Existential Observers

MARK O’KELLY DISCUSSES ASPECTS OF PORTRAIT PAINTING IN IRELAND.

Early portraiture can be viewed as an historical instrument of class identification, patriarchal gaze and institutional hegemony. It could also be argued that, over the years, important significations of portraiture have been exploited and aesthetically challenged through the deconstructive approaches of key historical and contemporary Irish artists. This complex field has huge public appeal and carries immense prestige for artist and subject at the level of national identity, recognition and status.

The historical context for contemporary Irish portraiture and the breadth of current practice have been highlighted in a range of recent events: the Freud Project at IMMA; the reopening of the National Portrait Collection; and numerous high-profile portrait commissions by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), the National Gallery and the Hennessy Portrait Prize. The specific genre of portrait painting in Ireland has been largely sustained through the work of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Such ongoing efforts to collect, exhibit and commission portraiture attest to the importance of the genre within many of this country’s most important institutions. Continue reading “Existential Observers”

Imperfect Loops & Screen Memories

The audio-essay I recently produced in collaboration with Justin Barton, On Vanishing Land, was in part a disquisition on the eerie. [1] For us, the eerie was defined by problems of agency. In the deserted spaces which often trigger the feeling of the eerie, we are forced to ask if there is an agent present, unseen but watching us. If an agent is present, what is its nature? Is it hostile, friendly, or merely indifferent? The feeling of the eerie is also likely to be provoked by the contemplation of the relics left behind by agents who have long departed. The statues on Easter Island, the stone circle at Avebury – these confront us with gaps in our knowledge. What kind of agents built these constructions, and what (now irretrievably lost) symbolic regime made sense of them?

Continue reading “Imperfect Loops & Screen Memories”