Holding True Ground
Lisa Fingleton, Siamsa Tire, Kerry, 30 October–4 December 2015
The central work in ‘Holding True Ground’ is 30 Days of Eating Local Food. Located in the Round Gallery, the work takes the form of a diary, with each day unfolding through diagrams, notes, sketches and photographs. Day one includes a mind-map questioning the artist’s reasons for undertaking such a project. She quotes Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
In the centre of the room are a number of objects, which shuttle between the sculptural and the everyday. A wooden structure echoing a tree, its wellington-capped branches radiating from the central trunk, could be a subtle allusion to Duchamp’s Bottle Rack. There are also garden implements, a watering can, small trees and tomato plants. A battered armchair completes the Relational Aesthetics–style set. I was confused as to whether this was an invitation to sit. Was it a found object transformed into an art piece by its placement in the gallery or did it remain a functional object? The chair can be seen as one of the pivotal objects in the show. It troubles the relationship between art and non-art. I decided to err on the side of caution and remain standing.
Three small black-and-white photographs in kitsch gold frames are placed on the wall beside the entrance to the Middle Gallery. Two are stills from the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People (Disney, 1959) and the other is a photograph of Lisa’s intrepid wife. To their left is a table on which is placed a fanzine-style booklet, Lisa Fingleton: Artivist, which refers back to the piece 30 Days. It is an expanded and denser version of the wall piece, the title an explicit acknowledgement of the artist’s desire to intermingle art and activism.
Breathing the Same Air is a short video piece documenting various community projects that engage with issues around sustainable food production and our relationship with nature. They are very concise documentary pieces, which bear witness to people’s attempts to propose alternative ways of living. Projected onto the opposite wall, Love Darts is a much more ambiguous piece. The image is hazy, the colours muted and washed out; there is an atmosphere of suspension about it. An organic, gloopy, viscous object is suspended from a line, almost unmoving. On the gallery floor stands a pair of wellingtons, each with a small torch attached. All is revealed by putting on the headphones and listening to the soundtrack, a recording of the artist interviewing gardeners about their relationship with snails. The title is explained in the exhibition literature, which describes “the love making antics of snails, hermaphroditic creatures lunging their love darts into each other’s flesh”.
The Back Gallery is screened off with a red curtain, but the Irish air My Bonnie Irish Girl escapes its confines and wafts through to the Middle Gallery. The song accompanies the short video piece The Good Wife, which documents Fingleton’s partner engaged in various tasks around their small farm. She is shown digging spuds, collecting seaweed for fertiliser, chopping wood, minding chickens, zooming around on the farm quad bike and baking cakes. It is a celebration of the idea of the ‘good life’ and a humorous testament to things both changing and staying the same.
Another video piece, What Goes Around, is shown in the Corridor Gallery. Fingleton made the film at a masterclass in London with the Iranian artist Shirin Neshat. Through the double screen of tank and lens, densely-packed fish swim and tendrils of plants drift, accompanied by the burbling, bubbling sound of water. This piece calls for a more contemplative engagement, with the absence of a voice-over allowing the viewer to imagine how it relates to the other works.
Sharing a wall with What Goes Around are three framed watercolours titled Craving Colour. A lobster’s claw, a flower, a seed head, each delicately rendered in a palate of reds and oranges, are isolated on the white paper. In the Stillness Something Moves is a suite of nine A3 ink drawings pinned to the opposite wall. Thick black undifferentiated lines depict the artist’s farm and garden. The supporting material explains that the drawing project was undertaken as a way to try to escape from the technological devices of the studio. The computer is a dominating technology for the contemporary artist. It can be a tool for making art, but it is also the instrument of administration and promotion, which are crucial for any artist working in the highly competitive, individualistic contemporary-art world. The drawings show a desire to engage the hand and the body, to embed a more physical labour in the artwork.
‘Holding True Ground’ is a celebration of the attempt to create an ethical, purposeful and pleasurable way of life. With an air of humour and a light touch, it also portrays the challenges faced by those who choose this path.
Catherine Harty is member of the Cork Artists’ Collective and a director of The Guesthouse Project.
Images left to right: Lisa Fingleton, ‘Holding True Ground’ installation shot, 2015; Lisa Fingleton, In the Stillness Something Moves, 2015.