinking of a fake AirBnb postcard landscape as a fake recreation of space. In Dublin, there’s Temple Bar, which is a version of what tourists think Ireland is. It’s just a disguise for them, it takes a horrible caricature of the Irish and plays it. It’s what you would call a simulacrum, something that’s removed from the real, recreated; it’s similar to the original but things are out of place, they’re just wrong, and it possesses a disturbing unheimlich (4). For example, in Temple Bar you can buy coddle, a famous traditional dish that was prepared on weekends by poor people. Today, restaurants sell coddle for £13, while it is supposed to take £1 to prepare it. These issues not only have to do with national tradition, but also with the notion of class. Ireland is a very neoliberal country and a tax haven, and I talk about this in Wish you were here as well. AirBnb is a big problem in Ireland, especially because there are over 2000 children who are homeless, which for the size of our population is a lot. To make that work I participated in a residency for a year, I was in a studio in the Temple Bar area. I knew there was an AirBnb apartment across the street and the owner was the barber who was downstairs, so I talked to him and booked it without having to go through the AirBnb site. Two actresses and I performed: I acted dressed as AirBnb on the roof, with a giant AirBnb logo on my head that looked like a vagina with a penis, and two actresses performed actions in the apartment, which had to sort of match my words.
S: Spoiled spores (5) and Fresh paint on the wall (6) are also related to the issue of food. In Spoiled spores you even used mould that you found in people’s homes and made cheese out of it. Can you tell me about these two works, how they fit into the issue of the neoliberal housing market, and what was your artistic process?
A: That’s interesting, especially about the body and space. I think with Spoiled spores, what I wanted to achieve was for the visitor to have some sort of curiosity and then to retreat in disgust (fig. 3). I thought about it a lot, I wanted to create something that would fool the rentier and bourgeois class but be poison to them because in some ways cheese is the food of the bourgeois. As for the body, I thought of combining the danger of housing conditions and rentierism. I studied the theme of city flows, water, and the crisis of nature when it shows up inside the home. The literature speaks of the concept of home as something that is constructed to exclude socio-natural processes that are considered bad, such as rain and cold. However, these processes of nature, on which the home is completely based, are really important. We have an underground network that brings us clean water to the tap, so we, in this case, consider it good nature, while we want to exclude bad nature instead. This happens because we have created a sense of familiarity and security by excluding everything we thought was bad on the outside so that we don’t have to mentally deal with the political in the house. There is much that is political in the home, of course. However, the nature of the political, the social standards and inequalities that allow you to be in that house in the first place, or to have the blessing of clean water coming to the tap, make you completely alienated from the processes that happened to get that good version of nature away from what you consider bad nature. When something happens like, say, a crisis, that crisis creates a kind of domestic perturbant. One example I have in mind concerns the faucet: in a moment of crisis, the faucet can become a rather violent image; if the faucet doesn’t work, it suddenly becomes a violent reminder of climate relations, or of the various socio-political crises that might happen where there is no running water. This kind of alienation belongs to the logic whereby we push away from our minds what might remind us of the fact that in some countries there is no running water, or that a crisis might happen. I wanted to make a work that activated these mental connections; I think that taking mould samples from other people’s houses and turning them into cheese can trick the audience. In this way, visitors know it’s cheese and they are attracted to it but are then forced to think about housing issues. Cheese is also something that, if you were to buy it, would fit in your house and your refrigerator. There’s also this mental connection of putting cheese in your mouth, so eating and nourishment are a very carnal thing, like when you see food and you smell it. Salivation kicks in, the body moves. I wanted to create disgust.
Fig. 3: Avril Corron, Fresh Paint on the Walls, 2019. Exhibited as part of the exhibition My Brilliant Friend at Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin.
As for Fresh paint on the wall, I wanted to talk about magnolia; every house in Ireland and the UK has magnolia-coloured walls (7). It’s constant, cheap, boring and really unimaginative (fig. 4).
Fig. 4: Avril Corroon, Spoiled Spores, 2019. 27-30 cheeses, 4 refrigerators, 32″ TV, 9-minute video.
S: I read that Fresh paint on the wall was part of an exhibition on feminism and women in Ireland in 2016. What was the relationship between your work and the context of the exhibition?
A: A lot of the work in that show was about feminist issues, and specifically related to abortion rights here in Ireland. My work didn’t stand fully and frontally as a feminist project, but I wanted to make it a feminist work because I am a feminist. I think that housing rights are women’s rights, and that housing rights really do affect women’s rights as much as trans and queer people’s rights. Women spent their time primarily in the home, even though the houses were not particularly designed for them. Yet, everything was built as if she had to be there somehow. It’s interesting because I think if the house was a body, it would be a female body, meant to contain and protect. It’s similar to the woman, it’s liquid, it’s sticky, it has different passages that are for care, and it has this element of bad nature and good nature. Like the house, the woman has been seen as something that can be liquid, something that can be both intriguing and disgusting. It makes me think of how the woman is seen as the holder of social reproduction, it makes me think of Silvia Federici’s question about wages for domestic labour, and how these things are somehow situated.
S: What has been the public’s response to your work?
A: I think people really enjoyed participating in Spoiled spores. In Dublin and London, I met complete strangers, who allowed me to get mould samples from their homes, and I interviewed them about their situations. I got to make real connections with people, each cheese has its owner’s name on it, and they were really proud. I think art is one of the most important things in the world and has the power to change things. I think you can also do that by supporting people and doing activism, so I’m in an activist group to support the housing cause and help resist eviction. Spoiled spores gives a chance to open up some kind of space. I didn’t want to make a documentary about the housing situation, I wanted to make something weird and crazy because it’s more fun to make, more fun for the audience, it makes everyone think and reflect on the mould and the issue of class. I hope it can be inspirational for them as well.
(1) Pintxo Boate is the result of a 40-day international residency with Bitamine Faktoria in the Basque Country. Working with video and sculpture, Pintxo Boate addresses issues of the eradication and instrumentalization of culture in the neoliberal city, taking the Zorrotzaure project in Bilbao as a key case study. The latter is the last major urban renewal project initiated in Bilbao; the master plan was designed by architect Zaha Hadid and includes the conversion of the Zorrotzaurre peninsula into an island through the opening of the Deusto canal. On the eve of the exhibition opening, the Deusto Canal descended around Zorrotzaure for the first time, officially creating the new island.
(2) Zaha Hadid Architects, “Zorrozaurre Masterplan”, in Masterplans, Zaha Hadid Architects, https://www.zaha-hadid.com/masterplans/zorrozaurre-masterplan/ [last access 10/02/2021]
(3) Concluding her year-long residency at TBG&S, Corroon presents a site-specific performance from the rooftop of an Airbnb apartment, with two accompanying actors in the domestic space below. The action takes place on this two-story ‘stage’ and is observed by an audience located on the TBG+S balcony directly across the street. The artist elaborately portrays the transformation of Airbnb’s domestic environment into a productive factory. Temple Bar serves as Corroon’s backdrop to reveal the deceptions of Irish tourism marketing and the sharing economy.
(4) Uncanny, disturbing.
(5) Responding to neglected housing conditions in rental properties in Ireland and London, Spoiled Spores is an installation of 30 cheeses made from a culture of house mold (black mold) sampled from rental housing in Dublin and London. Participants were contacted through knowledge and online. The installation consists of a 9-minute film documenting the origin of the mold and the cheese-making process with menus outlining rental costs and ingredient lists that include toxic black mold and other molds sampled at each respective site.
(6) Avril Corroon’s video work is a satirical approach to the private rental market, gentrification, and the increasing difficulty of living in the neoliberal city. The off-screen narrative voice theorizes the motives behind the capitalist and patriarchal landlord’s widespread use of magnolia-colored paint in rental housing.
(7) In the UK, magnolia paint is a neutral to warm cream color that is known to be the “standard” color in house paints, in addition to white. It is an omnipresent colour that is available in most paint types.
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Wachsmuth David, e Alexander Weisler, “Airbnb and the Rent Gap: Gentrification Through the Sharing Economy”, in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, Vol. 50, Issue: 6, 2018, McGill University, Canada, pp. 1147-1170.
Zaha Hadid Architects, “Zorrozaurre Masterplan”, in Masterplans, Zaha Hadid Architects, https://www.zaha-hadid.com/masterplans/zorrozaurre-masterplan/ [ultimo accesso 10/02/2021]