August 2024

Dan If You Do, Dan If You Don’t

Words: Michael Kucyk Images: Dan Moynihan

Every day is ‘project day’ for Richmond based artist Daniel Moynihan. When Moynihan’s not producing art in his studio, he’s hiding behind the counter at Bunnings Warehouse, toying with new ideas; cutting, shaping, painting and finishing. En route to and from the office, he’ll keep an eye out for building sites in search for materials and when he finally gets home he’ll put on a DVD for research purposes. Moynihan is one of those artists that never relents from their craft. He finds it hard to let go and is enslaved by an eye for detail.

TCB was the first to host a solo exhibition of Moynihan’s work in 2007. Typically based on a pun, One Step for Dan saw him construct a surrealist play on slapstick humour. A Moynihan clone was shown in the process of sawing a circle in the ceiling while obliviously cutting a hole through the floor simultaneously. This was then followed by Loose Cannon (Victoria Park Gallery, 2008) where a passion for the aesthetic of Styrofoam was explored, producing a life-size late-19th century cannon and a defensive wall built brick by brick. In the show titled Still Standing Still (2009), Moynihan transformed Utopian Slumps’ main gallery space into a larger than life freezer with a giant timber iceberg hanging in the ceiling. The iceberg’s hidden surfaces could then be viewed by a periscope hovering over a bathtub in the adjoining room. Most recently, Hell Gallery became the scene of the crime for his almost-too-easy robbery of a local supermarket

Moynihan’s complex installations and their use of space command total absorption in a high-involvement visual experience. As viewers enter his exhibitions via fridge doors or foam brick labyrinths, they immediately become completely surrounded by Dan’s world. Minds take a wander like flies free to roam and explore every possible angle of a scene frozen in time. Time is always captured just before the punch line, in an instant of tension and expectation, with milk cartons suspended in the atmosphere above a coffee cup mid-pour. As the characters and their related objects are profiled and collated with the shows’ infinite points of view, still comes to life where the vivid scenes are processed as moving images or filmic skits. From a flaccid cannon aimed and loaded, one can foresee that the imminent human cannonball is doomed and will miss its window to safety. The mental image depicted is both absurd and hilarious.

Given how Moynihan’s work unravels like a cinematic narrative, it’s no surprise to continually find this fanatic in cinema foyers. “I get ideas from movies; I like to watch a lot, though I’ve never thought of myself as a film maker,” he admits. Influenced by film’s near-believable projections, elaborate plotlines and its haze of fantasy and reality; Moynihan’s constructs explore grand scenarios that are ridiculous and commonly defy logic.

His recent exhibition In and Out, No Funny Business (Hell Gallery, 2009) entertained a soft spot for the formulaic nature of the heist genre; namely the Coen Brother’s remake of The Ladykillers and Spike Lee’s The Inside Man. He explains that the clichéd “heist film is always based on a bunch of guys with a big idea, hiring a spot next door or across the road, tunneling through and leaving without a trace”. After realising that one of the boundaries of the gallery’s backyard was a brick wall shared by Coles, a landmark in Moynihan’s daily ritual, the space became the perfect crime scene for a covert break in. In honouring the genre’s densely sub-plotted tale, the show stretched far beyond the confines of traditional gallery space with an outside garden shed revealing a chiseled hole leading to Coles’ cool room and a getaway van disguised as a removals business in the gateway. There is always more to his work than what initially meets the eye, much like the first viewing of a geniously intricate and layered film. Moynihan will use every nook and cranny to full effect.

Captured during the communal lunch break, In and Out is weighed with imagery of the working class – characters in generic work wear, utility vans, tool sheds, savory pies and pastries doused in home brand sauce and a discount flavoured milk. This ideology of tradesperson culture references Moynihan’s roots in Wollongong, a city with an extended history of mining and industry, boasting coal mines, steelworks and an industrial port. After leaving school in Year 10, Moynihan picked up a carpentry apprenticeship and trained for boat building, ship repairs and maintenance. For the subsequent years he alternated between working on the waterfront, building houses and appeasing his creative side through graffiti, unwittingly developing the skills he would later apply to his art. Moynihan’s background is also referenced in Loose Cannon in which he erected a styrofoam cannon that was a proportionate sculpture of the iconic cannons that have lined Wollongong’s coast since 1982.

Moynihan is never afraid to reveal himself in his work. He finds taking the piss out of himself gratifying, and loves to share his private joke with an audience. “The funniest thing is when you’re laughing at yourself. I laugh at my own jokes more than anything, I love my own jokes,” he explains. Regardless of what medium he’s working with, he’ll often be the character featured in his art. Flyers will be self-portraits, zines document a fascination with placing his face over other peoples’ and the dummies used in installations will be dressed head the toe in his everyday attire. Often clues are blatant while others, such as a comb hanging out of a back pocket of a bald character’s jeans, are only subtle innuendos. Moynihan recalls the opening of Loose Cannon where there was much confusion as to whether the human cannonball was a dummy, “I turned up half an hour late and people thought I was actually laying in there!” Mission accomplished; by insisting that his self-portraits are as realistic as possible, Moynihan maintains the work’s scale and helps transform the absurd into believable.

For his upcoming show Expert, Dan will compile pieces from One Small Step for Dan (TCB Art Inc, 2007) and Loose Cannon, as well as his contribution to the group show 17 Summers of Heideko Jones (Blank Space, 2008). The exhibition gives the artist an opportunity to adapt past creations to a new environment in which his original ideas have grown. Moynihan has also been tactical in his selection of works, opting to rehash some classics that best correlate with each other.

“I’m really happy to show the works side by side,” he says. “They each have elements of me, a sense of escapism, and an absurd way of doing things when you are caught in the moment. It’s funny to laugh at the characters but from their perspective, what they are doing is rational and innocent.”

Expert will show at Adelaide’s Greenaway Art Gallery from August 26 to October 4

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