Performance | Principles of Space Detection


Irina Gheorghe, Principles of Space Detection, 2023, performance; courtesy of the artist and NCAD Gallery. Irina Gheorghe, Principles of Space Detection, 2023, performance; courtesy of the artist and NCAD Gallery.

Principles of Space Detection was a newly commissioned artwork and eponymous project-based exhibition by Irina Gheorghe at NCAD Gallery in March, which continued the artist’s long-term interest in exploring themes of estrangement and disorientation. 

The opening night performance created a mix of humour and unease among a busy audience in the gallery. Gheorghe commenced without announcement, moving a series of large-wheeled structures through the space, as conversation petered out to an expectant silence. Audience members were obliged to move out of her way when our bodies became benign obstacles in her path, forcing an element of self-consciousness in the viewing dynamic. 

She continued to arrange multiple coloured panels, seemingly by design, against the gallery walls, blocking the photographs of hands cupping out-of-scale rectangular shapes and taped coloured lines that formed part of the site-specific installation. She looked around intently, her silent actions and direct eyes projecting a sense of purpose without words, expressing the anticipation of something, an event, a thing, that was about to happen. We stepped back or glided sideways when our time came, experiencing the performance in the activated, but not quite participatory, present moment. 

Gheorghe spoke initially of trust, and how she would share some ways to help us deal with the thing that was about to happen. She then spoke of the limitations of what we knew to be happening now: in the gallery, among the audience members, and beyond our field of vision, through the large window facing onto the street. If I looked behind me, what would I miss in front of me? Her words prompted uneasy reflection on meaning and consciousness, highlighting a precariousness in viewing performance when you don’t quite trust yourself to handle what might happen next. 

When does something become what it already is? This has been a long-standing exploration in Gheorghe’s work, where she uses the dynamic of the performer and the audience within a site-specific installation to create a tension between the now and the known. The artist heightened this instability midway through the performance when she started spinning a coloured panel through the middle of the gallery floor, coursing a trajectory toward the window while speaking convincingly about how the blue panels were actually getting bigger. I looked and I knew that they weren’t, or at least, that they couldn’t. I rationalised that these were inanimate plywood structures and that colours don’t expand; but another part of me imagined that I could see subtle changes and that maybe I should believe her. 

The green panels, apparently, were getting smaller, while the red ones had disappeared altogether because we weren’t paying attention to the small details. Keep looking or it will happen without you seeing it. The ‘it’ seemed to be already happening or at least was very close to manifestation. She moved the panels again, this time to form a temporary enclosure. Her knocking from the inside confirmed her presence but we couldn’t see inside. She spoke about things hidden behind other things. At what point does knowledge rely on verification? We see, we hear, we know.

In the final moments, she constructed a makeshift barricade of panels through the centre of the gallery, segregating the audience into those who moved away and those who stayed behind. She spoke the same words to each group, telling them that the people on the other side of the panels didn’t know we were there; or it could be, she posited, that they were pretending not to know. Things behind other things. Time past, time present. The reality of seeing those people cut off minutes previously was now overlain with Gheorghe’s proposal of a false truth: we know they know, but how do we really know? 

After the performance ended, the coloured panels, lined against each other in the gallery, formed an abstract landscape of Dublin city, with hues of grey, green and blue, drawn from shopfronts and painted wooden doors. I think of all those who are trying to sustain their communities in the face of obstruction and deception. Gheorghe draws attention to some of our inherent assumptions about truth and knowledge, bringing us on a journey without ever claiming to be an omniscient performer. She advances a tension between the artist, the audience, and the installation space, creating a dynamic that is sometimes humorous and at times uneasy, but always effective and thought provoking. 

Jennifer Fitzgibbon is an arts writer and researcher based in Dublin. 

‘Principles of Space Detection’ (1 to 31 March) was commissioned and curated for NCAD Gallery by Anne Kelly (SpaceX-Rise researcher) for NCAD Gallery in conjunction with the SpaceX-RISE (Spatial Practices in Art and Architecture for Empathetic Exchange) Dublin conference.