Interview: Alrey Batol

Interviewed by Isabel Hood

Alrey Batol / DIY JB HI-FI / archival ink-jet print on handmade JB Hi-fi catalogue / recycled from JB Hifi catalogues / 2015

Alrey Batol's practice takes an iconoclastic and operational approach that aims to challenge hegemonic structures and subvert systems that regulate and govern everyday life. Working in divergent fields from sculpture, printmedia, installation, web and graphic design, game design, sound art, electronics, computing and photography, he consolidates these disciplines to explore a counter-antagonistic methodology.

After studying in Brisbane and exhibiting at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Metro Arts, Boxcopy, A-CH Gallery and with artist run initiatives Witch Meat ARI, Inhouse ARI, Alrey has recently relocated to Melbourne.

From April 24 to April 30 Alrey showed us his practice and process by taking part in our Instagram takeover series on @inresidence_ari

IH: Finishing a degree in graphic design before undergoing a fine arts degree: does this background inform the type of work you explore now?

AB: Yes and no. I treat it as a valuable skill and insight. At the same time I don’t let any medium-specificity takeover everything I do. I like to change it up like a restaurant menu. It’s just coincidence it informs what I do in a current project, it’s been three years since I did my last graphic design art, not counting the homemade JB Hi-fi catalogue work. I like to think working in dishwashing and cleaning for ten years will also inform a work in the future.

IH: Would you say your current use of graphic design reflects an Adbusters-like (iconic design activist and subvertising magazine) interpretation?

AB: Yes and no and a little bit. Détournement has a long rich history and Adbusters is at the end. Guy Debord wrote a user’s guide to détournement in 1956. Although started it up in 1936. I like reading him once in a while because it also tells you about ‘recuperation’ which is the opposite to détournement. Anyway, Adbusters is cool but they don’t employ superfiction the way say Yes Men do, the difference between them means Adbusters’ stuff becomes novelty and the spirit of the ‘agon’ is lost.

IH: A lot of your new media projects seem to require some ‘tech savviness’. Has this been a self-directed learning process?

AB: Totally. I was taught a bit and then taught myself the rest, both electronics/analogue and coding/digital. You get enchanted at first (aka romanticism) but then grow out of it after you find yourself being the dude in the Darren Aronofsky movie Pi. Once you step over the enchantment, you’re good to go. Some people never step in, filled with incredulity and never adapt, and some people are still enchanted for the rest of their lives and forget it’s just learning. You need to be able to get back to reality and use your skills for good instead of projection-mapping for local councils.

Alrey Batol / Hyperstore (Banal Browser 1) / 2016- ongoing / touchscreen kiosk, javascript, HTML / developed at the Media Art Asia Pacific studio residency April 2016

IH: You describe yourself as a multidisciplinary artist. What motivates you to explore different mediums?

AB: What motivates me is the concept of ‘recuperation’; a state where the Spectacle (capitalist mass media) subsumes everything by default. In the artworld I saw that medium specificity and putting your name on your art are driven by market-forces. You don’t have to go against this, just gotta know how it is (to possible subvert). So early on I decided to commit art career suicide by doing different works in different mediums. And you’ll be happy to know that I get rejected quite a lot in proposals when they see I’m not a ‘video artist’ or a ‘new media artist’. By that I mean they don’t see a life’s work or ‘craft’ even though I make it my mission to master things albeit in a shorter amount of time. On a serious note, I will always have something to make and inspire me for a long time to come.

IH: Do you have a favourite medium to work with?

AB: A few, sometimes I grow out of it. Circuit-bending appliances was fun. Making paper and running it through an expensive printer is fun. Most of the time I do conceptual or interventionist based work so I like hard normal traditional hands-on work. Making virtual gaming environments is really fun. You can discount web-based work because I hate it right now, it’s so tedious and not fun. At the end of day, it’s how the work communicates with people, the process of artworking is just the first half and is indulgent and selfish, like waking up in the morning, and then a bit after breakfast you realise you’re not alone and you have to talk to people.

"at my studio, visiting curator couldnt believe i use corkboards since i make 'new media' works. said it was charming and creepy. i like to think its a scene from gerard butler movie law abiding citizen. ps not real money on the bottom but real good printer" / Alrey Batol / Instagram post April 2017

IH: Are there still other technologies/mediums you’re looking to work with?

AB: Technology wise, I tend to stay away from trends and novelties, and wait until I see one of them achieving some ubiquity like the internet. (Hehe I remember when it came out!). So next wave VR is off the list. Painting is what I want to eventually get into. I’ve been putting off painting because I hold it up in high regard since it was my first art theoretical introduction. So I can’t wait to paint, I just need to train for years. Although I’m afraid it has to make fun of something and make more money than I’m used to.

IH: How does the Brisbane and Melbourne art scene compare?

AB: You know how in Brisbane you go to a show and see people you know and sometimes in my case (since I was involved in music also) you see the same people every show. Well in Melbourne is like the size of three maybe four Brisbanes, and the other Brisbanes might as well be a whole other town. Also, in Bris sometimes you get shows clashing, well here it happens every week at every night of the week. I’m quite new here so I haven’t immersed yet, but already I’m pointing out spelling/grammatical mistakes by serious art writers in their catalogue essays at the exact moment I meet them in their actual show, so I probably won’t be schmoozing anytime soon. That’s a lie, I schmooze quite naturally. Please note that I actually like mistakes, the more the better, unfortunately I like pointing them out also.

IH: You’ve done plenty of work with several Brisbane artist run initiatives. Can you tell us your thoughts on the relevance of these groups?

AB: They were totally crucial to my practice, I thought I was dreaming when at some point I was actually getting paid to show at their spaces. In Brisbane (I don’t know about other places), I see a lot of respect and friendship between ARI’s and it’s awesome to see. There will come a time when a small ARI becomes big and once you had a chance to show with them and now have to contend with established interstate artists and Samstag recipients. No time to get bitter, it’s just how it is. Funniest anecdote I have to recall was when a Brisbane ARI did a protest/alternative show against the Churchie Art Prize and (aah Brisbane and protest shows, my first show was the last Fresher Cunts) anyway, it was funny cos there was an assumption that anyone who applied to this alternative (the people who got rejected by Churchie Art Prize) were shown. Until I poked around and found that they had so many applications and turned out they rejected a lot more people than they could show. I was like wow imagine being rejected on that second other level. I wanted to obtain this list of super-rejected but no budge. PS no disrespect to this ARI, love these guys, they’re my peeps.

IH: Since moving down to Melbourne have you noticed a difference in artist run initiatives?

AB: Like I said, so new here (month and a bit). But from what I can see, they come and go, some lasting a couple of years and there’s a lot of them. They also have proper gallery spaces, it’s an architectural given for Melbourne. But that’s what gives Brisbane its charm, doing shows in rental locker spaces and lounge rooms.

See more of Alrey Batol's work at http://alreybatol.com/.

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