Enter Crawford Art Gallery and mount the nineteenth-century staircase, until you reach the dark wood-panelled Gibson Galleries on the first floor. There, standing sentinel, is Corban Walker as TV Man (2010) – a 65-inch screen with an animated video installation of the life-sized artist, encased in a plywood crate. The gimlet eyes hold your gaze, and you realise that you are entering the world of ‘Corban-scale’. Walker has developed a metric – his own golden ratio around the measurement of four feet (his height) instead of the average male height of six feet. Thus, he challenges the viewer’s interaction and appreciation of his work.
A transparent object on a low mirrored plinth dominates the floor of the first room. It is cuboid, architectural and delicate, made solid by the repetition of the grid pattern of its form. This is Cubed Dawn, Halved (2012) made of amber acrylic, and black screw posts (64.5 cm3). Lean closer. The mirror reflects your face and the ancient stucco pattern on the ceiling. In consternation, you may look from the sculpture to the room, at how the form, line, and reflectance in the work harmonise with the geometry and shine of the floor. The sculpture’s amber hue is echoed by the woodwork and offset by the black steps and ventilation grilles and by the space around it. The air is heavy with the residual weight of history pressing down from the empty walls onto the work, onto you, and all of this is the sculpture.
In the upper gallery there is drama; a stage is set. Mirrored polygons of silvered glass, wood, and steel in Beyond the Rail I-IX seem to lean precariously against the gallery wall, although closer inspection reveals that they are carefully secured. Untitled (2009) (10 x 4 metre) is low iron float glass in 40 elements – a ‘Corban-scale’ object and a structure of clear glass cuboids stacked in a seemingly nonchalant fashion. It appears hard-edged, masculine, but threatens to crumble if you touch it. Better to tiptoe around this one and on to the next. 129-40 is a low, dense grid of amber acrylic (40 x 129 x 129 cm) which stands directly on the floor, playing with reflections of the herringbone parquet. At this point you might notice that the silent sculptures are vibrating with some kind of geometrical life, in dialogue with the architectural elements in the room and with your movement around the work. The mirror installations are positioned precisely to invite and facilitate your intervention and the works begin to look like personages containing an animating force at their core.
In the final room, Observation (2012) dominates – a large cuboid, grid-like object (183 cm3). This space too is girded by the installation of low mirrors. The sudden appearance of parts of your own body reflected along with the limbs of the sculpture is an uncanny kinaesthetic experience, prompting the exploration of this object from every angle. Looking through the keyhole of the amber bars and down through the gallery, the tiny distant image of TV Man appears, framed Newgrange style in the gaps of amber uprights – hardly a coincidence in this carefully choreographed space. It might occur to you then, that the spark at the core of these objects is the essence of their creator, although not a trace of his hand is palpable in the work.
Walk back through the gallery, avoid eye contact with TV Man, and slip left into the Long Room. Here, Walker has selected 30 wall-hung works and six sculptures that reflect over a century of art from Crawford Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection. These are artworks and artists who populated his early home life and career. Walker has attached personal notes to some of the exhibits. He has marshalled the movement of the spectator by placing painted steel stanchions in the centre of the room, thus facilitating a reading of these works as an autobiographical record.
We all orientate ourselves through objects and environments with an unconscious disregard for inclusivity. Walker demonstrates this with his sensitivity to scale and his insistence on more fluidity in conventional systems of measurement.
Jennifer Redmond is an artist and writer based in Cork.