Cartographer, archeologist, explorer, scavenger, sociologist and resurrectionist. Rob O’Connor is all of these things. His work, like the artist himself, exudes a restless energy and a palpable curiosity. He is fascinated by maps, even when they are composed of detritus, both found and formed by O’Connor himself. He notes that cities are full of unseen histories – sites of trauma, humour, accident, neglect – and he is driven to make these visible.
O’Connor’s recent and current work involves disused spaces and mapping the peripheral. His work can be described as falling into the realm of détournement, meaning ‘rerouting or hijacking,’ a technique developed in the 1950s by the Letterist International and later adapted by the Situationist International. For O’Connor, this began when the artist spent time in Queens in New York City and has grown since.
His recent work from Santiago in Chile resulted in large-scale paintings that documented his personal experiences of the city, specifically, he notes, the ‘peripheral’ zones. “This idea of periphery is not only physical but psychological,” he says.
“The resulting ‘maps,’ as I call them, are cartographies of daily experience, intermingled with urban folklore, localised slang, seemingly inane observations from a tourist/outsider perspective.”
These works were also opened up to local punk kids that O’Connor met to add their own stories, adding a patina of graffiti to the constellation of imagery.
In 2010 O’Connor was artist-in-residence, He-Shun International Arts Festival, Xu Village, Shanxi, China, and Cite International des Arts, Paris, France. His most recent exhibition was A rag or a rip, Contemporary Art Tasmania this year.