BLOG Joe Flanigan joins Martin Firrell

Blogger Kelly Harker finds out what the Stargate actor has been doing with artist Martin Firrell

When my good friend and hero, cultural activist/artist/writer Martin Firrell told me that he was working with Stargate Atlantis 's Joe Flanigan for a new public art project, I had to find out more! Here in my interview with Martin, he talks about his art, the importance of science fiction, what it was like to work with Nathan Fillion and Joe Flanigan, and what sci-fi inspired projects he has planned for the future:

Science fiction seems to have really influenced you as an artist and writer - Complete Hero and King Of My Heart featured Nathan Fillion ( Firefly, Serenity ) - and you just did a shoot with Joe Flanigan ( Stargate Atlantis ). Why do you think sci-fi is so important?

Martin: “I love that science fiction asks huge and important questions in an accessible and confident way. Sci-fi speaks to everyone (not just academics and philosophers) but takes on huge academic and philosophic questions. I have decided to get closer to sci-fi in my art practice over the coming year, so expect lots more on this. I also love that shows like Firefly and Stargate have committed, clever, huge followings of intelligent and questioning fans who are powerful in their interest and understanding. Gertrude Stein said the trick was to have a small audience that made a lot of noise, and sci-fi fandoms tend to be self-contained and very vigorous, noisy, brilliant places. I also think there is something about outsidership and exclusion. So much of sci-fi deals with those themes, and is inclusive and generous. The classic example is the bridge of the original Enterprise : whilst parts of America were still segregated, the bridge was mixed in race and gender and all the more powerful because of the talents of all involved.”

“I also rather like that sci fi is this hidden 'jewel' - some people dismiss it because they do not understand it, whereas we know its true worth.”

If aliens were to visit our planet, what do you think they would consider to be the best characteristic of humanity?

Martin: “I think the aliens would watch us solve problems and be altruistic towards one another and think that was an enormous achievement for a sentient primate.”

What do you think they would consider to be the worst characteristic of humanity?

Martin: “Then they would see us be sadistic and violent towards each other and think to themselves, 'what do you expect from a sentient primate?'”

The Complete Hero projections were this past November in London ( SFX 's Dave B and Stuart were there!). Will we be seeing anything more from this project in the future?

Martin: “The project has never really gone away. One of my interests in working with Joe Flanigan was to extend the reach of Complete Hero to reach the Atlantis fandom, just as Nathan is the great figure in the Firefly / Serenity fandom, but I am also interested in moving closer to science fiction - the next incarnation of Complete Hero will be very sci-fi centric.”

What was it like working with Nathan Fillion?

Martin: “Working with Nathan is a dream - he is as charming, smart, funny and thoughtful as everyone imagines, but might secretly suspect can't possibly be true. He is that Good Man!”

I certainly believe it! You've spent a lot of time with him. Is there any juicy gossip about Nathan that you’d like to share with SFX website visitors? Maybe... how he likes his coffee?

Martin: “The brilliant thing about Nathan is that he is entirely undemanding - becomes one of the art team and really joins in. So to be honest, I don't know how he likes his coffee! But I do know, when me, the crew and Nathan went for lunch, he insisted on paying which was very stylish, generous and elegant.”

Nathan really seems to be your muse! Do you have any other future projects with him planned? Maybe more of him in Complete Hero ?

Martin: “Arrhh! Now Nathan and I have been talking recently about shooting again. I asked him if we could look at Firefly 's Captain Mal again in more detail because I would like to make an expression of Complete Hero which is entirely centered on the richness of Mal's character, and the world of Firefly . I believe these cult cultural artifacts have blazing truths in them, and now I have the confidence to voyage deeply into that territory. So I asked if Nathan would shoot with me again and he replied: ‘you already know the answer to that question, sir!’ Nathan really is the muse of my practice right now, a creative rock on which my own sense of my practice is built.”

You’ve been teasing on Facebook that you just did a shoot with Joe Flanigan. It’d be great to know more about what you're working on with him, or is it a bit of a secret like your project with Nathan initially was?

Martin: “With Joe we talked about Col John Sheppard of course, his heroism, his character, but also the wider genre of sci-fi - all part of my decision and desire to enter more deeply into that world, having had such a wonderful early experience with Nathan and the first online work for Complete Hero back in 2007. The final form and ‘shape’ of this work is not so much secret as still unknown to me. But today in the studio we did some familiar stuff - some beautiful studies by candlelight of Joe's face (in a direct parallel with the portraiture of Nathan) and some new stuff, some green screen work, and I am interested in the idea of video 'noise' as part of the 'look' of this new work. I also experimented with a computer program which created a kind of starburst for projection onto Joe's face which worked well.”

Why did you want to work with Joe?

Martin: “I have been wanting to work with Joe for a couple of years. But sometimes it's difficult to make contact with an artist's management in the right way. In the end, I gave up. Then Wendy Scott (the Webwych of Sending A Wave podcast) said she was going to a convention where Joe was appearing and she was happy to let him know I was trying to make contact. She gave Joe my email address, Joe emailed, then we spoke on the phone and agreed to work together - that was about six months ago or so, and then it was just a question of waiting for the timing to work out. I really admire Joe's work, and the character of Sheppard is very seductive because he is so playful.”

What do like best about the Stargate franchise?

Martin: “You've got to love Richard Dean Anderson (Jack O'Neill). And for me, the relationship between John Sheppard and Dr Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) in the early years of Stargate Atlantis is sublime. I asked Joe during the shoot if he thought it was significant that the principal authority figure in Atlantis is a woman, and he said that he did think it was significant. I also have to admit to a small Torri Higginson crush, and I will ask her if she would like to contribute to Complete Hero ."

Besides sci-fi, what or who has also inspired you as an artist and writer?

Martin: “My big inspirations going way back, are Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin - I did once write that only woman and gay men can really write fiction - then got all uncertain when someone brought up the topic of Hemingway... I particularly like his late novel Across The River And Into The Trees , but I might be a minority in that. Paris inspires me because it is so beautiful and so French and home to that great flowering of experimentalism in modern art and literature in the early 20th Century.”

Who would you most like to do a project with, and why?

Martin: “Well, I definitely do want to work with Torri Higginson. And I think Star Trek is the big daddy of our genre, so Bill Shatner is on my list. Who knows if he wants to be in a fine art work? But we are about to ask him...”

Which sci-fi and fantasy magazine do you consider to be the best magazine in the universe?

Martin: “Kelly, you're very funny! But on a serious note, I do want to move my art practice closer to science fiction, and so of course I want to work with, involve, stay close to the fandoms and also those clever people at SFX!

Thank you, Martin!

Thanks Martin and Kell for this interview. Visit Martin Firrell's official website to find out more about his work. Read more contributions by Kell and our other bloggers by clicking on the blogs category at the top.