Part 1: Irish Museum of Modern Art,Twenty
The sporting tradition of the ER Art Jog, experiencing as many exhibitions as possible into one a(es)thletic day, was always going to be tough in this new topography: Dublin! Beginning at the Twenty exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, seemed to be the perfect primer for our navigation of the capital. IMMA’s decision to allow artists like Katie Holten, Niamh O’Malley, Stephen Brandes, Nina Canell, John Gerrard, Nevan Lahart, et al. represent the variety of art practices active in a buoyant Irish art climate was admirable: something I must admit I was very excited by. What I couldn’t have anticipated was the dismembered affair we experienced. Ridiculously, due to a shortage of casual staff, only a remote corner/corridor of the exhibition was viewable (perhaps connected to the fact that the NCAD Graduate Show had opened the previous evening). So rather than close the exhibition in its entirety we were allowed the experience of a severed section replete with warning tape and little plastic yellow men deterring our engagement. (Art)
Kilmainham Hospital’s calm seventeenth century proportions are only a short jog from Heuston, so most art-trips from Cork to the capital tend either to begin or end at IMMA. We had intended to review the Enrique Juncosa-curated Twenty, a show of younger artists’ work in the IMMA collection, staged to mark the twentieth anniversary of the museum’s establishment, but only a corridor was open to view.
One note was sounded in this partial exhibition, however, that was to resonate through the rest of the day, and make itself heard again when I visited the CCAD Graduate Show the following weekend. Nevan Lahart may be representative of a generation of Irish artists, but the two small jokey paintings shown in IMMA, Goya’s Gaia #16/4, are not representative of Lahart. In contradistinction to the cosmopolitanism of most Irish non-media specific work Lahart’s has been a rural voice, though not one in tune with the holiday cottage culture of Irish poetic consumption. His work is an anti-pastoral of gauche absorption of global culture and dissonant local self-assertion, an irritatant reminder that the contemporary encompasses both Norman Foster’s shining landmarks and Dr. Quirkey’s shady plans for Las Vegas in Two-Mile-Borris. Goya’s Gaia, images of a cartoon Earth alternatively languishing on an interstellar desert island and slashing her wrists in a floating fragment of a kitchen, lack this sense of the rural fly in the glossy, cosmopolitan ointment. There was nothing to suggest that here was anything other than a ‘global perspective’.
What the ensuing art-jog, through Dublin and the CCAD show, intimated was a general drift away from nationally distinctive styles and often even subject-matter. This went hand in hand with what may be a historic shift to the dominance of non-media-specific idioms at the expense of even recent traditions of painting, sculpture and print. A new comfort with these idioms could be felt in the work of young artists, resulting in a new vitality and quality in the general emergent artistic scene. Why this should involve a disengagement from national perspectives is a moot point. Are we witnessing a sociological phenomenon, the effect of ongoing ‘globalisation’ on Irish culture; or is it a matter innate to art’s most up-to-date idioms: that, just like the various modernisms touted in the post-war West, they tend by an inner logic towards an ‘international style’? (Not art)
Twenty ran from the 27 May – 31 October 2011.
Part 2: NCAD
Fine Art Graduate Show, Sculpture
Dejected after IMMA we tramped in a cloud of red mist to the NCAD graduate exhibition, electing, with time rolling-on, to focus our attentions on just one department rather than scurry through the vast set of portfolios. The Sculpture/Media show seemed to suggest itself with its confrontational upturned car piece outside: we went in pursuit.
Here the Grand Themes of our times were attacked with a veracity and a physicality that is perennial with the Sculpture/Media show. Spatial politics, freedom of speech, environmentalism, ethnicity and culture –even the perceived vacuousness of the Art World were attacked with the assuredness of seasoned practitioners. Immediately on entering the building we were confronted by a quixotic contraption by Darius Murtagh. This curiously took on environmental issues by further wasting energy, with two domestic radiators entombed in a massive concrete block, chased with copper piping, a boiler feeding both radiators as well as a third radiator hung on the exterior of the building. Irresponsible consumption of the Earth’s energies were shamelessly replicated in Murtagh’s purpose-built self-sealed heating system (an attractive sculptural object in its own right). A paradigm for the wasteful generation registered a demand for greater civic responsibility, but unfortunately only through further abuse.
In the same room Siobhán Carroll’s motorised ploughshares slowly ground circular furrows in a square trough filled with tarmacadam. The noise and smells were inelegantly captivating and closer inspection of Carroll’s title revealed it to be the geographic eastings and westings of the location of the installation: a reference no doubt to the destruction of our human relationship to place by the interstitial non-places of the contemporary human environment.
Tom David Watt is first discovered through what seems to be a misplaced nameplate with a thesis title printed underneath: no visibly recognisable artwork in close vicinity. An elaborative hoax, simple misdirection or the most rarified of all graduate show arts –institutional critique? The Hidden Space: An analysis of hidden and inaccessible spaces within Contemporary Art, the title read. I jumped to a reading, for selfish reasons no doubt, as the space associated with the nameplate was that of a technician’s workspace. Later, other signifiers leading nowhere were associated with the name: empty storerooms and locked doors only piqued my interest further, gesturing towards the exclusive character of the artworld with its corrupting politicking and its capitalised ivory towers. Visible and open, but only for a few. More art objects for the art market? No! Not here. But a further twist arrived: I was squeezed ‘through the looking glass’ and ended up in a claustrophobic corridor, then room, then up against a ceiling surveying the previous spaces on short-circuit monitors. Watt may not have sated my lust for a rare degree-show critique of the ‘dark arts’ of the art-world, but he left me perched and pursued, concealed and removed, elevated above all else on show, and forced to make my own mind up about what was really going on. (Art)
This was a strong show, and until I’d visited the excellent Cork Crawford equivalent a week later, I’d found myself mulling over the disparity in quality between the two institutions. It wasn’t without its weaknesses: a kind of schizophrenic split between concept and aesthetic embodiment, for instance, that often had me wishing I hadn’t read the artist’s statement. This split was amplified by a tendency not to advertise the title of the pieces, while at the same time clearly displaying the title of the artist’s written degree thesis.
I was surprised by my most positive reactions: often the pieces concerned seemed to have rather obvious premises, but proved effective nevertheless in the actual experiencing. Kate Glynn’s tiled framings of past snapshots of domestic settings by more recent photos of the same sites were unexpectedly poignant. Tom David Watts’ ‘hidden and inaccessible spaces’, secreted in various liminal spaces around the exhibition, were genuinely perceptually intriguing. Inma Chincoa’s filmed stagings of miscommunication and dispute built up a strange sense of social interference and dislocation through their use of different nationalities and Dublin settings. And Niamh McCarthy’s installation – a kind of micro-climate realised with understated gothic props – brought to mind a dystopian Eden Project. (Not art)
The NCAD Fine Art Graduate Show ran from the 10 – 19 June 2011.
Part 3: Project Arts Centre
Sarah Browne, Second Burial at Le Blanc
The premise of this exhibition was a tendentious link between an entrepreneurial capitalistic strategy in a little French town called Le Blanc and a fetishising of the archaic through artistic production.
Sarah Browne’s solo show comprised a 16mm film projection onto a floating screen, a sculpture in the form of a tampered ticker-tape machine, and a published newspaper called On Hoarding, Accumulation, and Gifting. Browne’s research/project/artwork unearths an economic loophole exploited by the tradespeople of Le Blanc where, for pragmatic rather than political or ideological reasons, or any emotional attachment to the franc, trade in the old French currency has continued. The Central Bank of France will continue to exchange francs for euros until Friday 17 February 2012, creating a novel tourist attraction for the town, the timing of which Browne has incorporated into this installation in the form of a ticker tape machine wired directly into the stock market counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to its inevitable demise. The 16mm film shows an enactment of what looks like a Marian procession, with the glass-domed ticker tape machine carried by Le Blanc townsfolk from the new part of town to the old as a commemorative gesture, or a gift, or a testimonial to obsolescence: of the franc, the ticker tape machine, and possibly of faith itself.
Browne’s motives are no doubt based on her own ethnographic interests in viewing the world through social and economic lenses, and here it is mixed with an artistic investigation that collects, reorders and displays, the kind referred to by Hal Foster as the ‘archival impulse’. We are left to reconfigure the desire of the artist through this historical compilation: information is displaced, reconfigured, presented often obtusely, in order to connect the unconnected and offer us a new set of social relations. Heterogeneous traces and connections often abstracted are left to ramify, distort and reform, a détournement through an ordering of our associations and memories perhaps. Unfortunately there is a gap between the all-too-knowing presentation and any reception of this work: where the many narratives and their extrapolation bring such a multinodal journey we find ourselves left with the devices themselves, and left wanting.
The 16mm film recording of the procession seems slight, an attempt to inscribe an event, a mythology into being, like a Francis Alÿs performance or a Jeremy Deller enactment, directing a contemporary fable into memory, so that it may survive beyond the existence of the franc. The ticker tape machine then becomes a mere curiosity, acting like a cinematic MacGuffin, an object of desire which gains our attention but inevitably leads us away from any driving narrative, inevitably becoming a bit player to the overall story.
For me, then, the newsprinted On Hoarding deposited quietly in the corner is where this exhibit and the (dis)continuities of Browne’s research blossom. Here is where the art lies. It brings together the aesthetic, the cognitive and the critical, re-imagined and real. It allows us get under the skin of what she might be gifting us, the viewer, even if each segment of any new narrative sends our interests back to our physical surroundings in the Project. The accumulation of these fragmented associations bring us from the Weimar Republic to the ‘death marches’ of Madagascar, from the Doomsday Clock to the Foreign Legion, from the aspirations of the Space Race to the whimsy of Rai stones in the Island of Yap. And illogically it all seems totally reasonable. The absurdity of this material does create new associations, lineages, a map for further ludic recollections that illuminate other possible alternative forms of social relation.
This looked lovely, the Project’s twilit white-cube used sparingly, a small number of intriguing objects kept at a distance from one another, inviting the viewer to visit each in turn, to piece together a unity made explicit in no one place. An old 16mm projector, a techno-antiquarian’s delight, back-projected a silent colour film onto a screen hung from the ceiling. The projected film showed a performance of some kind, a ritual procession in which a ticker-tape machine was borne from the town hall of a French town to a museum. The ticker-tape machine itself was in the space – spot-lit and fetishised it periodically stuttered out data on the current exchange rate of the franc and the euro. Nearby were placed a stack of newspaper-like, sixteen page-long reproductions of a visual essay: various intriguing facts and snippets of theory accompanied by historic images. A folded information sheet was available by the door. It too took part in the diffused rebus, as it contained a map of France and its national neighbours, but with the French landmass blanked out, apart from a tiny marker denoting the town of Le Blanc: the site of the filmed performance and the point of departure of the art piece as a whole.
To follow the leads, however, is to end up time and again with the detached fascination of these facts and images, analogous to the fetishised machinery in the gallery space. The peculiar situation in Le Blanc simply lacks the substance to hold the whole array of ideas together, or to envelop them in a unifying energy. What is happening there is, in the final count, a small-scale commercial gimmick. The real anachronism here, however, is overlooked: in what situation do the ‘traders and artisans’, who appear anonymously in the filmed performance, find themselves? If there is an echo of Courbet’s Burial at Ornans in Browne’s title, the plight of the descendents of the rising 19th century bourgeois is never alluded to.
How else might the piece cohere? Might it comprise a Benjaminian constellation of historical moments, not directly linked or held by a central idea, but configuring between them a social illumination of some kind? I don’t think so, the felt tension between the various moments was insufficient; rather, it felt like colourful strands had turned up in the course of unspooling of a process of research. Was it related to the flow of the anecdotal, then, comparable to the stories issuing from the projects of the ubiquitous Seán Lynch, whose material products act as a premise for an informal annalistic obsessiveness, something like the local historian’s drive to proceed, by small, branching connections, from local detail to the world as whole? The elegant intervals between the ideas and images precluded this possibility, the linkages were too light. Finally I came away from the Project with the sense that I had enjoyed a consummate piece of design and presentation, attached to which was a cluster of intriguing facts that failed to deliver on their initial promise of significance. (Not art)
Second Burial at Le Blanc ran from May 5 – 25 June 2011.
Part 4: Douglas Hyde
What is contemporary painting to do? The term ‘painterliness’ is often bandied about, as a way of denoting those things considered unique to the practice, and more often than not to point to effects that foreground the medium: impasto oils drawing attention to their viscuous materiality, for instance. As such the term isolates painting, consigns it to a ghetto, taking from it properties and roles traditionally belonging to it, the properties of the two-dimensional image per se – illusion, perspective, colour, the structure and dynamics of a surface. The photograph, especially, the film-still, mass reproduced images of various kinds and, more recently, digital manipulation, all have usurped the traditional domains of painting. The painter still finds themself with an absorbing and almost magical physical process, not to mention a glorious heritage, but with more and more curtailed claims to legitimacy as practitioner of an independent artform.
The contemporary painters who have overcome this fundamental problem, through a more or less conceptualist engagement with forms of image-making – investigations into the hinge between painting and photography, for instance, or the quality of emptiness of the mass-produced image – tend to spawn a myriad of imitators. A style is offered within which a painter can unreflectingly pursue their practice, assured that elsewhere conceptual groundings and problems of legitimacy are being worked out.
The grey-toned, bland to the point of being representations of emptiness, mass-media scrutinising art of Luc Tuymans exerts a powerful influence on emergent Irish painting. From a distance Mairéad O’hEocha’s modest-sized works appear to conform to the informal image-making of the ‘Tuymans school’ and, having glanced at reproductions in advance, my expectations were fairly low. The show, however, was a pleasant surprise. Not only was there an added dimension of chromatic effect but, yes, there was a painterly sophistication about the images, a playing with the border between pronounced painterly effects and photographic approximation. Most interesting, however, was the choice of subject-matter, and its careful treatment. In paintings like Horse on a Gatepost near Unyoke Co. Wexford the non-places of the functional landscape of the ‘Tuymans school’ were replaced by the whimsy and artificiality, no less dispiriting, of economically comfortable Hiburbia. They suggested that what was once at least an exterior reality, albeit a dead, stripped bare one, rather than being revitalised by the economic expansion of the boom years, had simply become absorbed within a regime of semi-private fantasies.
Mairéad O hEocha’s via An Lár was on show June 10 – July 31.
Part 5: CCAD, LSAD, NCAD
Honours Degree Shows cont.
The CCAD Honours Degree Show was the best in quite a few years, and there was a consensus among its viewers that it easily held its own among its national equivalents. There have almost always been a few exceptional talents in the end-of-year shows, but what distinguished this year was the quality of the general run of students. Why this should be the case is open to debate but, as I proposed in a previous Jog report, it is clearly associated with a greater assurance within non-media-specific practice, a new confidence that has followed years of the dominance of stagnant versions of more traditional art-practice and a certain timorousness when engaging in the new idioms well-established elsewhere. This openness to and confidence with more international forms of contemporary art-making isn’t the ‘silver bullet’ that solves all the problems of third-level visual art education – there was evidence of a tendency to simply choose a living art-hero and baldly imitate their style – but it’s certainly progress. If there was a weakness in this new formation it sprung from an apparent anxiety to textualise or give an overt conceptual dimension to the work on show – not so much a matter of artists’ statements as of unnecessary artistic ‘add-ons’, attempts at exhibiting matters of process, research or wordy significance. On this basis Mark Mulroy’s decision to represent his work with a single, bold, Richard Serra-like, un-contextualised mural, has to be commended.
In terms of a simple, aesthetic eloquence Tom Dalton came top of the heap. His light alchemy with unassuming materials (with no traces of the alchemical process intruding) produced pieces that sometimes called to mind Boetti or Rodney Graham, but were in the last count quite unique. Why schematised conifers made of dandelion leaves and tape and mounted on a sponge should be riveting I find it very hard to say, but they were. Why a found image of a landscape seen through trees like stage-wings, and turned upside-down, should work so well, I do not know. It was hardly an original move, and seen without the surrounding work could easily have been passed over, but among its neighbours it gathered a simple, mute rightness.
Both NCAD and the Crawford included a piece that exploited the pungent atmosphere and slick, black stoniness of tarmac, but Bernie Colhoun’s Road, with its massy, rust-coloured roller, probably pipped Siobhán Carroll’s impressive rotating plough to the ‘best artistic use of tarmac’ prize. Road’s effect was a little diluted, however, by the surrounding displays of building materials. Ana Guadagnini’s subtly surreal photographic prints would have been even more powerful if realised in bigger formats. What distinguished these images from comparable ‘posed’ work by Irish artists like Amanda Coogan and Amy O’Riordan was a concern for withholding the force of the pictured persona, concentrating instead on a sense of the enigmatic. The inheritance of early modern oil painting, particularly of mythological subjects, would have been more explicit had the images been given the dimensions of a Titian or a Piero Di Cosimo. In the same room June Fairhead’s records of atmospheric and elemental phenomena sometimes produced an arresting, meditative image.
Jill Neill’s space showcased the advances in presentation of work achieved this year, while Áine Saunders’ film Flowers amply displayed the capacity for the moving image to absorb many of the qualities of painting and photography, while setting to work qualities of its own: matters of duration, attention and the record of change. Finally, mention should be made of Ashleigh Ellis’ suspended layers of transparencies, printed with portions of maps of contoured rural landscapes. Looked at from the side a delicate fibrous shape, perhaps organic, appeared suspended between the sheets, some internal organism clinging as a metaphor to the landscapes described, a non-anthropomorphic version of the giants and demi-gods once associated with particular areas of wilderness? (Not art)
Anthropologist Marc Augé’s super-modernity seemed a popular thematic this year at graduate shows: along with Siobhán Carroll there were further treatments of ‘non-places’ in the work of Laura Mangan at the Crawford – most successfully in the two exquisite aquatints on zinc recreating the silence and loneliness of a disused airport terminal and a carless flyover – historical, achronological, scenes from Chris Marker’s La Jeteé or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, images of a world without definite times or borders. Apocalyptic possibly, dystopian maybe, dark illuminations definitely, but a vision of what?Future present or future past?
Eilish Tuite also touches, albeit lightly, on our relation to supermodernity in her Generation for Export, an installation at the LSAD Graduate show which employed an actor to sleep uncomfortably for a week on a tranche of seats extracted from an airport and parachuted into the gallery space. This was more about our ongoing economic annihilation than to the topography of non-places, but there remained allusions to the any-places, or any-other-places, to which our young will be consigned.
Another reverberation within the zeitgeist seems to be the photographic reframe. Kate Glynn (NCAD) composed a number of large collages from hundreds of 6×4 photographic snapshots, but within each diorama was a floating hand holding an identikit photograph of the same described location but from another moment in time. A photo from the past overlayed or inscribed onto the future of its image, in other words. A mind’s-eye view of the optics of memory. Similarly, Amy Taylor (LSAD) questioned our relationship to the simple photograph and its real live reception by double framing her photographic work. A small photograph of a rural cottage taken through a pane of glass held also by yet another visible disembodied hand, then set as a puzzle within a wooden frame. These concurrences, no doubt effected by the all-pervasiveness of digital media marketing strategies and facilitated by the ubiquity of portable imaging technology, register the recording and re-recording of what we see, a permanent tracing of our place in and on the world. (Art)
C/:Forward, the CCAD graduate show, ran from June 17 – June 25 2011. LSAD’s graduate show ran from June 11 – 17 2011.