Katie and Aoife of Alien She interview each other and delve deep on the topics closest to their hearts for International Women’s Day. Photos by Sarah Ryan and art by Katie O’Neill.
Why do you make art?
Aoife: I need to express myself or I’ll explode. Expression is the opposite of depression. It’s something I find comfort in, and maybe other people will find comfort in what I create.
Katie: It’s a deep impulse. It helps me express myself in a way that I find very challenging to do verbally. I figure my life and my feelings out by making something that represents how I feel and then I can study it to understand what it is. It heals me, it gives me purpose and I think it heals other people too. It feels spiritual and therapeutic… and it feels like I was born to do it.
Why do you write music?
A: It’s an accessible form of art for starters. If I just did poetry I don’t think I would have the same level of output, catharsis and connection. It can be a bit more isolating. Working with a band has a more social element. It’s a form of communication that’s very specific – you can get away with saying things in music you can’t in reality. Art is a conversation, I guess that’s why I like playing live so much – the interaction! Also – it’s fun!
K: I sometimes think of it as talking to myself from a subconscious level, like I’m talking to myself about things I don’t quite understand yet. I am cheering myself on or soothing myself with a song. I am trying to reach other people. Sometimes I am trying to say something I can’t say in an everyday context. It depends. In my solo music it is deeply personal and it is an exercise in finding my real self and expressing that self, and in Alien She, I feel it’s more connected to society, the people I love, and activism. I love the physical feeling of playing music, the vibrations, the noises, the way your body moves and how I become enveloped by the sounds of certain instruments. It’s making something from nothing and that is very exciting.
Why is it important to collaborate with others?
A: Because you are going to get a lot from learning the perspectives of other people and realising the world isn’t just your lens, but many lenses.
K: As someone who is a natural loner, it is extremely beneficial for me to open up my creative space to collaborators because it challenges me to let other people in, it helps me to express myself to people I trust, and something magical happens when you share a creative idea with other people. It can be transcendent to be deep in a jam with people you connect with, you almost feel out of your body and simultaneously very grounded in it – in the best way! Hearing sounds made with others that you could never make by yourself, it’s a beautiful metaphor for life. It’s one of the most primal and joyous ways to connect with people. Also from a feminist point of view – Meg Remy from U.S. Girls speaks about how women artists are set up to compete with one another – and to combat this, we must collaborate and destroy these expectations. I think she’s onto something sublime there.
What’s weird about being a woman in art or music?
A: That people think it’s weird or unusual to be of any gender and want to express yourself – I think that’s weird, because it’s a very human universal thing to want to be expressive and I think that’s something that’s in all of us, that’s very hidden in many, and that’s certainly not exclusive. As a femme-presenting person you get told not to take up space and that why I there is something wonderful about doing just that, by being on stage or having your work on display rather than being reduced to just your body. Your artistic voice is like this unique extension of you so that’s really valuable to me. Katie and I are involved with an organisation called Girls Rock that promotes young women in music and it’s a really positive thing to encourage the next generation to stand up and realise they have value, their ideas have value, they have a voice.
K: The boxes people put you in, the extra layers of expectation and suspicion people have around your intention, the way people make your words smaller or less powerful by gendering them, the way people act like an opinion that comes from a woman is inherently in the “woman genre” and isn’t universal, the way you get compared to other female bands/artists, (which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing) in a way that men never do, the way your work gets written off as just for women and not about the human spirit or something universal. I have no interest in making a work that’s exclusive – I want my work to touch everyone and include all identities. Just because it comes from a female point of view doesn’t mean I’m only singing about that. It’s a weird thing people do. All songs are not just coming from the one place. It frustrates me. The way the industry tries to make us compete with one another, like, there are thousands of men all making very similar music, but if a woman has even the same hairstyle as another artist, she’s compared to her, which is ridiculous.
How do you think art helps?
A: Art externalises what we mightn’t have words for – or the things we’re not sure of yet, half- formed thoughts, it’s sort of like dreaming, the thoughts aren’t fully conscious and that’s really valuable – the way you’ve painted or written something might really help someone else. It’s like scratching away at the universe and finding what’s underneath. I wrote something months ago and I didn’t know what it meant until yesterday, for example. It’s a tool of understanding and explanation. The more art and music you consume, the more your vocabulary for that type of thing expands anyway, because you have more metaphor in your life to draw upon.
K: I think art helps us find ourselves and having a solid sense of yourself is the basis for a healthy world. One in five of us have issues from childhood so the need for healing is urgent. I often think if only someone like Donald Trump was able to express himself in a painting or an angry song, he wouldn’t have to have a tantrum in the White House. Maybe there would be less violence in the world if we could express ourselves in the form of art without being perceived as weak. Art heals trauma. Along with therapy and self care – it helps. Art can give us a place in a world that has displaced us and empower us to take action for change. One of my favourite theorists Ariella Azoulay discusses in this in her book ‘The Civil Contract of Photography’. She writes about people reclaiming their agency using photography – I feel similarly about the music and art I’m making. It helps us place ourselves in a displacing world.
Is being an artist healthy?
A: It is and it isn’t. There is the catharsis of being able to express and bring to the surface strong emotions and thoughts or ideas – but there’s also the pain of it, so that can be quite upsetting and overwhelming, especially when you have a vivid imagination and the type of brain that makes it difficult not to fixate or obsess. When it’s your job or calling to do that it can be extreme or draining. I think a lot of artists don’t take care of themselves very well and tend to be very sensitive people who need to practice self awareness and self care to be present. Maybe if they didn’t have all the feeling the art wouldn’t be as good – but I don’t subscribe to the notion that you must be depressed or suffering to create because I think the opposite is true, depression can be such paralysis creatively.
K: It can be. It’s up to you. The personal aspect of being an artist is one of the most healthy things I can think of. Art helps us combat the oppressive messages we receive from the media and government. As citizens we often feel powerless and art can be a means of helping us make our voices heard. I think ultimately art is now a tool of the oppressed to express themselves because the world is in a very broken place. We can also create an alternative reality to comfort ourselves. I think both are essential. On a primal level it is a wonderful and relaxing way to express ourselves and some day we will get back to enjoying free expression without the weight of politics hanging over us. Unfortunately, in Capitalist society, to be an unknown artist these days is to be poor and struggling so that part isn’t so healthy.
Aoife how is your poetry connected to your music?
A: It’s helpful having that background. A lot of what ends up being lyrics started as poetry. Poetry informs a lot of what I do – regardless of what it is or what shape it takes. It definitely helps and makes me laugh how easily rhyme comes to me, despite not using it in song all the time. That’s a weird talent that seems to be impressive… (laughs)
Katie how is your art connected to your music?
K: I see them as one and the same thing, It’s all a medium of expressing myself. The voice is an instrument and medium, as is the body. I have been bringing that notion into my art practice and crossing performance with my visual practice. I’m excited about the new ideas I have. I am very influenced by performance artists such as Yoko Ono, Meredith Monk and Patti Smith who married what have traditionally been seen as separate media, I really enjoy crossing medium and genre and boundaries.
What inspires you?
A: Oh… everything. Strong emotional catastrophes and euphorias (laughs)…of the personal, intimate and international kind. Love, people, the city, languages and translations because that’s something that affects how I think, because I switch between two languages -(Gaeilge and English) …it’s difficult to explain, but the way that certain truths are revealed through words is interesting. And the broad range of random sound, overheard serendipitous conversation, music and art that I’m lucky enough to be exposed to as well.
K: Looking, listening, feeling. I think it’s very important to drop the tools and just listen, experience, be in the moment. I can get really caught up in the making of something so it’s important to have days to do nothing and just be. The times inspiration comes are the times you’re really relaxing and present, drinking a cup of coffee, looking out the window or walking around thinking. I also really love to research and study. Reading inspires me a huge amount. I like to read about artists and I am inspired by their dedication and bravery, also what inspired them. I love reading about female artists and how they found themselves with the help of their work, people like Joni Mitchell, Carolee Schneeman, Chris Kraus, Virginia Woolf, Olivia Laing, Pauline Boty, Chantal Ackerman, Dorothy Ashby…I could go on. I am an obsessive of the weird outsiders of the art and music world, people who found survival in their rituals. I like making playlists and studying that work – looking at photos and spending time with the work of others. This really provides a lot of inspiration to me. I’m quite a cultural theory nerd to and also have a big interest in psychoanalysis and also the more esoteric and pagan occult side of the world. Galleries and museums are sacred places. I’m a very visual person, I studied photography so I’m always bringing the visual into the aural, if that makes sense? The two are very linked to me. Also, getting out, walking, swimming, feeling the earth. Listening to music, theatre, dance, photography, nature, walking around, talking to my friends, my own experience in life. Taking care of myself, too – if I’m depressed, tired, or hungover, I’m not going to be having many epiphanies.
Pro-tips for survival
Don’t stay in the apartment all day
Even if it seems the only safe place
You will only expand your world by going out into it
Get some natural light and air daily
Spark good wishes to many loves
and enemies tooGo as far from home as planes or love or wishes will take you.
Use the perfumes
Do not leave them
to wilt in bottles
Take the bath
Have you ever not felt better
after cleansing the day off your skin?
Stretch the hate out of your muscles every six hours
it cannot stick to your soul that way
Wear your good jewellery
even on days
that aren’t occasions
Your whole being will sparkle for it
and you deserve it.
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