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Critical Practice

Patrick O'Neill

b. 1989 and raised on the traditional, unceded and ancestral territories of the Coast Salish peoples - the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations - otherwise known as Vancouver, Canada. Lives and works in London, UK.

Patrick O'Neill holds a BFA in Visual Art from the University of British Columbia (2016) and received an honour of distinction for his MFA Critical and Historical Studies dissertation, A Habit of Haunted Spectres. Alongside his practice, he has worked as an arts educator for ten years at a number of galleries and non-profit organizations and is also a member of the artist collective, Waste Authority, with Kevin Siwoff and Anita Marante.

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Critical Practice

Patrick O'Neill works across mediums to produce unwieldy containers of exploration and research.

Through performance, moving image, sound, CG rendering, sculpture and installation, he critically examines the notion of selfhood, as well as the history and production of common knowledge. His practice is rooted in an examination of naturalized thought, embodied behaviour and the activity of thinking itself—where do ideas come from and to whom do they belong? He seeks to question how certain modes of thinking affect our behaviours and inform our identities. As well as how they impact our relationships to each other, ourselves, and the world.

His research oscillates between a fascination with the histories behind both dominant and arcane social beliefs, and an obsessive introspection with their personal impact on his own body and experiences. His work is an attempt to map out that haphazard, idiosyncratic terrain through projects which veer off the rails into acts of unscripted absurdity, repetition, and humour.

A personal lived experience with an episode of acute psychotic illness and time spent within psychiatric hospitalization has resulted in a drive to critique systems of reason and their hold on our behaviours.

The Transitor - Act 1
The Transitor - Act 2

A hot crust of bright scab scratchings, with a lift of animalic notes, unmask a hint of dripping thick rancid fat and orange blossom of the hip, sitting, as it were, on a base of stale but writhing alive sinew, myrrh, and turned earth. Fresh. Floral. Black Death, or a crumpet topped with raspberry compote will conjure suddenly a visceral corporeal reincarnation of your own unburied past. This is the first time I’ve smelled this and I will remember it forever.

A familiar scent sniffed again has a capacity to reawaken ancient things, and moreover, to possess oneself with one’s own story. We might call this a form of olfactory magic, were there not already a history between us.

Miasma, the once obsolete medical theory which held that infectious diseases are spread through a noxious or foul smelling air, held sway over our collective consciousness for almost 2000 years. It retains a kind of unburied power within us, a corporeal memory of hysteria. It has conditioned our position towards the unknown as one full of fear and metaphysical terror. Miasma was the basis of our understanding of diseases such as cholera, chlamydia or the plague. Doctors at that time wore masks with long beaks stuffed with aromatic herbs and plants; perfumes to act as proto-PPE against the threat of odor induced death. 

This was a reality where every breath your body autonomically took could be your last. Did you fart or is that death giving us a visit?


"The Transitor" takes after silent cinema and the visual comedy of Buster Keaton to explore the more-than-human power of miasma. Through a series of absurdist performances depicting a never-ending transit, it combines practical effects with CG rendered backgrounds to create a surreal space of gags which do not die. This is a series which explores humour as a tool used to grapple with moral, ethical, and existential uncertainties.



Medium:

Moving Image
raw footage
green screen removed
colour graded
CG background composited

Through an aimless, humorous, and at times perverse exploration of visually seductive mass-produced materials, who wants to see a magic trick? is an interrogation of our relationship to the concept of magic. The hands desire to contain the ineffable within systems of empirical knowledge and exert mastery over the unknown.

Medium:

Video

Size:

20:49
video still
video still
video still
video still

A Habit of Haunted Spectres is an off-the-rails interrogation into the nature of the self and our relationship to madness. It combines nooks of arcane research with creative critical prose to produce an open-ended field of personal inquiry and to collapse thinking across millenia.


It was written through research produced for my Critical and Historical Studies dissertation and which received a mark of distinction.

Medium:

Text

Size:

9,612 words