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- 07/08/14--06:39: _VAN May / June 2014
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- 01/28/14--06:53: VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2014: Mark Durcan at The Lab, Dublin
- 01/28/14--09:01: VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2014: Sinead Rice, Flowers Gallery, London
- 03/12/14--09:32: VAN March / April 2014
- 04/10/14--07:14: VAN Critique March/April 2014: Kevin Mooney at Talbot Gallery
- 04/10/14--07:15: VAN Critique March/April 2014: Paul Quast at Luan Gallery
- 06/23/14--04:06: VAN Critique May/June 2014: Patrick Altes at Triskel, Cork
- 06/23/14--05:14: VAN Critique May/June 2014: Robert Kelly at Droichead Arts Centre
- 07/08/14--06:39: VAN May / June 2014
- 07/17/14--07:03: VAN July / August 2014
‘Yu: The Lost Country’
25 October – 23 December 2013
‘Dragana Jurisic’s YU: The Lost Country’ is based on the book, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West. The exhibition re-traces the author’s steps through Yugoslavia in 1937. West was an Anglo Irish writer who identified closely with Yugoslavia and its people. Dragana Jurisic was born in Yugoslavia, but now lives and works in Dublin. She uses the book as a starting point, and the relationship between the two travellers – separated by 70 plus years – is fundamental to the exhibition.
Jurisic has used an original copy of the book and added her own contemporary commentary in the margins. Photographs of the annotated pages of the book punctuate the sequence of photographs, which are shown as a seamless stream of images in the gallery. As you walk into the space, a large map of Europe from 1937 faces you. To the right of this there is a small montage of image and text with the terse but poetic quote:
“Where do you come from? From Yugoslavia. Is there any such country? No, but that’s still where I came from.” This text by Jurisic acts as both a beginning and an end to the show. Walking into the gallery, I was struck by the pure visual impact of 44 framed photographs displayed continuously around the room. The photographs correspond with the locations in West’s book. The first photograph is of Modernist era building with a broken down sign saying “Yugoslavija”. Next to it is an image of a young man and woman in traditional costume, then a picture of elderly people waiting in an unpromising urban space. Each image relates, sometimes tangentially, to its neighbours and to the work as a whole.
Many of the images are beguiling. They seem to allude to ideas of the sublime, yet, when we see images of nature at its most seductive, we are brought sharply back to an awareness of history and trauma. In one image, Jurisic depicts a beautiful placid lake scene, with smokey blue grey water and glowing greenery. In this idyll, with his back partly turned to the viewer is a soldier in camouflage, blending in with his environment like a figure form a painting by Caspar David Friedrich.
Jurisic uses the photographs in a continuous band to create a clear linear narrative and at the same time a complex matrix of connections, allusions and suggestions. Taking out the gaps between the photographs changes the nature of the individual images, making them function as an installation. The effect is different from many installations, which rely on the simultaneous presentation of multiple images where each image retains its own character and power while still contributing to the whole.
West’s book, as an object as well as a conduit for ideas, is pivotal to the exhibition. The four copies of book placed in museum cases in the centre of the exhibition are a central axis around which Jurisic’s world rotates. The books in the cases have photographs intercut into them, for example one has the iconic bridge in Mostar pasted in. The bridge was destroyed during the Bosnian conflict in 1993 and recently rebuilt and defined as a UNESCO world heritage site. The weight of history is no more evident than in these small interventions, and rather than superseding West’s text they enhance and update it in a way that seems in keeping with her outlook and intentions.
The relationship between history and contemporary life is a constant theme throughout the exhibition. In one image, we see a seat on a bridge that was on the route of Franz Ferdinand’s ill-fated journey through Sarajevo in 1914. But a young man sits insouciantly – wearing shades – next to an old lady, who gazes somewhere out of shot. There is a friction between our expectations of profundity and the mundane reality in these historically weighted sites.
There is a frankness and immediacy in the handwritten commentary written by Jurisic in the margins of West’s book. On page 405, it reads, “Not even the magnificent nature could hide all the devastation. Visited former US Special Service base. Nothing left there. Only some horses. Like it never happened. Looking at the shops by the side of the road: curtains, garden gnomes, plaster swans and tombstones. This country is FUCKED.”
The idea of art based on other bits of art is not a new one and a lot of current work seems to relate to pre-existing works by other people. But this is different. The show has an emotional charge that is the antithesis of academicism. The exhibition uses the language of contemporary art to achieve something that is quite rare in lot of contemporary art: it is emotional, frank, autobiographical and honest.
Andy Parsons is an artist based in Sligo. He is the co-founder of Floating World Artist Books.
‘I’m astonished, wall, that you haven’t collapsed into ruins’
‘ The Lab, Dublin’
15 November 2013 – 25 January 2014
Time and memory merge into each other; they are like the two sides of a medal. it is obvious enough that without time, memory cannot exist either - Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema, 1989
Having the architectural personality of those transitional spaces in airports where they plonk the vending machines, The Lab, Dublin, is a challenging gallery to theatricise. But Mark Durkan’s installation of projectors, mirrored objects, water dispensers, ceramic bowls of bubbling / vaporous water and a water fountain with mirrored surrounding, has managed to equalise the remoteness of The Lab’s Jane Doe gallery space and transport the imagination somewhere else.
Although experiential, Durkan’s bright lights and vanity box installation is buried in literary devices. The artist’s techno-theatrics come across as a ‘representation’ of the future from the perspective of the 1960s dystopian science-fiction literati or ’70s cinema equivalent, such as William F Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s novel Logan’s Run (1968) and Michael Anderson’s film adaptation (1976). The exhibition title, ‘I’m astonished, wall, that you haven’t collapsed into ruins’, is a partial epigram from a piece of ancient graffiti from Roman Pompeii, which ends with the words: “since you’re holding up the weary verse of so many poets”. The literary extends into role-playing elements, represented by a helmet, bow and jug of water placed on a multi- faceted, mirrored plinth, which ties into Durkan’s dystopian, sci-fi theatre, implying that the spectator- gamer is to hunt / fight for depleted resources. These dystopian imaginings also suggest the ‘Dying Earth’ sub-genre of science-fiction / fantasy, from HG Wells’ novella The Time Machine (1895) to Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007). The combination of such themes and opulent display unavoidably places the The Hunger Games on the tip of one’s tongue.
With winter’s shortened days upon us, Durkan’s exhibition at The Lab is also one with two faces. During the day the projected and refracted light achieves a visual conceit, as if time, marked by an accelerated orbiting sun, is passing thousand-fold overhead without nightly reprieve. However, the isolation and remoteness perpetuated by Durkan’s orbiting facets of light is built on the balance between daylight and digital light – one chasing the other around the gallery. While at nightfall that balance is lost. This is especially the case with Durkan’s water feature in the ‘dark room’ of The Lab, which lacks the diurnal banality of the main gallery, descending instead into a hyper-theatrical disco or UV-lit nightclub toilet where veins are easy to miss.
At the furtherest point from the gallery’s entrance, the artist’s scattered elements coalesce to form a ‘drum-kit’ of mirrored surfaces. Water being a visual and auditory component throughout, Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975) appears in the intertextual frame of reference. In particular the film’s barn fire sequence, in which an implosion of oneiric and non-chronological images are further fragmented through the addition of water and mirrors. The collision between memory and the present to form a ‘crystallising’ future (defined by uncertainty rather than clarity) in both Tarkovsky’s and Durkan’s visual acrobatics, is best described by Gilles Deleuze and his equally agile concept of the ‘crystal-image’, “It is itself the vanishing limit between the immediate past which is no longer and immediate future which is not yet… [a] mobile mirror which endlessly reflects perception in recollection”.*
An exhibition that feels positively cold, soulless, and devoid of life or eventual life – even though the sound of life-activating water tinkles around The Lab – Durkan’s description in the press release of a future fantasy in which the “human population has dramatically decreased” rings true in the experiential encounter with this artwork.
However, Pádraic E Moore’s commissioned ‘letter’ response to the artwork (placed in the gallery) is an unnecessary inclusion to what is a crystal clear vision. This is not a criticism of Moore’s prose but a criticism of the strategy of placing a wandering textual agent within the gallery environment. The text, which begs to be read, distracts you from what are wonderful visual theatrics that can be experienced and ‘read‘ in equal measure. Being commissioned rather than compelled to write, like some new or future world explorer or archaeologist, compounds the redundancy of this document. Moore’s text has the potential of reducing everything down to theoretical smoke and mirrors. However, it does not spoil what is a sublime experience. Unlike the majority of artists before him, Durkan succeeds in transporting the spectator to a parallel imagining by transforming the ugly corporeality of The Lab into a mere shadow puppet of its former self.
James Merrigan is co-editor of Fugitive Papers and art critic at billionjournal.com
Note: *Gilles Deleuze, Cinema II, Continuum, 2005, 79
‘A Lamb Lies Down’
(David Eager-Maher, Mark Mcgreevy, Lee Welch, Rachael Corcoran, Adrian duncan, Beagles and Ramsay, Martin Healy, Ricky Adam, Vanessa Donoso López, Jonathan Mayhew)
Broadstone Studios, Dublin
4 – 30 November 2014
This exhibition borrows its title from a double album (A Lamb lies down in Broadway as one of the ten) by Genesis, released in 1974. The narrative, written and sung by larger-than-life showman Peter Gabriel (about the short life of a Puerto Rican youngster living rough in New York City), unfolds on the first LP, while elaborate instrumental music takes up the second. This kind of music with its now mythical genealogy – from Moody Blues to Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who and Yes to Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Genesis – has a name: prog rock. Suspended in an ever receding past, it has captured the imagination of Paul Hallahan, the curator of the show, which is situated not in white cube grunge, but in a Victorian building, still retaining some of its original fittings, itself an echo of a time long gone. The links are loose; why shouldn’t they be? Dualities come to mind: outward appearance, inner presence or the impact of nineteenth-century popular music (opera) on rock, for example.
I liked the honesty of Adrian Duncan’s daring Romantic Escape (2013), a construction so elegant as to defeat the geometric pattern of the homely carpet, where simplicity signifies itself in a delicate split balance of forces between arte povera materials: a transparent plane held by strips of wood, somehow fastened in fragile ways.
After speaking to the curator about the background to Jonathan Mayhew’s ‘If you loved me, you would admit that you’re ashamed of me’ (2013), I considered the idea of being more than one person at any one time – the person you once were overlapping with who you are now. The work comprises three sets of still shots taken from a documentary, as far as I could gather, which form a dual portrait of a couple, former punks, using double exposures.
It’s nice to see oil paintings at a time when well over half of Dublin Contemporary, for example, was lens-based media. But I must admit, Mark McGreevy’s bizarre Comfort of a Garden Shed (2008 – 09), with its morphed couple, half human, half not, in an even stranger landscape, was enigmatic. Likewise, David Eager-Maher’s Post (2013) with its bird’s eye view of a troubled land overcast by skies laden with purple clouds. I thought of estrangement or maybe felt estranged by these images, which seemed to relate, remotely, to the nightmare of Rael’s descent into psychological and existential darkness on the second LP. I asked Paul if I needed to know the lyrics. He didn’t think so, but maybe I did.
In Lee Welch’s set of photographs, Que sçais-je? Other men’s flowers, Behold the hands (How they promise (2013), it felt less important to know how title and image combine. This strikes me as an intervention on the photograph as document of the real; circling, marking or pointing something out with a painter’s brush marks another real, overlaid on the surface glazing the art paper. My impression? That the gaze is fixed, again, on smaller things. This was a far cry from the Baroque enacted in the Beagles & Ramsay video Glitter Desert (2006), where two heads in wigs peer at you in an act ever deferred, their bodies seemingly buried, like the character Winnie in Sam Beckett’s Happy Days (1961), but speechless, almost motionless, in a glittering landscape. Similarly, the eighteenth-century worlds within worlds of Vanessa Donoso López’s Tihunita – or the fake lamb (2013), with its four concentric glass bells and bizarre commedia dell’arte figurine wearing a ruff, which are only partly human.
There’s no denying that Ricky Adam’s Punk is Dead (2010) states a fact in a harsh shot – but why? It strikes me as a provocation: if prog rock is no more than an empty shell these days, punk is no better. Anyway, for all its stage rebellion, did it ever have the guts to get to the real African sound behind rock and the other creative dimensions of world music?
There is no duality, though, in the soundscape which often creates a discordant Babel in shows featuring videos. Here, the sound of The Hollies playing in Rachael Corcoran’s video It never rains in Southern California (2012), alternates with Martin Healy’s Genesis video (2006). Corcoran’s is bright but tragic in juxtaposing a concert with a NASA shuttle disaster culminating in the loss of lives; while Martin Healy’s desaturated, almost nostalgic sepia hits another chord, engaging a modern band to play Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven. Corcoran’s piece reminds me of decades of MTV escapism, relentless pop videos playing on regardless of the real world; Healy’s makes me think of an idealised past.
David Brancaleone lectures at LIT-LSAD. His writing has appeared in Circa, Vertigo, Experimental Conversatons, Irish Marxist Review, Enclave Review and VAN. He is also a filmmaker.
23 November 2013 – 1 February 2014
Looking out the window of the bus to Blanchardstown, you see semi-detached houses – lots of them. As you move through one area to another, you may see some variation in style, but there is nonetheless a strong sense of sameness. The overall impression is of inevitable, indeed unavoidable, banality. And then you walk into Mary Burke’s exhibition, ‘Memory Traces’ and this impression is turned, quietly but powerfully, upside down.
The subject matter of Burke’s work is the suburbia you have just travelled through. She too has looked at it, but with intensity and an incisive eye for detail. She has analysed it into line and form, and broken it down into its component parts. She has found and felt the textures of its materials and re-presented it in a way that dispels the banality and illuminates this everyday world.
There were nine pieces in the exhibition, each demonstrating confidence and maturity. Of the nine, I found Aspect and Equilibrium the least successful – but only in comparison to the others. There is less contrast in the colour palette and the rendering of texture and light feels less accomplished, aspects which are only – barely – noticeable next to the other seven.
Burke delivers on so many levels. Colour is perhaps the first thing that struck me: strong, but not garish, contrasting yet harmonious. Then line. Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that there is an architectural feel to her work, bordering on a cubist approach, and at times there is a vertiginous Escher-like quality to the image – see, for example, Above – but it is never cold or alienating. And then there is modality. Burke’s way of re-piecing elements on the canvas suggests collage or patchwork, providing glimpses of our everyday environment – a car wheel, a wheelie bin – that we rarely notice, probably never examine – and certainly wouldn’t be our first choice for a painting. These are never forced on the viewer, but there to be discovered gradually. One of the sure signs that a piece works is that it draws you back again and again, and this is one of Burke’s great strengths.
What makes her work stand out however, is the way in which Burke brings all these elements together so coherently. Though her medium is oil pastel on canvas, she uses digital technology and photography in the development of her work; but this process is invisible in the final product. There is a tremendous sense of interconnectedness to her work, yet it never feels repetitive. And she is generous to her viewer. The subject matter is recognisable: familiar items from indoors – stairs, windows, doors; and from the outside – houses, trees and fences. Everything presented in a way that brings the viewer to a new way of seeing this suburban landscape.
Burke’s work is not outrageous, it is in many ways a traditional approach, both the choice of media and the unaggressive treatment of the subject matter. It is honest in its delivery; as the exhibition title promises, the viewer is led into a world where seemingly insignificant but very familiar memories are evoked: ‘that could be my house’. Its mystery lies in its capacity to make you look, and want to look again, at rooftops – not the sunkissed tiles of Italy or the snow-covered slates of Paris – but the unlovely, unremarkable tops of Irish suburban housing. That is the magic of Mary Burke’s ‘Memory Traces’.
To view Burke’s work is to experience harmony, both in the individual pieces and in the overall exhibition, but this is unnecessarily disrupted by the presentation of the accompanying information – or rather, lack of it. What is the reason behind this trend in galleries not to put any details beside the work, forcing the viewer to drop their gaze and look elsewhere? At best this distracts from the enjoyment, at worst it leads to avoidable frustration. In the case of Burke’s exhibition, this frustration is further exacerbated by the requirement on the viewer, if they want to know a bit more, to look at the work anticlockwise. Apart from being a counterintuitive choice, forcing the viewer to see the work in a particular order goes against all notion of allowing them to be drawn into the work. Please, please, please, curators, put an end to this practice!
Mary Catherine Nolan is a Dublin-based artist and writer with a background in linguistics.
‘Small is Beautiful: Who’s Afraid of Red Yellow & Blue’
Flowers Gallery, London
3 December 2013 – 4 January 2014
Sinead Rice’s work is second on the left as you enter the largest of three rooms on the ground floor of Flowers Gallery, which make up the exhibition ‘Small is Beautiful: Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue’. All works in the exhibition – mostly paintings, but a few freestanding sculptures and one violent diorama – were dictated to be no larger than 22 by 17cm.
On reaching Rice’s Buddhist-inflected Red and White Untitled, painted in oil-on-board and transgressively sized at almost 23 by 18 cm, the viewer who has begun in the conventional way would already have passed the mounted neon triangle, but not yet encountered the purposefully crude USSR vs US Cold War cartoon or the pan- historical fusion of Malevich and William Morris.
‘Small is Beautiful’, now in its 31st annual incarnation, is a pointed saturation of the gallery space on Kingsland Road in East London, and offers a largely sales-oriented framework featuring 170 works in total. It was installed during the Christmas season to entice the comfortable but not entirely financially replete art aficionados of the city – the kind of merchant class for whom the gallery’s Shoreditch location is a palatable marketplace, not just a detour on the route to the west end. Flowers also has a gallery space there, on Cork Street, to ensure they don’t exclude the tastes of the entrepreneurs and dauphins.
It’s an annual exhibition as well as a Christmas sale, so it’s perhaps forgivable that there is no legible narrative thread other than the size restrictions on the works. The initiated, who would stiffen at the violation of the white cube’s tenet against crowded walls, might be deterred from visiting. So too might those barefoot ascetics who bristle at the marriage of art and commerce made too obvious and vulgar. For those of the middle way, the blitz of means and materials on display here may still overwhelm the perceptual metabolism; you simple have to accept that to properly digest everything on view is impossible.
The show’s subtitle isn’t much adhered to, as red, yellow, and blue factor prominently in some pieces and barely at all in others – only that these colours are the foundations of the spectrum. Rice does choose to engage with red, setting it beside a void of white in one of her ‘monochromatic’ works. In spite of the self-evident simplicity, the viewer can take a range of approaches to the execution of a monochrome (though the painting is two colours, I employ the word as shorthand), resulting in a range of outcomes.
Rice prefers the hazy application of brushed pigment, repeated carefully but loosely until the surface wears a compromised uniformity, something that seems threadbare, but of indiscernible age. Her white is an eggshell, with blues and beiges visible through the thick fog of it. Her red is pale and struggling, with hints of a now-diminished saturation, darkening at the edges. As with so many works of this sort – two zones of colour cut starkly down the middle – that centre-line speaks volumes. It’s wavering rigidity has no reinforcement of a physical delineation; it is only the cessation of the red and beginning of the white, or vice versa, yet the schism has that mysterious force within the picture plane that make these kinds of work recur so often, at different occasions in art-making, and with different motivations ostensibly attached.
Rice identifies the roots of her work in “the concept of impermanence derived from Zen Buddhist philosophy”. For work that calls on the humanistic motif of repetition and regularity – that might be shared by the ritual sweeping of a floor – this seems perfectly plausible, even if its relevance is unclear. And the way in which the painted surface could be hardening into clarity or vanishing gradually speaks to exactly that notion: the transience of the physical under the implacability of time. Rice’s work in general, which includes both painting and ceramics, is gestural in that it retains the evidence of simple actions calmly and consciously taken over and over again.
In a field of more garrulous candidates for a lingering glance, which evoke and instrumentalise Pop, Op, globby impasto and the lurid half-narratives of crypto-erotic figure painting, Rice’s work is self- assuredly reserved. It is immaterial in that it refutes its own capacity to remain. Surrounded by a panoply of minutely scaled competitors for a sliver of the viewer’s attention, Rice’s musing on the certainty of uncertainty is a wry feint, and a pressing emptiness.
Curt Riegelnegg is a critic living in London. He is Gallery Manager at Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art.
5. Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
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12. VAI / DASResidency. Creative Space: The Final Frontier. Conan McIvor, 2013 winner of the Visual Artists Ireland / Digital Arts Studios Residency Award, discusses his experience.
13. Residency. Residency Within a Residency. Bea Mcmahon describes her residency at the Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam.
14. Project Profile. Epicentres of Activity. Joanne Laws reports on Locis, a collaboration between Leitrim County Council and counterpart institutions in Poland and Sweden.
15. Valerie Earley Residency. What Lies Beneath. Jill Christine Miller, the first recipient of the Valerie Earley Residency Award, outlines insights gained during her time at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre.
16. Organisation Profile. Scarcity to Abundance. Lily Power talks to Lynn Harris of AND Publishing about new forms of publishing for artists’ books. (Archived)
17. Profile – Curation. Three Tenses of the Contemporary, Jonathan Carroll previews ‘Agitationism’, the 36th edition of EVA International (12 April – 6 July Limerick), with the Curator Bassam El Baroni. (Archived)
18. How is it Made? Land & Self. Margaret Tuffy discusses recent and ongoing works.
19. Critique. Jaki Irvine, London; Jackie Nickerson, NYC; Feriel Bendjame, Goethe, Dublin; Paul Quast, Luan, Athlone; Kevin Mooney, Talbot, Dublin; Gráinne Bird, Higher Bridges, Enniskillen.
23. Art in Public – Profile. To Tell the Truth. Georgia Corcoran talks to Jim Ricks about ‘The Truth Booth’, a collaborative public art project that recently toured to Afganistan.
24. Project Profile. Curation & Process. Marianne O’Kane Boal profiles a series of innovative public exhibitions and curatorial reviews of work by final year students from IADT Dun Laoghaire.
25. Career Development. The Accidental Gallerist. Sabina Mac Mahon talks to gallery director John Taylor about his 50 year career. (Archived)
26. How is it Made? Something in the Air. John Beattie his Artlink commission ‘A Line Of Inquiry’.
27. Exhibition Profile. This Just Happened. Feargal O’Malley discusses curating ‘Presently’, an exhibition of emerging artists from Northern Ireland at MCAC , Portadown (7 February – 29 March).
28. How is it Made? Keep Pushing the Brush. Brian Breathnach (2B) recalls his time working as a studio assistant for Michael Farrell in Paris during the 1980s.
29. VAI Northern Ireland Manager. Critical and Creative. Feargal O’Malley discusses Flax Art Studios in Belfast, which this year celebrate 25 years of operation with a series of exhibitions, talks and events.
29. VAI West of Ireland Representive. Here & There. Aideen Barry, reports on challenges facing Galway’s artist-led venues and a visit to NN Contemporary in Northampton, UK.
30. Tribute. Humour, Vision & Intelligence. Tributes to John Coll, Mayo’s trailblazing Arts Officer and Director of Community and Enterprise..
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34. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.
35. Artoons. Pablo Helguera. Artoons. The foibles and ironies of the art world.
‘Dog Island Tales’
6 – 27 February 2014
Talbot Gallery, Dublin
KevIn Mooney’s exhibition ‘Dog Island Tales’ straddles itself somewhere between Outsider Art and its sophisticated and more strategic cousin, Expressionism. It’s good to find a young artist grappling with this difficult language of painting. Mooney’s work betrays a hard won struggle and search for something deeply felt in instinct and new in form. This ‘holy grail’ is seldom tackled by artists and few painters can manage the process with finesse, save notable exceptions such as Brian Maguire and Patrick Hall. Mooney has treaded a brave and challenging path – and good on him – with this kind of painting; only long hours spent in the studio brings rewards.
The work is overwhelmingly melancholic, both in imagery and colour palette, although the occasional candy pink and green polkadot motif or concentric swirl lifts the mood. The range of colours – muted greens, watery reds, soft mauve, lilacs and burnt orange – struggle not to be contaminated by a dull greyness which, upon examination, is hard to pinpoint exactly – perhaps it is in the mood rather than the colour.
‘Dog Island Tales’ combines figurative work with non-figurative compositions. There is a series of works depicting forlorn individuals who appear to have suffered a kind of estrangement from the viewer. They stare out wide-eyed through the gaps of Mooney’s various painterly and decorative devices, which overlay them with a kind of protective camouflage.
Pipes is a particularly successful piece: a pair of disembodied eyes executed with strikingly realistic irises and pupils are centred on oversized rounded eyeballs and stare blankly forward through the grille of green spots slotted down in front of them. A number of old clay pipes (like those once distributed at Irish wakes) jut out from the space around the eyes and face and one pipe sticks out from an eye itself.
Mooney describes the pipes and figure as a reference to Peig Sayers, the infamous Irish storyteller and bane of Ireland’s leaving cert veterans. A core motivation underpins the works in the show: the search for an artistic heritage, specifically an Irish History of Art. Mooney tracks this elusive notion in a non-linear fashion, citing noble pre-historic and Christian periods, centuries of colonial suppression and from the twentieth century onwards – Ireland as hostage of social, political and culturally entrenched positions. Mooney considers how the less than healthy evolution of our visual arts heritage has impacted on himself and the wider culture and society in Ireland.
One of the largest and most decorative works in the exhibition is the landscape Mounds. It depicts what ostensibly looks like an ancient burial mound, decorated with concentric motifs typical of pre- historic Irish art. At the top of the mound sits a circle of bare trees, a fairy fort perhaps. A white mist washes over the entire canvas, overlaid with long shards of pink and white polka-dot triangles, which point inwards towards an imaginary vanishing point. It looks as if a mystical painting of a sacred place has been ritually altered with these pink additions. As part of his research Mooney also describes the phenomenon of the ‘migration’ of culture, referencing the mass migration of Irish peasants to the Carribbean in the seventeenth century.2 In Mounds he has taken decorative and symbolic motifs from Africa and the Carribbean and superimposed them on a distinctively Irish setting. The result is a kind of votive painting overlaid with an encrypted map.
Crossroads is a very striking if somewhat chilling painting. What looks like a severed head wearing a balaclava lies weightlessly in a bed of straw. The eyes are blacked out. The straw has been woven crudely and certainly wouldn’t stand up to any kind of practical use. Some of the cleanest and most vibrant streaks of colour in the entire exhibition appear as pieces of red (blood?) and white cloth below and above the head. Under the straw the remains of another image is barely visible through a film of wash. Straw has particular resonance in Irish folk history as part of the Mummers, Strawboys and Wren Boys. Some of these traditions date to pre-Christian times and still carry pagan associations. The folk forms of visual art that dominate Irish art history are where Mooney has found his heritage.
Throughout the exhibition other iconic Irish cultural and artistic references emerge, such as the Corleck Head in the painting Crom, coffin ships in Arcs and John Hinde postcards in Self Portrait. ‘Dog Island Days’ marks the beginning rather that the completion of Mooney’s ideas on this theme. With such a rich seam of source material, I look forward to seeing it develop and expand.
Carissa Farrell is a curator based in Dublin.
Higher Bridges Gallery, Enniskillen
6 February – 8 March 2014
Hair salons and barbershops do not often act as art supply stores for artists, but in the case of young Irish artist Gráinne Bird, they provide her primary material: human hair. ‘Hirsute’ is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Northern Ireland, in which she manipulates human hair through spinning, felting, crocheting, knitting, sewing and dressmaking to create tapestries, clothing, sculptural objects and complex installations in shades of brown, blonde, black and red.
Bird considers her practice self-sufficient, as the human body produces the source material from which she creates garments, which the same body can then wear for fashion or practicality. There is also a rich sense of community here, as numerous people have come together in the creation of these works, donating their own hair, which is felted, plaited and crocheted with that of others in the fabrication of each piece.
There is, however, something dark about Bird’s use of human hair, which is spun into garments that one imagines could be worn by mythological hirsute goddesses. Glass jars containing human hair – complete with labels listing the details of the donors – are displayed within the space, as the art gallery and craft store merge with the science fiction laboratory and the witch’s basement.
In folklore and mythology from around the world, human hair is a common ingredient in traditional spells. The ancient Egyptians believed that a potion made of hair, nail clippings and human blood would give a person absolute power over another. Pubic hair is considered an especially potent ingredient in love charms; and for centuries practices have existed for the safe disposal of hair so that it could not be used for magical purposes. In Ozark lore, hair combings were buried, never thrown out; French peasants buried hair; Turks and Chileans stuffed hair clippings into walls.
Yet, despite this loaded history, the wealth of connotations associated with human hair are not obviously addressed by the works in this show. The emphasis of the exhibition veers towards the beauty of working with this natural material. However, when the darker connotations of using hair as a material are touched upon, the work moves beyond the realms of craft-making and into more informed and nuanced territory. For example, a spun doll – which is exhibited beside a babygrow (complete with teddy bear motif) – is presented as a child’s toy, but when one sees adjacent jars of human hair and needles stuck into the doll’s leg, an inherent eeriness and associations with voodoo come to the fore.
Items of clothing – worn by models in Bird’s original presentation of this work from her graduate exhibition at the Dublin Institute of Technology in 2011 – now hang like skinned furs on the gallery walls. Women’s underwear (crafted from felted hair with plaited blonde detailing) no longer feels like contemporary fashion, but rather artifacts of clothing worn by cavewomen, pagans or formidable female warriors such as Boudica, Red Sonja, and Xena, Warrior Princess.
This idea of reclaiming hair within fashion has the makings of a powerful feminist message but could be more fully explored. We live in a society where women are pressured to shave and wax their bodies to smooth perfection, and to be immaculately coiffured.
Bird’s chosen source material is simultaneously beautiful, disturbing and in some ways problematic. The artist’s manipulation of human hair into tapestries, sculptures and apparel are demonstrative of sophisticated craft skills, but the unusual source material threatens sometimes to overshadow the work itself. Furthermore, its relevance is not always clear. Bird’s tapestries of natural landscapes are intricate and beguiling – but why create the work using human hair? Conversely, the striking installation 175 Portraits is very finely tuned to its source material: 175 donations from individual haircuts are skillfully crafted into rose-like spirals that hang from the ceiling and against the back wall of the gallery.
‘Hirsute’ is undoubtedly an accomplished solo exhibition. But some of its components – the babygrow, the slippers and the felted “Welcome” sign that greets visitors as they enter the gallery – verge on the twee, albeit offset by a sense of irony and tongue-in-cheek humour. Bird’s work is strongest when it considers human hair as much more than just a source material for craft-making. A visit to Bird’s studio, which one imagines contains hundreds of jars of human hair and a host of surreal tapestries and garments, would perhaps be a rewarding experience, providing a rich insight into the workings of the artist’s mind. Overall, ‘Hirsute’ successfully positions Bird as an artist worth watching.
Ben Crothers is a Belfast-based curator and writer. He holds an MA in Art History and Film Theory from the University of Essex, and has curated exhibitions at galleries including Golden Thread Gallery, PS2 and the Naughton Gallery.
Paul Quast luan Gallery, Athlone.
17 January – 16 March 2014
Paul Quast exhibits a large body of work in the New Gallery and River Gallery at Luan. He works in installation / sculpture and here deploys an impressive array of technology, including projectors, laser beams, prisms, lights, magnets and ferro-fluid – demonstrating an expert knowledge of physical, electromagnetic and optical processes. Quast’s work draws comparisons between our understanding of the universe in terms of physics and the social conventions and paradoxes that human civilisation has developed in order to function.
For Quast, physics is an unbiased, evolving system of knowledge, albeit based on approximations. Likewise the economics of financial and consumer markets, while promoting adherence to exact figures to achieve ‘success’, is an inexact art / science, dependent on intangible human factors such as persuasion and influence. Quast uses electromagnetic fields, optics and entropy to draw comparisons between these two paradigms and, in the process, raises pertinent questions about the nature and construction of perception itself.
In the New Gallery, Network (2014, mixed media, 240cm) consists of two neon tubes held horizontally in line by magnets, flashing alternately like neurons (and, very rarely, at the same time) to demonstrate our limited understanding of how the brain’s impulses reflect thoughts and concepts.
Apogee (2013, mixed media, 40x40x25cm) is a square-tiered form that incorporates nine interlocking cogs, which turn at a tired and halting pace, squeezing a brown ferro-fluid towards the centre. This highly effective work offers a view of cyclical monetary accumulation – suggesting the failed optimism of industrial cycles such as the Fordist systems of production – which has become clogged by ‘monetary waste’ oiling its mechanics.
The main piece in the New Gallery, 101 (2014 mixed media, variable dimensions) is an image of a slow swirling galaxy (number 101), projected onto a suspended screen. Loose change is provided to be thrown at the galaxy image,where an electromagnetic force may, if you are lucky, lock coins on to the dark centre of the image. There’s an almost Orwellian reference to Big Brother forcing austerity on its citizens, amplified by the black hole of the galaxy sucking in our money. The comparison between unknown universal forces and the current economic situation is well made here.
Also in this space is Hail (2013, mixed media, variable dimensions) comprising four laser pointers on tripod forms placed close to the floor, which project intense green laser beams through prisms and lenses to create a series of focus points on the opposite walls. The origin of each beam isn’t immediately clear and my curiosity and sense of dislocation were increased as I circulated around the space to locate this. The beams are focused on a €50 note mounted on one wall, to which the eye is inevitably drawn. The word “HAIL” is projected onto the currency, hailing the dominance of capital.
The works in the River Gallery function mainly as optical and light wave experiments with the objective of showing light (literally) in a new light. For example, in Of a deceptive nature (2014, mixed media, 260cm), a series of lights is directed through prisms and convex lenses, mounted on an adapted arc frame. This creates a perfect rainbow arc on the opposite wall. Here, Quast is playing out the deceptive nature of light via various particle, wave and photon theories in order to deconstruct the mysteries surrounding perception. A rainbow always eludes us as we seek to approach it for gold. We can touch this captive rainbow and it does not reward us with anything more than its reflection on the wall, and broken refracted arcs overhead.
E = € (2013 mixed media, 120 x 100 x 40cm) brings the balance of forces in the exhibition into more explicit focus. On suspended scales, a globe neatly held in magnetic rotation within a C-frame, rotates from west to east, in reverse planetary motion. On the left, a tray of copper cents provides a relatively poor value to balance against the significant unit value of the planet. Finally, Continuum (Mark II) (2014, mixed media, 8cm diameter) is a suspended black globe with a mysterious aura. Rapidly rotating, and driven by internal magnetic components within a fluid, it comments on entropic processes. As the fluid dries from the inside out, the surface will eventually decay and self-destruct. It’s a compelling work, symbolic of the hidden forces affecting our world.
The technical aspects of this exhibition are impressive and are underpinned by a substantive range of research. The optical experiments are obviously highly visible to audiences, but the electromagnetic technology, by its very nature, is more covertly present. Thus, the hidden forces operating within some works are not always evident. On one level, this reinforces some of the key points of the exhibition. However, a balance always needs to be struck between the use of media and ideas. In some works, the level of technical virtuosity overwhelms the underlying themes. The less complex works, which demonstrate the directly opposing forces at play, such as Network, Apogee and Continuum (Mark II), are more appealing – they force an immediate consideration of the underlying concerns.
That said, the artist is to be praised for creating works which draw out the viewer’s curiosity at all times with largely tactile scientific phenomena, thereby avoiding the sense of distance that can result from more interactive / media based work or traditional, static object-based sculptural work.
Colm Desmond is a Dublin-based artist & writer
‘We, They and I’
16 January – 17 April 2014
The Return, Goethe-Institut Irland, Dublin 2
When France outlawed the wearing of face-covering veils in 2011, ‘the veil’ had been a potent trope of feminist inquiry for some time. Various representations of the hijab, burqua, niquab and chador had appeared in contemporary art and popular culture; for example, in works as diverse as Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel and film Persepolis and Paris street artist Princess Hijab’s ‘hijabizing’ of advertising posters on the city’s Metro – she paints veils on the male and female models featured in luxury goods adverts.
The veil is the dominant symbol in German- Algerian artist Feriel Bendjama’s series of photographic self-portraits ‘We, They and I’. The works comprise stylised three-quarter-length studio images of the artist wearing a selection of different colored khimars, a covering that conceals the body from head to hips but displays the face.
Curated by Düsseldorf-based artist Sebastian Riemer, the nine images in the show are displayed in sets of three, each ostensibly themed by colour. Bendjama respectively wears a red, white or black khimar against black, green and white backgrounds. The artist accessorises each figure with cheap evocative props that look as though they came from the toy section of a Eurosaver discount shop. While seemingly iconoclastic, the work also prompts questions of femininity as defined by contemporary perceptions of Islam. The artist is heavily made-up in a manner that references the cliché that well-heeled Muslim women wear costly couture clothing beneath their plain veils.
In the ‘white’ category of the photographs, we find the artist pictured against a green background with eyes closed, first wearing a plastic child’s tiara, then blowing a bright red candy whistle and finally balancing a copy of the Qur’an on her head. Here are notions of perfect womanhood, particularly evoked by the Disney-princess-perfection of the tiara and the ‘finishing school’ referenced by the book-balancing act. Using a holy text further drives home Bendjama’s comment on the complexity of contemporary Islam’s position in Europe – including the artist’s home, Germany.
In the ‘black’ series, the artist is depicted against a white background – again with eyes closed. The props are a brightly coloured plastic pistol – which the artist points at her own head – a baby’s soother and a paper facemask of the kind used to protect against pollution. The artist is explicitly gagged, contemplating suicide, and infantalised.
The ‘red’ images depict a woman with open eyes and a considerably more engaged demeanor. Her props are also not subtle: a cigarette, a fake moustache and an opera mask make for a persona that both challenges and looks quizzically at the viewer, while the addition of a decorative lace part of the headdress personalise her clothing in a way that the previous images do no not.
During the artist and curator talk that launched this exhibition, Riemer asked Bendjama what she wanted the viewer to see when they look at these images. She replied, “They can be whatever you want them to be”. While this may be her stated intention, it’s clear that she is communicating an experience of womanhood within Islam. The works illustrate the stereotypes associated with the wearing of the veil – which Bendjama subverts with various masculine and / or feminist symbols.
Long an emblem of feminine ‘otherness’, Western tradition associates veiling with women who opt out of conventional society – nuns or female members of other religious sects for example. In the context of Islam the veil has become a symbol with dual meaning, suggesting both the subjugation of women and Muslim solidarity and empowerment. For Princess Hijab, mentioned above, and fellow French activist duo Niquabitch – who challenge the French ban by publicly wearing the niquab with shorts or a mini skirt – explore and exploit both these readings. Bendjama doesn’t throw her hat into the ring here, preferring the viewer to form their own interpretation of these images.
It’s a shrewd decision given the potency of the veil and its many meanings. Bendjama’s ‘We, They and I’ references various sides of this seemingly Gordian knot of a debate. Though the artist doesn’t provide any solutions, she offers a progressive and important voice in the tumult.
Anne Mullee is a Dublin-based writer, curator and filmmaker.
16 January 2014 – 15 February 2014
Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
JackIe Nickerson reveals a compassionate tenderness and gravitas for her subjects while taking photographs of the land and the people in sub- Saharan Africa. In Nickerson’s photographs, seemingly conventional art-historical tropes like portrait and landscape photography are merged to illustrate the cause and effect of working the land on both people and the environment. For her recent Jack Shainman Gallery exhibition, entitled ‘Terrrain’, Nickerson travelled to Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa to document agricultural workers, who constitute 70% of the workforce in Africa.1 Nickerson’s photographs blend figure and ground, transforming her subjects into sculptures in the landscape through a process of obstruction.
By blocking the facial features in her portraits, Nickerson highlights the physical presence of figures on the land, depicting how the bodies of the labourers become ‘sculpted’ through the repetitive actions of their work. Nickerson’s formal approach offers an account of the land and those who work and survive off it, rather than neutralising the content of her images.
Beneath magnificent skies, Nickerson scrutinises shapes, distils details and produces vivid, large-scale photographs that reveal the great dignity of her subjects. The labourers (photographed individually) hide their face by holding up objects, utilitarian tools like plastic crates and metal cabling, or the ‘fruits’ of their labour such as banana and tobacco leaves that are stacked, coiled, balanced or held. By honing her eye on both the produce and the producers, Nickerson highlights the relationship between the two: people and place inextricably tied together.
Nickerson arrived at this approach of concealing the subject by chance. One afternoon, Nickerson saw a worker called Oscar harvesting tobacco leaves – clipping the large leaves from the bush and then transferring them to an elongated metal rod and slotting them into a series of slats. This process dries the leaves without moisture building up between them, but also ‘obscures’ the worker as he accumulates his harvest. It was this chance occurrence that alerted Nickerson to the potential of composing other images this way.
Oscar arrested Nickerson’s attention. She simply asked him to stop and photographed him beneath the leaves that hung down and obstructed his face. Titled Oscar (2012), the work acknowledges the figure hidden in the photograph. Subsequent works similarly take the first name of the figure as a title, while some image titles borrow from locations used by the subjects, such as the photograph titled, Propagation Shed (2013).
Nickerson’s works are grounded in a profound inquiry into the act of looking and being looked at. To this end, she notes that the problem with objectivity in photography is that the photographer always gets in the way. Significantly, Nickerson has indicated that she would like to make herself invisible while she is working.2 She goes to great lengths to achieve this: travelling on her own and carrying her medium-format camera in a woven basket to minimise its presence. Acknowledging that her photographs come from and are directed at a “Western global North perspective”, Nickerson is motivated to investigate her viewpoint and question how she interprets visual appearances. Nickerson tries to eliminate herself in the work; when her subject picks up a plastic crate to obscure his face, he no longer sees the photographer or the camera. There is of course a performative aspect to this work: the photographer is both participant and observer. Nickerson is standing in the same landscape as the subject while she does her work – her labour is also inextricably connected to the terrain.
Nickerson wants to do more than simply photograph the labourers; she wants to merge with them as an invisible presence, knit into the scene like the woven basket where she conceals her camera, to capture what is in plain sight. Through a collaborative working relationship, Nickerson participates in a form of immersive journalism, reportage similar to Walker Evans’s tactics in his great, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. In contemporary photography it is important how, not just what is photographed. This shifts the reception of the work. Nickerson speaks about the humanity in her subjects. Through her own working methodology she emphasises the humanity she finds.
Nickerson now carries a copy of the Oscar image with her on other projects, showing his image to others for emulation – a form of collaboration that recognises the potential of the labourer within the landscape. The individual photographs within ‘Terrain’ are not so much static records but evidence of Nickerson’s process of seeing.
Kathleen Madden is an art historian living in New York City, who teaches at Sotheby’s Institute and Barnard College, Columbia University and is currently editing the ‘Performa 13’ book, due for publication in 2014.
‘this thing echoes’
Frith Street Gallery, London
17 January – 1 March 2014
Golden Square, where Frith Street Gallery sits reservedly, is a be-statued lulling-patch just off the persistent traffic of London’s Regent Street. In what might be an homage to a visitor’s typical route to the gallery – traversing buzzing throngs of shoppers and caffeinated urban professionals – you’re greeted at the door by a short video piece depicting a sucrose-binging hummingbird.
The protagonist of Irvine’s Guanajuato 14 sips the nectar from a bird feeder hung at the back of the eponymous address in the big smoke of Mexico City, where the artist lives and works part of the time. The bird arrives only halfway through the piece. The circumstantial sights and sounds of a residential complex, visible but off-focus through the balcony’s ornamental ironwork precede its third-act entrance. The hummingbird’s momentary feast introduces the exhibition, serving as prelude and caveat, reinforcing the artist’s sustained gaze at the fleeting almost-nothings that decline to assert themselves.
The work that occupies Frith Street’s basement, Shot in Mexico: On the Impossibility of Imagining the Numbers of the Dead and Disappeared, is a more sombre call to awareness but is delivered with similar quirk. More pointed than the video works in the exhibition, its titular wordplay and verdant settings provide the digestive by which the gravity of Mexico’s unremitting drug and gang-related violence can be stomached. A colony of countless yellow monarch butterflies is captured on the room-height photo paper mounted to the wall and a group of smaller archival photographs framed and hung against it. In the rich panorama of the forest near the town of Angangueo and its accompanying details, we are afforded a numerically suggestive but visually merciful analogue for the magnitude of that violence.
Other artists based in Mexico, Theresa Margolles first among them, have been keen to make such needless death harder on an audience – but Irvine’s take is less urgent and more elegiac. It is also consistent with her tendency to approach her subjects elliptically. The butterflies congregate on the undersides of branches, float above the mossy floor, and festoon the purple sky, placidly indifferent to the horror they signify. Her illustrative tack may not confront exactly, but it hangs in the air like a gunshot report.
Were I more knowledgeable about traditional Irish singing, I might detect a cuing of opening, closing denouement there, but Irvine’s intermittent portraits of street peddlers and scroungers, set to a sean-nós performance by singer Louise Phelan and accompanists, betrays linearity only in its beginning, when all the players in the settings of studio and street are assembling. Rather than spinning narrative, the looped projection Se Compra: Sin é captures a milieu of distinct but similarly tenuous lives in the locale of Mexico City. When documenting the native precariat polishing and grinding, it is crafted but unostentatious, non- cinematic filmmaking. By relation, the interspersed musicians, shot with mirrored attention to the scraping and plucking of their tools, seem less real. Against the enclosed black of the sound studio, they present a strange contrivance encroaching on the convincingly earnest urban graft, even while their asynchronous melodies overlay and echo the street vendors’ work.
Albanian artist Anri Sala employed a similar trope in his 1395 Days Without Red, interspersing a real- life orchestra with the nervous, fictionalised sniper- crossing of besieged workaday Sarajevans during the Bosnian War. Irvine’s take on Mexico City is less rarified. There is no painterly fixation on daylight. The artist’s technical manipulations focus rather on stitching the percussive, perfunctory acoustics and visuals of the peddlers with those of the musicians. We viewers are cast as unpresumptuous witnesses, spared the trenchant insecurity of tourists. And for all its apparent paucities, Irvine’s Mexico City is a moveable feast.
Though appropriately unsentimental, there is something of an ambivalent, infectious homesickness in Irvine’s work, maybe even a knowingly futile exertion to will two very distinct places closer together – geography be damned. There is, in the way the knife sharpener of Se Compra is photographed, a respect for his precision, as the hummingbird is foregrounded for its vivacity. Phelan’s voice undulates into prominence as the sound of an old and remote Ireland, valued for its scarcity and fragility. The more romantic aspects are applied drily and never left to over-sweeten the pot. Instead, the tincture leaves the viewer feeling nostalgic for something he’s never known, which is somewhere between a welcome bit of generosity and a blunted ruse.
Curt Riegelnegg is a critic living in London. He is Gallery Manager at Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art.
Royal Hibernian Academy Gallery, Dublin
13 March – 27 April
Moving into semi-darkness in the RHA’s Gallery 1 for Dorothy Cross’ ‘Connemara’ initially feels like entering a museum: silent and still. The only light comes from two video pieces projected on the walls and from overhead spotlights, which pick out the works dotted across the floor and walls. Cross initially went to Connemara due to an interest in scuba diving and, at a glance, this darkened room with spot-lit works calls to mind underwater footage allowing us glimpses of what lies far beneath the ocean’s surface. Yet Cross’s artistic interest lies not in what rests at the depths of the oceans but rather what occurs at that point where ocean and the land that we inhabit meet. Navigating the exhibition, the initial stillness is replaced by a sense of nature’s rhythms.
Cross often works with found objects and materials, a process facilitated by the movements of nature. Skins consists of a selection of man-made objects washed up on the beach, which were cast in bronze and neatly hung up in a row on the wall: rubber boots, insoles and fins. Incorporating found objects into the works brings a sense of where they came from into the gallery, embodying the history of that place.
The shark has recurred in Cross’s work to represent a number of things: our fears, that which repulses us, desire and misunderstanding. In Everest Shark this fearsome fish pauses at our feet and at once appears vulnerable, its fin replaced by a model of Mount Everest. This vulnerability recalls the point made by countless marine experts that sharks are not the mythical monsters we have created and are probably more afraid of us than we are of them, while also positioning the shark, like a mountain, as our long time predecessor on this planet.
In Whale, a whale skeleton hangs from the ceiling, its skull stretching towards a rusted bucket and marble plinth on the floor. This once beautiful sea creature is present in a rather dejected position:today’s catch. Yet the skeleton rises like some kind of totem pole and casts a large shadow on the gallery wall, at once beautiful and ominous. Tabernacle resembles a tiny marine chapel, with a handful of small seats and a currach for a roof. The seats face a video installation projected on the wall, shot from the depths of a cave looking out towards the daylit sea and tracking the water as it surges in and out of the cave. The installation evokes the ceaseless shifting in nature, the ebb and flow, as the water slowly erodes the stone.
‘Connemara’ first opened last year at the Turner Contemporary (Margate, UK) alongside a number of landscapes by Turner and Constable. Shark Heart Submarine, probably the most talked about work in the show, consists of a splattered antique painter’s easel supporting a model submarine, which we are told contains the heart of a shark. This work reflects on a number of things: it juxtaposes traditional and contemporary approaches to art inspired by nature; it aligns art history with natural history; and presents a shark to us from a different viewpoint, its tiny heart encapsulated like the engine in this shiny machine.
Throughout Cross’s oeuvre death and loss are transformed; once living beings and inanimate objects are reborn in a new context. A collaboration exists between artist and the natural world, which reflects on man’s interaction with nature. In Basking Shark Currach, death is turned into something new, as a shark skin is used in the place of a traditional cowhide to line the overturned boat, the fin resembling a boat’s keel. The currach represents a way of life closely linked to, and dependent on, nature – an increasingly rare occurrence in many parts of the world.
Despite the sea being the show’s primary inspiration, it makes only a few fleeting direct appearances – the two video pieces and a print – and is for the most part conjured up through the objects accumulated. This subtlety forms an important part of many of the works on display, where an impetus is in place for the visitor to reflect on our position in and relationship to the natural world around us. But for a richer experience our understanding and imagination are encouraged. This stands in marked contrast to art inspired by nature in more sensational or direct ways – think Damien Hirst’s infamous shark.
The exhibition offers a chronological path to follow, which I choose to do in order to see if there was some sense of story to how the works were ordered. Sapiens, the final piece, consists of an adult skull on an antique tripod; as you move around the work, you find a baby skull protruding from the back of the larger one. Perhaps this work considers our place in the world characterised by its transience amidst the ultimate cycles of life and nature. ‘Connemara’ offers but a glimpse of Cross’s extensive collection of works that respond to what the natural world offers her in terms of source material and inspiration, but it’s enough to affirm an artist working with a wealth of curiosity and sensitivity to explore encounters on the threshold where man and nature collide.
Roisin Russell is a writer based in Dublin and her work has featured on Paper Visual Art Journal, Vulgo and Circa.
‘A Story of Revolutions’
14 March – 20 April 2014
Connections between writing and image are a major component in Altes’s exhibition of digital imagery, paintings and texts at Triskel. The show’s title states the exhibition’s goal: to tell ‘A Story of Revolutions’. One particular mode of sequential visual story telling is suggested by the venue’s former life as a church. The 13 digital prints and the 6 paintings are placed around the walls of Triskel’s gallery space, which brings to mind a kind of Stations of the Cross.
Altes employs wall texts to provide the viewer with information in order to contextualise his images. He uses a collage technique in his digital prints, which bring together photographic images taken at different times. Altes’s sources include photographs taken by his family in Algeria prior to its independence in 1962, as well as contemporary photographs he has taken on recent visits.
The digital collage Chronology comprises photographs of a city at night – generic city lights and high-rise buildings stand as signs for any fairly developed city. The upper section of the collage is an image of a barren landscape; palm trees depicted in silhouette stand out against it. The blue sky has been decorated with graffiti flourishes and stenciled with the words “This isn’t democracy”. The style of this slogan and the fact that it’s in English brings to mind the recent Arab Spring revolutions. It also reads as a discrete nod towards jubilant Western references to ‘twitter revolutions’ along with globalisation in general and English as the language of international commerce and communication.
The main focus of this image is on two groupings of people. Three children wearing school uniforms and, to their right, another grouping of three – a smartly dressed couple, and an older woman in traditional dress. Altes’s text describes how the older woman, a stranger, became incorporated by chance into the photograph of his parents. The collage also contains elements that have been vertically flipped, both architectural features and figures. This obvious digital manipulation stresses the highly constructed nature of the piece and emphasises that it is not a document of a particular time and place. It functions critically due to its close understanding and manipulation of the technologies of photography.
Another of the digital works, Mal, incorporates what at first glance appears to be Arabic script; on closer examination, the resemblance is only superficial. Altes’s text describes it as being a “mock appropriation of Arabic”. The collage incorporates different modes of representation: x- rays, photography and writing, but ultimatly blocks our attempts to unlock the image. The paintings on show are drawn from a series entitled No Country for Nomads (The Myth of Origins). In an accompanying text by Dr Helen Jacey, it’s suggested that these works “serve as an imaginary reclamation of a mythical geography of birthright which is fantastical, evocative and surreal”. The paintings are overall compositions with no particular area of focus; in a number of them the ground has a gritty look, suggestive of sand. They allude to both maps and topography seen from above and are reminiscent of certain aspects of indigenous Australian painting, as well as work by Miro and Chris Ofili. They are decorative, the application of paint and their compositions suggesting vegetation, rivers, veins and blood flow. There’s a linking made between land and body, which could be read as problematic.
Though large in scale – all measuring 150 x 130cm – the paintings seem to be weightless, as much of the imagery is quite generic, which I suppose could be read as an expression of rootlessness. Though the paintings are more unified compositions than the collaged digital works, ultimately they don’t seem entirely necessary – they’re almost simulacrums of painting – paintings as signifiers of ‘painting’.
The digital works are more interesting; they are assembled in a fairly crude manner, with no attempt made to hide the joins. The rough collaging can be read as a metaphor, an attempt to assemble an art that articulates Altes’s conflicted relationship with his identity and his family background. Combined with the text they are confrontational. In Classroom Picture, an old family photograph of his mother’s school class has been superimposed onto a lurid green and white background and overlain with a text about the exodus of Pied-Noir from North Africa to Europe.
Altes’s project is a very ambitious one – an exploration of “representation, diaspora and transition within the context of the colonization of Algeria and the Algerian revolution”. Based on the works in this show, it’s debatable just how successful he has been in achieving this aim. There’s always a danger when an exhibition’s contextualising material makes grandiose claims; it directs viewers to read artworks in a certain way and the work can be found lacking if it doesn’t live up to textual promises. In fact the most successful works in this show are those that fail to ‘represent’ and instead express the fragmentary, unreliable and unstable nature of representation itself.
Catherine Harty is a Cork-based artist and member of the Cork Artists’ Collective as well as being an activist with the Socialist Party.
New Work by Ailbhe Barrett and Joan Sugrue
The Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon
14 March – 3 April
In We Have Never Been Modern, the French sociologist of science Bruno Latour observes that climate change is simultaneously material, discursive and socially constructed. It is at once a product of natural phenomena, of power relations and of the effects of language, a hybrid of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’.*
I mention this because these days I find that the act of looking at landscapes, both real and pictorial, is suffused with the knowledge that what I am looking at is not just what I am looking at. Every leaf and blade of grass carries within it microscopic traces of human activity, whether from pollution, chemical fertilisation, genetic modification or something else. Wild animals, including those in my immediate environment, have become increasingly like the mythical lost tribes of the Amazon, modern anomalies set to disappear under the advancing wave of capitalist growth. International protocols determine the right to pollute the air. It’s not that I am nostalgic for some previously ‘pure’ state of nature – as though natural phenomena could exist independently of human actions and effects – it is just that I anticipate, as the artist Mark Dion has recently said, that the world is going to get grottier, and that there is very little that we can do about it.**
Looking at the seemingly ‘innocent’ landscapes created by Ailbhe Barrett, on show as part of ‘Overworlds’ at the Courthouse Gallery in Ennistymon, it seems unlikely that the artist was working from such a pessimistic viewpoint. While the majority of her works focus on the sky, they feature “silhouettes and shapes of human activity and built structures” at the edges of the compositions, described by the artist as “both comforting and threatening”.*** The sense of threat that I detected in the work seemed to come less from these small indexes of human presence, however, than from the very real awareness of this sky, this enveloping atmosphere, as the locus of some pretty awesome and destructive forces in formation. The sublime is back, but not as we knew it.
The painful fact of beauty and its imminent loss may be a Romantic theme, but it is no less current for that. Two of Barrett’s larger paintings, The Weir, Maigue River and -10 o C, stood out in this regard. Scenes of trees and water, strangely lit, the images were built up through a fine lattice of brushstrokes painstakingly applied, the surfaces charged with an intensity of looking. In the weird, crystal stillness of these works, the hybrid reality of ‘nature’ seemed somehow close to the surface.
The work of Joan Sugrue, also on show as part of ‘Overworlds’, engaged more consciously with the complexities of representation. Concerned with overlapping perceptions of time, place and space, Sugrue generates painted images that appear like multiple exposures. Each layer of the image seems to reference an entirely different visual language: photographic, hieroglyphic, sometimes cartoonish, in keeping with the artist’s interest in the heterotopias that result when elements of place and time are “out of sync”.**** Sugrue’s Broken is a striking evocation of the space of ‘otherness’ that Foucault described in the heterotopia. Taking the form of a double image, the lower canvas operates as a reflection or inversion of the one above, suggesting something seen and seen again as though through a wormhole in spacetime. Similarly, Portal creates a void in the representation of an otherwise straightforward scene, exposing the instability of the image and its internal workings.
Sugrue’s series of six small, pinhole photographic prints, titled for the length of their exposure – 88 days, 21 days and so on – added something significant to the cumulative effect of the exhibition. Through the analogue process of pinhole photography, the world imprints itself directly onto the surface of the paper, which is most obvious in the tracks left by the passage of the sun across the sky. This evidence of the indifferent, relentless turning of the world placed the miniscule significance of human time in a cosmic perspective, partially offsetting the melancholy of representation that so permeated the other works.
The fictional constructs of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ have allowed the human species to conceive a make- believe separation between our actions and their consequences. ‘Overworlds’ acknowledged this artifice while seeming to maintain a thread to the material reality from which it derives.
Fiona Woods is a visual artist recognised for her curatorial and collaborative work in rural contexts. She is currently developing a new work by invitation for Action on the Plains, a Colorado- based programme of socially engaged art with US collective M12.
*B latour, B, We Have Never Been Modern, 1993, trans C porter, Harvard university press, 1993, 6
**M Dion in S lookofsky, Trash on the Beach, 2013, Dis Magazine, www. dismagazine.com
***A Barrett,artist statement,‘Overworlds’,The Courthouse Gallery,2014, www. thecourthousegallery.com
****J Sugrue, artist statement,‘Overworlds’
The Copperhouse Gallery, Dublin
13 March – 3 April
Secluded down a quiet laneway off Synge Street, Dublin the ‘Copper House’ is wrapped in thin sheets of the eponymous metal, an eccentric cladding for an otherwise nondescript industrial block. The two- storey structure houses a photographic studio and digital printing service with a ground floor gallery offering a showcase for the company’s output. This immaculate exhibition space provides a pristine air for the 16 colour photographs that make up Richard Gilligan’s exhibition, ‘DIY’.
Gilligan is a commercial photographer who also pursues more personal projects. As a skateboarder, he has travelled widely in Europe and America photographing skateboarders and the unofficial, cobbled together skateparks that they build. The small (42.5x51cm) and medium (79x96cm) sized photographs are simply mounted and framed without glass. The exhibition combines images of the gerry-built parks themselves (including an occasional skater or two) and shots of individual skaters taken in or around these locations. There is little or no action as such and, contrary to expectation, barely a single skateboard in evidence.
A spirit of gung-ho optimism may be synonymous with ‘DIY’ but in Gilligan’s exhibition title the term becomes more nuanced. His portraits of lone figures and isolated parks suggest that doing it yourself may also mean doing it by yourself, when you move away from the conventions that govern elsewhere. Munich, Germany depicts a hooded figure in the shadows of a darkened space. Standing pensively in a shaft of light, he’s like a backstage actor waiting for his cue. In New Orleans, USA a young boy leans forward with arms on hips. He seems oblivious to his surroundings, his downward gaze ignoring the blurry edifice behind him and the weedy verge delineating his concrete patch.
All the photographs are titled after their locations: Brooklyn, USA, Liverpool, UK. But despite these varied locales the pictures reveal a common topography, a similar landscape of dead-ends, underpasses and vacant lots – a sort of Esperanto hinterland where the useful and the useless intersect.
In Warsaw, Poland a cultivated slope sweeps down to a rectangle of grey concrete, marked here and there by low platforms and ramps. A group of tiny figures is dwarfed by a row of tower blocks behind, standing like sentinels with so many eyes. The light is eerily even, lending everything an equal status under the cloudy expanse above. I was reminded of Pieter Bruegel’s painting, Hunters in the Snow, and how, viewed from an elevated vantage point, his silhouetted ice-skaters draw your eye into the distant valley and a sense of the intimate life there. Gilligan’s skateboarders seem more remote, frozen by the camera on the edge of an indifferent metropolis.
The photographer’s view is oblique, taking in tangential spaces and the incidental moments around events. In Philadelphia, USA two young women sit cross-legged on a hard slope. Beside them a curve of blue concrete marks the rim of a skateboarding ‘bowl’. Though together, the women seem alone in their thoughts. There’s a darkness on the edge of town, or a twilight at least, an atmosphere of pensive separation hovering over the off-piste terrain. In the distance a road sign glows orange, lit by electricity or by the dying rays of the sun.
One of the pleasures of the exhibition is to see how the dips and pours of these temporary playgrounds can soften the hard edges of urban infrastructure. Gilligan notices how ramps can resemble natural features. In Memphis, USA the picture is dissected by a rain-soaked wall. Behind the wall a line of telegraph poles gives measure to the watery sky. In the open space in front there is a single white ramp, its undulating mass like a snowdrift melting into the ground.
Skateparks that colonise neglected space can themselves become neglected. In Derry, Northern Ireland a scrubby field is bordered by conifers and a broken fence. A wooden ramp appears abandoned in a gap between the trees. Whatever energy was here has now gone, the bucolic and the alcoholic mingled in a scrubland of discarded beer cans.
At the turn of the millennium Shaun Gladwell’s Storm Sequence (a slow-motion video of a skateboarder (himself) spinning on the edge of a rain-lashed pier) proved that you could make art by combining boyhood enthusiasms with notions of the romantic sublime. The ‘street’ and its vernaculars are by no means strangers to art (and I’m not talking about Banksy) with photographers in particular frequently finding treasures there. Another millennial work, the sequence Heads by the American photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia, renders ordinary pedestrians monumental by ingenious lighting techniques. Gilligan’s photographs don’t have the dramatic impact of these examples, but they have something of their mixture of insouciance and conviction.
Serving as an anomaly in a set otherwise focused on the outside, a second image titled Munich, Germany shows a skatepark tucked inside a barnlike structure. A cropped view makes a powerful arrangement of black and brown interlocking shapes. An area of pale concrete scooped out from the surrounding level completes the abstract composition. The picture’s formal qualities made me think of George Braque, particularly his ‘Atelier’ paintings and their symbolic birds, locked into the painted surface but not bound to it. Already in its second edition print run, a handsome volume, also titled DIY, offers a fuller spectrum of these quietly engaging photographs.
John Graham is an artist based in Dublin.
Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda
9 March – 25 April
‘Interconnectedness’, the title of Robert Kelly’s exhibition of abstract prints at the Droichead Arts Centre, alludes not only to the visual links created between works through the repeated use of plates, but to the persistence of motifs and themes that have informed his practice since the 1970s. Geometric forms and grid patterns are infused with less taut characteristics to explore the tension between order and chaos in a modern-meets-postmodern interplay. Hidden spaces, perception and the impact of time and motion are also pitched within a resonating set of relationships.
The works on show span four years of output and show variety in both technique and aesthetic as a counterpoint to cohesion in themes and to some extent formal content. A set of four sugar-lift etchings with Pop Art leanings, entitled Liminality in CMYK, manipulates cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) to explode the illusion of unity promoted by commercial four-colour printing. Rather than align the chromatic elements, Kelly applies them in various overlapping combinations, creating entities that are at once graphic and calligraphic, gestural and structured.
This chimes with the artist’s stated wish to celebrate the unique character of print processes, while deconstructing and laying them bare, referencing spaces that would otherwise elude perception. Both Sides Now, a lithograph featuring chine collé collaged elements, harnesses this idea. It comprises a work printed with the same component back and front, aligning either side of the midpoint, like the folded paintings that teach children about symmetry. It takes close observation to detect the tonal differences, which demonstrated that the reverse of the paper had been printed – drawing attention to a place that would otherwise go un- noted.
A small but important component of Liminality in CMYK is a latticework of squares, which, to varying degrees, anchor the imagery across the suite of works, but in themselves are rough-hatched and destabilised by competing elements. Such allusion to ‘the grid’ is a keynote in other works, though sometimes only conceptually, through the deployment of horizontal and vertical dynamics.
In The Spirit of Amergin, a trio of distinct soap- ground etchings, vertical forms derived from the incised marks on Bronze Age pottery are married with (possibly landscape-inspired) horizontal compositional devices and mark-making. The intrusion of the former into the latter conveys a timeless tussle between order and disorder, while the deployment of a sombre palette evokes a sense of deep history.
Most significant among the remaining exhibits is a recent body of work that provides clear evidence of process-led decision-making and the evolution of an idea. 3D elements are incorporated through printing onto folded paper, which is then opened to reveal hidden parts, articulating the artist’s interest in unseen spaces. In The Space Between with Triangles, where both folded paper and background are printed in carborundum, the predominant element is a sharp-edge yellow triangle derived from a card template. This shape was then overprinted from carborundum in a complementary colour, after the fold was opened.
The resulting visual deconstruction of a geometric form associated with mathematical rigour and certitude is advanced in The Space Between with Triangles, Circles and Squares, through slight movement of the inset paper; because the crisp geometric shapes bled onto the background, the movement caused them to mis-register, further undermining their integrity and referencing a tension between reality and illusion.
Observed from a distance, given their three- dimensionality and the alchemy of complementary colours, these works seem calligraphic, even graffiti- like. Placed on the opposite wall, the largest of the series, The Space Between with Squares, encourages this viewpoint. In this work, the artist offsets the ‘inset’ to reveal a misshapen, blind-embossed square with the imprint of the folds – an inspired move. In another positioning manoeuvre, the creases in The Space Between with Circles I, II and III (an etching and carborundum series) are exploited to comment on perception. Placed at staggered intervals and arranged on the basis of suitability for viewing from above, on the level and below, time and motion are introduced to the process.
A collection of standalone 3D works is displayed in glass cases. These included printed- paper sculptures, which merge origami with complex geometric forms, such as the hexaflexagon favoured by school-age girls. These were flanked by Chinese Whispers I and II, lithograph-printed artist books shown tumbling from their covers to reveal their visual narratives.
On a final note, a chance encounter with the artist provided valuable insight into nuances of technique and intention that would otherwise have been difficult to glean from the work. This enrichment of the viewing experience would ideally have been extended to all visitors through well-chosen text. The absence of such material is understandable given the expense of mounting an exhibition in straitened times, but it would have helped to build the audience for print, through revealing the processes behind works by an artist clearly immersed in its versatile and investigative potential.
Susan Campbell is a freelance art writer and visual artist.
5. Column. Be There. VAI Get Together 2014.
6. Column. Jonathan Carroll. Recalling Bocadillo-gate.
5.Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
7. Column. Els Borgart. Forwards & Backwards.
8. News. The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
8. VAI News. Visual Artists Ireland’s research, projects and campaigns.
9. Regional Profile. Donegal. Artlink, Fiona Mulholland, Sarah Lewtas, Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, Earagail Arts Festival, Glebe Gallery.
12. Project Profile. Spark & Grit. Rgksksrg discuss the DCC / Lab Emerging Curator Award.
13. Research Profile. The Double Edged Sword. Research on artist-entrepreneurs in the West.
14.Career Development. The Eye of the Storm. Ann Quinn charts the development of her painting practice.
15. Award Profile. Aces High. Lesley Cherry and Alissa Kleist on their ACNI ACES awards.
16. Career Development. Making & Momentum. Brendan Earley discusses the idea of an art career. (Archived)
17. Project Profile. Stepping Across Boundaries. Sue Morris discusses ‘I Can Say This With Absolute Certainty. I Was There’, which explored issues around memory and historical record.
18.Residency. Scale & Difference. Saoirse Higgins on her residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Shanghai. (Archived)
19. Critique Supplement. Dorothy Cross, RHA; Patrick Altes, Triskel; ‘Overworlds’, Courthouse. Ennistymon; Richard Gilligan, Copperhouse Gallery; Robert Kelly, Droichead Arts Centre. (Archived)
23. VAI Professional Development. Stepping Up. Adrian Colwell Reports On ‘Early Days’, A VAI Professional Development event held at Mcac , Portadown (1 March 2014).
23. VAI Activity. Plus Ça Change – VAI’s Screening of !Women Art Revolution!
24. How is it Made? Balancing Act. Cecily Brennan on The Devil’s Pool: Madness, Melancholia and the Artist (Archived)
25. Institution Profile. Years Of Possibility. Catherine Harty, Mick O’Shea and Irene Murphy in conversation about The Guesthouse, Cork.
26.Residency Programme. Space Of Activation. The re-commencment of IMMA’S residency programme.
27. Residency Report. Critical Margin. Kim Mcaleese on her curatorial residency at Soma, Mexico City.
28. Career Development. New Thinking / New Processes. Designer / maker Kate Oram outlines her experience of the Harnessing Creativiy inititive
29. Profile. Create, Exhibit & Exchange. An interview with Cliodhna Shaffrey, the new director of TBG+S.
30. Art in Public Roundup. Commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and other forms of art outside the gallery.
31. Art in Public Profile. Finders / Keepers. Gianna Tomasso profiles ‘Find’, a mentored series of public art projects for Castlebar
32. VAI West Of Ireland Representative. Moving The Discourse. Aideen Barry highlights the importance of real world contexts and the contribution that art world professionals can make to visual arts education.
33. Opportunities. Grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.
34. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.
5. Column. Treasa O’Brien. Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.
6. Column. Boredom, Compulsion & Anxiety. Mark Fisher.
7. Column. Constructing Migration. Emily Mark–Fitzgerald.
8. News. The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
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9. Regional Profile. West Cork, Resources and Activities – Blue House Gallery; Kinsale Arts Festival, West Cork Arts Centre, David Bickley; Wendy Dison.
12. How is it made? Expansion & Transformation. Maud Cotter talks to Bernadette Cotter.
13. Career Development. Material Negotiation. Barbara Knezevic’s approach to professional practice.
14. Organisation Profile. Championing a Medium. Ben Crothers profiles Belfast Print Workshop.
15. Project profile. Ultra Violet Orange. Sarah Kelleher profiles ‘Iron R 2’ at NSF, Cork.
16. Residency. Fluid Identities. Kevin Gaffney describes his residency at the Taipei artist Village in Taiwan. (Archived)
17. Seminar Report. Helium for Lead. James Merrigan reports on a discussion about paintings placed within contemporary art practice, Lismore Castle Arts.
18. Organisation profile. Very Berlin. Barry Kehoe profiles MART.
19. Critique. Susan Connolly, The MAC, Belfast; Kennedy Browne, Crawford Gallery, Cork; Conor Foy & Nicky Teegan, NCAD Gallery; Sinéad ní Mhaonaigh, Kevin Kavanagh Gallery; ‘Reframing the Domestic’Highlanes, Drogheda.
23. VAI Professional Development. Networking Networks. The Visual Artists Supports in Local Communities event at Get Together 2014 (Archived)
23. VAI Help Desk / Letters. Art vs Utility. Visual Artists Ireland is tackling the misuse of percent for art schemes to support architectural / design commissions.
24. VAI Advocacy. Courting the Mainstream. Developing the quantity and quality of media coverage.
25. Career Development. Consolidated practice. Carissa Farrell talks to painter Tom Climent.
26. VAI Get Together 2014. Common Causes. Lily Power reports on Get Together 2014
28. VAI Professional Development. Painting as Embodiment. Victoria Wright’s VAI peer critique. (Archived)
29.Profile. Scale & Potential. An interview with Ann Mulrooney, Chief Executive Officer of Visual, Carlow.
29. VAI Northern Ireland Manager. Development NI Rob Hilken’s recent activities and concerns.
30. Art in Public. Between Inquiry & Control. Sven Anderson outlines a project based on embedding himself within Dublin City Council as an urban acoustic planner / sound designer. (Archived)
31. Art in Public Roundup. Commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and other forms of art outside the gallery.
32. Gallery Profile. Challenges and Experience. Lily Power interviews Kevin Kavanagh.
33. VAI Graduate Award. What Now? Highlighting graduates recommended as outstanding by the Dublin art colleges: DIT, NCAD and IADT.
34. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.
35. VAI Professional Development ROI & NI. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.
‘Re-Framing the Domestic in Irish Art’
Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda, Co Louth
29 April – August 2014
Paintings from Drogheda’s Municipal Art Collection provide a starting point for this ambitious exhibition co-curated by Highlanes director Aoife Ruane, artist Amanda Coogan and art historian and writer Jane Humphries. Drawing on the respective interests of the curators, the show’s premise is an attempt to address a movement in Irish art that has been, if not ignored, then perhaps passed by. Humphries has written eloquently on what she has termed the “domestic avant-garde” (1), examining the work of Irish women artists in a feminist / home context in order to explore how these artists have subverted tropes of ‘home’ as part of their work (2).
Coogan meanwhile, often employs performative gestures in her work which can be interpreted as alluding to the domestic, such as sitting on top of a bucket while scrubbing fabric in Yellow (2008), or with the project ‘Labour’ (2012), a touring exhibition of live art where each of the participating Irish female artists worked with their own bodies (3).
The curatorial trio has assembled an array of work that includes video installation, sculpture and painting, dating from the mid nineteenth to the twenty-first century. Though too numerous to discuss individually here, the works suggest a survey of the domestic in Irish art, a subject that in any culture creates a predictable gender imbalance.
The earlier works, principally painting, address the notion of the domestic in a literal way, capturing informal moments of everyday life as seen through the eyes of the person – the woman – caring for the house. The illustrative quality of Bea Orpen’s gouache painting Back Yard, Bettystown (1945) captures the view of a modest back garden complete with shed and laundry drying on the line, the kind of private machinations traditionally kept hidden from public life.
Figurative works such as Orpen’s are in the minority however, as the lion’s share of the space belongs to the generation of artists who have risen to prominence since the mid-1980s, including such luminaries as Alice Maher. Her scrutiny of the idea of home has drawn on ideas espoused by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard and his Poetics of Space (4), and the work here, a thorn piece called Soap Dish For L.B., calls to mind another aspect of the Irish home, the holy water font present in practically every Catholic home in years gone by.
Maher is not so much subverting the idea of the domestic as destabilising it to offer a discomfiting invitation to re-examine this highly personal space. Aideen Barry’s Possession (2011), a video work now in the Arts Council’s collection, also plays with the minutiae of domestic tasks and the weight of anxiety prompted by a lonely suburban existence. Her protagonist obsessively washes her hands while around her the house makes ceaseless demands. She is also instrumentalised, becoming the devices (lawn mower, vacuum cleaner) required to maintain a perfect home.
Locky Morris, making work prompted by the “daily epiphanies”(5) he experiences, offers a more familiar image. Stair Pile, a photograph of a pile of clean washing awaiting transport to its next destination of hot press or bedroom drawer is a banal domestic scene, the kind more typical of the way we live now than the fantasies presented in aspirational home magazines.
The demands of family life and the toll it can take is also the focus of Anthony Haughey’s Safe As Houses (1994), depicting a tableaux of model ‘jails’ occupied by the detritus of marriage and family. In the Rev. P. Hanlon’s The Golden Cage (1969), taken from the Drogheda Municipal Art Collection, the idea of entrapment is unambiguous.
Though the above is just a snapshot of the diverse and wonderful works here, the common thread of the domestic as oppressive and crushing is striking. The literature supplied with the exhibition explains its mission to “ask what facts and fictions the domestic suggests to the artist today” (6) and there is ample evidence to support the view that the domestic induces a deep-seated unease with both male and female artists.
While it would be would be easy to assign this to the usual gender archetypes, the questions and lines of enquiry this exhibition raises are far more varied and more complex. A house, described 90 years ago by Le Courbusier as “a machine for living in”, offers a contract to live a certain life. Its terms are open to interpretation.
Anne Mullee is a curator, writer, filmmaker and arts administrator based in Dublin. She is currently working on a collaborative documentary about artist-led spaces in Ireland, and curated the recent Hannah Mooney exhibition at The LAB gallery.
1. J Humphries, The Emergence of a Domestic Avant-Garde in Contemporary Irish Art: The Paradoxical House/Home. Journal of Post Graduate Research, University of Dublin, Trinity College, 7, 36 – 54 2008
2. The show featured work by: Lucy Andrews, Aideen Barry, Diana Copperwhite, Maud Cotter, Dorothy Cross, Pauline Cummins, Gerard Dillon, Laura Fitzgerald, Jessica Foley, Fr Jack Hanlon, Siobhan Hapaska, Anthony Haughey, Brian Hegarty, Grace Henry, Patrick Jolley, Rebecca Trost, Inger Lise Hansen, Mary A. Kelly, John Kindness, Danny Lartigue, Vanessa Donoso Lopez, Maggie Madden, Alice Maher, Locky Morris, Janet Mullarney, William Mulready, Sinead McCann, William McKeown, Isabel Nolan, Abigail O’Brien, Margaret O’Brien, Bea Orpen, William Orpen, Kathy Prendergast, Hilda Roberts, Declan Rooney, Mary Swanzy, Dominic Thorpe, and Jennifer Trouton.
3. S Barrett and A Coogan, (eds), Labour: A Live Exhibition – Performances by Irish Female Artists, Dublin City Arts Office/The LAB, 2012
4. G Bachelard, The Poetics of Space: The classic look at how we experience intimate spaces, Maria Jolas (trans), Beacon Press, 1994
5. Press release from Locky Morris, ‘From day one’, mother’s tankstation, Dublin, April – May 2010
6. Press release from ‘Re-Framing the Domestic in Irish Art’, Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda, 29 April – August 2014.