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.

Richard Forrest also explores the ways in which digitally-generated images relate to real physical artworks. In From the Mouth of Chrysippus, the artist uses digital imaging technology to recreate ancient Greek sculptures from the Crawford Art Gallery collection. The Crawford sculptures are plaster casts of original statues. As the ‘camera’ moves around them, we can see that they are, in fact, hollow. Some are digitally modelled in a shiny material, like liquid metal. They resemble the shape-shifting robot in Terminator 2 – the first film to use a partially computer-generated main character.

Forrest looks at how we understand real objects in a virtual world. These days, we often look at artworks on computer screens. What is the difference between a digital version and the original artwork? Like Rainey, Forrest asks: what is the role of handmade objects in the digital age?

Elaine Hoey’s video work, The Weight of Water, uses virtual reality (VR) technology to show us a different version of the present. The animation brings us into the lives of refugees who are trying to reach Europe by sea. As you sit in a cage with a VR headset on, you are transported onto a boat at night.

You are with a group of ghostly figures. A woman stares blankly into the distance and sometimes looks directly at you. The boat moves slowly in the water through strange structures with walls that are constantly moving. It is a haunting experience. This moving artwork brings us right into the refugees’ present reality and helps us to understand their terrifying journey.

Ali Kirby’s sculptural installation, Landing, is quite different. The artist recreates an old staircase that used to lead up to the gallery where the exhibition takes place. The work sits awkwardly close to a false wall in the middle of the space. It shows us an historical object and forces us to walk around it, bringing the past into our present.

On the other side of the wall, Kevin Gaffney uses history to imagine a situation that is set in the near future. The artist’s film, A Numbness in the Mouth, is staged in the old Shackleton Mill on the banks of the River Liffey. The mill produced flour for nearly 200 years until it closed in 1998.

In the film, a woman tells the people of Ireland to eat five pounds of flour every day because too much has been produced. We have to do this to save the country’s economy, otherwise we’d be making “a direct attack on our sovereignty”. It reminds us of the huge sacrifices that Irish people made in the past and are still making today, to help the economy recover. Gaffney’s film is both absurd and chilling. It makes us think about what we are currently stomaching in the name of recovery.

Ann Maria Healy’s digitally-generated video work, How to be Other, is shown on a monitor nearby. The video’s narrator tells us a story about a fictional world. This is a world “in turmoil” with “many attacks”. The people there use a well. In Ireland, people believed that traditional holy wells could cure different conditions, but the well in the video has traces of chemicals that are used to bring on abortions. This links to the present day, as Irish women still don’t have access to abortion. The artwork makes us think about this issue.

Healy uses a cistern tank, a children’s paddling pool and copper piping to make the holy well, which is also presented in the gallery. By setting the story in the future, this artwork asks us to think about how change can happen. What stories will be told about us in the future?

Around the corner, you find Jane Locke’s Tales from a Green Post Box, a ghostly drawing of a post-box in a forest. It makes us question why the green, cast-iron post-boxes are disappearing from our streets. A table displays a research notebook on the history of the postal service in Ireland.

Locke brought this information to life through a series of lecture performances during the exhibition. These lectures asked: what is fact and what is fiction? We are in an age of ‘fake news’. Locke’s lectures make us feel uneasy about how history is presented and what kinds of stories we like to tell about ourselves.

In this year’s ‘Futures’ there is much shapeshifting and blending of worlds. It is a very rewarding exhibition that deserves multiple visits.

Michelle Browne is an artist and curator based in Dublin.

This review was written using the principles of Plain English. Arts & Disability Ireland worked with Visual Artists Ireland to commission a text that is easy to read and accessible to a wide range of readers.

Images: Elaine Hoey, The Weight of Water, 2016; VR installation,metal mesh grid, barbed wire, wood, sensor lights, seniors fan, Oculus Rift, controller, headphones, swivel stool; photo by Justyna Kielbowicz; Forrest, From the Mouth of Chrysippus installation view, 2017, RHA; photo by Katie Bowe O’ Brien.

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