Will Rahilly is a video and photography artist based in New York. His work is heavily influenced by technology and the digital advancements in his creative practices. Rahilly’s emphasis is on ideas pertaining to isolation, identity, performance, the human body and abstract concepts of technology and communication. In his video work, viewers are often witnesses to interactions between human and machine, while being simulated in an interactive space that allows them to also create an experience similar to the work itself. Images create detailed narratives rendered from curated settings and are inspired by digital aesthetics found in real life.
Rahilly’s attention and devotion to detail influence all aspects of experience, from unique sound, performance, editing, and exhibitionism. Charged with bright color and often humorous and ironic narratives, the works lend themselves to visualizations of computer generated surrealities.
When did your interest in video and photography work begin, and what artists inspired this interest?
I was shuttered up in boarding school as an early teen. My life was steeped in lightly veiled militaristic and religious tradition topped with cultish hazing rituals. I sought out as much abstraction as possible as a sparkly calming ointment. I still slop it on today. In part to get out of sports requirements, I became involved in theater and video, though the interest was always there.
How has your work evolved to where it is now?
I smooth out rough skills, lob on another skill and the process repeats. It’s often in the early stages of a particular medium that it’s the most interesting, but least palatable to others.
In the past, I put on performances with a group of close friends, but after one that involved many bands and complex cues self-destructed in front of a massive crowd, I turned back to video as a more controllable medium. However, I still involve myself in performance when possible.
Being based in New York, you must be exposed often to a large amount of images and sounds surrounding the culture. Do you see this exposure influencing your work?
Yes. It’s an endless pile of vibrant stuff. I think of New York as the brain storm. You can just walk into it and ideas are everywhere, but you have to be able to walk out of it to get some sleep — so a calm home environment is vital.
You’ve created collaborations too. How have those collaborations allowed room for experimentation in your work?
Having a creative buddy is great for refracting ideas in unexpected ways. You can jet ski together on your dual-powered brain machine into the sunset. I would love to work more with people who work more than I do.
What themes do you portray in your works, and how do you create the imagery used for these themes?
Without conscious intent, I seem to have focused on the ailing human body, isolation, and abstracted interfaces — often those that seek to reestablish a lost connection. For photos there’s usually a little spark of an idea, or some special objects I’ve collected. I really experiment and get into the composition in the moment. Video generally has to be more planned out because of the people involved in production, but I’ve made some hybrids, and I’d like to make more.
How do you use sound to enhance digital images?
Sound is vital. Motion and imagery are tightly bound. A video isn’t done until the sound is designed. In a way, this is the most natural care-free part of the whole process for me — sitting there with buckets, pieces of metal and a synthesizer. I make most of the sounds and all the music myself.
What inspires the creation of these sounds? Do the digital images typically come before the sound, or have there been times where you’ve used a sound to establish an image?
Generally the image will come before the sound, and the same way you might see a big gaping mouth and know that it’s saying “ahhhhhhhhh!!!” you can hear the sound the action makes. It feels great when it fits — my day has not been wasted. Sometimes I’ve made images to sounds — via music videos, including a collaborative project for Psychic TV — that can be really fun as well. It works best when the sounds are distinct and change often.
What is your research practice like for ideas involved in your work?
When I first have an idea, it’s as if I’m underwater and my flashlight has run across a tiny piece of a sunken mass. I slowly move outward, scanning the perimeter, figuring out what it is exactly that I’ve found. Some ideas remain unexplored, some are complete but remain submerged, and some rise up with the help of a massive crane with a reliable guy named Biff operating it. Once there’s an idea that sticks in my head, everything around me starts sticking to it.
Do you have a studio that aids in the production of your research, whether it’s for sound or image? If yes, how is this space useful to you?
The studio is merely a structure I manage. It aids in that there’s a designated area for shoots. It’s great to have a place to go where I can go and be in the right mood. I make most aspects of my non-narrative-video work alone, but that’s something I hope can change.
How do you know when an idea you have created is a good one? Do you typically have several ideas that are developing at once or do you try to tackle each idea independently?
Hardball! It’s good to share an idea with people who are in a different field, but interested in visual arts (so they won’t steal it or have weird emotions mixed in). You don’t want to hear the “been done before,” though people are quick to say that, even if something is only slightly similar — why make a cartoon if there is The Simpsons. You don’t want to get stuck in that type of thinking. If your excitement continues to evolve as you consider and discuss it, it’s worth pursuing.
I have many, many ideas cataloged. The issue is usually finding the time and resources to realize some of them. As a result, the rendering of an idea comes more often from opportunity. If that’s the case, I try to mix in other ideas if possible.
How has being an artist in the digital age influenced your work and contributed to the media you use?
It’s all digital, for one. I think more about its absence now — it makes working without any digital elements, yet still electronic ones, almost a spiritual experience. I shoot certain series of photos without any digital alteration. It’s nice to have finite options and to know that once you’ve pressed the button, like a gun to the production’s head, it’s all over.
Why is exhibitionism important in a world where digital advancements have allowed your work to be easily accessible?
For the moment, it’s extremely important because installations can still offer an experience that can’t be replicated at home. When you’re in an immersive installation, I like to think you’re experiencing something closest to what the artist imagined, no accounting for screen size, or audio failings—you’re in their head.
Last modified: June 3, 2016