Charlie Donaldson is interested in how storytelling is being redefined by internet-based image systems. In the context of an outsider's approach to local mythologies, he explores the ability of the intense microcosm of folk tales to be adapted into far-reaching global conspiracies with history-altering outcomes. By blending real information with imagined narratives – at times seamless, but often full of glaring anachronisms – his research attempts to take control of these systems to reveal our methods of gleaning truth from images, and what expectations can be placed on the artist in the role of storyteller and archivist.
Interviewed by Soph Kubler
Soph Kubler: I find it interesting that at QCA you studied photography and now in your current work, you explore the notion of truth in images. Do you think coming from photography and the way it is often posited as the most “truthful” medium, had an influence on your interest in blurring fiction and reality?
Charlie Donaldson: Definitely. A lot of my work during my time at QCA was about making dioramas and photographing them to put together narratives. It was very intense, detailed worldbuilding, and it has really informed the way I work a lot now. There was always layers of detail to be built up, from the initial construction, to the way it was photographed, to photoshop retouching to add more to the final product. I think that style of working with photomedia is still really important in my work, and especially the way photographs are treated on the internet has remained a big factor in my practice.
SK: A lot of the works you shared during your takeover were made during various residencies and often explore narratives directly related to that place. How do you go about finding these local histories and stories? Do you uncover them throughout the course of a residency or are you actively looking for them before visiting a place?
CD: Whenever I have an upcoming residency, I might do a very small amount of research before I am there, just to get a general feel of the kind of things I’ll be seeking out, but for the most part I try to wait until I am actually there to start research. Usually it starts slow, until I find one thing that I think to myself, “yep - this is it” and I go from there. That’s the joy of discovery with this kind of research, and that excitement usually carries me through a project.
SK: You’ve mentioned your work explores the role of artist as both storyteller and archivist, but given the extensive investigative component of your practice, do you see your practice as also embodying artist as researcher or theorist?
CD: I really like the idea of being a detective, or a maverick journalist. I also enjoy the flip side of referring to myself as a con-artist, because so much of my work seems to involve deception. Initially my work as presented in the guise of a UFOlogist called Martin Mura. He was this fanatical UFO researcher who was really serious about his work, but was also a total fraud who photoshopped everything. At the time, it became very confusing and convoluted very quickly, so I stopped. These days I don’t really mind confusing or convoluted as I think it enhances the aspects of my work that seem to retreat from the viewer, but I like it having my own name to it.
SK: A lot of your work has a lo-fi, kitsch kind-of-feel that seems perfect for art in the Internet age. Have you ever considered having a purely digital exhibition?
CD: I have! It is something I think I am interested in. I have enjoyed keeping the work in the physical realm because to me, it makes me think, “who on earth would make all this and print it out and hang it up for people to look at?” It seems ridiculous and really funny that it is about digital concerns, but only exists in physical form. But digital contexts do suit my work and I would be open to it in the future.
SK: During your takeover, you mentioned that you enjoy painting (and clearly are pretty damn good at it having exhibited as a finalist in both The Churchie Art Prize and the Elaine Bermingham Watercolour Prize). How do you think about painting in relation to your whole practice? Do you see it as integrated or separate at the moment?
CD: It is pretty separate. I have tried to bring both practices together in the past but I have never been able to make it gel the way I wanted it to. Painting began as a meditative process for me - doing the gemstones as a way to think about the 200 images I had just combed through, that kind of thing. I have tried with some things, like in a show at Fake Estate ARI in 2016 to bring painting in, but so far I haven’t managed to do it aside from then. Hopefully soon!
SK: You’ve got two shows coming up soon – one at the Woolstores Project in October and you’re part of the group show No Safe Place To Rest Your Eyes at c3Artspace in August (Curated by Katie Paine)— What else is coming up for you?
CD: I am actually moving to Japan at the end of August for a little while. It is something I have wanted to do for a while, so I am looking forward to the change. I’ll be living in Tokyo, so I have been applying for some artist residencies around there, so I am hoping to get in to one!