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VAN May/June 2015


Cover Image. Méadhbh O’Connor, Unknown Shores, 2014, O’Brien Centre for Science UCD

5. Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
5. Column. Morgan Quaintance. The More Real You Become?
6. Column. Orla Whelan. Athomestudios.
7. Column. Georgina Jackson. The Conversation Continues.
8. VAI News. VAI projects and events.
8. News. The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
10. Regional Focus. Tipperary Arts Office, Jenny Fox, Lorraine Cleary, Source, STAC.
13. Residency. Sustained Engagement. The residency programme at the UCD School Of Physics.
14. Profile. Activating Art Writing. Nathan O’Donnell and Marysia Wieckiewicz-Carroll, editors of Paper Visual Art journal, reflect on a series of critical writing workshops they are conducting.
15. How is it Made? Watching Liquid Run. Maolíosa Boyle and Mark Wallinger discuss curating ‘Horse’ (Void, Derry 21 February –18 April 2015).
16. Profile. Let’s Get Verbal. Emer Lynch and Tracy Hanna discuss ‘Foaming At The Mouth’, a series of spoken word events presenting text-based artworks.
17. Profile. Dialogue Between Spheres. Sarah Pierce interviews the curators of Plastik film festival.
18. Residency. Co-Operative Enthusiasm. Pádraic E. Moore reports from the Van Eyck Academy.
19. Critique. ’Smoke And Mirrors’ Garter Lane; Stephen Skrynka, Rua Red; Sue Morris, Siamsa Tire; Mick O’Dea, Triskel; Frances Crowe and Maria Noonan-Mcdermott, Solas Art Gallery; ‘The Call of the Wild: Videonale 15’ Kunstmuseum, Bonn.
23. How is it Made Capturing Passing Moments. Kevin Killen discusses his show ‘Certain Moments’ at University Of Ulster Gallery, 5 March – 2 April).
24. ConferenceChange From Within? Jonathan Carroll discusses ‘Thinking Through Institutions’, a symposium held at the Huston School Of Film and Digital Media, Galway.
25. How is it Made? Shadow Carrier. Brendan Fox discusses his project ‘Less Greater Equal’.
26. ConferenceIs Legenderry Dead? Sara Greavu considers the legacy of Derry City Of Culture.
27. How Is It Made? Antidote to Oblivion. Áine Phillips, editor of Performance Art In Ireland: A History, discusses the making of the book.
28. Profile. Future Intent. Director Ann Davoren introduces ‘Uillinn’, WCAC’s new building.
29. Profile. DIT at Grangegorman. VAI talks to Kieran Corcoran, Head of the Dublin School of Creative Arts at DIT, about the new campus at Grangegorman.
30. Art in the Public RealmArtist as Go-between. Tonya Mcmullan, Project Officer for Down Community Arts, profiles Life Text, an intergenerational art project.
31. VAI Northern Ireland. Clunk and Boom. Rob Hilken reflects on some recent highlights of visual arts activities and initiatives in Northern Ireland.
32. Public Art Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and other forms of art outside the gallery.
33. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.
34. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.

VAN July/August 2015

JA15 cover Cliona Harmey, Dublin Ships,

Cliona Harmey, Dublin Ships, installed February 2015, North Wall Quay, Dublin, photo by Ros Kavanagh

1. Cover Image. Cliona Harmey, Dublin Ships, installed February 2015 North Wall Quay Dublin. Commissioned by Dublin City Council, photo by Ros Kavanagh
5. Column. Chris Clarke. Scratching the Surface.
6. Column. Joanne Laws. Articulating Value.
7. Column. Jonathan Carroll. Who’s Afraid of Performance Art?
8. Column. Tara Byrne. Ageism & Cognitive Dissonance.
10. Regional Profile. North Down: Resources & Activities. Arts Office, Jo Hatty, Seacourt Print Workshop, Sharon Regan, Lee Boyd.
13. Conference. Homes & Possibilities. Michaële Cutaya reports on ‘Nimble Spaces, Ways To Live Together’ at Visual, Carlow.
14. VAI Activity. 20:20 Vision. Responses to the question ‘What do you want from the Art World’ gathered by Glenn Holman and Andy Parsons at VAI’s Get Together 2015.
16. Career Development. Balance & Momentum. Suzanne Mooney discusses her art career.
17. Profile. Dialogues & Mediations. The Arts Council’s Curator in Residence scheme.
18. Art in Public. Insider Witness. Fiona Whelan outlines the motivations and thinking behind Ten: Territory, Encounter & Negotiation, A Critical Memoir.
19. Critique. Basic Space at 126, Galway; Gabhann Dunne, The LAB; ‘I will go there, take me home’ MAC, Belfast; Kathy Prendergast, Crawford; Daniel Chester, Paul Roy and Gary Robinson, Luan.
23. Career Development. It’s Never Too Late. George Robb outlines his recent shift to becoming a full-time artist.
24. VAI Activity. Responsive Synergies. Partner organisations and VAI’s Professional Development Programme.
25. Profile. Consciously Experimental. Declan Sheehan introduces the Social Studios and Gallery, Derry.
26. How Is It Made? Making Metal Sing. David Lilburn interviews Jane Murtagh.
27. How is it made? If You Shout, No One Listens. Karla Black talks to VAI about her IMMA exhibition.
28. Art in Public: Self Encounters. Helen O’Donoghue interviews artist Bernie Masterson about her work in prison education.
29. Art in Public. Circulation and Exchange. Cliona Harmey outlines the making of Dublin Ships, a public artwork for Dublin’s Docklands.
30. Profile. Local and National. Introducing An Táin arts centre, Dundalk.
31. Conference. Irish Invasion. Rob Hilken reports on the ‘Developing Creative Practice Across Borders’ symposium.
32. Art in Public. Collective Imagining. Denis Roche discusses ‘Panchaea: In Search of an Equal Utopia and a Willing Suspension of Disbelief’, made in collaboration with Brian Maguire, Emma Finucane and people using mental health services in Co. Carlow.
33. VAI Regional. Positioning & Location. Catherine Harty offers a Spring roundup of visual arts issues and activity in Cork.
33. VAI Northern Ireland Manager. Technology Enthusiasts. Rob Hilken considers digital art practices in Northern Ireland.
34. Public Art Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and various other forms of art outside the gallery.
35. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.
36. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.

VAN Critique July/August 2015: Kathy Prendergast at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

OR_Kathy Prendergast_Crawford Art Gallery_Cork_Photography by Jed Niezgoda_www.venividiphoto.net

Kathy Prendergast, Eclipse, 2014 – 2015, Photography by Jed Niezgoda

Kathy Prendergast
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork
10 April – 13 June 2015
The elegant first floor landing and Gibson galleries at the Crawford have been emptied of their fine paintings and ‘objets d’art’ to accommodate Kathy Prendergast’s exhibition ‘OR’, which also extends into the adjoining modern gallery.

At the centre of the landing, Prendergast’s After All (2015) is an intervention in the Gibson Cabinet, made specially to hold collectables donated by the eponymous patron of the gallery. A single white antique plate is retained on a mirrored shelf at one end, with a crescent moon outlined in blue. At the other end, four exquisite watercolours by the artist, Planets (2015), are laid two-by-two, depicting varied circular shapes against a dark background.

The wide central shelves of the cabinet initially appear empty until random circular outlines of the removed objects come into focus, highlighted by layers of ash dust of varying thickness. The effect is of a sealed airless universe, and a positive / negative pattern of doubt is literally raised as to the relevance of the removed objects. Two atmospheric moonscape paintings from the permanent collection have also been hung on the landing.

In Gibson Gallery I, a high-ceilinged rectangular room, Eclipse (2014 – 15) dominates the space. 27 standard desk globes of varying sizes are arranged on a thick rectangular table on two trestles. The globes and table are painted in matt black. The title of the work infers a closing off of light and, by extension, of knowledge of the world. On the facing side wall, The World in 12 Pieces (2014 – 15) is a symmetrical arrangement of 12 silver metal frames for the Carte Generale du Monde, fueilles 1 – 12. The 12 world maps have been removed to reveal the painted wall behind; the frames retaining only the white mounts with titles of the continents and mapping references.

In these works, Prendergast has extended her usual cartographic manipulation to a complete erasure of reference, giving greater emphasis to form over content. There is an underlying doubt about the usefulness and notions of certainty around maps and mapping. The third work in this room, Linz / Wein (2014) features an Atlas of Europe laid face up in a wall-mounted glass case, its two opened pages depicting part of Austria inked in black with its many settlements picked out in white, like a shimmering constellation.

The spherical motif reappears in Gibson Gallery II, a high square space containing two works. In the centre a small plinth supports I (2014). Eight empty glass domes of the kind used to cover taxidermy specimens are placed neatly one inside the other, reducing in size each time. This simple piece conveys very effectively the impression of receding orbits in empty space.

A continuous low-level whirring sound draws us to look upwards – no title (2015), consists of a continuous line of 100 cream battery-powered clocks placed high around the four walls. The clock faces have been replaced by blank plastic discs painted to match the wall, the absent mechanisms reinforcing a sense of measureless time.

The final work, Questions, Questions (2014 – 2015), occupies the cavernous modern gallery. Salvaged strips of wood, stained black, are placed tightly together to form a narrow, irregularly edged walkway, which is raised slightly and laid at an angle across the centre of the space. Above the pathway for its full length, multiple sheets of tracing paper are suspended in pairs from tension wires, containing text outlined on black strips. The two angled side walls of the gallery are painted dark grey, anchoring this work very effectively in a space that could otherwise have overwhelmed it.

Multiple questions and statements are posed on the sheets of paper – researched by the artist or provided by friends at her request. Giving voice to the themes raised in the other rooms, they include: “What is creativity?”; “How did we arrive at this place? “; “Do we know more than we used to?”; “What is the future of history?” and “If humanity’s great moral strides were, not long before, impossible to believe, the trick question is: what’s next?”. One especially pertinent quandry reads “In a disenchanted, 21st century world, how can we re-find a sense of amazement, wonder and awe at the mystery of our own and the Universe’s existence?”. This question underlines one of the central concerns of the exhibition, namely the need to step back from our known certainties of the world and our acquired senses of knowledge and control in order to rediscover a sense of real-time and rootedness in place.

In this setting, the floating pathway leads to associations with ancient roadways uncovered from bogs, raising questions as to who travelled along it and what their worldly concerns were. The questions posed along Prendergast’s pathway take on a timeless resonance in this setting, providing a strong metaphor for the exhibition as a whole. With minimal intervention in simple materials and elegantly curated by Ingrid Swenson, this exhibition reminds us of the limitations of our universal knowledge to address the most basic human issues.

Colm Desmond is a Dublin-based artist who has also written reviews for Enclave Review and Recirca.com

VAN Critique July/August 2015: Adrian Ghenie, Pieter Hugo and Olaf Brzeski at The MAC, Belfast

Discovery copy

Work by Olaf Brezski on show at ‘ I will go there take me home’

Adrian Ghenie, Pieter Hugo, Olaf Brzeski
‘I will go there, take me home’
Curated by Gregory McCartney
8 May – 26 July 2015
The MAC, Belfast

‘I will go there, take me home’ marks the second installment of the MAC’s guest curator programme, which offers independent curators the opportunity to develop exhibitions in the MAC’s three impressive gallery spaces. This year’s recipient is Gregory McCartney, a Derry-based curator who has devised a rich and multi-faceted exhibition which forces audiences to consider violence, failure, destruction and – quite bleakly – “the end of things…[from the] end of personal and social empires…[to the] failure of philosophies; the failure of systems; [and] the failure of people”.

The exhibition includes major works by three artists of international acclaim – Adrian Ghenie (Romania), Pieter Hugo (South Africa) and Olaf Brzeski (Poland) – none of whom have exhibited before in Ireland. Despite their geographical separation, each artist is no stranger to violence and all of their works are sobering, visceral and thought provoking, albeit in varying ways. Whilst no works here are rooted in or directly reference Northern Ireland’s contentious political history, the presentation of these works in Belfast nonetheless enables the country’s own troubles to bubble under the surface of the exhibition.

I will go there take me home - Curated by Gregory McCartney. Artist Pieter Hugo (31)

Work by Pieter Hugo on show at ‘ I will go there take me home’

Beginning in the MAC’s most impressive and largest exhibition space, the work of Adrian Ghenie is meticulously presented, featuring a range of both large and intimately-scaled gestural paintings and collages which confidently dominate the walls of the gallery. The abstract works depict aerial warfare and scenes of destruction, while blurred portraits of featureless faces simultaneously provide and deny a human presence. Largely reflecting the traumatic history of dictatorship in his native Romania, the works are multi-layered both physically and conceptually, also referencing news media, state archives and cinema.

Similarly confident in its ability to fully command the MAC’s smaller Sunken Gallery, Olaf Brzeski’s single work in the exhibition, Dream – Spontaneous Combustion (2008), is a more quiet, contemplative piece. A black cloud of billowing smoke has been masterfully sculpted in soot and resin, marking the spot of spontaneous combustion, where only a pair of ashen feet remain. This is the site of a terrifying, tragic occurrence, but we are only witness to its aftermath, deathly silent and still, peaceful yet haunting.

Pieter Hugo’s large-scale photographs arguably pack the exhibition’s strongest punch, replacing the relative subtlety and quiet of the works by Ghenie and Brzeski with pieces a little more high-impact and unapologetic in their depiction of violence and destruction. Hugo’s work engages with both documentary and art traditions, focusing on African communities post-apartheid, depicting real people in terrifyingly hostile environments who meet and confront the viewer’s gaze. A room dedicated to a selection of works from Hugo’s The Hyena and Other Men series is particularly arresting. While these images are perhaps already familiar to audiences (they were even recently appropriated in a Beyoncé music video), their dominant scale and positioning in the triangular gallery space makes for a threatening, almost claustrophobic experience, as audiences are flanked on all sides by the hard stares of these men and their muzzled beasts.

A potential problem with the exhibition is that it perhaps reads more like three solo exhibitions under an umbrella theme, rather than a group exhibition in which the works are more obviously juxtaposed against one another. To a large extent, the curatorial decision to use a separate gallery for each of the three artists has been dictated by the layout of the MAC, but the lack of a seamless transition between the spaces is unfortunate and prevents cohesion. The works on display are highly provocative, almost brutal in their impact, but as one navigates through a bustling cafe and concrete stairwells between the galleries, the exhibition ultimately feels a little disjointed, its flow interrupted by the building’s architecture, which denies a fully immersive experience.

One of the beauties of curating group exhibitions is the opportunity to forge relationships between different artists, exhibiting their work in new contexts alongside works with which they have never been shown. ‘I will go there, take me home’ is a little static in this regard, as the three separate spaces do not allow for a visual interplay between works which could potentially have provided a more unique visitor experience.

Nonetheless, McCartney has undeniably delivered one of the highlights of the MAC’s recent exhibition programme, demonstrating sophisticated vision and originality. His choice to exhibit the work of these three artists in Northern Ireland for the first time is certainly very welcome, and this is a refreshing and culturally important exhibition for the city. Whilst presenting works made in various locations around the world, the exhibition is still highly relevant in a Northern Irish context, providing new perspectives on post-conflict and troubled societies, and possesses a provocative charge certain to prompt fruitful conversation and debate.

Ben Crothers is a Belfast-based curator and writer.

VAN Critique July/August 2015: Gabhann Dunne at The LAB Gallery, Dublin 1


GDunne_1_detail_screen copyGabhann Dunne
Magenta Honey
The LAB Gallery, Dublin 1
1 May – 13 June 2015

Gabhann Dunne has been painting since the 1990s and is an artist for whom the alchemy involved in manifesting an entity from paint appears effortless. He also demonstrates an easy aptitude for drawing. The compression of these abilities into effective visual shorthand appears to have coincided with his MFA at NCAD, from which he graduated in 2011.

This latest exhibition includes work done in response to the milieu of Dublin’s North Bull Island. The only city-based UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, it came into being as a consequence of a man-made intervention in the form of early-nineteenth-century engineering works.

The impact of our species on the planet is not always so fortuitous and, unsurprisingly, the environment emerges as a central theme. The exhibition’s cryptic title reflects the well-documented plight of the bee as a matter of major ecological concern, and emerged from Dunne’s research, which revealed bizarre incidences where artificial sugars from anti-freeze and confectionary casings are used in the making of honey. In a recent interview on RTE Radio 1’s Arena, he relayed how these dubious honey products are produced in vividly-coloured “greens and blues and violets”.

Having encountered some of the featured paintings online, their most surprising quality in situ proves to be their diminutive scale. The exception to this is Floraborus, which was conceived for The Cube, a seven-metre-tall glazed space on The LAB’s ground floor. A multi-part piece exploring the theme of water, which is vital prerequisite for a living planet, its main component is an oil painting in tondo form, suggesting water projected over a blue sky. This work references a project that aims to relocate supplies from the Shannon to reservoirs that will serve Dublin consumers. It is surrounded by a wreath of flowers – or, more accurately, endangered and invasive plant species – painted directly onto the wall and extending, in ripple-like flourishes, up its full height. This device suggests transience and was inspired by Italian murals seen on trips abroad. A small companion piece features a figure in the act of drinking a glass of water, painted in a pleasing mix of thin, streaky paint juxtaposed with juicier passages and traces of pencil.

The remaining works on unframed boards of in-the-main horizontal orientation are arranged individually or in groups along the three walls of the first-floor mezzanine gallery. This is a complex space with varying ceiling heights and other potential visual distractions, but the scale of the exhibits has the effect of inviting the viewer to partake of intimate scrutiny, which is in keeping with the artist’s belief that painting is primarily about looking. The best examples testify to the efficacy of Dunne’s annotated style and deliver strong imagery comprising simple forms on minimally textured but nonetheless sumptuous backgrounds. Their array of beautiful blues and greens – some with magenta under paint – camouflage the darker subject matter.

Morrigan’s Pearl spotlights the endangered freshwater pearl mussel, a bivalve mollusc with an incredibly long lifespan and important ecological role. But its central subject is marginally overworked in relation to the nuanced grey background, which alone conveys almost enough. The makers of the aforementioned honey also appear, struck in mid-air by arrows in Sebastian’s Bee, an art-historical reference to the oft-painted martyred saint, or as a treasured miniature in Golden, with its lapis-lazuli-effect background and gold-leafed circular mount.

One particular grouping suggests a narrative turn. Comprising four separate boards, The Bull’s Hares references the threat to Bull Island’s population of hares, and emphasises their essential role in its ecology. The first is suggestive of a primordial ancestor, a simple form encapsulating an innate propensity for movement, while the second features the fully evolved animal running at full pelt and the third a generic hare in freefall, its footing on the planet compromised by human activity. The final piece is the most unsettling due to its potential for prophecy, and depicts a startled animal with shredded ears and alarming, post-apocalyptic eyes.

Other works evoke the cosmos. In Alpha Beta Proxima, A Rodent’s Hope, purples, blacks, pinks and yellows swirl and shimmer, due to the careful manipulation of the medium to deliver surface variation. In contrast, Durragh features a close-up of the artist’s son’s face, perhaps indicating his concerns as a parent about the world his children will inherit. It is difficult to portray a young child’s features without courting sentimentality, but Dunne just about gets away with it. Any reservations are brushed aside by the humour of a tiny patterned bolster positioned to break the fall of the painted deer in Dee’s Pillow, and the hopeful golden glow of the abstract Hi Susan.

Bringing together a diverse mix of subjects and approaches, all loosely wedded to the Bull-Island-inspired environmental banner, Magenta Honey is a quietly thoughtful and essentially painterly showing that’s well deserving of close looking.

Susan Campbell is a PhD candidate in History of Art at Trinity College Dublin.

VAN Critique September/October 2015: Anna MacLeod at The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim

Anna Macleod 5

Anna MacLeod, Water Conversations, Alberta, 2015, Documentation of performative walk at Lake Miniwanka, image by Alex Bishop-Thorpe

Anna MacLeod
Water Conversations, A Survey of Works, 2007 – 2015
The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon
3 July to 12 September 2015

Water Conversations is an ongoing research project by artist Anna MacLeod. Over the past eight years MacLeod has travelled internationally to conduct research and engage in dialogue with artists and communities around the global and local issue of water as a precious and endangered resource. By focusing on material from four or five locations the artist has successfully negotiated the risky transition of her vast repository of works and projects into a visually effective and conceptually engaging representation of her practice at the Dock, Carrick-On Shannon.

In dealing with such an urgent and pressing issue, MacLeod opts for a narrative thread that is low key and prosaic – rather than catastrophic or overtly political. The show pivots around a range of hand-made apparatus and found objects purposed for various water-related functions. They are displayed alongside documentation of their use in performative and site-specific events from many of the locations. For a work made in the Canadian Rocky Mountains MacLeod fashioned an elaborate rubber and aluminium umbrella that resembles a miniature glassless Victorian botanic house.

In Colorado the artist assembled an umbrella from triangular planes of smooth plywood that rises and falls in peaks and valleys like a portable mountain range. From Almeria, Spain MacLeod has brought a series of poignant fan-like dew catchers made from folded wax paper. The pieces of apparatus are each wonderfully sculptural and esoteric, and bear direct and obtuse connections to a multitude of references that have impacted on water conservation globally. Mining, the commodification of resources, intensive agriculture and tourism are touched upon and counterpointed by the low-tech, sustainable, hand-crafted methods used by MacLeod.

As sculptural / functional hybrids it is not easy to decipher the ‘use’ of these objects. MacLeod leads the viewer to decode their cryptic purpose and operation while creating a psychological space in which to think laterally about water conservation while enjoying the fine elegance of her sculptural forms.

Also included is a striking film made in collaboration with filmmaker David Bickerstaff, which features MacLeod walking through a Canadian landscape with her rubber and aluminium umbrella. Projected onto the wall of a small annex off the largest gallery space, it sits alongside various props from the film. MacLeod awkwardly walks over terrain of Canadian lake ice and shoreline, mountainside and industrial roadside, while carrying the cumbersome and dysfunctional apparatus. The framing is deliberately sublime as MacLeod’s diminutive form traverses enormous backgrounds of jaw-dropping Rocky Mountain beauty. Somehow her peculiar and absurd activity (she also melts lake ice with a blow torch) is utterly sobered by powerful elements in the frame, the cold winter light over the transcendent landscape, the threat of melting lake-ice underfoot and the partially visible profile of an industrial complex puffing out smoke.

Underlining the gravitas, an uneasy soundtrack of outdoor silence is broken by raspy footsteps, passing cars and the hiss of the blowtorch. Hanging on the wall of the annex of the gallery space is a commemorative ceramic plate, which bizarrely celebrates past mining activity in the Rocky Mountains. Back in the larger space two museum / heritage-style still images from the film are reproduced in large format on opposing walls, with a battered 1970s canoe appearing as though it has run aground on the floor between them. There is a suggestion of re-writing history / archaeology from an alternative viewpoint in opposition to the sentiment of the commemorative plate.

In a second gallery space, MacLeod has brought research conducted in the desert regions of Almeria, Spain and the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. There is a shift in mood from the permanence and relatively tolerable nature of the Canadian mountains to these vast sterile landscapes that persist in holding out against sustainable habitation. On one wall the fragile paper dew catchers are accompanied by a heartrending song / lament to water in Ireland and Almeria. On the opposing wall a solitary monochrome work in matching script simply spells the word ‘AGUA’ over a hail of painted raindrops. They have a haunting plaintive quality that echoes the dream-like optimism of the modest dew-catching paper works.

On two opposite walls hang a series of botanical drawings etched into glass and hung out from the wall on hinges. The plants that are depicted were used in solar stills constructed by MacLeod to yield water in the Gobi Desert. These are exquisite works made in the finest tradition of forensic botanical drawing made all the more alluring by the glinting glass. As outlandish as it might seem, these wax-paper works and etched glass overcome their diminutive status through sheer beauty and bridges the extreme disproportion between MacLeod’s hand-made efforts and the gargantuan global need to conserve water. It is as though through purity, integrity and intelligent thinking that change can be effected through art and ideas.

Outside the main gallery spaces there is a wealth of additional material displayed in summary form through photographs and text. It gives a taste of the scale of MacLeod’s research and indicates the need for a second chapter of the ‘Survey of Works’. Particularly exciting is the portable water shrine from India and the solar stills from Mongolia. Anna MacLeod’s Water Conservations is a big-hearted project executed by modest means, and all the more powerful for it.

Carissa Farrell is a curator based in Dublin

VAN Critique September/October 2015: Jan McCullough at Belfast Exposed

Crit Jan McCullough

Jan McCullough, ‘Home Instruction Manual’ installation view, Belfast Exposed Futures, 3 July – 22 Aug 2015

Jan McCullough
Home Instruction Manual
Belfast Exposed
3 July – 22 August 2015

Jan McCullough’s project ‘Home Instruction Manual’ developed from the artist’s interest in traditional instruction manuals. Typing “how to make a home” into Google, she soon found an online chat forum where the participants gave instructions on how to transform a ‘house’ into a ‘home’. McCullough subsequently rented an empty property in Belfast for two months, putting into practice the advice she had gathered online. The photographs and objects on show at the exhibition ‘Living Room’ – presented in the Belfast Exchange gallery space at Belfast Exposed – document various elements of this project. (1)

A large, white plastic rug lies diagonally across the exhibition space. Printed onto the rug is the text from a series of online conversations, including the quote “not too clean but not super cluttered – just ‘lived in’ I guess!” (Molly Bdenum, 12.53, 7 August 2014). The rug dominates the room, but other two-dimensional domestic elements – a light switch, a window, a sofa and a fireplace – form part of the work’s narrative. McCullough uses black plastic tape to render these as flat life-size pictures. The tape is applied intermittently, which creates a rhythmical pattern. These stark, monotonous, graphic configurations are analogous to the binary code of the digital realm.

Overall the installation evokes emptiness. The images are harshly lit with pop-up flash, which recalls the amateur aesthetics of the family album. Panel pins have been hammered in to secure photographs. Their dull silver metal seems somehow important in this world of near-monochrome images.

There are traces of colour in a series of small photographs assembled between the taped utilitarian images. A close-up shot features a window and provides some context. The lens has captured a white, plastic double-glazed frame and in the distance, there are two suburban houses. Their dull brick walls and garages are plain and universal in their architectural style.

One image shows scatter cushions, apparently precariously balancing on a metal chair. But the image is ambiguous. Perhaps it’s a metal ladder, not a chair. Either possibility does not quite suggest a ‘comfortable’ home.

In another photograph, an outstretched white female hand holds a plant with heart-shaped leaves in a simple terracotta pot. The hand belongs to the artist; her fingernails are clean and well groomed. Out of shot she may be sitting or possibly lying on the sofa, which is covered in a cream throw. Commenting on this self-reflexive device, McCullough stated: “I included my hand in a few images to remind the viewer that what they’re seeing is constructed. This also harked back to images in old instruction manuals where you can see someone demonstrating something.” (2)

A wooden bookcase is recorded. Nigella Lawson’s How to eat sits close to an anthology by William Golding. On the same shelf is The Tale of Tom the Kitten. There appears to be no logic to the selection of books, just an ad-hock or random collection. Another ephemeral object in the same shot is a photograph of two smiling children. They sit next to the book Our Life in 7 Days. The artist in fact sourced all the items through a house clearance company, adding a further layer of arbitrariness. Another print includes a framed photograph showing a young couple situated next to a television. Overall the image is eerily devoid of emotion.

A final image returns to McCullough’s hand; it is out of focus and she is again holding a plant. This time the leaves have crimson veins, which match the colour of the diagonal strips in the background textile of the picture. In the centre of this photograph is a masking-tape cross stuck to the fabric. Its reason for being is unclear. Perhaps it alludes to a sticking plaster, an attempt to make this illusionary home feel more real?

Internet chat rooms are places where strangers appear to become friends, their advice and suggestions accepted. These online forums have echoes of ‘over the garden fence’ conversations, but instead of neighbours chatting in real physical proximity, our day-to-day social sphere is one of text messages filling the void.

Forum contributor Molly Bdenum’s words, it seems, were not heeded in McCullough’s interventions into the vacant house or her subsequent documentation of the process. McCullough’s representation of a home doesn’t feel comfortable or lived in. But perhaps that isn’t the point of the exercise. Rather, ‘Home Instruction Manual’ prompts consideration of how reality has been replaced by illusion and truth by deception. The project has a number of philosophical layers, but peel them away and stark certainties emerge. McCullough’s photography plays with notions of societal distortion: amateurs and experts, strangers and friends, illusion and reality are becoming digitally identical. The World Wide Web entangles McCullough’s work in a realm of pretence and illusion.

Kathryn Nelson is a visual artist based in Co Tyrone.

1. Jan McCullough is the most recent artist to take part in the Belfast Exposed Futures Programme, which supports the development and presentation of new work by six artists a year in a series of solo shows and is generously supported by the Foyle Foundation, the Arts Council Northern Ireland and The Directory.
2. Gemma Padley, ‘Jan McCullough photographs the Internet’s most desirable home’ www.thespace.com, 16 July 2015

VAN Critique September/October 2015: El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State at IMMA

Klinom krasnym bej belych

El Lissitzky, Klinom krasnym bej belych, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge. (1919 – 1920), reprint 1966, offset on paper 48.8 x 69.2cm, Collection Van Abbemuseum, photo by Peter Cox, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State, with Rosella Biscotti, Maud Gonne, Nuria Guell, Alice Milligan, Sarah Pierce and Hito Steyerl
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin Garden Galleries
30 July – 18 October 2015

Curatorial practices require imaginative conceits, while considerations of funding and timing require pragmatic ones to boot. All of these appear activated in an exhibition that finds unexpected but stimulating connections between the co-development of abstraction and political ideology in post revolutionary Russia, and a desire for national sovereignty enacted on Irish bohereen in the years before 1916. The show is co-curated by Director of IMMA, Sarah Glennie, and Annie Fletcher, Chief Curator at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, from where the El Lissitzky material comes. The work of four contemporary artists, reflecting on “the position of the artist within our society now” adds fresh fuel to these retrospective fires.

In Room 1 three computer monitors, vertical and side-by-side on the white wall, glow a uniform red. They sit in an alcove built into a false wall angled within the room’s normal dimensions. This wedge-like ingress alludes to another work in the show, but that’s not apparent at first; for now it’s just peculiar but nice. Red Alert (2007), by German artist Hito Steyerl, refers to Homeland Security Red, the red of imminent danger, the colour of fear. Deceptively serene, the softly glowing monitors also refer to Russian Constructivism and in particular to Aleksandr Rodchenko’s ‘end of painting’ icon Pure Yellow, Pure Red, Pure Blue (1921). Rodchenko’s triptych is boiled down to a single colour and slogan, a uniform ‘red or dead’.

Steyerl’s other work can be found upstairs. Surveillance: Disappearance (2013) ingeniously recalls the work in Room 1. Whether this is sleight of hand by the artist or curator is not clear. It insinuates itself simultaneously into both you the viewer and into a framed print of El Lissitzky’s famously partisan Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919). (Clearly simulating the dynamic of the graphic image, the wedge-like alcove downstairs assumes its pictorial and architectural point). Fitted out with ‘camouflage software’, Steyerl’s work upstairs is a computer / monitor that simultaneously records and plays whatever is placed in front of it. It is hung on the opposing wall and as you stand between it and Lissetzky’s graphic image you become a digital apparition, a ghost in the machine of dialectical materialism!

Unlike Steyerl’s brilliant How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational. Mov File (2013) (available online) her two works here insinuate rather than instruct. Spanish artist Núria Guell leans more towards the latter. Stateless by Choice. On the prison of the Possible (2015) presents a laborious account – endless videos and documents – of her attempts to eschew her national identity (in favour of ‘Planet Núria’ perhaps – population one!). The Italian artist Rossella Biscotti offers a more oblique take on identity issues. Her tapestry 10×10 (Dead Minorities, 2014) extends for several metres across the gallery floor. Woven patterns of coloured squares are reminiscent of a pixilated image, and incidentally similar (though perhaps deliberately placed) to nearby charts illustrating the rate of collectivisation in Soviet Russia. At the bottom of the work a text key relays information about Belgian citizens in the dry accounting style of a census. Made using the Jacquard-weaving system, Biscotti’s tapestries – there’s another in the basement – make complex allusions to systems of representation and information gathering through their own complex technology.

“Arís! Arís!” the crowds roared as Alice Milligan and her collaborators – including the likes of Roger Casement, James Connolly and Maud Gonne – staged their roadside tableaux vivants. Illustrations and texts unfold across the walls of Room 5, presenting a historical display of Milligan’s nationalist zeal. In her exhibition notes Dr Catherine Morris writes: “It was through the ‘power of the mind’ – the collective imagination – that decolonization was first achieved”. Milligan’s scenarios of collective longing provoked a taste for more of the same while setting the scene for something entirely different.

Threaded through several rooms of the exhibition, a series of El Lissitzky’s geometric ‘prouns’ describe transitional points between painting and architecture. El Lissitzky fused artistic vision with social pragmatism, applying a suprematist idealism to forms of civil and social engineering – an exemplary ‘engineer of human souls’. Jointly commissioned by the Van Abbemuseum and IMMA, Sarah Pierce’s installation Gag (2015) takes cues from Alice Milligan’s DIY aesthetic and from the display mechanisms of Constructivism. A low stage is strewn with timber off-cuts, cardboard tubes and plastic sheeting, while in the background a similar mess is roughly fashioned into a slapstick collection of suprematist motifs. Framed and propped on spindly poles, archive images of the first Constructivist exhibition in 1921 fraternise with recent photographs of the El Lissitzky material ready for transport to Dublin (the recent photographs are not identified so I’m supposing the latter).Scheduled performances promise to unlock these frozen energies and provide an opportunity for Milligan, among other spectres, to haunt the here and now once again.

The dead hand of Socialist Realism would eventually smother the innovations pioneered by El Lissitzky and his contemporaries. They continued to evolve nonetheless, particularly through their influence on movements like De Stijl and the Bauhaus, and provide a timely example of how states, institutions and artists adapt in order to survive. Driven by imperatives often mutually antagonistic, evidence of these machinations, with their conflicts and accommodations (hidden or otherwise), make fascinating viewing.

John Graham is an artist based in Dublin.

VAN Critique September/October 2015: Laura Gannon Silver House Uillinn, West Cork Arts Centre

Crit Laura Gannon

Laura Gannon, ‘Silver House’, nine-panel screen, oil on linen with cut-outs, aluminium and oak frame, 214 x 1017cm, photo by Johnny Savage

Laura Gannon
Silver House
Uillinn, West Cork Arts Centre
18 July – 12 August 2015
Commissioned for Uillinn, Gannon’s exhibition comprises a new body of experimental large-scale architectural drawings and a new film work, Silver House. The film was shot locally in Goleen, West Cork, during the Spring of 2015. The work is a collaboration with the sound composer Susan Stenger and features Eilish Lavelle and her home as the subject and the site of the film.

Lavelle has spent the last 40 years designing her home and garden in line with the ideals of high modernism, transporting the early-twentieth century avant-garde to the coast of rural West Cork. The house was once a horse stable, transformed by Lavelle in the 1970s with floor-to-ceiling windows, glass and chrome furniture, and bathroom walls covered in mirrored silver paper. However, the passage of time has softened the clean modernist lines.
The audience are seated on a white fur bench – a reference to the fur bedroom created by Adolf Loos in 1903 – which provides a tactile but also comfortable vantage point. The fur suggests the intimacy of being invited into the comfort of someone’s home before the film even begins. Silver House opens with the specific – a deadpan close up of the intricate organic design of the rich red wallpaper – before cutting to the exterior of the property where the ancient trees sweep down to the Atlantic Sea.
This cutting continues throughout the film, shifting between interior and exterior, the inanimate and intimate portrait of Lavelle, the purely visual and Lavelle’s personal stories about her home. Like the house, the film borrows techniques from early avant-garde film, using montage to juxtapose fast and slow paced shots in a way that compresses and fractures space, time and information.

We are presented with pieces, never a whole narrative. In fact when Lavelle speaks it is so unexpected that it takes time before the ear can understand what she says. Gannon has described her work as an “ongoing process of exploring ways to convey fragility, the female body within architecture and non-dominant narratives which emerge in geographical margins”.

The film is supported by Susan Stenger’s soundtrack, which incorporates the sounds of the West Cork landscape and the house where the work was filmed to create a new audio composition. Stenger uses the associative meaning of the basic principles of music, melody, rhythm, metre, volume, etc. to heighten, suspend, slow down and interrupt. However, the score neither works simply in parallel with or as a counter-point to the visual image. It is not mere commentary. It responds to what is not always evident in the image as the aural and visual share the power to create meaning.

Accompanying the film is a series of large-scale experimental drawings. A nine-panelled screen sculpture demarcates the space between the film and the drawings. Responding to the gallery space and the floor to ceiling windows Gannon has created three large sculptural drawings which occupy the double height gallery wall. The basis of these drawings has been in conceptual development for the past three years. Prior to this Gannon has mainly exhibited film work and undertaken live art performance projects where she used drawing to develop and inform her film work.

Her intent now is to bring a focus to the drawings themselves by exhibiting them with a film in one coherent exhibition space. The screen sculpture is a double entendre, acting as both division and projection. Both film and drawing work as a trace and Lavelle’s home and the page are both a site. But Gannon has not used a pencil as her tool of inscription but, instead, in a similar manner to her film, she has cut through the surface. Random rectangular and triangular incisions litter the screen like a foreign landscape.
These large environmental drawings cascade down the two storey drop, unfurling onto the gallery floor. They are produced on high quality paper and canvas covered with inks and oil paints. You can see the grain of the paper and the mark of the brush echoing the striations of the trees projected onto the other side of the gallery. Here, imperfect circles are cut from a mass of paper flowing down the expanse of the gallery walls. The scale is monumental and their physical presence is imposing. Like unwound scrolls, the downward pull of gravity upon the paper suggests movement.

As a structure ‘Silver House’ has softened into the landscape over time, the clean modernist lines faded. Temporality is projected differently in the mediums of film and drawing but nevertheless they are both processes of duration, inscriptions of process on fragile surfaces, the lines of the incisions jagged. Both Gannon’s film and drawing are rooted in temporality and duration; by capturing the passing of time and its fragility they reveal the complexities that time and life produce.
Gemma Carroll is an art writer based in Cork.
1. Laura Gannon in conversation with Katherine Waugh, 126 Gallery, Galway, 126.ie

VAN Critique September/October 2015: Ruth E. Lyons at the Mermaid Arts Centre, Co Wicklow

paul tierney

Ruth E Lyons, ‘The Sea, The Sea’ 2015 exhibition view, image courtesy of Paul Tierney

Ruth E. Lyons
The Sea, The Sea
31 July – 5 September
Mermaid Arts Centre, Main Street, Bray, Co Wicklow

I first encountered the great chunks of rock salt that appear in this exhibition at the artist’s rural Co Offaly studio, a former hay loft located in a soft and yielding bog land landscape far from the ancient sea where these salty boulders originated. The rock salt is a remnant of the long lost Zechstein Sea, a landlocked body of water that once stretched from North West Europe to the East. Mined in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, it is now commonly used for de-icing roads.

Historian Mark Kurlansky has written extensively about the immense historical and social importance of salt (Salt A World History 2002), associated with everything from human sexuality to trade, wealth and power. The search for salt has had an impact on landscapes across the globe, from the development of salt mines to the otherworldly appearance of salt refineries. Salt has been a highly valuable commodity for thousands of years.

Landscape and the changes wrought upon it, both naturally and through the actions of mankind, is a recurring theme in Lyons’s work, which often explores how industry has altered and shaped our domestic landscape.

Here, though, the ocean is the focus, with the exhibition ‘The Sea, The Sea’ offering a mini survey of sorts, drawing together a collection of five recent works. The rock salt chunks I first encountered in Offaly have been worked and sculpted. They’ve been transformed into bowls and vessels to create Zechstein – Antrim (Ire) (2014), a collection of receptacles resembling alabaster or marble. The quartz-like translucence of the salt contrasts with veins of dark red clay marled through it. Smaller pieces retain their natural forms and have been allowed to crystalise into brilliantly white frothy forms.

Presented throughout the show on small wall-mounted shelves, these smaller parts of the work are proffered as items of value and status. The larger pieces, laid out on the floor, have neatly hollowed-out hemispheres – like fonts waiting to be filled. These objects are in a temporary state, where changes in atmospheric humidity will either cause them to dissolve or reconfigure into yet more crystals.

The interconnected issues of a disrupted landscape and its resources are joined in Learning to Swim with the ESB (2015), three spalted (moss / lichen encrusted) beechwood structures, each topped with a pool of water suspended in a sheet of tautly-stretched PVC. Standing beneath and looking up, the trapped water creates a crude lens that reflects the viewer and the wooden frame like a kaleidoscope, this interaction activating the piece to become an outsized scientific apparatus of indeterminate purpose.

The third new work included in the show is Stormglass (2015), a recreation of a type of early barometer that was developed by Admiral Robert Fitzroy, a contemporary of Darwin’s who joined him on the famous Beagle voyages. Composed of a glass case filled with water and a chemical solution, crystals form in response to the temperature. These were thought to forecast the weather according to their density and position. On the day of my visit the crystals formed a dense layer on the bottom of their small glass tank, indicating ‘frost’ according to the key – not exactly accurate, but perhaps a wry comment on the Irish summer.

Amphibious Sound (2012) is a carpet of neoprene fashioned from decommissioned wetsuits. It acts as a kind of link between the works in the way that the ‘sound’ of a body of water does. The final piece is a series of photographs, titled The Pinking on Sea (2014). These document an installation of bright pink buoys held by chains on the seabed. The work was commissioned as part of the Kinsale Arts Festival in 2014 and was a re-visioning of an earlier, gallery-bound piece, where the buoys were suspended from a ceiling.

In the 2014 iteration of The Pinking Lyons made a video work of the view from the middle of the buoys’ anchor up to the surface, where the light can be glimpsed meters above. This suggestion of a portal, or a gateway to another realm, is an idea she revisits often, infusing the examination of the industrial and the scientific with a sense of the otherworldly.

There is a sense with Lyons’s work that she is pursuing a greater truth or an answer, almost in the way that that scientists of the enlightenment in the eighteenth and nineteenth century sought to find a balance between religious beliefs and the growing body of scientific experiments that indicated forces beyond the divine. Despite their explorations in ‘natural theology’, thinkers such as eighteenth-century scholar Reverend William Paley saw advances in scientific discovery as evidence of the existence of God, not the opposite.

In ‘The Sea, The Sea’ this same feeling of wonder at the natural world is coupled with bids to push its boundaries and see what else it might have to tell us, even through the interference of human endeavour. But in the secular context as offered by Lyons, this power does not need the caveat of being both natural and divine, when this duality is already present.

Anne Mullee is and independent curator, art writer, filmmaker and researcher.

VAN September/October 2015


Cover redo5. Column. Kim Macaleese. Forward.
6. Column. Fifi Smith. The MExIndex.
8. VAI News. VAI projects, campaigns and events.
8. News. The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
10. Regional Focus. Wexford’s visual art resources and activity outlined by Wexford Arts Centre, Cow House Studios, Gerda Teljeur, Aileen Lambert, Rosie O’Gorman and Michael Fortune.
13. VAI Valerie Earley Residency. Freedom of Thought & Space. Aoife Flynn details her time on the VAI Valerie Earley Residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre.
14. Career Development. A Balanced Life. Mary Catherine Nolan profiles Conor Walton and the development of his art career.
15. Profile. Self Directed Peers. Sue Reid profiles The Place Art Collective.
15. Profile. Rewarding & Showcasing. Dara O’Leary introduces the RDS Annual Student Art Awards.
16. Career Development. Don’t Rock the Boat! Peter Morgan reflects on multiple pasts and futures.
17. Profile. Against The Binary. Colin Martin profiles the Royal Hibernian Academy School.
18. Profile. Promoting Partnerships. Tania Carlisle introduces Arts & Business NI.
19. Critique. ‘El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State’ IMMA; Laura Gannon, WCAC; Anna McLeod, The Dock; Ruth E. Lyons, Mermaid; Jan McCullough, Belfast Exposed.
23. How is it Made? Obscuring & Revealing. Miguel Martin describes and discusses his drawing process.
24. Profile. Experimental Decade. James Merrigan looks at 10 years of The LAB, Dublin.
26. Confernece. A Mother World. ‘Motherhood & Creative Practice’, South Bank University, London.
27. Profile. Building on Potential. Tania Kiang details the aims and activities of the Gallery of Photography, Dublin.
28. Profile. Brilliant Trees. Jonathan Carroll talks to Vaari Claffey, Curator of ‘Magnetism’, (28 June – 27 September 2015) held at Hazelwood Estate, Sligo.
30. Profile. Room Upstairs. Jackie Barker profiles Void’s new gallery space.
31. VAI Regional. Visual Narration. Muireann Ni Dhroighneain details visual arts in the Gaeltacht.
31. VAI Northern Ireland. Northern Exposure. Rob Hilken, VAI’s Northern Ireland Manager, profiles the new VAI [NI] Office and the recent ‘Introducing Belfast Galleries’ event.
32. Profile. A Good Start. Carmel Daved profiles Start Studios, Mohill, County Leitrim.
32. Public Art Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and other forms of art outside the gallery.
33. Profile. Doing & Not Doing. Elaine Grainger reflects on 10 years of directing and curating Talbot Gallery & Studios, Dublin.
34. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.
35. Best Practice: Governance. The Benefits Of Accountability. Noel Kelly, CEO Visual Artists Ireland, and Tania Carlisle, Learning and Development Manager at Arts & Business NI, discuss the implications of new governance requirements for visual arts organisations.
36. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.

VAN November/December 2015

Cover Dec15

Cover, Jason Oakley Tribute

5. Column. Sarah Pierce. Divisions of Pleasure.
6. Column. Jonathan Carroll. Charlotte Rampling’s Toes.
8. VAI News. VAI projects, campaigns and events.
8. News. The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
9. Regional Focus. Visual art resources and activity across the border region, North and South
are outlined by: Townhall Cavan, Fermanagh Arts Office, Aftermath project and Marilyn
12. Tribute. Jason Oakley. VAI staff and board members past and present pay tribute to Jason Oakley.
14. Public Art. Moody River. Joanne Laws profiles the ‘Tolka Nights’ public art weekend.
16. Career Development. Humour was the Key. Alan Phelan talks to Caroline McCarthy.
17. Residency Profile. Soundscape Ireland. Alberto Flores discusses sound art in Ireland and his
residency at Fire Station Artists’ Studios.
19. Critique. Chris Campbell-Palmer, Platform; Eoin Mac Lochlainn, Olivier Cornet; Gary Coyle,
RHA; Rhona Byrne, TBG+S; Mel French, Luan.
23. VAI Event. Belfast Open Studios. Belfast Open Studios 2015 is profiled by VAI and artist Brian Kielt.
25. Residency. Kaleidoscope of Colour. Catherine Davison reviews the Largo das Artes residency, Brazil.
26. Profile. On the Threshold. Marianne O’Kane Boal introduces ‘Liminal Spaces: Art, Architecture and
Place’, which ran at The Model, Sligo.
27. Public Art. The Lives We Live. Michael O’Hara interviews Ciaran Benson about the new public art
programme for DIT’s Grangegorman site.
28. Festival. Out in the Open. Household Collective, Belfast describe their most recent project ‘Out in
the Open’, which took place across Belfast in September.
30. Profile. The Wow Factor. Sheelagh Broderick covers the Cork Ignite project.
31. Residency Profile. Not so Baltic in the Baltic Sea. Mary-Ruth Walsh reports from a residency she
undertook at Aabenraa Artweek in Denmark.
32. VAI Northern Ireland. Around Corners. Rob Hilken, VAI’s Northern Ireland Manager, gives an update
from the region.
32. Profile. City as a Gallery. Eimear Henry of Belfast City Council discusses the City as
Gallery project.
33. Public Art Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and
other forms of art outside the gallery.
35. Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.
37. VAI Professional Development. Current and upcoming workshops, peer reviews and seminars.

VAN Critique November/February 2015: ‘Softening the Stone’, Chris Campbell- Palmer at Platform Arts

Small Platform

Installation view of ‘Softening the Stone,’ image courtesy of Platform Arts

Chris Campbell-Palmer
‘Softening the Stone’
Platform Arts, Belfast
4 September – 24 October

‘SOFTENING the Stone’, a solo exhibition of work by London-based Chris Campbell-Palmer (b. Belfast, 1990), marks an exciting time in the career of the artist and in the evolution of Platform Arts as an exhibition space.

Founded in 2009 as a studio group for contemporary practitioners, Platform’s ambitious approach to the development of their exhibition programme is highly impressive, as is this presentation of new work by Campbell-Palmer. The exhibition marks the launch of Platform’s reconfigured gallery layout, which has seen the venue transformed from an expansive 3000-square-foot gallery into two distinct, and arguably more manageable, exhibition spaces. Despite the reduction in size of Platform’s main exhibition space, it by no means feels like a compromise in terms of scale, and the gallery remains capacious and industrial – an ideal setting for Campbell-Palmer’s sculptural and relief works.

Upon entering the gallery through a new, dedicated reception area, Campbell-Palmer’s uncanny sculptural works immediately promote visual pleasure and intrigue with their sugary-sweet yet muted colour palette of pastel pinks, oranges, blues and purples. The artist has been successful in his masterful manipulation of recognisable forms – including flowers, a cupboard, and a hand-propelled wheel cart – as their scale and colour play with their familiarity and confuse our relationship with them. Other objects within the space are less recognisable, and we struggle to determine their manipulated forms, searching for something familiar. Not only are we often left wondering what specific objects are supposed to be, but the materials from which they have been created are also somewhat alien. Campbell-Palmer utilises a plethora of materials including Plastidip, Flintex and Herculite to produce these obtuse stylisations.

In the accompanying exhibition text, Campbell-Palmer references the “Disneyfication of archaeology”, through which small reminiscences develop into extravagant fictions in the generation of artificial sceneries. This reference to Disney is an important one, as the sculptural works on display have similarities with the props that furnish Disney’s theme parks – physical recreations of those originally found in animated worlds. Shape and form are familiar yet exaggerated, colours aren’t quite true to life, and the softening of hard edges gives everything a cartoon-like aesthetic. In fact, what immediately came to mind upon navigating the space was the opening marketplace scene from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) as if filtered through a highly imaginative contemporary-art practice.

Throughout the gallery, large stone-like bottles are placed on textured rubber mats, their cork tops ineffective at capping the liquid within, as fluorescent ooze leaks down their sides. To the rear of the space, oversized, seemingly-malleable nails have been hammered clumsily into the wall, some lying misshapen on the gallery floor. This evokes a strange fusion of Claes Oldenburg’s sculptures and Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s I Can’t Work Like This (2007), wherein the scale of domestic objects is exaggerated (Oldenburg) and common tools of installation are heightened to become the art object itself (Sadr Haghighian).

The exhibition’s single video work is also of note, projected floor-to-ceiling against an entire wall of the gallery. Aesthetically distinct from the other works presented, this subtle and captivating piece repeatedly attracts our attention, its presence continuously felt but not dominating the space. Without this video work, the exhibition would not feel lacking, but its inclusion demonstrates Campbell-Palmer’s acute understanding of the potential to display seemingly very different works alongside each other, building a multi-layered and immersive environment rather than one of discord.

At its core, Campbell-Palmer’s work is about experimentation – working with new materials and concepts in a way that is both playful and rewarding. He utilises liquid processes to produce set forms (often not knowing what the result will be), and the same could be said of Platform Arts as an organisation. Its fluid approach to its studios and gallery spaces since its inception has been a similarly successful experimentation: trying things out, pushing boundaries, seeing what works and what doesn’t. The maturation of Platform Arts has been a pleasure to witness over the past few years in particular, and its refreshing programme of exhibitions has set it apart from many galleries and artist-run venues in Belfast.

‘Softening the Stone’ is one of those rare moments when artist and venue achieve a moment of perfect balance, poised at equally exciting times in their development. The debut of this new exhibition space is a significant new chapter in the growth of Platform Arts (simultaneously looking forward with ambition and building on past successes), with Campbell-Palmer’s meticulous presentation of work setting a very high standard.

Ben Crothers is a curator and writer based in Belfast.

VAN Critique November/February 2015: ‘Into The Woods’, Gary Coyle at the RHA, Dublin

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Gary Coyle, After Watteau, photo by Paul McCarthy

Gary Coyle
‘Into The Woods’
RHA, Dublin
4 September – 18 October 2015

THE overwhelming feeling upon entering into the RHA’s Ashford Gallery, given over to Gary Coyle’s compact solo exhibition, is of crossing into the realm of fantasy and fairy tales. This is thanks to the show’s eponymous work which covers all four walls, a floor-to-ceiling ‘wallpaper’ featuring digitally-reproduced drawings of a dense Northern European forest of dark blue birch trees.

Tucked among the trees, there is a little cabin picked out in a lighter blue, a refuge from the dense woods, or a possible haven for the lost traveller. But the cabin, it transpires, is a representation of the isolated shack built by the USA’s notorious domestic terrorist, Theodore Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber. Coyle is fascinated by American boogeymen, including serial killers, and allusions to these sinister characters appear again and again in his work.

This enveloping image of threatening woods provides a claustrophobic backdrop for Coyle’s series of skillfully drafted charcoal drawings, some with intricately rendered ersatz elaborate frames. The frames reference the artist’s interest in the significance of this convention in display and the ways in which it was adopted by Modernist artists and their supporters. For Coyle the addition of a formal ‘box’ around a work seems to adhere to French philosopher Louis Marin’s adage of the frame “autonomising the work in visible space”. We also learn in the supporting information that influential twentieth-century art dealer Paul Guillaume presented his Modernist artist’s works in the ornate gilded frames that his customers found easier to digest than their minimalist, avant-garde counterparts.

The works collectively allude to fashions in contemporary art, from the appropriation of images from the Internet to the ‘archival impulse’ that pervades much of contemporary art production. Together, they are not singularly autonomised by their framing (or lack of it) so much as defined by it. This is territory Coyle has visited before, where his explorations of the Gothic and its nameless horrors pulse beneath diverse narratives.

In Curtain, the subject matter is apparently banal. Plain theatre drapes are closed across a stage, eclipsed by the charcoal drawing of an ornate molded frame surrounding it. Dreaming Different Dreams II, where a clutch of bright-eyed fluffy cats gaze inscrutably from within another fancy mount, presents a mawkish picture familiar to today’s millions of Internet users, where adorable felines are standard fare.

The latter image is redolent of another fashion in art, the Victorian love of cutesy animal paintings from the likes of Horatio Henry Couldery or the only slightly less sentimental Edwin Landseer. Coyle’s wry take on this very twenty-first-century bit of pop culture is revealed as nothing new at all.

There are more playful art historical references such as the portrait Gregory, framed by white space and executed in the shape of an oval, recalling seventeenth or eighteenth-miniatures and the Romanticism of Gainsborough. The boy, a callow looking youth with limpid eyes, is the picture of nobility and its genetic manifestations: the features are slightly exaggerated, the face a little too long, the chin a little too weak.

Coyle is not always quite so mischievous. There’s a Turner-like haziness to The Death of Disco, where the artist sketches softly billowing clouds of smoke framed by another depiction of a gilt frame, finely rendered in charcoal and appearing as trompe l’oeil. But the scene recalls a real event that took place in Chicago in 1979, when local radio DJ Steve Dahl canvassed baseball fans to bring disco records to a match at the city’s Comisky Park in order to destroy them. After using explosives to blow up a pile of these records, the stunt went awry when the fans flooded the pitch and a riot ensued, possibly incited by the racist and homophobic subtext of Dahl’s campaign against disco music.

More darkness is explored in After Watteau, a portrait of a parka-clad Clown modelled after Watteau’s Pierrot (aka Gilles). Unlike the benign Gilles, Coyle’s clown is more akin to the figure in the immensely creepy outsider paintings by the late US serial killer John Wayne Gacy. A killer of young men, Gacy painted his clowns while in prison, gaining infamy and seeing his work sought after by collectors including cult filmmaker John Waters. After Watteau’s clown menaces from beneath a fur-trimmed hood and also wears a collar and tie, evoking a kind of thug-like figure both absurd and terrifying.

The exhibition reverberates with layers of ideas, subtle (and less subtle) jokes, and occasional insinuations of unmentionable horrors. Immersive and compelling, Coyle traverses the boundaries between digital and analogue visual culture, reframing perceptions of mass produced images and reproductions. Gratifyingly, the list of works and prices provided to potential buyers offers the perfect ambiguous assurance that “Prices listed include framing”.

Anne Mullee is an independent curator, art writer, filmmaker and researcher.

VAN Critique November/December 2015: ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ Mel French at Luan Gallery, Athlone

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Mel French, Fledgling, 2015, wax, tree, steel

Mel French
‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’
Luan Gallery, Athlone
5 September – 30 October

MEL French is well known as the recipient of public commissions, but ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ at the Luan Gallery is her first solo show. The two handsome rooms of the gallery, one dark and one bright, offer the artist a resonating setting for her sculptural exploration of affects.

Entering the building, we first face Interjection (2006), an aluminium bust on a plinth. The screaming figure with its distorted features and bulging neck muscles belies the classical format. It aptly sums up the impression left by the summer’s news with its escalating emotional appeal to our attention; only the outrageously loud will be heard. In the darkened gallery, four works are set up. Permeo (2005) is a near life-size group of two bodies simultaneously fighting each other off and entangled together – quite literally – as the arm of one goes right through the torso of the other and back. They seem unable either to embrace or get away from each other.

Resting on a shelf along the wall, Fleeting (2015) is a sleeping head made of wax, a back light shining through its translucent material. The title alludes to transitory experiences and forms in state of flux. The work brings to mind Constantin Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse (1910), but where the smooth curves of the modernist work were self-contained and timeless, Fleeting’s soft material slowly merges with its support as its expression passes. Wean (2015) is a cluster of 20 heads on the floor, tilted upwards, mouths at the ready, looking up impatiently at a suspended blanket as newly hatched birds await their feed. Somehow the intense expectation in those upturned faces suggests our own greediness towards earth’s dwindling resources.

Hatchling (2015) continues the human / bird analogy with three small casts of a baby bird’s body with a human head composed on two antique high chairs set back to back. The accompanying text elaborates on the vulnerability and defencelessness of the baby bird fallen from its nest, but all I could think of was the creepy dinner scene with the carving of the tiny chicken in David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977).

More successful for me in their association of bird and human affects were Dwell I and Dwell II, two small, carefully made up nests of human hair. These last two works sit alongside three others in the brightly lit gallery space in the renovated part of the building, a high-ceilinged room with tall windows. The striking Relative Distance (2003) comprises two life-size figures. Standing on a plinth is a plaster figure of a woman violently retching, while on the floor in front of her is a female form dissolving into a gelatinous mass. The well-defined body of the former contrasts with the shapelessness of the latter. Black Dog (2015) is a human-animal hybrid with a female body and a dog’s head, its black form made of painted plaster bent over its reflection in a dark basin. Tuning forks are hung by nylon threads from the ceiling over the figure. French is literally embodying the expression ‘black dog’, which represents depression. The tuning forks allude to a seventeenth-century experiment in which they were rung to alter mental states. Hung thus, they accentuate the downward pull of the work while activating the air around the inert mass of the body.

Mater Matris (2015) is a half-life-size cast of a woman’s body lying on its side with eight protuberant teats on her flanks, the slightly pink whiteness of the plaster reminiscent of sows. Set at the end of the glass corridor overlooking the river, Fledgling (2015) is composed of dried branches arranged into a tree, from which a wax baby is suspended as the unlikely fruit of the dead tree. Perhaps pursuing the human-animal associations to the vegetal world, it continues the nurturing theme that runs through the exhibition. The naturalism of French’s works and the human-animal hybrids invite comparison with Patricia Piccini’s show at the Galway International Arts Festival this summer. The effects produced were, however, very different. Piccini’s organic grotesques played on the fascination / repulsion response that her work produces. French’s emphasis is on emotional empathy; the animal hybrids function as metaphor for our emotional states. The three earlier works, from the early 2000s, display an intense expressivity that calls for our attention. In the later works, the metaphorical hybrids have displaced the expressivity; they work best when closely relating to their material, be it hair, wax or wood.

Michaele Cutaya is a writer on art living in County Galway.

VAN Jan/Feb 2016

VAN Jan/Feb 2016

The Visual Artists’ News Sheet (VAN ) is the primary all-Ireland information resource for visual artists. The first VAN of 2016 begins with columns from Irene Murphy, who discusses moving to a home studio, and Jonathan Carroll, who talks about his recent trip to London to visit a talk by P.J. Harvey and an exhibition by Ai Weiwei.

Our regional focus for this issue is South Dublin, with features from artists Dorota Borowa and Shevaun Doherty alongside updates from the South Dublin Arts Office and RUA RED.

Residency reports come from a wide variety of locations: Barry Kehoe introduces the Kooshk art writer’s residency in Tehran, Iran; Ruth le Gear details the CCA Laznia residency in Gdansk, Poland; Kiera O’Toole describes the time she spent at the Courthouse, Tinehaly, Wicklow; and Louis Haugh gives a detailed account of his residency at ARTfarm in County Galway. In our Northern Ireland coverage, Alice Clark details a new residency developed by Catalyst Arts aboard a ship.

In her ‘How is it Made?’ piece, Vanessa Donoso López writes about her exhibition at Limerick City Gallery of Art, in which she explores language and interpretation. Jennifer Trouton explains the processes behind her large-scale painting work The Ties That Bind.

The January/February issue also includes a wealth of features on new initiatives, projects and spaces. Founders Michael Hanna and Jacqueline Holt introduce Artists’ Moving Image Northern Ireland, an online platform and archive for moving image works. A4 Sounds, a studio and exhibition space in Dublin, is described by the collective members that run the space, and Mirjami Schuppert and Dave Loder introduce the Ulster Research Salon. Our ‘Career Development’ piece comes from Eamon O’Kane , while Michaele Cutaya provides a detailed report on Tulca 2015.

Reviewed in the ‘Critique’ section are: Niamh McCann, VISUAL, Carlow; Lisa Fingleton, Siamsa Tire, Kerry; Paul McKinley, Kevin Kavanagh, Dublin; and Katherine Elkin and Seamus Harahan, CCA, Derry.

As ever, we have details of upcoming VAI Professional Development Programme, exhibition and public art roundups, news from the sector and current opportunities.

Members of VAI receive a copy of the VAN delivered straight to their door. The News Sheet is also available to pick up free of charge in galleries and arts centres. Selected articles featured in the print edition are available at the Visual Artists’ News Sheet Online here: www.visualartistsireland.com

VAN March – April 2016

March/April 2016

The Visual Artists’ News Sheet (VAN ) is the primary all-Ireland information resource for visual artists. For this and the May – June issue we have invited art critic James Merrigan as guest editor. For this issue he proposed the theme of sex, which threads its way through the contributions by Alan Butler, Jennifer Mehigan, Alan Phelan, Emma Haugh, Sarah Devereux and Merrigan in the thematic essay ‘Situational Erotics’.

Our regional focus for this issue is North Down and Ards, with features from artists Laura Butler and Sharon Adams, alongside updates from The Braid Arts Centre and Larne Museum and Arts Centre.

‘Residency’ reports come from Iranian artist Siamak Delzendeh, who recently undertook a critical writing exchange at IMMA, and Katherine Waugh, who programmed a series of films as part of her project residency at the Workhouse Union in Callan, Kilkenny.

In his ‘How is it Made?’ article, ‘Norway (Sex) Diaries’, Alan Phelan tells of filming a new work on Roger Casement’s sexuality on location in Norway. In her article, Sue Rainsford introduces her process-oriented writing and describes working with Bridget O’Gorman for her exhibition at The LAB, Dublin.

‘Career Development’ pieces in this issue cover a broad range of practices and feature artists at various stages of their careers. On the painting theme, Alison Pilkington talks to Donald Teskey about his influences and his choices, while Ruth Clinton and Niamh Moriarty introduce their collaborative practice. Alan Butler talks to Jennifer Mehigan about her emerging practice.

Reviewed in the ‘Critique’ section are: Sean Lynch at Limerick City Gallery; Bridget O’Gorman at The LAB, Dublin; David Lunney at Eight Gallery, Dublin; group show ‘She Devil’ at Golden Thread, Belfast; and Niamh O’Doherty, Victoria J. Dean and Laura Smith at Galway Arts Centre.

As ever, we have details of upcoming VAI Professional Development Programme, exhibition and public art roundups, news from the sector and current opportunities.

Members of VAI receive a copy of the VAN delivered straight to their door. The News Sheet is also available to pick up free of charge in galleries and arts centres. Selected articles featured in the print edition are available at the Visual Artists’ News Sheet Online here: www.visualartistsireland.com.

VAN May – June 2016

VAN MayJun 201

The Visual Artists’ News Sheet (VAN ) is the primary all-Ireland information resource for visual artists. For this issue, art critic James Merrigan continues as guest editor. In his column ‘Where’s Our Marty Baron?’, he discusses the role of the editor and of the art critic.

Our regional focus for this issue is County Meath, with features from artists Aileen Hamilton and Aidan Flanagan, alongside updates from the Meath County Council Arts Office and Solstice Arts Centre.

‘Seminar Report’ articles come from Chris Hayes on ‘Artist-Led Island’ held at Sample-Studios, Cork, Emma Dwan O’Reilly on ‘The Value of Criticism’ at the Glucksman Gallery, Gavin Murphy on ‘Proposition: An Art of Ethics’ at the Burren College of Art and Rebecca O’Dwyer, who attended Dan Fox’s talk at Spike Island, Bristol titled ‘Pretentiousness: Why it Matters’.

In ‘Career Development’ pieces, Vagabond Reviews describe their curatorial practice, while Teresa Gillespie and Jonathan Mayhew interview each other on their approaches to making art. Lily Cahill and Rob Murphy introduce their collaborative practice in a ‘How is it Made?’ piece about their recent works.

Other articles come from Lucy McKenna, who discusses her residency at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, and Tom Watt, who talks to Declan Clarke about his work in overlook spaces. In VAI news, Noel Kelly summaries findings from the recent survey The Social, Economic and Fiscal Status of the Artist.

Reviewed in the ‘Critique’ section are: Martin Healy at Crawford Art Gallery, Patrick Hennessy at IMMA, Alex Pentak at Bailick Park, Midleton, a group exhibition on Kathleen Lynn across Mayo and David Quinn at Federesky Gallery.

As ever, we have details of upcoming VAI Professional Development Programme, exhibition and public art roundups, news from the sector and current opportunities.

Members of VAI receive a copy of the VAN delivered straight to their door. The News Sheet is also available to pick up free of charge in galleries and arts centres. Selected articles featured in the print edition are available at the Visual Artists’ News Sheet Online here: www.visualartistsireland.com

VAN July/Aug 2016

VAN July Aug 2016

The July/August Visual Artists’ News Sheet (VAN) is available and has been sent to all members. Selected articles on art criticism, artist-led spaces, funding in Northern Ireland and online works are up on the new VAN blog at: http://visualartistsireland.com

The July/August issue of the Visual Artists’ News Sheet was guest edited by Linda Shevlin and features articles from Anna Macleod, Dominic Stevens, Aoibheann Greenan and many more.

VAN Online:

VAN September – October 2016

VAN September / October 2016

The Visual Artists’ News Sheet (VAN ) is the primary all-Ireland information resource for visual artists. Artist and curator Linda Shevlin continues as guest editor in this issue, which takes ‘participation’ as its theme. In their columns, Shevlin, Annette Moloney and Katherine Atkinson discuss ideas around this theme relating to their repective practices and roles in the Irish art world.

Our regional focus for this issue is Lisburn and Castlereagh, with updates from R-Space as well as artists Patricia Lavery, Helen Sara McLarnon and Andrew Cooke.

The theme of participation is continued in Aideen Barry’s piece, in which she describes the making of Silent Moves, a collaboration with participants from Scannán Technologies and the Ridgepool Training Centre. Michael McLoughlin also discusses his approach to long-term collaborative projects and the role of the artist in this process. In her ‘Project Profile’ Clodagh Emoe details the devlopment of her audio project with participants living in Irish direct provision centres.

This issue features several international projects: Rory Prout and David O’Kane in Arba Minch prison, Ethiopia, Michelle Boyle on residency in Kerala and Anastasia Artemeva reporting from the Moscow Biennale for Young Art.

‘Seminar Reports’ come from Tara Kennedy, who attended Create’s ‘Extending Architecture’ series of public talks, and Lily Power, who discusses the broad ranging closing seminar for Eva 2016: ‘Still (the Barbarians’.

Reviewed in the ‘Critique’ section are: John Byrne at The LAB, Dublin; ‘Two Birds/One Stone’ at Farmleigh Gallery, Dublin; David Fagan at Tactic, Cork; Kevin Killen at Queen’s University, Belfast; and ‘Creative Peninsula’ at Ards Arts Centre.

As ever, we have details of upcoming VAI Professional Development Programme, exhibition and public art roundups, news from the sector and current opportunities.

Members of VAI receive a copy of the VAN delivered straight to their door. The News Sheet is also available to pick up free of charge in galleries and arts centres. Selected articles featured in the print edition are available at the Visual Artists’ News Sheet Online here: www.visualartistsireland.com