Here are a few thoughts on the nature of what I do.

It’s made from scraps of things written down over the years.

I should say that this is not an attempt to provide a definitive set of reasons for the work I make. I thought differently a few years ago and no doubt I’ll feel differently a few years hence. Art and the thoughts that surround it are dynamic and contradictory. With art two and two might easily make five.

I don't have a theory.

An artist might be the least reliable authority on the meaning of their own work.

Giving a reason for something having been made is not equivalent to giving the meaning of the work.

Most of my work is derived from a fascination with materiality. I'm interested in fluff, dirt, dust. I'm interested in things breaking down. I'm interested in that which cannot be said but can only be shown. Most objects to me are not real until I can find what is inside. Which presents a paradox, since we can only ever see the surface of things. The real interior of any object is seen as a series of surfaces beyond and behind which are only more interior surfaces. This is a morbid inclination. Perhaps implying that things can only be understood after having been broken down or destroyed, suggesting that the attainment of knowledge is an invasive procedure, no gaze or observation leaving its subject unmarked.

Meaning, like life, needs no encouragement to colonise almost every conceivable environment and its subtlety is enriched by allowing it to evolve from the bottom up rather than forcing it to devolve from the top down. This is perhaps why all my work begins with very ordinary low level observations, the kind that would be of no interest to most people.

I have made a lot of work using books. Not because I have any fetishistic attitude towards them but because of the realisation that words are the poor and inefficient servants of experience. I might add that I’m not attempting any criticism of writers or the craft of writing but that having grown up within what is historically a literary culture I found myself valuing and gauging experience (which included art) only if it could be expressed and explored with words. As a visual artist this represented an interesting problem. Most people will rarely think of a book as an object, the words within are regarded as far more important than the form without. Because this seemed to perfectly express the problem I had in thinking about how art was discussed and how its meanings were valued, I began to regard books in the same way a potter might regard clay. In some senses I think of this as another way of approaching the equation of form and content, and how arguments have always been conducted about their relative importance.

The work I make with books is rarely illustrative of the text. This a deliberate choice. For almost everyone the text in a book is regarded as sacred. For me, to have an illustrative approach to each specific book would be to accept the false divisions that are made between form and content. So the new meanings that I try to write across the books are usually more oblique. Many are so oblique that the viewer might never know of any connection to or from a book. This would be so in the two dimensional pieces where fragments of images found in books are isolated and abstracted from their original contexts.

The English philosopher, John Austin described language as a net which we use to try to catch our experiences of the world. Much is caught and much is missed and it's the stuff that escapes that interests me. I suspect far more is missed than caught and more often than not the stuff that is missed, because it cannot be made sensible with words, is overlooked. Information, like intelligence, is expressed and encoded in a multitude of different ways, we sometimes neglect those expressions of intelligence that are unable to be translated directly or indirectly into language. Assimilating more and more information does not lead to a more profound view of the world. Information (especially now) is as much a pollutant as the colossal amounts of plastic floating in the South Pacific Gyre. The concept of ignorance becomes more interesting in this context; do we now live in world where we have to know what not to know before we know it?

One of the things that used to bother me was the apparent contradiction of practicing an activity I didn't know the meaning of. I still don't.

Beyond the broad idea that art is a very subtle form of communication and perhaps also a form of inquiry, I am still none the wiser.

In order to get the work made an artist will use any and every form of conceptual scaffolding. For me that kind of support is only temporary (and perhaps it’s here where lies are of some use) the scaffolding must be taken down once the work is finished. Structurally it may have no correspondence at all to the conceptual integrity of the finished piece. 

Jonathan Callan.