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VAN Critique July/August 2014: Kennedy Browne at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork


Kennedy Browne The Myth of the Many in the One. Image © Kennedy Browne, photo © Jed Niezgoda, installation at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

‘The Myth of the Many and the One’
Kennedy Browne
The Myth of the Many in the One
The Crawford Art Gallery
11 April – 7 June 2014

Titles can be abstracted, distanced, tenuously connected, and even arbitrary, but The Myth of the Many in the One is exactly what it describes, an exploration of the modern day mythic figures synonymous with Silicon Valley, such as Bob Noyce, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. Kennedy Browne (the collaborative practice of Gareth Kennedy and Sarah Browne) extensively researched the bibliographies of these men and their relationship to Silicon Valley, weaving facts, anecdotes, inferences and biblical quotes in a unique process of redaction to form a single narrative.

The work is split into five ‘acts’: I Origin, II Early Signs, III Conflict, IV The Eleventh Year, and V Faith and Future. The Roman numerals, dividing pages and font used echo religious texts, while the narrative moves between quasi-documentary, intimate anecdotes and prophetic declarations. Yet it consistently constructs the figure of a child on the edge – isolated, troubled, psychologically unstable, yet with potential beyond our comprehension.

The work is shot in two locations, a pre-Silicon Valley peach orchard and a green-screen studio set. These spaces form the backdrop to the central performances played by a precocious child actor and a voice-over artist. The ‘acts’ are filmed in the orchard. The idyllic trees and green fields are interrupted as the scenes progress with discarded farming equipment and debris. Only biblical quotes are shot against the green-screen. 

After the “post-war exodus”, in a world without personal computers or the Internet, a child is born “under the sign of Scorpio”. A hyperkinetic toddler who, we are told, jams bobby pins into electrical sockets just to see what will happen. At six he is accosted by a neighbourhood girl who tells him his real parents rejected him; his parents reveal his adoption, and emphasise how they specially picked him. This embeds in the child an inner narrative of “abandoned, chosen, and special”. 

The child is wilful and disobedient, repeatedly expelled from elementary school; a psychologist tells his parents that it is useless to get him to conform and after sixth grade he doesn’t go back to school. The protagonist is on the verge of becoming a delinquent but a near fatal brush with explosives changes his life, and as the narrator declares, changes the life of the world. 

In the eleventh hour the child is redeemed as he finds solace or perhaps salvation in the family’s move to silicon family. Electronics become the child’s sole focus – “clean, predictable, with unlimited potential”. He flourishes in this environment under the guidance of an engineer neighbour. 

The last ‘act’, ‘Faith and Future’, describes how the young boy memorised Mathew 5 – 7, the Sermon on the Mount, to win a competition that his pastor had set and to eat at the Space Needle restaurant. This passage is famously difficult to memorise and internalise; it doesn’t rhyme, there is no internal pattern, it is incongruent and grammatically random, yet, with little to no attachment to the meaning, the boy is able to learn it by heart simply to meet the challenge. 

Biblical quotes, recited against a green-screen, are dispersed throughout the acts. In an obvious sense the biblical quotes tie into the messiah-like qualities of the child but they come across as an overused trope. These quotations: “Blessed are those who hunger…”, “No one can serve two masters…”, “Seek and you will find”, are now such a part of Western rhetoric that they have lost their original meaning, and perhaps that is the point: they have evolved into conversation filler. 

The contradictions of myth and science, vision and technology are brought together in the disclaimer at the end. The child is an “avatar”, an “incarnation of a paradigm”. Myth implies stories and legends, it pulls from the past and evokes heroism; it is unproven. Its value is not factual but inspirational. A paradigm is a model, a standard, an ideal, a set of forms that all contain a particular element: the common denominator that makes it true. Myth and paradigm represent two very different sources of knowledge, yet they are both generalisations. 

The Myth of the Many in the One is exactly this paradigm: the model of the modern visionary technologist. The avatar, or stand-in, illuminates that the cultural shift from the religion to science is marked by the same archetypes. It is universal and easy to understand, the works plays upon a common vocabulary of themes, ideas and insights. The work does not add to the research conducted on these men nor illuminate new concepts about how myth is constructed; the strength of the work is the unique process of redaction that seamlessly knits together the many and the one. 

Gemma Carroll is an art writer from Cork. 



VAN Critique July/August 2014: Susan Connolly at The MAC, Belfast


20140508 Susan Conno#7333A7Susan Connolly
Something About Some Thing To Do With Paint
9 May – 22 June
The MAC, Belfast

For work so rooted in surface and medium, Susan Connolly’s ‘Something About Some Thing To Do With Paint’ makes surprising use of light – translucency is the first taste of the exhibition space.

Upon descending into the MAC’s sunken gallery, the soft red light falling through and backlighting R/Y/B Fluorescent catches the eye. The translucent canvas has a surprising delicacy among all its hardware: like all three works it is heavily spot lit, sitting away from the wall’s surface with a steel ceiling mount. The layers of acrylic and household paint that were built upon the canvas are scored and peeled away by Connolly in a single curtain, which trails on the ground like a fabric train.

Connolly likes to use circular motifs, and in R/Y/B Fluorescent, carves them with lines that radiate from the top of the canvas. The emerging vibrant fragments of the shapes, arranged in this layered pattern, looks like a burst of activity; with its acrylic negative, it resembles a dividing cell – and the painting does indeed seem to halve with this action, rather than replicate. With opposing tertiary and neutral colours smeared with one another and flecked with incidental lumps and remnants, as meticulous as the work’s process appears, it seems to embrace the unplanned as much as any formula behind its pattern.

C/M/Y is not as delicate as R/Y/B fluorescent; its red background is a painted square instead of cast light, and it glares around the backspace of the canvas. Steel supports from the wall trace the background cube, and its peeled surface is raised with a small support, half-offered. Its whitewash creates pastel moments, yet this work seems to have more touches of aggression than the last – the army green looks sanded beneath the white household emulsion, and the draped acrylic sheet has an odd canopy-like quality.

Doing away with support completely is Y,M,C,C,Y,M,M,C,Y,YMCCYMMCY,YMC,CYM,MCY. The parlance of image colour profiles and printed media in Connolly’s work hints toward her altering layering process, yet by being so overstated and enigmatic it seems to simultaneously poke fun at the idea of its colour process being of any importance. This piece is like a white sheet torn from the gallery wall, again composed of layers of paint. Some small islands remain and a cracked surface show coloured layers, some actually resembling the painted installations sited in the gallery in the past. I can’t resolve this logically, whether these pasts are new or used.

The backspace of Connolly’s work seems more like echoes and layers of the painting rather than a resolute placement in three dimensions. Yet whilst these pieces are considered strictly painting by the artist, all materials and supports are complicit to the whole work. In this way it sits slightly differently to other works that explore the canvas’s progression from window to surface to object.

The exhibition is not purely based on its process, or the straddling of two and three dimensions. Its deconstruction is not as abrupt and singular as Fontana, or as visceral and anthropomorphic as any Angela De La Cruz; nor is its pattern or shape as graphically rooted as Frank Stella’s 3D paintings. It touches on the paint’s physical resemblances – to fabric or skin or paper – but doesn’t do more than allude to them. It is the presentation of painting as a whole, rather than the physicality of the painting alone, that is used to explore the issues of objecthood in this work. The surface itself holds to its two-dimensional confines but the medium is pulled apart, delicately undone but heavily placed in the space.

One could read a kind of critique into the ripped walls and limp paint, but at the same time the work doesn’t seem to revel in its own destruction. It is not reliant on the state of undoing the paint, but rather the state of its placement, and the temporal nature of the medium. The dark borders of layered paint that remain and frame the sides of the stretched canvas remind me of Malevich, but inverted. Connolly’s work is less incidentally undone than the delicately cracked and elevated Black Suprematic Square; the paint here is an ‘impure’ medium, already distorted and embracing further alteration through its environmental conditions.

An exhibition of this nature can easily slip into a token update of traditional mediums. With no clear alignment to any particular painting tradition, ‘Something About Some Thing To Do With Paint’ avoids a redundant and ostentatious upgrade of the material. The work has a different contextual ground, and is perhaps more of an installational than a sculptural crossover. I feel this show says more about the physical and contextual support behind paint than the medium itself: with no overt reference when it obscures, wilts and degrades, the work will always be in the process of becoming or referring to something else.

Dorothy Hunter is an artist and writer based in Belfast. She is a co-director of Platform Arts and works from QSS studios, Belfast.

VAN Critique July/August 2014: Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin


sinead94770Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh
Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin
01 May – 23 May

Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s showing at the Kevin Kavanagh gallery reveals the latest phase in her dynamically evolving practice. ‘Contours’ finds her parked, for now, within a ‘difficult’ aesthetic that feels like an up-to-the-minute exploration of the parameters of painting. Working largely in the abstract idiom with referential accents, this has much to do with her distinctive palette and the dense, conflicted handling of her medium.

Ní Mhaonaigh has been exhibiting solo for a decade and her paintings have transformed over time, not resting too comfortably at any given juncture. For a while they featured primitive forms, pared-back and charmingly awkward. These works demonstrated an exciting instinct for colour – sometimes brassy, sometimes subtle – and delivered an instant aesthetic hit.

The transition from there to a condensed, even murky application of paint continues to provide the artist with room for manoeuvre. Although the exhibits in ‘Contours’ are all recent and untitled, they carry forward elements of her visual arsenal in diverse combinations. The works sit well in the gallery’s understated setting, and are individually quite immersive. More difficult to read from a distance than their forerunners, they invite the visitor to engage in up-close scrutiny, looking both at the surface and beneath it.

The accompanying text suggests that they emit a “potent optical charge”, which implies immediacy, a quick response to something unexpected. The potency is there, but it is slower and more elusive. What is immediate is the way in which Ní Mhaonaigh negotiates the act of making. In places the paint is applied impulsively, wet on wet, before being scraped back systematically to compress any built-up layers. Elsewhere, it is laid down in grid-like arrangements, and left to settle in its own unstinting fatness. Scrapings are allowed to dry out here and there, creating intriguing formations. They are suggestive of flayed skin and seem emblematic of the physicality of the artist’s painting process. Together with passages of bold colour, they create a context and foil for the obscurity she creates within.

The word ‘contour’ describes an outline that represents the boundary of form, but can also refer to a meaningful change in a pattern of intonation. With the forms here defined by lines that seem transient at best, timeless geometric shapes are once more meaningfully contested. Diamonds, circles, squares and rectangles, whole and partial, teeter on the verge of collapse in balanced but unstable compositions. Fleshy pinks and acidic yellows, unconventional colours that play a supporting role to dominating greyness, underscore the resulting unease. Where they interact with the monochrome, which at times seems almost to weep, they are dragged, obscured or flattened, leaving small occurrences of vibrating hues, a reward for close inspection.

Untitled II is ‘decorated’ with daubs reminiscent of painterly brushwork, but without the formal intention. These are applied differently to the randomly placed yellow dots, which appear to have special significance and are administered in a deft circular motion. One of my favourite exhibits is Untitled IV, which offers a pleasing interplay of colour – black, acid greens, oranges, reds, smoky greys and clotted-creamy white. These are contained within a thickly painted black frame (with irregular grey interventions that stop it from being too contained), and concentrated within bands that have been scraped upwards and sideways to create a chequerboard effect.

A duo of works, Untitled VII and VIII, revisit an earlier format and come closest to being representational. Easily interpreted as trees and hedgerows viewed from a moving vehicle, they reference Gerhard Richter’s photographic ‘blur’, which for Jörg Heiser “performs doubt as tremor”. (1) Interestingly, one is distinguishable from the other by superimposed dots which restore it to the abstract.

An overriding feature of this phase of Ní Mhaonaigh’s output is that it is laden with contradictions, not just in the obvious juxtapositions but in the interval between what it is and is not. The work is decorated, but not decorative, coloured, but not colourful, expressive yet methodical, abstract yet referential, seductive yet repulsive. This seems an appropriate visual expression for a conflicted age: one that engages with disorder at the same time as it strives for perfection.

Above all, it seems, ‘Contours’ is about the process of producing paintings, enriched by the fragments the artist has left within them. Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh is to be commended for the exploratory nature of her practice and her reluctance to pursue an appealing formula into a commercial dead end. Some will be repulsed by the resulting physicality, some seduced by the ‘poetic’ ambiguity, but whatever the response, given her ability with colour and form, it will be interesting to see what happens when she next moves on.

Susan Campbell is a freelance art writer and artist.


1. Heiser, Jörg. Gerhard Richter: Tate Modern, Frieze magazine, Jan 2012


VAN Critique July/August 2014: Nickey Teegan and Conor Mary Foy at NCAD Gallery, Dublin


Nicky Teegan and Conor Mary Foy ‘At dawn we will stand in a circle, as the sun rises it will renew the souls of the pure’ installation view. NCAD Gallery, Dublin, photo by Barry Keogh

Nicky Teegan and Conor Mary Foy
‘At dawn we will stand in a circle, as the sun rises it will renew the souls of the pure’
NCAD Gallery, Dublin
11 April – 15 May 2014

Nicky Teegan and Conor Mary Foy have worked as collaborators on other projects and At dawn we will stand in a circle, as the sun rises it will renew the souls of the pure’, their show at NCAD Gallery presents some of these collaborations re-worked. Nature and rituals, folk imagery and science fiction blend and overlap to create a body of work from artists who are in an intriguing dialogue with each other.

Both artists’ work seems to obliquely reference the nineteenth century occult movement The Golden Dawn through their explorations of rituals, masks and occultism. (1) The circle is also frequently employed as a symbol and runs throughout the work, which could also be interpreted as a metaphor for cycles in nature and in rituals. Meaning in the work is tantalisingly elusive and both artists give little away with regards how they intend meaning to be registered with their viewers. For me the work tries to express the difficulties that simple communication between individuals can present, especially in a world where everything is now so hyper-mediated.

The darkened space within which the viewer must navigate the objects is theatrically lit, giving the objects both a sacred and a museum-like reverence. The artists have created a series of repetitions for the viewer to navigate the space with. Objects are interspersed between the large screens that show the video pieces.

In Teegan’s work material objects are given particular significance; objects and materials are re-employed as a series of re-worked circular shapes. Teegan’s sculptural pieces punctuate the gallery space and create a powerful physical counterpart to the video pieces. The materials she uses are interesting for their symbolic meaning: glass spheres, perhaps like crystal balls or other psychic communication devices, are counterbalanced by objects made with woven magnetic tape, a near-obsolete communication medium. The sound of tape static from one piece, I’m blindly crawling through the chaos, suggests the sound of ‘the other world’, that psychic place we can never fully comprehend and that some believe it is possible to commune with.

In Foy’s video pieces rites of passage and rituals are again employed but this time within the narrative structure of fiction. ‘What folk get up to in the woods’ has arguably become a well-worn trope in the horror film genre and there are echoes here of the work of British filmmaker Ben Wheatley’s films Kill List and A Field In England. Foy presents four video pieces, which are linked thematically by group of masked individuals who enact strange and sometimes unsettling rituals in remote woodland locations. The obscurity of the titles give little away; each piece is short, no more that eight or nine minutes.

The video pieces have high production values; they are well shot and edited, which adds to the viewing experience. Foy utilises this to particularly powerful effect in the piece Bastion. Two figures walk slowly through darkening woods to a clearing where one stands against a tree and removes his outer layers of clothing. The other figure stands in front with a bow and arrows. He raises the bow and fires four arrows one after the other at the other figure. As with Foy’s other pieces, meaning is ambiguous, but there are allusions to the ancient rites of communing with nature and to a loss of or end of innocence. Both artists created a powerful sense of melancholy and otherworld-ness in their work, which resonated with me after leaving the exhibition.

In The Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord (1967) uncannily pre-empted the image-saturated and mediated world that has become familiar to most inhabitants of contemporary society when he wrote: “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all life presents as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation”.

Perhaps then it is no surprise that contemporary artists are frequently searching for ways and means to subvert and challenge this “accumulation of spectacles”, to engage with a lived world and through material making or through use of the body to find meaning in how we inhabit the world. Foy and Teegan’s work poses questions around how we communicate with each other and with our own psyche. No easy interpretation is to be found in the work but perhaps that is the point: as we navigate both the physical and the virtual world – now as real as each other – points of resistance to ‘the spectacle’ can be found in material making.

Alison Pilkington is an artist based in Dublin and currently completing a practice-led PhD at National College Art and Design.


1. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was an organisation active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that engaged in paranormal activities such as séances and other forms of communing with the dead and became highly influential on later twentieth century ‘new-age’ religions and cults. Irish Poet WB Yeats was a prominent member and introduced many Irish literary and society figures in Ireland to the ideas and philosophies of the movement.




VAN September/ October 2014


Cover Image. Eva Rothschild, installation view, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, 2014. All works © Eva Rothschild. Courtesy of Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich, The Modern Institute, Glasgow, and 303 Gallery, New York.

5. Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
5. Column. Cliodhna Shaffrey. Alternative Scenarios.
6. Column. Jonathan Carroll. Theme Or No Theme?
7. Column. Chris Clarke. Site Unseen.
8. News. The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
8. VAI News. Research, projects and campaigns.
9. Regional Focus. Visual arts resources and activity in Kilkenny.
12. Career Development. Tacit Presence. Isabel Nolan discusses the development of her art career. (Archived)
13. Public Art Profile. On The Right Track. Joanna Hopkins profiles ‘Changing Tracks’.
14. Studio Profile. Encouraging & Enabling. Ben Crothers profiles Queen Street Studios, Flax Art Studios Pollen Studios and Platform Arts.
15. Residency Report. Complete Engagement. Margaret O’Brien describes her experience of the TBG&S / HIAP residency in Helsinki. (Archived)
16. How Is It Made? Unsettling Essences. Liam Crichton discusses his installation ‘Untitled’.
17. Curation. Perception & Representation. Helen Carey reports on the Addis Ababa Curatorial Intensive.
18. Project Profile. Critical Congregation. Monica Flynn discusses her project ‘The Café Society’. (Archived)
19. Critique. Eva Rothschild, The Hugh Lane; Graham Gingles, The MAC, Caoimhe Kilfeather TBG&S, Fabienne Audeoud, Triskel; Marilyn Lerner, Butler Gallery; ‘The Starry Messenger’, Void.
23. Studio / Residency Profile. Stronghold. Ruth Lyons discusses new developments at The Good Hatchery.
24. Symposium Report. Civic Works. Joanne Laws reports on ‘The Workers Symposium’.
25. Project Profile. A Moment In Time. Jennette Donnelly reports on an exhibition and discussion event at Tallaght Hospital, which focused on the impacts of art in functional healthcare environments.
26. Project Profile. Swansong For The Lifeworld. James Merrigan reports on ‘Catch The He(Art)’.
27. VAI Northern Ireland Manager. Tone & Noise. Rob Hilken details the rise of sound art in Belfast.
27. VAI West Of Ireland Representative. Western Lags. Aideen Barry on a new aspect of her role with VAI.
28. VAI Event. Ethical Transitions. Jason Oakley reports on ‘Art in a Time of Transition’ And ‘Artists and Ethics’, discussions held at the VAI Get Together in association with AICA Ireland.
29. Gallery Focus. Materiality & Home. Olivier Cornet introduces his Dublin gallery.
29. VAI Help Desk. Tax Made Easy. Niamh Looney highlights information that every artist should know.
30. Institition Profile. Getting Familiar. Matt Packer outlines his plans as the new director of CCA, Derry.
30. Award Profile. The MAC International. Hugh Mullholland talks about the new £20,000 international art prize devised by The MAC, Belfast.
31. Public Art Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and various other forms of art outside the gallery.
32. VAI Advocacy. Public Art In Crisis? VAI CEO / Director Noel Kelly outlines some current issues concerning public art commissions
33. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.
34. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.

VAN Critique Sept/Oct 2014: Graham Gingles at The MAC, Belfast

Gingles small

Graham Gingles, ‘At Times Like These Men Were Wishing They Were All Kinds of Insects’, The MAC, Belfast, 2014

Graham Gingles
‘At times like these men were wishing they were all kinds of insects’
The MAC, Belfast
3 July – 17 August 2014

‘At times like these men were wishing they were all kinds of insects’, Graham Gingles’s installation at the MAC, comprises a maze-like structure of architectural elements – doors, window frames, bannisters, architraves – painted a ghostly white, that a vaults above the viewer. The edifice is softly lit, with the scent of white lilies filling the small gallery. The work leads viewers into a visual maze: ladders lead up, drawers open out and windows both hide and frame elements the work. Drawers and cupboards hold various objects: a wooden train, a collection of transparent crosses, toy battleships and a group of toy soldiers.
The only colour comes from antique wardrobe doors that screen and obscure, and from a small stained glass window high up, which visually balances the two wooden crosses. Dead lilies are crushed carefully between windowpanes, with mould surrounding their silhouettes. The title of the piece is referenced in the dead insects that march along a broken window. Small white butterflies lead the assault, with bumblebees, flies and wasps in the vanguard. There are two other large objects in the room: a telegraph pole with its wires disconnected and a large vase of living lilies, reminiscent of flowers left by a grave.

The work was co-commissioned by the MAC and 14 –18 NOW, as part of a cultural commemoration of the First World War. A starting point for the work was an embossed brass box – given to the artist by the curator of the MAC, Hugh Mulholland – of the kind that would have contained gifts for WWI soldiers in the trenches, ranging from cigarettes to chocolates. These boxes were given to every service man and woman by Princess Mary during WWI and were “symbols of compassion in times of danger and hardship” (1). The title of the piece is taken from a book written by a WWI soldier, Robert McGookin, who hailed from Gingles’s hometown of Larne in Northern Ireland. McGookin fought in the trenches and described the horror: “At times like these men were wishing themselves to be all sorts of insects, and when there was shelling, it was common to hear a man say, I wish I was a worm now” (2).

Gingles is well known for his box-like constructions, with their inner compartments acting as memory banks. “His boxes are like theatre sets that play in light and shade with conundrums and secrets – revealing here, and obscuring there.” (3) The work at The MAC work is a departure in scale; the audience can now walk into Gingles’s world of fragmented memories and be part of an intricate and complex paradox. Layers of suggested recollections and half forgotten dreams obscure easy interpretation of the piece. In reference to this piece Jamshid Mirfenderesky asked: “Is it because to transcend these meticulously made objects and images requires a huge imaginative leap? Is it because they maintain a paradoxical position between inside and outside, presence and absence, visibility and the invisible?” (4) It is because the work is so difficult to interpret that it is so compelling. Gingles’s appropriation of apparently random objects causes the pictorial equivalence of free association; the art therefore defies logical analysis. Yet Gingles says of his work and the audience reaction to it: “I hope they … find something”. (5)

I found memories of my own grandfather, who had fought in WWI, and of his home. The house had a large Victorian dining room that held a painting of four grinning cherubs and a stuffed monkey forever staring out from a glass cabinet. My sister and I would sit under the grand mahogany table and look fearfully out at the watching eyes. We all bring our own social, economic and cultural world to play when we study art. To interpret Gingles’s work look into the layers of imagery and the secret hidden truths that confound and submerge logic. Delve deeper into a level of reality of your own. Smell the white lilies and bring your own thoughts to inhabit a space that is both confusing yet strangely familiar.

Kathryn Nelson is a visual artist based in Co Tyrone. She is currently artist in residence with Artscare working in the Northern Health and Social Services Trust.

1. 1418-NOW WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, Catalogue, p18
2. Jamshid Mirfenderesky, ‘The Presence of Absence is Everywhere to be Seen: Graham Gingles’s Boxes’, The MAC Exhibition Guide, 2014
3. Liam Kelly, Thinking Long, Contemporary Art in the North of Ireland, Gandon Editions, Cork, 1996, 127
4. Jamshid Mirfenderesky, ‘The Presence of Absence is Everywhere to be Seen: Graham Gingles’s Boxes’, The MAC Exhibition Guide, 2014
5. ‘At times like these men were wishing they were all kinds of insects’ accompanying Video, the MAC, Belfast

VAN Critique Sept/Oct 2014: Marilyn Lerner at Butler Gallery

Lerner-102909 003

Maria Lerner, ‘Centre Point’, 2011, oil on wood

Marilyn Lerner
Circle in the Square
Butler Gallery, The Castle, Kilkenny
9 August – 5 October 2014

For artist Marilyn Lerner New York is a frenetic city from which her practice provides a haven of peace. This exhibition, Circle in the Square, Lerner’s first in Ireland, comprises 21 examples of her work, the main body of which is oil on wood, with just four pieces on paper. Lerner started out as a sculptor, working with wood for three years before moving to painting. This experience is reflected in her wood supports, which are made specifically for Lerner, and feature distinctive bevelling that allows the work to stand away from the wall in a very understated way. The deep grey walls and well-placed lighting (the exhibition has been carefully curated by Gallery Director Anna O’Sullivan) further enhance the work.

Lerner’s colour palette is broad, but she manages nonetheless to achieve a harmony that is easy on the eye. She describes how she starts with the geometric form, then fills in one colour, which she says is ‘easy to find in terms of the form’, then sits at a distance from the work and takes her time determining which colour she will bring in next. Effectively, then, adding each new colour requires a period of consideration, a weighing-up of the balance between the colours already there and those yet to come; though, as she paints in oil, she can work on several pieces at one time.

Her process is nevertheless lengthy, each step requiring careful thought and contemplation, which allows her to switch off from that buzzing New York exterior and reach into herself. As she describes it, this results in a deeply personal piece of work.
But on first glance the paintings in ‘Circle in the Square’ strike the viewer as extremely impersonal. They are all based on geometric figures – circles, squares, ovals, triangles and rectangles – rendered in a wide range of colours. This abstraction par excellence makes any pursuit of representational or referential elements seem impossible.

As viewers, often we look to the titles of works for clues. Lerner’s titles are terse – Quartet, Door – and in many cases are descriptive rather than revealing. Squaring is a series of squares arranged in a circle; Center Point is a series of circles within rectangular blocks of colour. Other titles such as Dawn Dervish or Morning Raga are slightly more suggestive of personal experience – the accompanying notes clarify that Lerner travelled to Asia in the 1980s – but of 21 titles, only Hand in Hand fully intrigues.

This is not the only contradiction inherent in this body of work. The choice of geometry as her vocabulary implies that Lerner is concerned with exactitude, yet in certain pieces there is noticeable imprecision. In Diagram for Circles, for example, the central image isn’t quite centred, the margin on the left being slightly greater than that on the right. In Devi, some of the lines in the upper section of the painting do not meet exactly. These ‘imperfections’ can be interpreted as signs of a human hand, and a creative process where no two renderings, no matter how hard the artist tries, are exactly the same – a quality which distinguishes painting, for example, from digital reproduction.

Lerner cites Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky as influences, two artists who produced abstract works based on the language of geometry, but who were theoretically quite different. There are strong Klimtian elements in her works on paper, another artist much appreciated by Lerner, who also refers to Mondrian, Forrest Bess, Alfred Jensen and Stephen Mueller. The impression is that she looked to these sources for form, colour and vocabulary, rather than to position herself in a particular genre.

But then, that is the point that Lerner makes: her works are a way to “find a place to position [her]self” in her world, rather than in relation to the world of art.

There is no doubt that this exhibition is challenging. Somewhat paradoxically, the very fact that the process by which the works are realised is so personal can make the end result feel quite distancing for the viewer. There is a sense that the experience Lerner is embodying in her work is entirely interior; there is no ‘message’ or point of reference for the viewer, because this is not about the world outside the artist, but her own internal being. The question this poses is whether it is possible to be absorbed by or into the work. The answer appears to be that this depends entirely on the individual viewer, making it – that paradox again – a very personal matter.

Mary Catherine Nolan is a Dublin-based artist, with a background is in linguistics.

VAN Critique Sept/Oct 2014: ‘The Starry Messenger: Seven Artist Filmmakers’, VOID, Derry

PaolaBernardelli small

Live projections as part of ‘Starry Messenger’ at Void, Derry. Image by Paola Bernadelli

‘The Starry Messenger: Seven Artist Filmmakers’
5 Aug – 26 Sept 2014
VOID, Derry

Marika Borgeson, Janine Davidson, Rebecca Myers, Michaela Nettell, Samantha Rebello, Talena Sanders, Ana Vaz; curated by Declan Sheehan.

‘Starry Messenger’ presents the work of seven contemporary artist filmmakers in a kind of cry from the heart for the medium of film. It brings together 16mm, 8mm and Super8 films in a way that puts the beauty of the medium centre stage.

The first film, Process Room, has a beginning and an end. It comprises video, audio and written documentation about analogue film, looking at processing methods and at how it has becoming increasingly difficult for artists and filmmakers to use film as digital takes over. There are also a series of small framed works, where segments of films by each of the artists in the show are displayed like delicate miniatures. This room simultaneously asserts the physicality of the medium and the precariousness of its future.

Next I encountered Liahon (2013) by Talena Sanders, a study of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Shot on 16mm, the film has intensely saturated colour, and presents the viewer with a sequence of memorable images. The format encourages a sense of looking back in time, yet some of the footage is contemporary, highlighting the relationship between the past and the present on this particular subject. The film has a gently melancholic tone, and brings together personal insights with a broader historical sweep.

Moving into the next room a projectionist is working at a desk, lit with a single angle poise lamp, operating a beautiful old 16mm projector. On closer inspection the projector is the kind that folds out of its own 1960s-style mini suitcase. Nearer the screen is an 8mm projector, which the projectionist alternates with the 16mm. The screen itself is an old fashioned one with a tripod base and pull down fabric screen. The way the projectors and screen are set up and the quiet attentiveness of the projectionist form a work in themselves.

The room is set up to emphasise the act of looking as well as the physicality of the medium. The relationship between the artist, the viewer and the medium are explored in each of the films shown. Samantha Rebello’s the object which thinks us – OBJECT 1 (2007) uses close ups of a toothbrush, a plug hole, running water and blood. Images from the film are at once everyday and disconcerting – a surrealist strategy – but re-framed by the formal qualities inherent to16mm.

In Marika Borgeson’s The Starry Messenger (2013) a red light flashes and is followed by darkness: a particular sort of darkness, deliberate and heavy. Borgeson achieved this by leaving film stock in the sun; the paradox of the sun creating darkness is one of many notions that might occur to the viewer of this medidative film.

Murmurations (2013), by Rebecca Meyers, is a celebration of seething, pulsating nature. It uses the organic qualities of the film to play on light, colour and texture.

Two Fountains (2014) by Janine Davidson was created using the features of the 8mm filming process to create a double image of two fountains, one in Belfast and one in Glasgow. The film, made by splitting 16mm into two 8mm streams played concurrently, alludes to the past through its construction and imagery. The film itself has an architectural solidity which is echoed in the solid yet anachronistic structures it depicts. Watching the film I became aware of the ubiquity of the split screen in video, and there is a sense that the technical challenges Davidson has created for herself within the medium are a way of asserting the the value of a slower more measured approach.

Michaela Nettell’s Garden (2012), in the last room of the show, is a meditation on nature in the city. 35mm slides are overlapped to create layered images which flow into one another. The 35mm slide – once the staple of art schools everywhere – is another endangered species. The format shares some of the features of 8mm and 16mm in that it possesses an intangible quality that distinguishes it from digital photography.

Ana Vaz’s Sacris Pulso (2007) uses found 8mm film intercut with parts of a re-created 1980s film. The elision of found elements from the past with contemporary footage is a theme running through many of the works in the show and here as elsewhere it used to explore the convergence of cultural and personal history.

The press release asks: “Can we describe the art and technology of celluloid filmmaking as a redundant technology or an extinct artform?” After seeing this show I would answer with a resounding “no!”

One could ask the same question of etching, lithography, silk screen printing etc. These processes were revolutionary when they started, only to be superseded by other technologies. Each of these mediums have their own art historical associations, but they are constantly being reinvented by artists coming to them afresh.

As the show’s curator Declan Sheehan asserts, its is important that the infrastructure needed for artists to discover film is preserved now before it is too late.


VAN Critique Sept/Oct 2014: Caoimhe Kilfeather at Temple Bar Gallery


Camille KIlfeather, ‘This Attentive Place’, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin, 2014

Caoimhe Kilfeather
‘This Attentive Place’
Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin
20 June – 20 August 2014

Caoimhe Kilfeather seems interested in the space around objects as much as the objects themselves. In her recent exhibition a diaphanous blue screen (made from overlapping sheets of oiled and pigmented paper) reshaped the gallery’s coordinates and provided an atmospheric setting for a number of seemingly related though rather mysterious artifacts.

Varying between dark and lighter shades, the wall of suspended sheets, titled The Rigid Thing, The Moving Act, led the viewer towards an opening at its farthest end and continued inside to form a right angled enclosure. The translucent drapes made a softly glowing perimeter, filtering the exterior brightness, and casting the exhibition’s contents with a square of melancholy light.

Bound at its centre by thin bands of shiny brass, a foursome of dyed and cast concrete uprights faced each other in secret conference. These tall slabs seemed vaguely megalithic, broodily dominating the inner sanctum, like a dark tomb or hearth, a shelter for transformations of one kind or another. The title of the work, A Shade, suggested another reading: that the forms were solidified shadows, negative matter cast from an absense of light (and what better material than concrete to describe this metamorphosis).

The Kind Thought That Sent Them There was positioned towards the opposite corner of the reconfigured room. Four bronze forms rested on a pale wooden table. The low table was drop-leafed, one up and one down. The irregular surfaces of the round forms had been cast from something wrapped or woven, and there was a single small opening in each. They looked like the nests of weaverbirds. Or perhaps they were maceheads, waiting for the armourer to fix their wooden shafts.

A sculpture doesn’t have to look like something, but it’s difficult to escape comparisons, especially when we’re led towards them. An accompanying text empasised Kilfeather’s interest in the place of the exhibition and her attempts to redefine it, from an “ostensibly public, to a more private and subjective setting”. (1) We’re also told that her works reference “domesticity and habitation”. (2) If that’s correct then my preceding comments about birds’ nests and the transformative hearth seem apt. On the other hand my observations about shadows and medieval weaponry are probably way off the mark. It’s difficult to pin Kilfeather’s work down to a specific reading, but that is part of its strength. The artist seems to promote ambiguity, exploring contradictions between her materials and her forms, and inviting subjective responses to a complex grammar of making and allusion.

The use of cryptic titles is another oblique strategy. Two framed black and white photographs, At The End of His Nature (1) and (2) depict the same subject – a paved and enclosed courtyard – from the same point of view: a room leading out to the open area. If the gallery space is a reconfigured domicile (as the exhibition text suggests) then perhaps it extends to the images of exterior space framed on the wall. The image of the courtyard garden is a kind of joke, a self-consciously unconvincing trompe-l’oeil. Or does the title At The End of His Nature imply something else? Are the closed doors in the second photograph a reference to death? Kilfeather’s titles sound bookish (Emily Dickinson comes to mind), but also teasing and suggestive. Perhaps I was led up the wrong garden path?

Adjusting to the blue-stained gloom I noticed that cladding had been removed from the room’s structural columns and that the concrete ceiling was painted a dark grey. The space felt raw but honest, as though undressed of anything superfluous. Here and there the stripped back austerity was relieved by warmer lights directed toward the walls. As well as the two photographs, two untitled works were picked out in this way. A column of uniformly pale slip cast ceramic tiles was slotted together by way of opposing lips at the top and bottom. Viewed from the side the flat shapes had a simple interlocked elegance. From the front they became an ironed-out Brancusi, a potentially endless column of starched rhomboids.

Five rectangles of woven wire were placed just beyond the blue confines. Their metallic lustre seemed internal, as though charged with the current running through all of Kilfeather’s work, a poetic energy of reticence and release.

“Inhabited space transcends geometrical space”, Gaston Bachelard wrote, reminding us that the true coordinates of a space are found in subjective experience. (3) While ‘This Attentive Place’ felt uniquely intimate, the title seemed to refer to the common experience of all those who have visited or worked in the gallery. Carried in memory – habitations occur there as much as anywhere else – this exhibition’s ‘legacy of attention’ will be extended in many memories, no doubt, over time.

John Graham is an artist based in Dublin.

1. TBG+S exhibition statement
2. Ibid
3. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1958

VAN Critique Sept/Oct 2014: Eva Rothschild at Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane

ER small

Eva Rothschild, installation view, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, 2014. All works © Eva Rothschild. Courtesy of Stuart Shave / Modern Art, London, Galerie Eve Presenhuber, Zurich, The Modern Institute Glasgow and 303 Gallery, New York.

Eva Rothschild
23 May 2014 – 21 September 2014
Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane

Eva Rothschild’s sculptural practice is positioned within the aesthetic of an earlier generation of artists, whose oeuvre was determined by intrinsic material properties and an obstinate respect for classical modernity. Artists like Richard Deacon, Alison Wilding, Richard Wentworth and, in Ireland, Eilís O’Connell and Maud Cotter, established a tradition in which their innovation was moulded through the inherent characteristics of metal, plastic, leather, paper, wood, plaster, glass, ceramic and so on. The principles of their work seem to be in opposition to current tendencies towards a fragile, unravelling and explosive approach evident in the work of Jessica Stockholder, Sarah Sze and, in Ireland, Tadhg McSweeney and Aleana Egan. In a tentative way Rothschild’s work could be viewed as a bridge across to this fragmented approach, whilst retaining a fundamental rational order.

Rothschild’s exhibition at the Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane exemplifies the kind of gravitas that underpinned classical approaches to sculpture. Recurring characteristics of weight, density and sturdiness are explored through robust materials such as industrial grade metal cabling, steel, concrete, jesmonite, leather and a simple palette of mostly black, punctuated with green, red and purple. Motifs and forms that appear throughout the exhibition like circles, rings, hooks, links, triangles, knots, tangles and hollowed out ovoid forms suggest that meaning teeters between a ritualised adoration of modernism and an otherworldly metaphysical philosophy.

In the most expansive work in the exhibition, Lantern, three elongated rhombus armatures descend from the ceiling to the floor in the form of a chain of metal rods, links and hooks that eventually meet the ground to encircle three other pieces inside its oval boundary. One can’t help thinking of religious and new age practices of circling, holding hands, taking Communion, singing and worship. Rothschild’s stated interest in the romantic, spiritual and esoteric qualities that can be attached to inanimate objects runs throughout this exhibition.

She points to Greek architecture as a reference citing Klassix in particular. Made from corrugated cardboard and polystyrene it’s title and form could either be read as a votive homage or humorous play on the legacy of classical architecture. Overlapping hanging circles in other works evoke the modern Olympic symbol into which she intervenes with esoteric and mystical appendages.

Half Sun (2014) acts as an anchor to the exhibition as a whole, hanging as a centrepiece on an end wall and the final point in the gallery spaces. It is a large circle made of rich soft leather. The top half is dark and warm and begins to shimmer at the horizontal diametre point where long thongs of brighter coloured leather are knotted into the work. They spill downwards and outwards in a cascade of light flooding from the depths of the circle. Like a Cathedral rose window this work resonates spirituality.

Restless I (2014), a wall based work that sits into a corner just below ‘normal’ viewing height is sublimely beautiful. It is made up of two equilateral triangles whose sides meet along the line of the corner. It is faultlessly fabricated and covered in a deeply reflective black gloss coating. From its interior a series of elegant square bars jut out in triangular spikes. An internal energy is created emanating from the fathomless black colour, the multiple reflections and the diamond shaped vertical plinth that supports it. Its dynamic propulsion and seductive power is irresistible.

The exhibition also includes a small selection of photographs – People with Snakes and a video work. The video work is an experiment that lives out a curator’s nightmare in which a group of 6 – 12 year old boys were invited to experience Rothschild’s work in a pristine gallery – unsupervised, except for the camera filming them. In a frighteningly short period they descend into destructive mayhem, flatten everything in sight and play football with Rothschild’s ovoid forms.

Titled Boys with Sculptures it is enigmatic and puzzling, made even more so by an accompanying confessional documentary of the boys trying to deconstruct, interpret and contextualise their behaviour. As the mother of a seven year old boy it seems unfair, and aside from clichéd notions of boyish instincts and cynical poke at the dominance of men in the art world it is hard to decipher a more specific motivation for the work. However, the photographs counterpoint the video and comprise a series of delightful portraits of happy individuals and families handling snakes. It seems a straightforward way of illustrating tolerance and acceptance .
Overall this is a formidable exhibition by an artist who has persuasive and cogent vision. But perhaps most of all it is her fascination for the mysteries of human instincts and desires that drives her work.


Carissa Farrell is a curator based in Dublin

VAN November / December 2014


Phillip Napier Soon ‘These Immovable Walls: Performing Power’ Dublin Castle 11 – 12 June 2014. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Joseph Carr

5. Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
5. Column. Francis McKee. Under the Radar.
6. Column. Jason Oakley. Let’s Be Modern About It.
7. Column.Conor McGrady. Ex-centric Alternatives.
8. News. The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
8. VAI News. Research, projects and campaigns.
9. Regional Focus. Visual arts resources and activity in Causeway Coast & Glens.
11. Residency Ask For Zippy.  How and why Bill Drummond established an artists’ residency in a tower located in small Antrim coastal town
12. Project Profile. Speeds of Life. Aisling Prior discusses her approach to curating Tulca 2014,  ‘Neutral’.
14. Internship Profile. Quasi Objects & Shooting Hoops. Fiona Gannon describes her internship at Studio Olafur Eliasson, Berlin.
15. Seminar Profile. The Return of History. Kris Dittel reports on the ‘Metamodernism Modernism Marathon’
16. Art in public: Case Study. Re-framing the Ringroad. Yvonne Cullivan discusses her public art project ‘In The Current,’ commissioned for Belturbet, County Cavan.
17. VAI Advocacy. 2020 Vision. Jason Oakley outlines VAI’s thinking on the need for a visionary strategy.
18. Media. Art on the Box. An interview with Sarah Ryder, Assistant Commissioning Editor at Rté Factual.
19. Critique.  ‘In a Landscape,’ Solstice, Navan; Tristan Barry, Ards Arts Centre;  Leanne McDonagh, Origin Gallery, Dublin; Maria Simmonds-Gooding, RHA, Dublin; Mark Clare, Crawford Gallery, Cork.
23. Media The Reality Show? Noel Kelly Director / CEO outlines VAI\s recent involvement with a reality-style business mentoring show tv show.
24. Performance / Seminar Profile. Pushing Ideological Walls. Áine Phillips reports on ‘These Immovable Walls,’ a live art event and seminar on the embodiment and performance of power.
25. VAI Event. The Rise & Rise. VAI Membership Manager / Listings Editor Adrian Colwell describes the evolution of the VAI Show & Tell event.
25. Seminar. Freelancers Unite! Bernadette Beecher profiles Cultural Freelancers Ireland
26. Project Profile. Dark History, Dark Expression. Alan Counihan describes his recent project ‘Personal Effects: A History Of Possession’.
27. VAI Northern Ireland Manager. Flux and Success. Rob Hilken outlines how Derry-Londonderry’s key visual arts spaces are committed to expanding the legacy of Derry-Londonderry City Of Culture 2013.
27. Organisation Profile. Art of Our Time. A profile of the Golden Thread, Gallery, Belfast.
28. Festival. Impish & Intelligent. Sarah Kelleher outlines her impressions of the 2014 Kinsale Arts Festival (19 – 28 September)
30. Institution Profile. Twists & Turns. Dorothy Hunter Profiles R-Space Gallery, Lisburn.
31. Career Development. Potential for Damage. Ciarán Ó Dochartaigh describes how he is making a career as an artist.
32. Public Art Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and various other forms of art outside the gallery.
33. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.
34. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.


VAN January / February 2015

JF15 cover

Cover Image. Nom Nom Collective, Ropey Smurf , paint and ink on repurposed album cover.

5. Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
5. Column. Jonathan Carroll. Fag Ends.
6. Column. Linda O’Keefe. Socio-sonic Textures.
7. Column. Mark Fisher. A Time for Shadows.
8. News. The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
8. VAI News. Research, projects and campaigns.
9. Regional Focus. Visual arts resources and activity in Wicklow.
12. VAI Event. Belfast Open Studios. A profile on the Belfast Open Studios event.
14. MAC International. Archives & Time Machines. Hugh Mulholland interviews Mairead McClean, winner of the inaugural MAC International Award.

16. VAI / DCC Critical Art Writing Award. Attentive Festivalisation. Rebecca O’Dwyer, winner of the 2014 VAI / DCC Critical Art Writing Award discusses festivalisation.
18. Art in Public. Art is Always Unfinished Business. Jonathan Carroll reports on the ‘Creative Time Summit’ and ‘Jochen Gertz: Participation, Commemoration & Public Space’.
19. Critique. Damir Ocko, TBG+S; Art & Activism, Fire Station Artists’ Studios; Debra Bowden, Toradh Gallery; Sinead McDonald, Draiocht; Nom Nom Collective, White Lady Gallery.
23. How is it Made? Blind Spots & Future Memories. Barry Kehoe talks about exhibiting the work of Nina Fisher and Maroan el Sani.
24. Project Profile. Duncan Campbell. IMMA Director Sarah Glennie talks to Turner Prize winner Duncan Campbell.
26. Residency Profile. Still Life in Mobile Homes. Sarah Allen profiles two residencies supported by Fingal Council, and the exhibitions / events that emerged from them.
27. VAI West Of Ireland Representative. Lateral Approaches. Aideen Barry looks at new supports for artist-led spaces outside normal funding
28. Festival Profile. Artistic Foundations. Brendan Fox profiles Foundation14 in Tullamore.
29. Commission Profile. Transcending Borders. Lily Power talks to Jaki Irvine and Alistair Hicks about Deutsche Bank Ireland’s new aquisition and art collections policy.
30.VAI Professional Development. Towards a New Hybridity. Bea de Sousa discusses her visit to Ireland.
31. Career Development. Complex, Incomplete & Thriving. Claire Power looks at the contemporary art scene in her new home of Brussels.
32. IVARO. Taking the License. Alex Davis emphasises the importance of artist copyright.
32. VAI NI Manager. ACNI Cuts. Rob Hilken discusses cuts to the arts in Northern Ireland.
33. Organisation Profile. A Mission to Progress. Sara Hanley profiles the DLR Artists’ Network.
34. Public Art Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and various other forms of art outside the
35. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.
36. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: ‘Studies on Shivering’, Damir Očko at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin

Damir Ocko

Installation View of ‘Studies on Shivering’ at TBG+S, 2014


Damir Očko
Studies on Shivering
21 November 2014 – 24 January 2015
Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin

The clear and ordered manner in which Damir Očko’s works are arranged in ‘Studies on Shivering’ may initially conceal the extent to which Očko intends for these works to slide across into each other and cross-pollinate. This process of synchronous readings makes for a demanding experience in which our own cognitive processes are implicated. A musical score is presented with a poem embedded within it and we read in the opening inter-titles to the film TK that the piece is “for voice and string”. This invitation to experience a work in a way that seems initially incongruous to it, places a hesitancy within the audience – triggering the sense that a more authentic reading of the work may lie elsewhere. This strategy of deflecting hierarchies of meaning permeates the entire show and ultimately forces us to reflect upon how we derive meaning from sensory stimulus and how that might effect our perception of the world.

A group of nine collage works on paper constitute the TK Scores. Here, a poem is arranged in sequence across nine sheets of paper; interspersed with the poem is an experimental music score.   While the score is formally interesting, containing curiosities such as gold and silver foil in amongst its furious lattice work of black marks, as an audience we also know that what we are looking at is code.

We feel that a truer experience of the piece would be an aural one – listening to musicians navigate and interpret the musical text. There are similar deflections at work in seeing a poem printed as an art-piece. To experience the full force of both mediums, they need to be embodied: activated by being played or read. It is as though the physical manifestation of these works in the exhibition can be compared to seeing the tip of an iceberg above water. We suspect that a more ‘true’ or authentic understanding of what we’re seeing is present elsewhere and what is made physically apparent serves only as an indicator of the work’s existence, not its true nature.

As we journey further into the exhibition we realise that this emphasis upon our own sensory mechanisms is the fulcrum around which this exhibition turns. Očko’s film TK is located at the centre of the exhibition in a dark and enclosed space. The film depicts people shivering. One sequence within the film features a number of men standing, close to naked, in a frozen landscape, fixed to the spot and shaking with the cold; this sequence is inter-cut with a close-up of a shaking elderly hand, attempting to write on a sheet of white paper. Beyond the obvious harshness of what we’re viewing, a more unsettling impression develops: that the stressed bodies we are witnessing represent a wider sense of unrest and incapacity within more bodies than just the ones depicted in TK.

A strange and provocative dichotomy springs from the film. On one hand Očko places trust in the audience’s ability to navigate the complex sensory world presented both in TK and in the wider exhibition. He trusts that we can leap from the stimulus of poetry to projected images and back to our memories of a printed musical score on the wall outside. However, in TK we see two groups of people who appear to embody potential, yet are presented enacting struggle: the cold men are all young and fit, yet have been fixed to the spot; all they can do is shiver in the face of their extreme circumstances. Meanwhile, the elderly hand struggles to enact one of our greatest human achievements: writing. Presenting such disempowered figures at the centre of a show that also trusts in our capabilities as sensitive and thinking beings invokes difficult questions around the ways in which power is distributed and embodied.

Documents that were derived during the making of TK are on display in the gallery and foreground a sense of the art objects in ‘Studies on Shivering’ as fleeting and unstable repositories for the ideas underpinning them. A black and white photograph describes what we understand to be one of the cold men in TK departing the film-location with a duvet wrapped about him and a car in the distance. A group of 16 large white sheets of paper containing what we believe to be the shaky and barely legible writing created in the film are on display across one wall of the gallery. While these Untitled works seem to authenticate the experiences in TK, they also suggest that, although the film is positioned centrally within the exhibition, the creative impetus in the making of this film is resonating out from it, finding material expression as it departs from these documents, and we imagine this creative energy moving and echoing through future materials not yet evident.

A fascinating polyphonic experiment is set in motion through ‘Studies on Shivering’. Like the simultaneous playing out of musical melodies, we are called on to allow each of the parallel moments within the exhibition to reside within us and ultimately challenge and deepen our understanding of the ways in which images, sounds and ideas move through us.

Sarah Lincoln is a visual artist based in West Waterford.

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: ‘Uchronia’, Sinead McDonald at Draiocht

Sinead McDonald, Uchronia

Sinead McDonald ‘Self Portrait If I Hadn’t Walked Home Via Camden Street in 1989′

Sinead McDonald
28 November – 7 February 2015
Draiocht, Blanchardstown, Co. Dublin

Artist Sinéad McDonald does not like her photo being taken.1 So what motivated McDonald to produce her first solo exhibition made up almost entirely of self-portraits? The answer is that while McDonald is the subject, artist, photographer, director and all-round protagonist in this series of works, they are fictions.

The show’s title, ‘Uchronia’, which literally means other time, draws the viewer into the realm of the ‘what if’. As the press release for the exhibition states, “these images investigate fate, free will and predestination, truth and longing, and look at how decisions, accidents and circumstances can change us utterly. What is it that makes us who we are? What if we could go back and undo things? Do we really have the power to shift our own narratives?”

McDonald is a Dublin-based artist, photographer and digital media producer and a graduate of the Art in the Digital World Masters at NCAD. She describes her research and practice as focusing on issues of authorship and narrative in portraits and images of people, and the creation of identity in online and offline spaces. McDonald’s work incor- porates new technologies: digital production, web based art and physical computing, alongside photography, video and historical lens-based processes.

‘Uchronia’ was shot using a medium-format film camera with the shutter release cable plainly visible in each frame. The analogue quality of the medium produces a richer photograph, deeper in detail. It is a slow and deliberate process where each of the 10 frames per film spool must count, a process at odds with today’s digital point and shoot technology. It seems appropriate that McDonald chose this contemplative technique for these contemplative studies.

McDonald’s titles and imagery suggest a disclosure of the artist’s deepest feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing, intimated by works such as Self Portrait at My Son’s Grave on His Birthday. McDonald’s works are self-consciously speculative exercises. Tellingly, in each image McDonald passively looks past the lens and out of the frame. Rather than a confrontational stare, viewers are presented with a near submissive gaze.

Sinead McDonald, Uchronia

Sinead McDonald, ‘Self Portrait at my Son’s Grave on His Birthday’

Each shot shows the artist in a variety of (mostly) occupational environments that imagine McDonald as a farmer’s wife in Self Portrait If I Hadn’t Met My Now Ex Husband, as an information technology professional in Self Portrait If I’d Finished My First Undergraduate Degree in 1995 and as a school teacher in Self Portrait If My Parents had Called Me Irene Sinead Instead of Sinead Irene. The photographs detail what she might have looked and dressed like and the surroundings of her imagined daily grind.

Working with Finnish artist Elina Brotherus, who also mixes real and fictive biographical elements in her work, McDonald wrote her biography in just two pages. This condensed list of key events was used to form the basis of her uchronian paradigm. The speculative possibilities and realities of McDonald’s subsequent enquiries into the ‘what if’ can be understood as a kind of ‘anti-biography’.

While pose and expression are consistent throughout the works, each Sinead McDonald life is unique and contrasting. The viewer is not taken on far-fetched time-travel to historical or futuristic eras. The work is set in the now and depicts the reasonable and plausible commonplace existences that McDonald did not choose. Titles narrate how she was guided toward particular choices, while the photographs depict what might have been for McDonald as the somewhat unwilling but very real and central character. While the scenes are staged and fully kitted out prop wise, McDonald’s photographs are natural and lit using ordinary daylight. The images remain uncontrived and unedited and are not studio constructs. It appears as if McDonald is stepping into each scenario to check that it was never the right fit for her.

Obvious themes exploring fate and predestination are inherent in these works. ‘Uchronia’ questions how much control we really have, if any, over life. If random occurrences as banal as seeing a poster advertising a philosophy course in Self Portrait if I Hadn’t Walked Home via Camden Street in August 1989 can ultimately determine a major life juncture, then how arbitrary is life, and does free will exist?

McDonald’s work also challenges the wisdom of altering life’s past pain and difficulties. The Grandfather Paradox, an idea first posited by philosopher David Lewis in the 1970s, maintains that changing the past, even in the smallest way, negates the need or desire for change and presents an infinite contradiction. While this may be universally true and makes for interesting conjecture, it is somewhat distracting from McDonald’s profound and deeply personal experience.

There is an argument that visual art should be solely explicable from observation, that it should not require excessive background reading and explanation to be appreciated. Contrary to this argument, ‘Uchronia’ is a layered work that ultimately reveals more to us through pondering the narrative that McDonald sets.

Emer Marron is an arts manager and occasional art writer.

1. In an interview with the writer, November 2014

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: Debra Bowden ‘Beginnings’ at the Toradh Gallery

Debra Bowden Cave V11

Debra Bowden, ‘Cave V11′, 2013, pigment, oil bar and mica on paper

Debra Bowden
17 November – 16 December 2014
Toradh Gallery, Ashbourne, Meath

. Why are they such a popular subject for paintings? In many hands, even when well executed, they come across as sentimental, chocolate-box images, anodyne and unchallenging. In Debra Bowden’s work, now showing at the Toradh Gallery in Ashbourne, Co. Meath, they are none of the above. Of the 24 pieces on display, the majority feature this benign-seeming animal, but its representation goes well beyond the simply bovine, reaching as far back as prehistoric times.

In its subject matter, execution and choice of palette, Bowden’s work evokes the primitive cave drawings of Lascaux and Chauvet. These works are fascinating. Were they recordings or decorations? A means of communication or ritual markings? Whatever their purpose, they are a vivid reminder of that most human activity: creation, and a rebuke not to confuse primitive with paltry or puerile.

The warm ochres and rough materials that Bowden uses – sand, pigment, mica – bring us on that heady journey into the depths of prehistoric markings, reminding us of our origins and remonstrating with us for assuming that in our evolution we have somehow left behind the primeval. Recently, there have been anecdotes about cattle becoming more aggressive, explained perhaps by their lack of human contact in an environment which is more industrialised and less peopled than in the past. When Bowden speaks of exploring that “empathetic relationship between man, his environment and the indigenous animals that inhabit it,” she is asking us to examine just how strong that relationship is now, and to wonder what we may have lost over time.

In this exhibition, Bowden shows six images from what is presumably a larger series – the numbering here is not sequential – of which ‘Cave I’ is the most dramatic. It presents to the viewer an animal that, although familiar in form, has nothing of the bucolic or pastoral. This is a beast, a force to be reckoned with, presented in strong, minimal lines and earthy, tactile media. There is confidence and coherence in Bowden’s conjunction of skill and subject matter.

Debra Bowden, Free, 2013

Debra Bowden, ‘Free’, 2013, sand, pigment and oil bar on board

Her palette too shows confidence. Apart from the ochres, which dominate, there are occasional strong but harmonious lines of red, black and yellow, as in ‘Family’. Her work is pleasing to the eye, but never merely decorative, and for the fellow artist, her use – and combination – of media such as oil bar, sawdust, and mica, and her range of support – paper, board, wood – are a call to greater exploration. Beginnings proclaims an artist fully engaged with her process.

However, some works, though still eye-catching, are less successful than others. ‘Horn’, a piece of carved found wood, feels out of place in this exhibition, though the other work in carved wood, ‘Ice’, fits in, perhaps because the subject matter is of a piece with the overall theme. The three pieces based on sheep seem a little overworked and lack the looseness and confidence that otherwise characterise Bowden’s work. A handprint on one rings a false note, and two of the titles confuse: there seems to be too little difference visually between ‘Free’ and ‘Fenced In’ to justify the opposition.

Indeed, in many cases the works are somewhat undermined by their titles. Bowden’s pieces appeal to the imagination in a visceral way which links us to those cave people who first drew on walls many aeons ago. Titles such as ‘Black Sheep’, ‘Cowgirl’, ‘Thirsty’ are too literal for images that are all about non-verbal communication. They jolt the viewer into the now and leave nothing to the imagination; they demand an interpretation which is limiting, both to the viewer and the work.

Throughout ‘Beginnings’, Bowden demonstrates a completely personal style, especially in relation to the potentially banal subject matter of cows and sheep. It is clear from the work – and supported by her comments – that she is exploring, testing her themes, her media, her practice. She is reaching back “to the beginning of art,” attempting to understand what we are trying to communicate when we make marks on paper, canvas, wood or cave walls. She doesn’t always get it right, but she has the confidence and the commitment to push beyond the mis-hits, and delve further and deeper to reach for her truth. That is what art is all about.

Mary Catherine Nolan is a Dublin-based artist and writer with a background in linguistics.

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: ‘Art & Activism’– Published by Fire Station Artists’ Studios, 2014

Speakers at the Fire Station Artists' Studios seminar, 2014

Speakers at the Fire Station Artists’ Studios seminar, 2014

Book Review / Anne Mullee
Art & Activism
Editors: Liz Burns and Clodagh Kenny
Published November 2014

The latest publication from Fire Station Artists’ Studios is less of a manifesto or call to arms and more of a provocation asking, ‘what does activism really mean to artists?’ The book is a slim volume containing a collection of interviews and essays. In the introduction co-editor Liz Burns explains that she chose the title as an attempt to open up discourse around the idea of the artist as activist, primarily focusing on work that emerged from the ‘Troubling Ireland’ mobile think tanks, which began in 2010.

The book offers insight into the diverse collection of contributions from artists Anthony Haughey, Kennedy Browne, Anna McLeod, Susan Thompson and Augustine O’Donoghue, with further responses from cultural geographer Bryonie Reid, curator Galit Eilat and the now-director of Fire Station, Helen Carey.

It was launched in a week when activism – in the form of the country’s water charges protests – and the decade of commemoration were in the news, following the release of the government’s controversial promotional video for the 1916 commemoration. Despite marking a key anniversary of the birth of the State, this latter offering was criticised for failing to mention the actual players in the 1916 Easter Rising[1], indicating a sanitising of Ireland’s bloody past in a toothless rebranding exercise – the strapline for the commemorative year is ‘Ireland Inspires’.

While protests and activism may be firmly on the agenda today, in 2010, when Danish curatorial collective Kuratorisk Aktion were commissioned to devise and lead ‘Troubling Ireland’, the country was relatively new to recession and the cumulative effects of austerity were yet to bite. Perhaps because of this and the still-recent glow of the Good Friday Agreement, the objectives of the project were, as Kuratorisk Aktion put it, to “explore socially engaged art and (how?) curating can engage a problematic like ‘Ireland’”.[2]

Using a methodology of postcolonial discourse merged with transnational feminist critique, Frederikke Hansen and Tone Olaf Nielsen of Kuratorisk Aktion invited artists and thinkers to respond in different ways to the subject, with the resulting responses taking place over the ensuing three years in the form of think tank symposia. These comprised discussions, presentations, art works and essays.

Thus, when the pair began their interventions, activism was somewhat rhetorical in an Irish context. This is the position taken by Helen Carey, then Director of the Limerick Gallery of Art, who asserts in her short essay about the exhibitions she commissioned to commemorate the 1913 Lockout, that “Irish artists are witnesses, not provocateurs”.[3] This is an apt observation on the many projects included in her programme of Lockout exhibitions, including Jesse Jones’s The Struggle Against Ourselves, Anthony Haughey’s Dispute and Darek Fortas’s Coal Story. Haughey’s work is shown in part here, and explores the closure of the Lagan Brick Works, the Republic’s last red brick factory, which closed its doors overnight leaving workers unemployed.

The longer pieces in the book provide plenty of starting points for anatomising the idea of ‘Troubling Ireland’ and the many questions and enquiries prompted by the nature of art and activism. Liz Burns’s interview with Hansen and Nielsen offers a useful framework for exploration of activism in Ireland from an outsider perspective, an approach that immediately seems more objective and less volatile than those posed from within. The pair talk about how addressing post-colonial issues in Ireland such as ‘double-speak’ and self-silencing assisted their approach to their practice, while the longevity of the project gave them the opportunity to revisit the same group of artists through the duration of the think tank programme.

Curator and writer Galit Eilat, meanwhile, provides an edited version of the presentation she gave at Fire Station’s 2013 ‘Art and Responsibility’ symposium, where she discussed a selection of the actions she has participated in at home in her native Israel. Preferring the term ‘responsibility’ rather than ‘activism’, Eilat has taken part in works addressing her home country’s controversial ‘Green Line’, the 700km wall dividing Jewish settlers and Palestinians. While in other contexts these might be viewed as distinctly ‘activist’, she prefers to see this kind of work as artists engaging with politics, rather than being ‘political’.

In the short time since the events that inform the book took place, however, much has changed in the social, if not political, landscape. This raises the question of whether those who contributed to Act and Activism might well reframe their thoughts if they were writing today.

Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable collection the responses from the highly-engaged participants of Kuratorisk Aktion’s multi-faceted exploration of an Ireland ‘troubled’ by its many difficult legacies.

[1] E. O’Caolli, Don’t mention the war – 1916 video fails to mention Rising, Irishtimes.com, 13 November 2014 [2] F. Hansen, Kuratorisk Aktion in conversation with Liz Burns, Art & Activism, 2014, p14 [3] H. Carey, ‘Contemporary Art and Commemorative Activity’, Art & Activism, 2014, p.55


VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: Nom Nom Collective at White Lady Art

Ropey Smurf

Ropey Smurf, paint and ink on repurposed album cover

Nom Nom Collective

White Lady Art Wellington Quay, Dublin
29 Nov – 23 Dec 2014

The Nom Nom Collective comprises eight artists who have worked together for around a decade, five of whom are included in their current exhibition ‘Nomstalgia’, at White Lady Art on Wellington Quay. Lints (Denmark), Poncho (Ireland), Dr Lamps & Mr Splink (Ireland), Loki (Ireland) and Jine (Ireland / Canada) have taken part. The other three – Askim (Brazil), DS (France / Ireland) and Met10 aka The Assistinator (Denmark) – are not in the show for various reasons. The collective members describe themselves as street and graffiti artists, supplementing their respective practices with jobs in graphic design, illustration, advertising and publishing.

Nom Nom gave themselves a brief for this exhibition, taking the theme of nostalgia as a starting point. Given their age profile, their inspiration stems from the 1980s and early to mid 1990s. Overall, popular media dominates and there is often overlap between artists whose formative years ran in parallel. They pay homage to cartoons, television drama, toys, video games and other iconic phenomena including the old Irish Punt coinage and obsolete technologies.

The White Lady Art Gallery is far from a white cube space. The exhibition literature describes how the work is hung ‘salon style’, which is funny given that a bank of shampoo chairs remains in the gallery, left over from its previous life as a hair salon. Coming from the fine art world, I had to swallow my white cube inclinations and embrace this whole other art culture, sinks and all.

Loki’s oeuvre in watercolour and ink is dominated by super-feminine female characters – sexy, self-possessed, sashaying – as well as male comic heroes that she has converted into wonderfully costumed, super-sexed heroines, including female versions of CP30 and R2D2, the Ninja Turtles, the Ghostbusters and the T101 (in an image created with Sarah Connor). These are exaggerated genotypes – over-styled, big hair, tiny wastes, luscious lips and big saucer eyes that are sometimes blanked out – casting them as them indifferent rather than oblivious. The dynamic of Loki’s characters is tempered by their small scale and delicate hand-made execution. The elegant fine lines, confectionary colours and just a tiny hint of bony fragility successfully camouflages their other worldly potency. The drawing skill and handling of watercolour and ink reveals an accomplished and restrained finesse.

'Lints', Who Killed Robin

‘Lints’, Who Killed Robin

Nintendo, Super Mario, Dungeons and Dragons and other icons of the 1980s occupy the memories of Poncho and Dr Lamp & Mr Splink. Poncho’s heavily outlined ‘portraits’ of power up items from Super Mario Bros in his Mario Slots series, titled Flower, Star and Mushroom, depict strangely misplaced and slightly perplexed looking characters trapped in opaque backgrounds of solid red, blue and green. Like Grandpa Simpson they have become wrinkled and sagging and are surreally melting off the page. Dress Up Arnie is a startled Arnie from Terminator 2 separated from his pants (and his genitals), still waiting it seems, a full generation later, to be reunited with his clothes. Poncho’s work is solid and distinguished, though of an acquired taste.

Dr Lamp & Mr Splink is one artist who switches between street art (Dr Lamp) and graffiti (Mr Splink or Splink). Of all the work in this show his is the most nostalgic in the traditional sense. He has crafted a series of weapons: daggers, swords and knives, all beautifully sculpted in MDF, a most unlikely material. They are touching mementos to the childhood fantasy world of adventure and play, replicating actual weapons from cartoons and toys, rendered trompe l’oeil with paint to appear realistic. Though they are too fragile to play with, they have a warmth and density that is distinctly sculptural. Duck Hunt is a wall-based work that takes on the ‘flying ducks’ ornaments, popular in living rooms throughout the late twentieth century, and featuring in the eponymous 1980s Nintendo game. The ducks are made of composite square MDF units, evoking the primitive pixelated appearance of early video game technology. It is a work of devotion, earnestness, excitement and joy.

Danish artist Lints brings the audience into faraway and unfamiliar worlds. As in Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr Who and other science fiction creations, these are depictions of strange and outlandish creatures in their own environment, faithfully observed according to the ‘prime directive’. The motivation for this work seems less playful and more abstract than works by either Loki, Splink or Poncho. There is a sense of a struggle for invention and a desire to become totally of itself rather than of the influences that clearly run through it. Like Loki, Lints also uses watercolour and the medium lends itself well to his imaginative and colourful compositions.

It is most difficult to pin-point the nostalgic influences in Jine’s dreamy and ephemeral works on paper. Hanging loosely on clips like pages from a sketchbook, the images reveal the process of invention and re-invention filtered through years of exposure to the same sources that appear in the other artists’ works. There is an experimental and fresh approach to mark-making, rendering various tangible textures to the characters and a three dimensional depth. They are stong pieces but could have benefitted from more work.

Nostalgia is a tricky theme to approach for any artist, with far too many opportunities to appear overly-derivative or hackneyed. On the whole the Nom Nom Collective manage to strike a balance between homage and their own personal critique of the material they are working with. ‘Nomstalgia’ is a full and enjoyable show with a lot to see, remember and think about.

Carissa Farrell is a curator based in Dublin 

VAN March/April 2015


Cover Image. Amanda Ralph, Paper Boats, River Brosna, Clara 2000. Public Art Commission for Offaly Co. Council. Re-installed at Lough Boora in 2014.

1. Cover Image. Amanda Ralph, Paper Boats, River Brosna, Clara 2000. Public Art Commission for Offaly Co. Council. Re-installed at Lough Boora in 2014.
5. Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
5. Column. Treasa O’Brien. Roads of Least Resistance: Irish Attitudes to Protest and Civil Disobedience.
6. Column. Amy Kieran. Exploring Visual Arts Audiences in Northern Ireland.
7. Column. Matt Packer. Dimishing Agency.
8. VAI News. Research, projects and campaigns.
9. Regional Focus: Louth. Arts Office, Brian Hegarty, Creative Spark, Declan Kelly, Droichead, Highlanes.
12. Residency. A Beautiful, Evocative Place. Clea Van Der Grijn details her recent residency in Mexico.
14. VAI / DAS Residency. New Monuments. Dorothy Hunter describes her project for the VAI / DAS award.
15. Project Profile. The Food, the Bad and the Ugly. Stephen Brandes details the whys, whats and hows of the Domestic Godless, a group of artists who explore the potential of food as a vehicle for artistic endeavour.
16. Art in Education. Overlapping with Young Minds. Anne Bradley interviews Jennie Guy about Mobile Art School and other projects exploring the role of contemporary artists and curators in schools.
17. Gallery Profile. Capturing Creator Participants. Kenneth Redmond talks to VAI about DLR Arts Office’s new Municipal Gallery housed in the LexIcon Library and Cultural Centre.
18. Public Art Case Study Risk and Trust. Cliodhna Shaffrey interviews Marie Brett about her project ‘Amulet’ (2009 – 2015), which explores infant loss.
19. Critique. Teresa Gillespie, Wexford Arts Centre; Thomas Brezing Droichead; Sabina Mac Mahon, Belfast Exposed & QSS, Belfast; Hugh Frazer, Doorway Gallery, Dublin; ‘Cosmic Dust’, Visual, Carlow.
23. Public Art Case Study. The Future of Place. Hollie Kearns and Rosie Lynch profile ‘Forecast’, a project focused on Kilkenny towns Callan, Castlecomer, Graiguenamanagh, Mooncoin and Thomastown.
24. Conference. Psychoswimography: Santa Barbara. Vanessa Daws on her participation in ‘On The Beach: Precariousness, Risk, Forms Of Life, Affinity And Play At The Edge Of The World’, Santa Barbara, USA.
25. Festival. Retrieving the West. Michaële Cutaya profiles Wild-Screen / Scáil-Fhiáin, a contemporary artists’ film event organised by Una Quigley and Louise Manifold, which took place in Connemara (7 – 8 March).
26. Career Development. The Joy of Collision. Miranda Driscoll, Co-founder and Director of the Joinery, Dublin discusses its closure and her move to the Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh.
27. Career Development. Dialogue with Space. Ben Crothers discusses curating ‘Glumba Skzx’, an exhibition featuring artists from Northern Ireland held at Ex Elettrofonica, Rome.
29. Public Art Case Study. Submergence & Resurgence. Amanda Ralph discusses the re-installation of her public artwork Paper Boats.
30. Project Profile. Re-opening Experience. Alice Butler profiles the Experimental Film Club.
31. 2014 Valerie Earley Residency Award. Details of this year’s award and announcing Aoife Flynn as the 2014 Valerie Earley Residency Award recipient.
31. Institution Profile. Creative Peninsula. Lauren Dawson profiles Ards Arts Centre.
32. VAI West of Ireland Representative. More More More … Aideen Barry reports on the Claregalway Visual Artists’ Café (5 February).
32. VAI NI Manager. Big Impressions. Rob Hilken discusses printmaking facilities in Northern Ireland.
33. Public Art Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and other forms of art outside the gallery.
34. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.
35. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions

VAN Critique March/April 2015: Teresa Gillespie at Wexford Arts Centre


Teresa Gillespie, below explanation (clocks stop at 3pm and existence continues), mixed media with found objects and video, 2014/15

Teresa Gillespie
‘below explanation (clocks stop at 3pm and existence continues)’
Wexford Arts Centre
12 January – 7 February 2015

“Phenomenology fails to provide a guaranteed tether to the world and its things. The relationship between consciousness and content remains to be worked out.” (Arthur C. Danto) (1)

The annual Emerging Visual Artist Award (EVAA) is one of the most sought-after visual art opportunities in the country. The winning artist is awarded €5,000 and a solo show at Wexford Arts Centre (WAC). As the 99% majority of visual artists in Ireland could be categorised as ‘emerging’ the profile of artists who do apply is most likely very colourful.

The profiles of EVAA recipients suggest that the term emerging applies to new and relatively young artists. Since 2006, when Seamus Nolan was the inaugural winner, three male and six female artists have taken home the award. Yes, strange to see the gender imbalance swaying the other way for a change in an art context. The last five artists to win the award have been female. A turning of the tide perhaps?

Just over a year after receiving the award in 2013, Teresa Gillespie’s resulting solo exhibition at WAC is a sprawling shag pile of heavily textured and layered materialism. The theory behind the art is derived from Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical novel Nausea (1939), a makeshift narrative delivered as a series of diary entries by a protagonist who one day pulls the scab off existence to find nothingness underneath. This old existential chestnut (a chestnut tree root being the main visual maker of nausea in Nausea) originates in Sartre’s proposition that “existence precedes essence”. In one particularly existential moment the protagonist, Roquentin, observes that “the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses”.(2)

And this is what Gillespie gives you in both galleries at WAC. Downstairs in the main gallery, among visual impressions of sinuous intestines and monastically draped and bound bodies, floor-bound monstrous masses the size of a Pilates ball are hermetically sealed in an insert cast of folded material. Throughout, the artist’s stagecraft alternates between hard representational props and soft sculpture: Gillespie’s art is the love child of Claes Oldenburg and Eva Hesse. In another memorable instance, a chair peeks out from underneath a red velvet curtain attached to a confessional-like timber compartment. Standing on one leg, the chair bears the weight of a pregnancy bump made of hardened clay. Amongst these stillborn manifestations of swollen beginnings or endings (depending on your existential bent) a projected film work shows the camera lens drunkenly scanning and fondling up-close textures. If inanimate objects could make sex tapes then this is how they would look.

There is more of the same upstairs in gallery two, where the windowless and artificially-lit ambience lends itself better to Gillespie’s formalism. Further, the smaller and more intimate space seems to foster greater consideration with regard to display, where wall decoration comes in the form of a framed primordial ‘mud-scape’.

However, what held my attention for repeated viewings upstairs is the single film work. It comes closest to what, in many respects, is Gillespie’s visual re-description of Nausea, especially how Danto describes the book as “a series of almost philosophical still lifes, the nearest artistic predecessor being, perhaps, Chardin, where the humblest objects – a pitcher, an egg – are rendered eloquent in their ordinariness and metaphysical in their presence”.(3)

Gillespie’s art positions the body and consciousness, the terrestrial and the celestial, the real and the representational in close proximity. These intimate embraces of opposites collaborate to elicit a perceived density to her art objects. This may also explain why the language and the references that the artist uses to theoretically situate her work are equally dense. Frustratingly, this density creates a verbal impasse for the observer, like those experienced by Roquentin in Nausea: “things are divorced from their names”.(4)

Overall, there is nothing attractive or repulsive, spectacular or banal at WAC. The mind’s eye wanders over the manifold textures that both conceal and give shape to the mutable floor-bound furniture. However, the exhibition as a whole is insidiously latent, waiting in hiding for the observer to activate the landscape with their own psychological baggage. Gilles Deleuze’s notion of ‘the fold’ comes to mind: “the coils of matter, and the folds of the soul”.(5) There are also visual nods to that other philosophical chestnut ‘abjection’ at WAC. That said, Gillespie’s art is not the tomato and chocolate sauce abjection of Paul McCarthy. Rather, it is between beauty and the beast that Gillespie leads the observer, down the rabbit hole of existential angst and phenomenological blockage.

James Merrigan is an artist and art critic at billionjournal.com

1. Arthur C. Danto, Nausea and Noesis: Some Philosophical Problems for Sartre, October, Vol. 18 (Autumn 1981), p. 18
2. Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, (trans.) Lloyd Alexander, New Directions, New York, 1969
3. Danto, op. cit., p. 6
4. Sartre, op. cit.
5. Gilles Deleuze, The Fold, (trans.) Jonathan Strauss, Yale French Studies, No. 80, 1991, p. 227

VAN Critique March/April 2015: Sabina Mac Mahon at Belfast Exposed Photography and Queen Street Studios & Gallery

Screenshot 2015-04-16 15.04.28

Maimie Campbell, The Death of Cuchulainn, 1929, tempera on board 67 x 55 cm

Sabina Mac Mahon
‘An Ulaid – South Down Society of Modern Art’
Belfast Exposed and Queen Street Studios, Belfast
16 January – 28 February

Sabina Mac Mahon’s research project, An Ulaid – South Down Society of Modern Art, is displayed in two different venues in Belfast: Belfast Exposed Photography and Queen Street Studios & Gallery.

Belfast Exposed’s downstairs gallery bears all the familiar hallmarks of a museum-based show, in which factual information and a collection of artefacts are utilised to construct characters and tell a story. The open layout – vitrines, free-standing and wall-mounted display cases, framed archival photographs and an abundance of wall panels – provides detailed information on a group of seven artists: Maimie Campbell, Pauline Doyle, Edward Hollywood, Sarah Leonard, Iris McAragh, Heber O’Neill and Thomas Pettit, who co-founded the South Down Society of Modern Art in rural Northern Ireland in 1927.

Mac Mahon has included an incredible amount of detail in the texts incorporated in the exhibition, which appear to be thoroughly researched and chart the formation of the group, their inspirations, travels, influences, styles, output and eventual decline in 1930. Hand-written postcards, aged and frayed, contain correspondence between the members whilst abroad. Black and white photographs show a group of smiling young artists and the spaces and places where they grew up and in which their meetings and art making took place. Even the biscuit tin in which Mac Mahon found the memorabilia that initiated her research project sits on a plinth under a protective case.

None of the actual artworks made by the Society are displayed at Belfast Exposed, but are presented separately at Queen Street Studios: paintings and drawings inspired by Fauvism, Cubism, Pointillism and other styles that the group’s members encountered when travelling and studying on the continent. In Mac Mahon’s own words, “[their work] generally speaking, approaches the standard of enthusiastic amateurs rather than that of professional artists”. The works produced in the three-year lifespan of the group are unexceptional and their story, though well-illustrated, is largely uneventful – no doubt mirroring the trajectory of so many other groups that didn’t quite make art history: wealthy middle class artists who, after a grand tour, became inspired to replicate the famous works and styles they so admired, but never quite managed to surpass them.

Mac Mahon has faithfully recounted their tale and the layout of the show at Belfast Exposed guides you clearly around the displays and objects as she they unfold from beginning to end. The gallery’s printed material, however, subtly hints at a different story. It does not present a standard archive show of a group of Northern Irish artists that nobody (remarkably, really) has ever heard of, but also states that the exhibition is “a speculative exercise, which playfully explores photography’s relationship to truth and its role in the illustration and imagining of history”. Alarm bells may be triggered by these words in the average viewer. In fact, none of it is real.

Screenshot 2015-04-16 15.07.30

Sabina Mac Mahon, ‘An Ulaid – South Down Society of Modern Art’ installation view, QSS Gallery, photo by Tony Corey

What happens after the ‘unveiling’, when fact turns into fiction, and when the curtain is drawn back and the wizard behind it is revealed? Some will view it and leave without discovering the truth. Others will feel deceived, or forced to ask the exasperating question: “So what now?” Some, like me, may have already realised in their initial experience of the show that something was amiss (before it had even opened, in fact, when those ‘warning bell’ words stood out in the press release and triggered a suspicious feeling of construct).

If you like being fooled, and enjoy the deftness of Mac Mahon’s writing and replication, you will have found the unveiling amusing and clever. If you are interested in how galleries and other arts institutions present history, fact and truth, then Mac Mahon’s thorough knowledge of museum and gallery displays (she is currently undertaking an MA in Museum Studies) evidenced in this show will impress.

For me, this exhibition really started to function as a result of the conversations I had with others about it. These included: questions surrounding belief systems present in the everyday, and how we are sometimes convinced by ‘evidence’ that supports them. The power of museums when presenting history as entertainment and the responsibility that galleries have when knowingly ‘misleading’ their viewers (something that Belfast Exposed have been careful about: all the clues are presented clearly, and the gallery invigilators have been advised to discuss the fictional elements of the show when engaging with visitors).

Mac Mahon is no doubt acutely aware of the specific context of Northern Ireland, and its plural histories. After all, this is a place where, in 2010, the then culture minister Nelson McCausland publicly urged the Ulster Museum to put on exhibits acknowledging that the world was made only several thousand years ago, in order to “reflect the views of all the people in Northern Ireland in all its richness and diversity”. ¹

Take from it what you will, but Sabina Mac Mahon’s research project ‘An Ulaid – South Down Society of Modern Art’, above demonstrating the careful fabrication of an imagined history of art, has also provided sufficient food for thought.

Alissa Kleist is a Belfast-based curator.

1. Henry McDonald, ‘Northern Ireland minister calls on Ulster Museum to promote creationism’, The Guardian, Wednesday 26 May 2010