“I’ve gone on to cam chat sites like CAM4 and had discussions about art with all these people who are just wanting to see me naked. Some people get very frustrated and are like ‘show me your cock’ and I’m like ‘but what do you think of the space and the place of art? Could this be a space for art?’". William Murray is an artist from Cork, now living in Dublin.
And did he whip it out? No. "It was a failure on the one hand because I didn’t really get an answer, but [it was] also interesting in that there was an artist online using their body in a different context. If I was to do it again, for it to work, it would have to be a give and take kind of thing. If they answered a question I would have to take off a piece of clothing or something". A key line of inquiry pursued by William centres on the viewer's response and interpretation to what he does in the name of art, and looking at how these transform as the threshold between online and offline is crossed and crossed again.
He explains, "if I put a nude or semi-nude image online, I’m more interested in the reaction that garners. If I post a picture on Instagram and then blow the picture up in real life and attach it to a gallery wall, the reactions are completely different, even though it’s the same image, which I find interesting. In one instance I’m this attention seeking whore and in another instance I’m making body art". And is he an attention seeking whore? "In many ways, maybe I am. That’s a huge part of it, the voyeurism – we all have it in us. There is an element of exploring your own narcissism".
At the top of William's research agenda is how the internet alters relationships with bodies. This extends to how they are viewed, how they are used, and what they are used for, "the internet is this dumping ground for bodies – headless torsos on social media and gay dating sites; the sending of images and hunting for pictures". William describes "layers upon layers of bodies, of faceless bodies, some with faces but not really recognisable" he has encountered resulting in "this huge pile of bodies built up in my head, [that I felt] was really profound and said a lot about how we deal with the body and how important the body is to us. Is it important anymore? Is it just another tool that we use?"
William continues, “I look at images on Tumblr, and I’m obsessed with these sort of male body images of youths who present themselves in a certain way, making the body look as young and impressive as possible and then adding inane objects to throw everything off". William says this is something he never had the care or organisation to do when he was younger. What exactly are these images? "There is a certain aesthetic and clichés within that aesthetic – a spiky plant in the background, a leg up, or this thing people do [he raises his hand to about his upper lip so some of his fingers obscure his face – see image below]". We are both baffled by this subculture, if it can be defined as that; where it comes from, what it means and why it is tied to a younger age group. "Maybe there’s a complete absence of meaning in the whole thing", William admits. Regardless, what he takes from this imagery and emphasises in his own work is that beyond all these props and poses, there’s a body, there’s a person; someone who has a yearning to show their body".
The way in which William tangibly realises these concerns adds further meaning, "the materials I use are very throwaway, the scenarios I use are ad hoc, quick, and made on the spot. They’re almost make-and-do, speaking to throwaway culture and the detritus of our everyday lives, and the body as this throwaway thing, or this thing that can be given away really easily". There is an sense of detachment in the pictures that William cites – which he acknowledges – and in the work he makes himself; a sense of some kind of relinquishment of total control over our image and how it is used and, maybe, how we ourselves are perceived as a result of this.
William has always been interested in working with the low, the found, and the everyday. Within this, he chooses certain materials – underwear, jockstraps, harnesses, rope, rubber – that are clearly kinky, whether they connote submission or domination. Why? “It was borne out of the imagery I was seeing every day and bombarded with constantly. And it is reflective of my own sexuality. I wouldn't consider myself kinky in that sense – everyone is kinky in their own way – but I don’t have a particularly extreme fetish in leather or rubber or harnesses, not that I would be opposed to it. It’s within my capacity, in a sexual sense, to explore those parts of me, but it was more to do with imagery I had seen a lot of and wanted to copy".
On the back of this, William seems assured in his sexuality. However, he describes himself as a "late bloomer"  in coming out. I ask him what this meant for his work. “It’s reflective in my work in that I am desperately trying to recreate imagery which, for a long time, I wasn’t necessarily a part of. Coming to terms with my own sexuality, I discovered that there was this whole other way to express yourself, this whole history of queer imagery and queer art and queer film that I had to catch up with. And this whole youth subculture and movement of people expressing themselves online and expressing their sexuality online which I had come so late to. I never really felt like I could attach myself to it. In my work, I’m trying to be that image online but, because of who I am, I can only do it in the way I know". I suggest that William will be – or maybe already is, somewhere online – a reference point for someone else who feels they too have arrived late.
What else? “There are other connotations with my work. On coming out, instantly your body becomes an object which is sexualised in a different way. And people have these preconceived notions about gay bodies – that they’re damaged, that they’re diseased, that they’re in some way compromised. And the materials I use maybe emphasise that – damaged materials, throwaway materials". I find this connection between low materials and the historical pathologisation of queer bodies mind blowing.
Ultimately, embracing his sexuality has enhanced his work, "there are all of these things that open up before you as you go down the road of one sexuality over another sexuality". Like? "The whole chemsex thing" [and what it entails] for one. "It’s interesting - people will spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday taking loads of drugs, having lots of unprotected sex, not sleeping, going out partying, and then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, will go to the gym and eat super healthy and have this very health obsessed lifestyle. And it’s these two extremes which I find really interesting. Because it’s about making your body perfect and healthy and then imploding it at the end of the week for sex, eroticism. You throw your body away. And then build it up again". Hearing him describe it in this way encapsulates several themes within William's work at once, and the aspects of non-straight sexuality it pursues. He adds, "if that’s how you explore your sexuality, then I’m not going to judge you for it".
With a strict dedication to a clearly defined set of themes, the question of their wider applicability and appeal, and of William's art more generally, arises “my work might speak more to a queer audience or a younger audience. I don’t think I would ever want to make work that would exclude anyone in that sense or couldn’t be accessible to anyone". His work evades neat definition. The focus of his practice is not on producing a tangible thing, but the steps forward and revisions required in its achievement; the method by which an idea may be realised, rather than any actual realisation – "any ‘finished piece’ would be a by product of an ongoing process in that sense", he says. This might sound daunting and unapproachable in a way that conceptual art typically seems [and is], but William offers guidance that's worth concluding with, "if you weren’t on Tumblr or you didn’t know about certain issues in popular culture or youth aesthetic would you get my work or understand it? I always think, when you look at a piece of work and if you don’t understand it, you look at it in a different way – go back to the very basics and crack it from there".