Solemn and Bedazzling

LISA GODSON EXAMINES ARTISTS’ BANNERS THROUGH A MATERIAL CULTURE LENS, SITUATING THEM WITHIN THE BROADER HISTORY OF SOCIAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS.

Among the placards, signs and posters held aloft at the sixth annual March for Choice in Dublin on September 30 were a set of remarkable banners created by artists Alice Maher, Rachel Fallon and Breda Mayock. As Fallon explains: “We had a meeting at the beginning of the year about what way the artists’ campaign could go, in terms of repealing the Eighth Amendment. It was important to do something that was ‘us’ and that spoke of our expertise in making things”.

Until the early twentieth century, processions with spectacular banners were a widespread feature of civic life. Their vibrant colours and narrative content provided visual excitement as well as exhortation, amidst all manner of social gatherings and events, whether convening for religious devotion, political rallying or as part of the annual cycle of commemorative occasions. The practice of formal banner display on the island of Ireland now tends to be the preserve of conservative, even reactionary organisations, such as the Orange Order, the Irish National Foresters, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and so on. In keeping with their archaism, these organisations each flaunt their own particular claim on the past. Their banners bear iconography that invokes tradition and asserts continuation. This is aimed at servicing a teleology, where some foundation myth continues to uphold and reinforce present-day political claims.

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Tactile Simulations

SARAH HAYDEN INTERVIEWS PÁDRAIG SPILLANE ABOUT THE TRAJECTORY OF HIS PRACTICE AND HIS RECENT EXHIBITION,  ‘WHAT PASSES BETWEEN US’, AT SIRIUS ARTS CENTRE.

Sarah Hayden: For several years, your practice has tended towards three dimensions, and yet it maintains a preoccupation with surfaces. How do you conceive of this development and how does it interact with your interest in interrogating ‘depthless’, two-dimensional images?

Pádraig Spillane: My interest in surfaces centres on how they can be reordered. This can involve searching the innards of materials, or cutting and tearing printed matter, to examine how things look and feel in proximity to each other. The images and objects I use – whether found or sought out – are generally commercial, industrial or mass-produced materials. These things are often familiar, ubiquitous or communally experienced in some way through our shared visual culture. I deconstruct these images and overlay them, looking for prompts and frissons and creating unexpected effects. The work’s evolution from two to three dimensions came out of this inquiry and from my desire to produce tactile transformations within an image-saturated contemporary context.

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Eating: Their Own Words

STEPHEN BRANDES DISCUSSES THE FOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY – A NEW PUBLICATION BY THE DOMESTIC GODLESS.

This year, the gastronomic art collective the Domestic Godless celebrate 15 years of working together and exploring food – its taste, its appearance, its history and cultural values – as material for subversive experimentation. The occasion will be marked with a three-week-long residency at Crawford Art Gallery in Cork in November, and will be followed next year with a national tour to several arts centres around the country. Over those 15 years, we have repeatedly been asked questions relating to our research interests and practice, such as: “What exactly do you do?” (by those who don’t know what we do), “Are you the guys who do roadkill?” (from people who think we do roadkill, but are wrong) and “Would you ever think about making a book?” (from those who do know what we do and, thankfully, find it amusing). So, this year seemed an opportune time to finally make that book and to lay those questions to rest (while possibly igniting many more).

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BEAUFORT (“about the weather”) / Simulations / White Line Series

Solstice Arts Centre, 25 August – 13 October 2017

On show at Solstice Arts Centre are three solo exhibitions by different artists, each with their own title and separate room. Free from a fixed or unifying theme, the exhibitions are loosely bound by a general sense of abstraction within the artists’ creative processes, along with some allusion to local history, heritage or landscape.

Upon entering the first space, David Quinn’s works appear minimalistic, with a series of nine intimately-sized pieces in muted colours. The strength in Quinn’s works emerges when we draw closer and discover the detail present. The works are built up of layers that variously comprise gesso, oil and paper, as well as off-cuts of plywood and perspex. The humble line takes centre stage, as Quinn records its journey across the surfaces, using an oil pencil or cutting tool. In Made, the incision in the perspex gradually deepens as the line moves left, until it flows seamlessly into a cut made in the plywood background layer. In the accompanying literature, we read that Quinn uses a ruler, yet the lines are at times imperfect, highlighting the impact of the artist’s hand or an uneven surface on even the most controlled of processes. The works jut out from the wall like raw sculptural extensions of the building’s structure, celebrating the inherent potential in the materials, uncovered by the artist’s touch.

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What’s with the Apocalypse? / Twilight

Paul Mosse ‘What’s with the Apocalypse?’, VISUAL, 16 September – 12 January 2017

Pat Collins ‘Twilight’, VISUAL, 9 September – 28 January 2017

This season’s exhibitions at VISUAL have been programmed around the themes of landscape, nature and found materials. In the Digital Gallery on the first floor, is a screening of Pat Collins’s new moving image work, Twilight (2017). Filmed off the West Cork coast over a two-year period, Twilight is as vibrant as a living painting. The quality of light captured in the footage vividly portrays the pinks and oranges of a sunset, which gradually give way to midnight blue, as darkness encompasses the scene. Voluminous grey clouds pick up speed and move ominously across the screen. To the left, the high moon oversees a purple-hued silhouette of a nearby headland.

Twilight is not a silent occurrence; rather the landscape in the late evening quietly hums, as people sleep and the world keeps turning. Collins has collaborated with the sound artist Chris Watson to create the film’s audio, which was developed through a series of field recordings. The soundtrack is not constant, but is interspersed with silent footage, in order to accentuate the noisier moments. As the light seeps from the sky, a gull can be heard in the distance and a crescendo of birdsong escalates across the darkening landscape.

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What Passes Between Us

Sirius Arts Centre, 3 September – 15 October 2017

Pádraig Spillane’s exhibition of new work, ‘What Passes Between Us’, is presented across two galleries at Sirius Arts Centre. Four upright, mild-steel, modular frames, approximately adult height, stand in the centre of the floor in each space. A single sheet of clear PVC is cast across the top of one of the frames, while several wall-mounted digital prints complete the presentation. Two specially-commissioned electronic and vocal sound pieces – composed by Simon O’Connor and sung by Michelle O’Rourke – are transmitted into the galleries from speakers situated on the floor.

The minimalist presentation suits these light-filled spaces. In the centre gallery, four wall prints depict intense close-ups of the human palm, with the thumb and wrist areas merging. Titles for these digital collages, including Palm Animator (2017) and Palm Merging (2017), seem appropriate. The images are mirrored and repeated across a brown background, conjuring various grid formations. The overall impression is that these compositions are highly controlled and provocatively sensual, whilst also feeling slightly strange. There is a hint of something less than comfortable afoot, involving some sort of modification or restaging of bodily elements.

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Lacuna: New perspectives on the border in Ireland

Gallery of Photography, September 9 – October 22

The result of the 2016 British referendum on the future of European Union membership has brought about a new era of social and political anxiety regarding the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. ‘Brexit’ is a neologism that has been mobilised by ultra-conservative politicians and sections of the British media alike, to portray what was in reality a marginal ‘yes vote’, as the inevitable political expression of the zeitgeist of British isolationism and nationalism. On the island of Ireland, Brexit has resurrected the spectre of the border which has haunted Irish politics for nearly a century. Kate Nolan’s exhibition ‘Lacuna’ at the Gallery of Photography explores everyday experiences of the border through the local inhabitants of Pettigo, a small town in County Donegal. This body of work emerged in the midst of political speculations about Brexit, including the potential hardening of the border between north and south.

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The Way Things Go: An Homage

The Butler Gallery, 12 August – 15 October 2017

Aideen Barry, Hannah Fitz, Atsushi Kaga, Nevan Lahart, Maggie Madden, Jonathan Mayhew, Caroline McCarthy, Isabel Nolan and Liam O’Callaghan

Thirty years ago, Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss unveiled their influential work, The Way Things Go (1987) – a 30-minute 16mm video transfer film that documents the complex chain reactions of an ingenious Rube Goldberg-esque contraption built by the duo. The action takes place in a warehouse, where industrial detritus (including tyres, ladders, pipes, oil-soaked rags and chains) is used to create a sequence of cause-and-effect actions. Shifting mechanical levers and hypnotic balancing acts trigger sparks, fires and cycles of apparent perpetual motion.

Though the work took three days to film, the resulting footage was meticulously edited to imply a single take, and ever since, it has held up to extensive scrutiny. For ‘The Way Things Go: An Homage’ at the Butler Gallery, curator Anna Sullivan invited nine artists to respond to this seminal work. Some made new artworks, while others present existing pieces that illustrate relationships with the original source material. Located in the basement of Kilkenny Castle, the gallery comprises a series of interconnected rooms – a spatial configuration that affords a gradual unfolding of artistic responses.

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Haptic Encounters in Painting

MARTIN HERBERT INTERVIEWS RONNIE HUGHES ABOUT HIS TOURING EXHIBITION ‘STRANGE ATTRACTORS’.

Martin Herbert: Perhaps we could start with a simple question: Why did you choose the title ‘Strange Attractors’ for this exhibition?

Ronnie Hughes: As some people might know, it’s a term from Chaos Theory. I’ve had a layman’s interest in science and science fiction for years. Attractors are determinants within a given system that cause it to take a certain kind of form, while a strange attractor is one that has a fractal dimension. It’s a sequential or mathematical relationship, in part, that I like to use as an analogue for what happens in the paintings. For years, chaos was something that people didn’t understand. It was mystical, immeasurable and awesome in a fearful way. The natural entropy that builds in a swinging pendulum was largely ignored by Newtonian physics until someone recognised that there is a pattern that goes behind things. That sense of a pattern running throughout existence is something that I have always been fascinated by.  It’s something that’s central, not just to art, but to all branches of human activity: to try to make sense of the mystical. But then there’s also this implied pun, that I see the paintings themselves as strange attractors because they are quite colourful and optically interesting, as well as there being a strangeness about why they exist.

MH: Something that is relatively consistent is that you work with geometry, but it’s a very humanised geometry: your grids are off and things that look very regular to start with have this humanised quality. Is that an autobiographical impulse?

RH: It may be. I had a very particular early life in terms of where I grew up. There’s no question that for anyone being creative, there are always forces that are trying to express themselves. I do feel that, even though I make abstract paintings, they are very definitely expressive. When I create a painting that I momentarily feel is successful, it’s usually because there’s a moment of tension in it. I’m always aware of the onset of a system falling apart, or of a sense of entropy or violence suspended, and that’s a recurring note in my work.

MH: Why circles, for example?

RH: There are a number of motif type things that happen in my work, such as geometrical lines, grids, triangles, circles, spheres and occasionally ellipses. To create an agency in people’s minds, you have to create a figurative situation. I used to make these lozenge or ovoid type shapes, which I think came from the west of Ireland landscape. I see circles as primary shapes that are very nonreferential, but they start off as a kind of pulse point. When you paint a particular colour, it’s there as a kind of energy. Colour is a very important aspect of my work and colour is always very relational; it doesn’t exist by itself. Certain hues become notes that you can’t deal with. You have to make things more subtle or nuanced, shift them sideways or make them come alive in some way.

MH: Your works have the feel of diagrams that don’t explain anything and that unravel as you look. There’s quite a lot of doubt in these works. Is this personal or universal?

RH: I was born in 1965 and there was this sense, in the books I read as a kid, of a futuristic utopia. I used to fantasise about Disneyland, where you could find hover-rail trains, automated robots and so on. I was also an avid Star Trek fan. I take pleasure in diagrams and graphic designs from the 1960s, which manifest in the work, but are counterbalanced. I often create structures and expectations but then undermine them. I paint something that looks like a grid, then you realise it’s not a grid at all – it’s been knocked sideways in some way. I think painting, compared to many other artforms, is very slow, in terms of how it’s made, but also in terms of its reception. Ideally, you’d like to be in front of a painting time after time and let it unfold in different ways. That’s the way I make paintings, hoping that they will unfold in that way, but accepting that people don’t always have the chance to experience them like that.

MH: How do you start a new painting?

RH: When I was younger, I would start with an idea or an intention, but that doesn’t really happen too much anymore. It’s quite random in some ways. I usually work with wood now, and there may be little glitches on the wood, so that’s enough for me to see if there’s a pattern between the notches. I’ll mark them and draw lines between them or separate them and that’s how it starts. In my paintings, there could be all sorts of layers happening underneath the finished surface. I work in a certain way that means I can pour paint over the surfaces so I can suppress things completely. I’m always fishing around, waiting to find something. If it doesn’t work out, you can sometimes turn it in another direction and find interest elsewhere.

MH: Do you have a consistent process?

The thing about the process is that you can’t decide to make a specific painting, because you can’t even imagine it at that stage – it hasn’t previously existed in any way, even as an idea. I have a painting wall in my studio and I work on multiple paintings at once. What looks like a random bunch of colours, I’ll often fret over for months, trying to get certain shades that appear in a balanced sequence. Painting is very much about material. The main thing that’s special for me about painting is the haptic experience and the touch quality of someone making something. I very much feel that a painting is a handmade object. It’s very different from seeing a reproduction of an image on a screen. I’m interested in play when I’m painting. There are not really tremendous rewards from being an artist a lot of the time, but one of the greatest rewards is when you can be involved in your own work – that’s a fantastic and important aspect: to spend time doing what you enjoy.

MH: The classic question: how do you know when a painting is finished?

RH: Very few paintings are safe forever. If they come back to the studio, they can often be changed. These days, I typically stop working on a painting for six months before I let it out of the studio. If I’m in the studio and I feel that I’m doing something habitual then I’ll try and knock it sideways, spoil it or add something, to try and give me a different set of obstacles to work with. The problem is that after a certain length of time you can’t but help end up making things that look like your work, no matter how hard you try to avoid it! But that’s a paradox that most artists have to deal with.

MH: You live in rural Sligo, yet the colours in your recent paintings are very synthetic and almost deliberately artificial. When and how did this element enter your work?

RH: When I moved to Sligo first, all these forms, shapes and colours from the landscape came into my work. I didn’t really recognise it at the time, but I can see it very clearly now. Over the last eight years, the work is just getting more artificial in terms of the colours and the colour relationships. When I made the switch from working with oil paints to using acrylics, my main focus for a while was making them look like they were oil paintings, which I realised one day was quite ridiculous. I’m interested in this idea of plasticity and using a plastic medium, so at one point I just decided to be a bit braver about the colour that I would use.

MH: Are you interested in acknowledging known paradigms in abstract painting?

RH: Sometimes you make things and they look like other people’s work. This is often problematic within abstract painting. Sometimes you pitch things and then subvert them, and other times you do it completely subconsciously. Occasionally, you see other people’s work scream out at you; it’s a question of whether you can deal with that and you just have to make the choice on an individual basis.

MH: Am I right in saying that the most recent works in the show are all drawings?

RH: I typically can’t work on two things at one time. If I’m painting, I’m painting. I’ve been working quite intensely for a long time, so I took a break and decided to do some drawing. Drawing is interesting because you generate things in a different way. The drawings in this show are small scale and were made quite quickly. Some of the drawings may have taken up to a week to make, which is nothing compared to the five years it can take to bring certain paintings to fruition. For me, drawing and painting are separate, but drawing is implicit in painting anyway. It’s very difficult to get away from the idea of drawing.

Martin Herbert is a writer and critic living in Berlin. He is associate editor of ArtReview and a regular contributor to Artforum, Frieze and Art Monthly. Ronnie Hughes is an internationally-renowned Irish artist who lives in County Sligo where he is a lecturer in Fine Art at Sligo Institute of Technology.

Note

This interview is an edited version of a public conversation that took place between Ronnie Hughes and Martin Herbert on 15 April 2017 at The Model, Sligo. ‘Strange Attractors’ is curated and toured by The Model in partnership with Limerick City Gallery of Art and the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin. The project has been supported through the Arts Council’s Touring and Dissemination of Work Scheme. The exhibition was previously presented at The Model (16 April – 22 June) and Limerick City Gallery of Art (29 June – 27 August) and will show at the RHA, Dublin, from 7 September to 22 October 2017.

Images used: Ronnie Hughes, Badass, 2016, acrylic co-polymer on canvas, 119 x 112 cm. Ronnie Hughes, ‘Strange Attractors’ installation view, The Model, Sligo (left to right): The Space Between,  Detonate,  Propus I-III.

Biographical Landscapes

JOANNE LAWS INTERVIEWS ELIZABETH MAGILL ABOUT HER PAINTING PRACTICE.

Joanne Laws: Can you describe your studio setting and your painting routine?

Elizabeth Magill: My studio is in a complex with other artists run by the organisation ACME in East London. It’s a 700-square-foot white cube with light coming in from the south and looking onto Mill Row, a narrow one-way street shadowed by a four-storey brown brick and grey concrete block of council flats, built in the 1970s. I’ve been here for a long time, so I’m used to this view. I like its low-level visual interference. I also have a smaller workspace on the Antrim coast, but when I’m there, I just seem to stare at the beautiful views overlooking the sea. My routine is intermittent, as I am often running around doing other things. I’ve had more condensed studio periods in the past, when I’d work for at least six days a week, sometimes working all day and into the night, but this isn’t me anymore. Continue reading “Biographical Landscapes”