What We Do in the Shadows

Almine Rech Gallery, Brussels , 3 June – 29 July

When J.K. Huysmans’s Á Rebours (Against Nature) was published in 1884, it was embraced immediately as epitomising the decadent movement in art and literature. The protagonist of this literary gem is the Duc des Esseintes, an aristocratic aesthete who withdraws from society into a self-made sanctuary of aesthetic beauty. Finding daylight unbearably shrill, the jaded, misanthropic Duc lives by night, staving off crushing ennui by spending all his time and money on obscure, extreme and perverted pursuits. The crepuscular world of Á Rebours came to mind repeatedly as I viewed ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, an exhibition at Almine Rech by the Irish artist Genieve Figgis. Several of the characters inhabiting Figgis’s paintings resembled the image I’d developed of Esseintes over the years: frail, sickly and effeminate, face pitted and pocked by absinthe consumption or syphilis. Moreover, several of the characters depicted in Figgis’s paintings share his penchant for transgressive sexual pleasure. Continue reading “What We Do in the Shadows”

Crooked Orbit

Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin, 1 June – 1 July 2017

Let me begin by confessing something: over the course of the last two years, I have interviewed Diana Copperwhite twice on camera. During those conversations, we barely touched upon the formalist ‘whats?’ of her paintings in an effort to avoid muddy dialogue. The filmed conversations were more centred around the general ‘whys?’ of painting and the painter, the nature and nurture of it all; painting as a verb rather than a noun. 

When I was asked to write a review of Copperwhite’s solo show, ‘Crooked Orbit’, at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery – which meant confronting the ‘whats?’ head on – I tossed and turned before accepting the invitation. What I discovered was that knowing the ‘whys?’ can colour your vision. But before we go there, first a description. (Note: I will not be doing an obligatory round-robin description of each and every painting in the gallery because when you describe one of Copperwhite’s paintings, you describe them all. Sounds harsh – a premature critique before the window dressing – but this is the case for most solo presentations of painting that lean on the side of abstraction. Painting like this defeats description). Continue reading “Crooked Orbit”

Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 21 April – 17 June 2017

‘Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously’ sounds like nonsense, and it is – a phrase coined by Noam Chomsky to be grammatically correct but semantically all over the place. In this ambitious exhibition curated by David Upton, five geographically diverse art practices explore ideas of transient or un-locatable meaning via their own un-locatable objects, objects rendered by impressions and residues, and images deviating between fact and fiction, movement and stasis. A story in the exhibition booklet describes the fate of Byzantine icons bought at a Turkish Bazaar in the 1920’s. Eventually ending up in the National Gallery of Ireland, the icons, separated from their original place and function (and unable to return to a home that no longer exists), have been opened up to new kinds of meaning and attachment. The exhibition booklet usefully outlines some aspirations, among them, “To open discussion around ideas of dissolution and dispossession, loss, of cultures in crisis and futures altered, of cataclysm – and [ask] what happens after all of this?” That’s a lot to ask of a single exhibition, but the fate of the icons becomes a unifying concept, a paradoxically fugitive underpinning.

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Snake

Clare Strand, Belfast Exposed, 28 April – 17 June

In ‘Snake’ the image is an interloper. At first unwelcome, it is nonetheless invited into the artist’s life for the long term. Clare Strand’s repulsion with the animal has compelled her to collect snake imagery since childhood, from scrapbooking serpentine forms in the loosest sense, to collecting more specific images – half glamour, half family-album-style photographs – of women who hold and love them.

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Into the Gravelly Ground

Janine Davidson, Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, 9 June – 8 July 2017

Janine Davidson’s ‘Into the gravelly ground’ centres on an unusual site at Turlough Hill, County Wicklow. Here, embedded amidst scenic walks, is Ireland’s only pumped hydro-electricity plant. The film work 53012762459 features this structure, its interior and exterior, its machinery and technology. Also depicted is another reservoir at this same location: Lough Nahanagan, which was formed during the Ice Age. Designed to impinge as little as possible upon the environment, the plant’s main station is buried out of sight behind the mountain. In Davidson’s 22-minute film, the structure is so sleek and streamlined that it appears almost tentative, partaking in the muted tones of the naturally-formed lough. The camera, replete with slight shudder, moves between various viewpoints: we are on a bridge, we catch glimpse of an open door, we are looking at a stunted, top-heavy tower emerging from the water. Importantly, the film makes no distinction between the two formations, and the lens portrays the machines and their inferred functionality with the same quiet, detached observation as it does the rock face and the water.

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Forged Carved Cast

Orla de Brí, Eileen Mac Donagh, Cathy Carman, Catherine Greene, Hamilton Gallery, Sligo, 1 June – 2 September

As the title suggests, ‘Forged Carved Cast’ is an exhibition about the act of making. It is about an intense relationship with materials and processes. The exhibition’s premise is arguably against the run of current practice in that it foregrounds the individual hand of the artist working on discrete objects. This quietly subversive idea is coupled with another: the messy business of life and emotions. Many of the works explore deeply personal narratives, and are rich in metaphor and allusion. On entering the exhibition, the viewer encounters the work of Orla de Brí and Eileen Mac Donagh, installed side by side in the sunlit main gallery space. The works have been sensitively installed and given sufficient room to breathe.

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This is Not Architecture

Highlanes Gallery and Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda, 24 April – 21 June 2017

For Vitruvius, [1] successful architecture combined “firmness” (structural integrity), “commodity” (function) and “delight” (aesthetic pleasure). While these remain core requirements, contemporary conceptions of the discipline tend to be more fluid. ‘This is Not Architecture’, a two-site group exhibition in Drogheda, animates thinking around the nature of its subject, probing its conventions through considerations of similarity and difference. Curated by Highlanes director Aoife Ruane, the exercise is enhanced by the contextualising environment of the gallery, located in a repurposed Franciscan church. Built in 1829, it combines stained-glass windows, gothic arches, cast-iron columns, a marble altar with late Celtic Revival tabernacle door, and new, unobtrusive glass balustrades. The exhibition sensitises visitors to this blend of features, which activate connections across the works.

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Futures: Series 3, Episode 1

Richard Forrest, Kevin Gaffney, Ann Maria Healy, Elaine Hoey, Ali Kirby, Jane Locke, Jane Rainey, RHA, Dublin, 17 March – 23 April

‘FUTURES’ is a series of exhibitions at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) that shows the work of emerging artists. ‘Futures, Series 3, Episode 1’ is one of the most engaging exhibitions in recent years. The show takes us on a journey from the past to the present and far into the future.

Jane Rainey is a painter whose subjects are abstract, yet vaguely familiar. From afar, her paintings look like distorted digital landscapes. Up close, they are thick with paint. Colours are mixed together on the canvas, resembling a damaged digital image with streaks running through it. But unlike digital images, they are handmade. They show the physical process of painting. These are paintings that want to be touched.

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The Mistress of the Mantle

Katherine Nolan, MART, Dublin, 2 – 31 March 2017

KATHERINE Nolan is a performance artist whose work focuses on her body and her image as sites of investigation into the representation and construction of femininity. Her recent series of performances, The Mistress of the Mantle, held at MART, Rathmines, were based on the artist’s experience of returning to Ireland after 10 years in London. She found that the reality of moving ‘home’ was not quite the return to the fold that she had anticipated. Unexpectedly, this transition marked her symbolic arrival at the precipice of adulthood. Time away and dislocation from Ireland imposed a disruption of the rites of passage between childhood and maturity that are normally cushioned by the stability of family, community and place. Nolan had to grapple with expectations – both her own and other people’s – about how she should fulfil this new responsibility, triggering a re-evaluation of her identity, memory, nostalgia and complex attachment to Ireland.

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I Wanted to Write a Poem

Jonathan Mayhew, Wexford Arts Centre, 27 February – 25 March 2017

[Infinite Jest] can’t be read at a crowded cafe, or with a child on one’s lap.

Dave Eggers

WINNER of the 2015 Emerging Visual Artist Award, Jonathan Mayhew is one of those artists whose work requires a space where you can hear a pin drop. Wexford Art Centre (WAC) is not that space. Perhaps Mayhew’s exhibition of new work would have fared better in the attention stakes during the recession, when such regional art centres were empty saloons in ghostly Westworlds. During my visit, the endless stream of visitors to the cafe and the hoofing of piano peddles with woohooing children upstairs was a sign of the times. But, there is a big BUT to all of this, which I will get to later.

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