Ulster Museum, Belfast, 10 February – 3 September 2017
There’s an implicit understanding of the museum’s finite resources and loaded remit when viewing a permanent collection show. The limited pool from which these exhibitions are curated often leads to a loose circle being drawn around the works, its content used to simultaneously demonstrate and educate. It becomes a balance of signposting and illustrating, where singular artworks are laden with significance, denoting the development of an artist’s full career or even those of their peers. When seen repeatedly in different configurations, pieces can easily be experienced as historical artefacts rather than artworks.
The spectrum of contact an audience will have with a permanent collection is huge, yet heightened exposure to works does no favours for broad exhibition making. The influence of international art and modernism on Irish work is such an all-encompassing premise that I struggled to experience this exhibition distinctly from past and even surrounding shows. If previously unseen by a viewer, it would still be difficult for 31 works to ‘fulfil’ the vast reach of the exhibition’s title. Instead they become like stills representative of an unknown, feature-length film: not demonstrative but signalling something that could be more thoroughly explored, should you be so inclined. Continue reading “International Ireland”
ALISON PILKINGTON LOOKS AT CURRENT PRACTICES IN IRISH ABSTRACT PAINTING.
“We are all at present, far more divided, less empowered and certainly far less connected to the effects of our world than we should be. It is for this reason that I am deeply involved in the texture of a medium capable of universalizing so much lost intimacy.” 1
The term ‘abstract painting’ is historical and, over time, the parameters of the genre seem to have collapsed. It could be argued that to write about abstract painting as if it were a genre that has some significant position within contemporary art, might be a somewhat redundant inquiry. The term itself has been debated and contested throughout the history of twentieth century art, with the traditional meaning of abstraction shifting considerably. To say that ‘abstract painting is alive and well’ in current Irish painting practices also seems an outmoded way of summarising what painters do with their material and medium. As described by Briony Fer in her book, On Abstract Art: “As a label, abstract art is on the one hand too all inclusive: it covers a diversity of art and different historical movements that really hold nothing in common except a refusal to figure objects.”2
Continue reading “Texture of a Medium”
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.
Continue reading “Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously”
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.
Continue reading “Snake”
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.
Continue reading “Into the Gravelly Ground”
Highlanes Gallery and Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda, 24 April – 21 June 2017
For Vitruvius,  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.
Continue reading “This is Not Architecture”
MATT PACKER AND ALISSA KLEIST DISCUSS ‘SCISSORS CUT PAPER WRAP STONE’, A TOURING EXHIBITION BY CCA DERRY-LONDONDERRY.
LIKE many curators (and indeed, artists) we often develop ideas by thinking through references or historical incidences that have little to do with contemporary art from the outset. ‘Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone’ is a case in point: an exhibition that developed from our discovery of a science fiction novel written in 1994 by author Ian McDonald. The novel led us to understand a rich history of sci-fi produced in Northern Ireland, of which Ian McDonald is a part. He is one in a long line of authors dating back to the late nineteenth century that obviously coincided with considerable political, industrial and cultural change over the intervening years. Given the region’s difficult past (and equally uncertain future), it makes sense that a history of science fiction literature exists in Northern Ireland. With its characteristic conjuring of alternative worlds, new life-forms and imaginative re-workings of everyday life, science fiction might be described as an act of ‘cognitive estrangement’ that allows us to re-approach the conditions of our society.
Continue reading “Mind-Controlling Images”
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.
Continue reading “The Mistress of the Mantle”
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.
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.
Continue reading “I Wanted to Write a Poem”
SUSAN MACWILLIAM DISCUSSES HER TOURING SURVEY EXHIBITION ‘MODERN EXPERIMENTS’, WHICH WILL HAVE SHOWN AT F.E. MCWILLIAM GALLERY, THE HIGHLANES GALLERY, UILLIN: WEST CORK ARTS CENTRE AND THE BUTLER GALLERY BY THE END OF 2017.
It’s a strange experience when works come back after an absence, materialising from their coffin-like crates or emerging into the light after a decade or more in darkness and obscurity.
A survey show feels like a form of mediumship. Past worlds collide in the present. These worlds are made by me, fabricated in the studio by different versions of myself at different stages of my life. Some works ‘know’ other works, while others meet for the first time – converging like a gathering of relatives, mapping their family tree with regurgitated connectedness. The ancestors are here, having paved the way for descendants and works born of others. Having multiplied, they gather: siblings, cousins, great grandparents, aunts and uncles. Some are more assertive and demanding, while others lurk quietly in corners. Some take longer to get to know yet persist and linger.
Continue reading “A Séance of Objects & Images”