In a stubborn and puzzling review of A Macguffin and Some Other Things for the Irish Times, Aidan Dunne complained about the ‘drily theoretical’ nature of the show. His complaint was that this was an exhibition in which curatorial intervention had been allowed to overwhelm anything of aesthetic interest. Conceptual considerations had obscured the objects on display which had thus been rendered mute and inert.
He couldn’t have been more wrong. This was a riotous parliament of things that had been given the chance to speak in their own weird voices. The theme of the show was rather that objects have a life all of their own which is not dry and pedantic but moist and furtive. It gave a clue that beyond the bureaucracy of culture and human interference objects are doing weird things to each other all the time and to a script all of their own. They don’t care if we’re looking or not.
The Macguffin of the title was a term popularised by Hitchcock as the object which drives the plot of a film and which the action hinges around. Yet the object –a bundle of money, a locked suitcase perhaps, or a Maltese Falcon – ultimately recedes from view as the narrative develops. This was Vaari Claffey’s starting point for curating a number of investigations into the roles, relations and stories that objects can enter into or intersect with.
The other starting point was a large sheet of fabric which cut the gallery space into two horizontal sections (above and below) and a number of somewhat distinct but linked spaces. This was weighed down in the middle by Alice Rekab’s Petrosphere, a taciturn globe that seeped colour into the cloth as if in lieu of it not being able to reach its audience. Negotiating these spaces required a certain amount of stooping and uncertain groping below to find out where to go, as well as some peeking through holes cut into the cloth to view the landscape above. The significant effect of this was that visitors really had to get quite literally stuck into the fabric of the show to get a purchase on what was going on. Any illusion of passive or solely conceptual contemplation of the work was hence interrupted and replaced by the need for a full bodily engagement with the very stuff on display.
And what strange objects these were. Rekab’s Protos hanging above the fabric were a series of odd shaped things that seemed to be designed to be held in the hand but whose function and meaning was uncertain. In the accompanying video pieces Rekab performed with them by following the cues of a Tai Chi master in an instructional video. She seemed to be following the script but to what end we can only speculate. Lucy Andrew’s Law of Contagion was a roiling mass of rockwool and bubbles that simmered in the corner whilst threatening to infect the whole space with an alien presence. In another corner a tap merrily burbled to itself in its own thingly language on a TV screen, which slowly filled with water and then drained away. When the piece was first shown on Scottish television in 1971, as one of David Hall’s 7 TV Interruptions, it was, Hall has said, ‘unannounced and uncredited – a total surprise and mystery’. Then, each interruption disrupted the normal human flow of information, news and drama for just a moment. Here, another disruption took place in which a micro-narrative of things and of conversations between taps and televisions screens, became briefly visible.
There was a more obvious, although no less obscure, narrative in Isil Egrikavuk’s film Infamous Library in which a man recounts in Turkish a story of being taken forcefully to a library to undertake unspecified research. The film is diverted from its obvious Borgesian and Kafka-esque inflections through the presence of the film-maker who prompts the actor on how and what to say. She hands him an unidentifiable object – a macguffin – telling him that it will help the audience believe the story.
Another unidentifiable object was suspended above the fabric divide. This was Judith Scott’s untitled piece which had emerged from accretions and clusters of different types of materials such as string, paper and audio tape. In her work hidden articles are wrapped away under surfaces that offer only a hint of what lies beneath. One can only imagine what stories this thing might reveal if we could only find a way to question it in a manner that it could understand.
Go to any national gallery in Europe and you’ll be confronted by walls and walls of paintings which demand a certain level of conceptual understanding from their audience. The paintings of Fine Art are not, and never can be, neutral objects free from theoretical meanings. They are rather painstakingly built up, layer by layer, from a complex palette of learned practices, pigmented with received histories and protected from their environment by the yellowing varnish of culture.
This show offered a different proposition: a chance to imagine objects that had been untethered from their everyday relations and allowed, just briefly, to run amok. It didn’t weigh down objects with familiar concepts or narratives. Rather it gifted them a holiday from the banal and petty systems they inhabit day after day.
A Macguffin and Some Other Things was on view 12 April – 16 June 2012.