#003 - What's on your bookshelf? Interview with Kevin Furlong
Updated: May 16, 2019
From Kevin's profile on the University of Chester staff directory:
"Kevin grew up listening to latin recitation, bird song, rté, radio four and his parent’s tacky vinyl souvenir collection.
This aural exposure steered his emergence as an audio artist in the early eighties, tinkering with tape loops, effects pedals, synthesisers and drum machines to create new sounds from old and new technology.
Using microphones, cut up tape and echo machines, he and his peers absorbed and interpreted environmental sound into disjointed audio art. The cut up culture was also applied to moving image creating motion design that complimented the audio. His visual work has always been driven by audio, including moving image or design layout inspired to illustrate any composition. This relationship of sound with image, the sound moving the image, inevitably led to his interaction with art school and eventually his research and his teaching.
He studied at Liverpool Art School where he also spent some of his formative teaching years, developing his teaching through his research. He joined the University of Chester in September 2005 as acting programme leader for graphic design. He later spent nine months as deputy head of design, nine months as acting head of design and twelve months as deputy head of art & design. He is currently focused on his research and teaching as senior lecturer in graphic design."
Kevin has had a lot of work published over the years which includes work with Black State Choir, Zeronoise, and title music for BBC 1 Television series 'Future Fantastic'.
I spoke to Kevin a few weeks ago when I approached him about the possibility of doing an interview based on the things that he has on his bookshelf.
Kevin is somewhat of an oddity, and I'm sure he won't mind me saying this. What I mean by that is that the focus for his practice is very much within the realms of audio, sometimes crossing over to visuals, but predominantly focused towards motion. As a result, the first little chat we had didn't really seem to fit into the neat little boxes of questions about books. That isn't to say that Kevin doesn't like books, he seems to be quite a collector of the odd, old and peculiar; particularly anything that crosses the line between fond nostalgia, into the land of 'what were they thinking?'.
Sitting in Kevin's office, he was able to give me several books to peruse that I would say were completely out of the box in terms of design thinking, but they were certainly interesting points of conversation.
After our initial chat, Kevin took me to a room that housed a great many books of photography where he pulled out a couple seemingly at random, saying "I'll leave you with these", before leaving.
The first of these books is a collection of images taken during the moon landings, and show the moon in the kind of detail that surpassed my imagination. Such a fantastic, and surprising book.
The second is a compilation of images of Ireland taken by Magnum's photographers from the 1950s, through the Troubles, right to the time it was published in 2005. There are some sides of Ireland that I had not been exposed to before.
It is surprising that the two topics Kevin picked out are both things that were not taught to me at school. Obviously I was aware that we had been to the moon, but the National Curriculum seems to have missed the fact that there were 6 manned missions to the moon (Apollo 11 - 17, excluding Apollo 13 which had to abort its moon landing, but set a record for the furthest distance that man has been from earth). At school, we glazed over 'the Troubles' in Ireland, but even this was given out of context.
Kevin did pop his head back into the room after leaving and said that he would work on coming up with some answers to the questions I had discussed, and said that he felt inspired by the conversation we had both had. One of the main reasons for trying to do these interviews is to enter into conversation with other creatives, building up a dialogue and bouncing thoughts and ideas off of each other.
What would you say are the three most important or influential books that you have on your book shelf? They don't have to be design related.
'Knots' by R. D. Laing - (not to be confused with 'Ashleys book of Knots' which Laing is photographed reading on the Wikipedia page about him.)
Knots is a collection of poems or brief plays describing different relationships between people.
'Each brilliantly demonstrates Laing's marvellous insights into the intricacies of human relationships, displaying his talents not only as an analyst but as a poet and playwright' - Goodreads.
'The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency' by John Seymour
'...offers step-by-step instructions on everything from chopping trees to harnessing solar power; from growing fruit and vegetables, and preserving and pickling your harvest, to baking bread, brewing beer, and making cheese. Seymour shows you how to live off the land, running your own smallholding or homestead, keeping chickens, and raising (and butchering) livestock' - Amazon.
Is there a book that you go back to time and again, knowing that it will inspire you when you’ve hit a creative lull?
With my creative practice being focused on audio and moving images, it's usually music and film that inspire me, but I do like looking for odd books in secondhand book shops, like the ones I showed you last time. That book 'The Chinese - how they live and work' might not be something that we could get away with these days. I recently found an old Kays catalogue from the 1970s which had patterned carpets, flared trousers, and mail order guns. It's fun to look back.
I saw that Kays Catalogue in one of the sessions we had, I thought it would be a fun idea to reimagine modern movie posters in a retro way using the models out of the catalogue in place of the actors.
Often as designers we take it for granted that people know the same things that we do; or have been on the same kind of journey. If Design is a language, what are the top 5 things (vocabulary, if you will) that a designer should know to help them converse in the world of design?
Learning the importance of Space,
Would you say that you have a favourite designer, and can you explain why they hold that rank with you?
Not really a designer, but I like John Shuttleworth, he makes me laugh and can tell a good story.
Designers that I admire might be Jonny Hannah.
Grayson Perry has a really good exhibition on in Wrexham at the moment, I like his work.
I did used to love the design work of Gerry and Silvia Anderson when I was a kid. They designed “Thunderbirds”, that series really nurtured my appreciation of design and moving image.
Thing is, I do seem to be inspired more by films than by books.
Books are great and I do love them, but films always inspire me.
Viz comic kept me inspired when I was in my 20s.
Kevin if you're reading this interview back, I do know who John Shuttleworth is but his name didn't ring a bell at the time. I like the way that you name dropped and then left it for me to investigate. For those that don't know John Shuttleworth is a fictional singer, songwriter (I've seen him use a basic Casio keyboard to put simple tunes together) and radio presenter in much the same kind of way as Alan Partridge is.
Are there any other books you’d like to recommend?
As I said before, most of my influence and inspiration are in audio or moving images, so I've picked out some of my favourite films.
'King of Comedy' by Martin Scorcese
'Shell' by Scott Graham
'London' by Patrick Keiller
'Robinson in Space' by Patrick Keiller
'The Conversation' by Francis Ford Coppola
There are also some good Wes Anderson films.
Thanks Kevin, I'll be sure to take a look at them.
'The Grand Budapest Hotel' by Wes Anderson is fantastic, especially in terms of the use of colours as themes.
Some of Kevin's audio work can be found on Sound Cloud.
As I was finishing up the interview Kevin gave me a book called 'Death and Donuts' which is a book about a project called 'Zero Conversation' that Kevin has been running with Huw Williams on Flickr for a while now. The project is essentially a conversation between the two where they both post an image a day, taking inspiration from the image before.