Drive Time

The Black Mariah, Cork

Drive Time, an installation of co-authored works, is the outcome of a period of material exchange and dialogue between Mark O’Kelly and Ian McInerney. Various images and readymades are presented, including a deflated vinyl paddle pool (Chad Valley, 2014), a painting with a geometric pattern on linen (Woodside, 2006), and a Cubist-style painting suspended by two chains from a beam, with a ladder behind it propped on the same beam (Rise & Fall, 2014). A matching pair of blue plastic heart-shaped pools, replete with water and white towels, occupied the centre of the space, with some Polaroid images cast into them (Alpha Romeo, 2014).

At the rear of the space is Hopper’s House, multiple digital prints of Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad (1925) arranged symmetrically and illuminated from below by a purple neon light placed behind a plywood barrier. The barrier appears to mimic the horizontal rail line at the bottom of the original painting, a distancing device Hopper used in his paintings. This work is installed beside a fine metal screen by the artist Mollie Anna King, a recent commission by The Black Mariah for this space.

Finally, speakers at floor level emit an intensely loud audio piece, which briefly recedes to a more ambient level (Drive Time 1 & 2 [2014]), while a continuous loop of photographs is projected onto the opposite wall to complete the picture. (It’s your Birthday [2013-ongoing]). The installation was presented in a semi-lit space, with individual works spotlighted.

The installation reflected on the experience of driving or, more abstractly, the concept of ‘drive time’. In their statement, the artists cite the pragmatic display formulas of the dashboard as an apt analogy for the idea of ‘being driven’, that is, artistically: committed to the mythos of artistic and cultural ambition. They also refer to Freudian exchanges through monologues and phrases snatched from one-way communications, with these drives articulated in the tracks emitted by the car stereo. I read the dashboard device as a choice of literal and metaphorical instruments to enable various themes to be developed.

The show took a cue from the Bacharach and David song, recorded by Dionne Warwick, ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’ (1968), whose lyrics are also displayed. The suggestion of failed ambition on the LA scene, and the wish to return home, seem to find a contemporary echo here. The readymades create an ambience of leftover nostalgia for 1960s Americana, reinforced by the simultaneously strange and familiar innocence of these lyrics. However, the impact of the audio piece and the projected photographs indicates that we have moved onto an altogether tenser, more anonymous and less pleasant driving space.

Mark O’ Kelly & Ian McInerney: Drive Time (2014). Installation shot. Photography by Marcin Lewandowski. Image courtesy of the artists & The Black Mariah.
Mark O’ Kelly & Ian McInerney: Drive Time (2014). Installation shot. Photography by Marcin Lewandowski. Image courtesy of the artists & The Black Mariah.

Faced with all these objects, I found myself best positioned between the audio piece and the projected photographs. The audio builds up to an uncomfortable, relentless, throbbing base sound. Intentionally or otherwise, this seems to mimic the famous bass drum in the Warwick song. The experience of the installation from this position, between the sound and changing images, was the most compelling one. Sound is emotive in a way that the visual cannot be and, fixated on the constantly moving photographs, I got a better sense of this collaboration from the intense audio effect. Marking time and the ordering of work by routine are explicitly referred to by the artists as having been key structural components of their collaboration: they mention how numbering systems, coded schedules and an improvised calendar model of the year 2013/14 were all utilised, presumably for the period of the exchange of ideas. I found the numbering and coded components difficult to gauge, but the sense of marking time in a routine way was clear, especially against the backdrop of the relentless, highly exaggerated, stereo sound.

The projected photographs reinforced this. These are mostly casually taken images of people in foyers, passing street scenes, moments caught in the mind’s eye, advertising signage – I noticed one for hypnosis services – and more personal interior places, taken during the daily routine. Interspersed with these scenes are certain iconic film personages which reference popular cultural takes on high art style. Throughout the sequence, the camera is deployed to capture anything that happens to provide a momentary distraction from the onward thrust of the day, before the moment passes to the next inevitable point of happening. These images have a faded quality and seem to have been taken with mobiles.

This ongoing project of ‘image exchange’ is a good metaphor for the trip the artists have embarked upon. It points also to the retro-consumer and arthistorical sourcing which is a feature of contemporary art practice. This particular combination of images is reminiscent of Wolfgang Tilmans’ approach, his stringing together of seemingly unrelated subjects, creating a deliberately banal feeling, a sense of faded glamour and even ennui at the lack of obvious connections. Viewed with the jarring audio sound, it suggests that the driving experience is both uncomfortable and directionless. Being alone is central to this Drive Time, the feeling of isolation alleviated only by announcements that punctuate the radio playlist on the repetitive to-and-fro daily routine.

The questioning of authorship and an exploration of the conventions attaching to the contemporary exhibition format were parallel themes here. The forcing together of stylistically unrelated objects brings this across, although the result was somewhat cluttered and dispiriting in the half-lit space.
Perhaps this is the point. O’Kelly’s well-established practice of questioning the role of imagery and representation plays a significant part in this, blurring the lines between originality and reproduction and generating a banal sense of disquiet in the process. McInerney’s technical experimentation extends this process of questioning on to a more interactive aural and visual level where the lack of a linear, fixed experience is well conveyed.

Drive Time was on view from 8 February – 13 March. Colm Desmond is a Dublin-based artist who has written reviews for and the Visual Artists News Sheet.