Michael O'Kane | On Assignment
In simple terms, my work takes 30-40 year old play worn Matchbox toys, and examines how the old role models appear when exposed to the perspectives and influences of a contemporary environment.
I had already worked with toys and film based photography as an art student. I also was quite interested in recording images of life-sized vehicles stacked up ready for crushing at the metal recycling plant, because the idea of the faithful travelling companion ending up like that really resonated with me.
I graduated in 1997, and was working as a sculptor, when quite recently I found utterly worn out Matchbox toys in the 50 cent bin at a local 'junk' shop. I had an aha moment as past and present ideas crashed together, and I felt these toys must still have some life in them; how to express that life ultimately led me to the body of work which I have called 'On Assignment.' A vintage toy buying spree ensued; many hours were spent cleaning away every speck of dirt, and highly polishing the vehicles.
When I tried to use more conventional sculptural techniques to re-contextualise the vintage play worn Matchbox toys in a contemporary reality, the toys were getting stuck literally and metaphorically, which was the opposite of the new life I had wanted for them.
I recalled my art school photography, and how I was making images by placing toys with other objects. On reflection, those juxtapositions were very constrained by the technology I had available to me.
Post art school I had equipped myself with digital cameras, and become familiar with the digital technology of Photoshop. I realised I could use digital technology to achieve my aims, by layering the familiar and the whimsical to create thought-provoking contemporary tableaus, so the old toys could play again. (I see parallels with a cameo performance by an old and rather wrinkled actor, playing him/herself, on an assignment.)