Aleana Egan: day wears

The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin

Aleana Egan’s day wears is a considerable body of work that uses and addresses both the inside and outside of the Douglas Hyde. It comprises a series of floor-based and wall-based works. These sculptural works, or assemblages, hang, rest and push against each other – both materially and conceptually.
Imposing Building, Finchley Road (2012), for example, is an arrangement in three parts. On the ground, sitting just proud of the gallery wall, is a small, rounded, pale pastel pink-coloured block of what looks like plaster. Above it hangs a series of sagging, inter-connected, light lemon-coloured cardboard strips that create a sort of melted window frame. Above this is a half-hexagon formed with a length of mild steel that protrudes out from the wall. Together these elements suggest a warped Victorian bay window. To the right of this, on the north wall of the gallery, hangs what looks like a large, elongated ‘m’ shape. It is made from a series of curved steel strips welded together, and its title, Room after room (2012), brings the viewer from outside to inside. But it does more than this. Together with Imposing Building, Finchley Road, this work evokes a time, an imaginable personal living space, and a wandering sense of upholstered ennui.
Sifted through (2012) brings us further into this world of Victorian architectural detail and decoration. It looks like a curtain rail stripped bare and elongated. It is the largest piece in the exhibition and is made entirely from steel (stainless and mild). It extends through an often forgotten space in this gallery, from the mezzanine level down through the gap between the floor slab and the external wall, to the lower floor level. It comprises a protruding steel frame that has been fixed directly to the gallery wall and two long slim dangling steel sections fixed together with a series of neatly machined stainless steel tube joints and clips. Alongside with the shadows that draw themselves across the wall around it, the work somehow elucidates what is absent, to the point where I found myself imagining the piece draped in curtain material. It is in the gaps between Egan’s gestures that the viewer is allowed to navigate.
There is an urge to deduce meanings for the show in a rational manner. This will only take you so far. I revisited this exhibition a number of times and, each time I returned, the references I’d thought I’d made sense of didn’t bring me any closer to overall meaning – instead, they opened up further avenues of possibility for me to explore. Exhibitions where referential frameworks are central often become static once this framework is understood. What was excellent about this show was that its points of reference, once understood, didn’t settle, but rather continued to eddy into further streams of meaning and imaginary spaces. Work of this kind appeals at once to the curiosity and energy of the viewer, while also engaging their tastes and education. It is a line that Egan treads gracefully.

Aleana Egan: room after room (2012). Courtesy of the artist and Mary Mary Gallery, Glasgow.
Aleana Egan: room after room (2012). Courtesy of the artist and Mary Mary Gallery, Glasgow.

One of the two floor-based pieces is called No noise, no glass, no upholstery boxed her up from the extraordinary (2012). It is an arrangement of folded fabric, plaster, paper, and a cube-shaped steel frame. It looks at once like a hospital bed awaiting a new convalescent, a collapsed chaise longue, a reclining figure. To the right of it, on the west side of the gallery are two wall-based works. The books and papers that lay upon the grass (2012) is a dark work, despite the lightness of its colours. The colours are so pale as to almost submerge the piece in the wall itself. It comprises a long mixed strip of cardboard / paper / roof felt, that loops into a sort of noose at the end and beside this a long, thin white sheet of timber, with a hinge running the length of it – left ajar, like, say, a discarded book. The title of the piece is a quote from Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, and alongside this piece is a framed mezzotint print portrait of a Maria Gunning (the Countess of Coventry), daughter of Irish aristocrat John Gunning of Castle Coote. She was famed throughout Britain in the mid-1700s for her beauty. She died young, at 27, from either consumption or lead poisoning – apparently she used large amounts of lead-based rouge on her face.

There is an anachrony in these works that is further stretched with the other floor-based assemblage / arrangement It is noon and one of them wanders off (2012). The title of this piece is a line from Allen Ginsberg’s The Bricklayer’s Lunch Hour. This work comprises two rolls of roof-felt lying side by side, unfurled in different directions. Upon them sit what look like samples of small cardboard frames (similar to the wall pieces), plaster, cement, and varnish. Is this an art composition in process, a place of labour, leisure, repose or hobbyism? This bringing together of the aesthetic of the picnic, the geological mine, the stamp collector’s book, and the bricklayer’s arrangement of tools and material reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Death of the Moth’, particularly the moment in the essay where Woolf looks out of the window onto a scene of male toil and industry in the fields, far away, utterly divorced from and yet strangely connected to her and the dying moth she is considering.
By this point the accumulation of gestures, materials, and referential titles begins to create a situation that plays tricks on the mind. For example, from this central position in the gallery, if you were to look out of the tall, narrow gallery window you would see a graceful steel frame, sitting in the provost’s garden, among the trees. It is titled Mount Iris (2012) and it at once evokes the iris as flower and the iris as a structure in the eye. But it also might be a reference to a mountain in New Zealand, which brought Katherine Mansfield to mind who was born in New Zealand, but educated in Britain. She was a blazing, displaced talent in modern literature. Mansfield (who, like Maria Gunning, also died tragically young) was friends with, and fiercely admired by Woolf. The displacedness of Mount Iris, sitting outside the formal gallery space, contributes to this work by further elucidating the elastic nature of the links, connections and references between the objects and concepts in this show – links one can wander along without fully trusting the direction one has taken.
Upstairs, hanging on the wall of the mezzanine level from a timber, domestic clothes hanger is a small maroon blouse. The blouse has some threaded designs on it, some of the spotted patterns have come away with wear, and the buttons on it are missing too. It is an untitled piece, a mysterious ‘found blouse’. Here the structure and the material infill are given, the only absense now is the person who once owned it. Or perhaps this garment is waiting to be put on.
Egan’s beautifully made and suggestive objects constitute moments of emphasis in an environment of gaps and absences, around and through which the viewer can think, refer, move and imagine. These emphases have a poignancy too that remains untold, or is untellable, perhaps not unlike the loneliness inherent in the singular encounter with any object.
day wears ran from 1 June – 18 July 2012.