for a reason I do not understand, this essay appears in Reader …
Watson’s bronze casts of hands of politicians who signed the Great Friday Agreement also known as Belfast Agreement in 1998 echoes some concerns central to Situationists, Fluxus. “social sculpture” of J Beuys as well as the question when is art. When an “object”when in the gallery is art, and outside it is not. Warhol and the institutional theory of art opened up that issue.
“Hands of History” (left below) aspire to be a reliable document, do not aspire to be beautiful like A Rodin’s modelled hands of Burgher’s of Calais below right.(pierre_et_jacques_de_wissant_main_droite)
It is as if Watson shared the following reminiscence:
“All of my work, all of my writing,” Wormser said in an interview with Richard Cambridge in Solstice, “is about the circumstances of Time in terms of each of us as a human being, being born into the world of historical time — what that does — how that plays out in our lives.” (Legends of the Slow Explosion by Baron Wormser is published by Tupelo Press. Baron Wormser ,born 1948, in Baltimore, Maryland, is an American poet.)
In a tight, if not consciously chosen, parallel the ArtisAnn Gallery curated this exhibition titled Agreement: The people’s Process, in four distinct units connected to the same history.
Photography intensified the verism exhaled by the bronzes in seven groups from sites of conflict and its transformation in different states.
Selected and commented upon by Dr Pauline Hadeway the Invitation to Observe is a lopped digital display of photographs, 17 minutes 15 seconds, Colour and Monochrome.
- Belfast Shadows, LCpl Stan Holman’s photographs, collected by Jamie Holman, 1970-1972
- Interface Images, Belfast ‘Peacelines’, Frankie Quinn, 1994
- Israel – Palestine, Frankie Quinn, 2012
- ‘Bitter’ by Sajida Um Mohammed, from Open Shutters Iraq, Eugenie Dolberg, 2006
- Labrando Memorias, Edwin Cubillos Rodríguez, 2011
- Desapariciones (Disparations), Helen Zout, 2009
- Entries, Chad Alexander, 2016
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin coined a term “active human interface” for each local history when placed into an international continuum, perhaps with a hope for a more comprehensive and complete renewal. The screen with the Invitation to observe is placed at the end of the Watson’s exhibits, mimicking, evoking, a music notation – da capo al fine. The hearing is already engaged by the commentary.
Almost on the other side of that wall is a commercially sleek video of reading from the text of Agreement titled
- Lyrical Agreement (2018) is an animation created for the Institute of Irish Studies,University of Liverpool by Alt Animation around the excerpts from the GFA text read by persons of all ages and both sides of the border. The expectation was that a viewer will be compelled to realise the power of that Agreement. It harnesses, as if effortlessly, two registers: serenity of hope in the statements and commercial sleekness of the visual design the best adverts are accustomed to. If you think that the link between political and commercial is vulgar or out of place, consider the reality wherever you are. Even the cover for that Belfast Agreement was chosen by the commercial partner selected from a bank of commercially available images. (We also examine the photographic image sent to every household in Northern Ireland on the cover of the historic political agreement. We reveal its location and the identity of the uncredited photographer. viz editorial in Source, 1998, issue 15 )
The photographs and the reading are still partaking in verism, not in the loftier classical Greek ideal of kallos agathos in art. Verism has its roots in the idea that art is the way of doing something, a concept with roots in triumphal columns of ancient Rome telling the stories of the battle and triumphs, e.g. Trajan Column, AD 107 -113, photo courtesy University of St Andrews)
The next part of the exhibition would have been welcome by William Morris as a support of his late 19th C lecture on Lesser Arts, those rejected by academia but significant for supporting life.
- Your Legacy Lives On is a set of three Memorial Quilts courtesy of the South East Fermanagh Foundation makes those who lost life the subject of their visual art. They do not lionise the signatories of the Agreement, they do not include them.
- Your Legacy Lives On, Memorial Quilt, H: 188 cms x W: 254 cms ( with stands H: 213 cms x 330 cms), 2014
- Patchwork of Innocents, Memorial Quilt, H: 175 cms x W: 269 cms ( with stands H: 213 cms x 330cms), 2016
- Terrorism Knows NO Borders, Memorial Quilt, H: 175 cms x W: 290 cms ( with stands H: 213 cms x330 cms), 2016 (with additions 2019)
The Memorial Quilts hope to encouraging viewers to consider the Troubles from the point of view of lost life. We shall never be offered the chance to know what those murdered would have invented, developed, cherished, cared for. The quilts installation is accompanied by a brochure Terrorism knows no border. In it it reads:” The Memorial quilt is a piece of living history...”(p 4) By chance I found an analogous image from another country where groups of people make art as a way of coping with their living history. A young man recites poetry calling for revolution in Khartoom, on June 19, 2019. ( Yasuyoshi Chiba,Getty Images)
Look at their hands – even in the meagre illumination by mobile phones the hands are powerfully evocative. In comparison Watson chose non poetic approach, moreover, direct casts.
The installation of the whole exhibition of work by Raymond Watson’s Hands of History +20. consists from bronze casts, sculpture, performance, video, painting, sound and light installation. found objects, a print, and short story with close up lens based images.
The Hands of History
Material: Bronze and Mourne Granite
Years: 2000 to 2019
The hands are mounted on granite bases
First group are bronze casts of hands of the signatories of the Agreement, subsequent casts include group of politicians, Watson perceived as significant in relation to it.
So for ex. In the smaller group are all the signatories who actually worked on the Agreement and took the courageous decisions to stop the runaway violence.
The bigger group includes those who followed their example. This ethical distinction is not made visible. The names indicate the later stage of support for the Agreement.
- The Good Friday / Belfast Agreement was signed on Friday 10th April, 1998
- The Referendum was held across the Island of Ireland on Friday 22nd May 1998
- David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were designated First Minister and Deputy First Minister on Wednesday 1 st July 1998
- The NI Executive took power on Thursday 2nd December 1999
The bronze casts are standing for each of the signatories, thus the disembodied hand is a tropos of synecdoche for those who signed that agreement. Initials at the lower edge of each indicate the identity. The hands are “imprints” of a living tool, of hands that signed that agreement, which in turn allowed to old “world” to meet the one that did not exist yet.
A tropos, esp the metaphor or synecdoche, according to I. A. Richards in The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936), consists of two parts: the tenor and vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed., here the hands of the persons. The vehicle is the subject from which the attributes are borrowed,i.e. the text. The text, the agreement amongst them all.
The preference for the hand as a tenor has been documented all over the globe, since the earliest cave paintings.
Durham University researchers identified a link between hand prints (tenor) and the rock(vehicle): “Using morphometric data we were able to show that in all cases only a small number of individuals – 3 or 4 – left prints in each cave, and the size and finger ratios of these were consistent with these being female. We were able to show that in all caves studied the greater majority of hand stencils were associated with specific features of the cave walls. An association with small bosses on the walls which the hands appear to be ‘gripping’. Watson makes his hands “voting” not signing the document.
…Associations with cracks were very evident too; perhaps enforcing the notion that cracks in cave walls form points at which this world meets another.” (my italics) (https://www.dur.ac.uk/archaeology/research/projects/all/?mode=project&id=640)
The key words are ” the points at which this world meets another“. The similarity among all cave paintings be it France, Spain, Balkan(2018) or Borneo (2018) points to shared experiences in decisive mapping up of shared rules: human figures just as dark silhouettes, animals strong and alive.
The hands are “imprints” of a living tool. That idea appears in the casts made by Watson: hands that signed that agreement allowed to old “world” to meet the one that did not exist yet.
The cave paintings have emotional force, which Watson’s casts have to do without. E.g. In 1928, the artist and critic Amédée Ozenfant wrote of the art in the Les Eyzies caves, “Ah, those hands! Those silhouettes of hands, spread out and stencilled on an ochre ground! Go and see them. I promise you the most intense emotion you have ever experienced.”
The whole of the current exhibition approximates that insight with some effort, it is a cold art. Whereas, below, Ken Bartley’s photographs responding to his viewing animate the small bronze sculptures which silent on a pedestal reduce themselves to a document. It means, every viewer’s experience is open ended, changed by moving around, looking closely.
The significance of hand as visualisation of a fact thus satisfies its use even when the legal text is its real defender and guarantor. As an exhibit, it obtains freedom to associate with noisy disagreement at one stage and elation when resolved.
This exhibition anticipates the focus entertained for The Armory Show 2020 planned as “the ways in which artists construct a version of reality when the boundaries of fact and art are shifting”. Indeed Watson casts the real hands without modelling, like death masks. In comparison, for example, with 40 sculpted portraits the difference becomes obvious.
Doncaster Heads (2018-2019) were sculpted from life each in two hours sittings. Edwards remarked: ” my hands were like they were at a typewriter”. (https://messumslondon.com/exhibitions/exhibition-laurence-edwards-minors-heads/)
Both Watson and Edwards give up a significant part of their imagination to strengthen the documentary value of their subject.
Watson goes further when he applies self-confession about his jail sentence for belonging to IRA. He also gives up the visibility of it, burdening the sound with greater significance. Art as a confession has been with us for decades, think of Tracy Emin etc. Watson’ s resonates also with older cases – in literature. Dostojevski writes after his death sentence was muted to 4 years in a Siberian labour camp followed by compulsory service in the Tsar army with:” If anyone remembers me with malice…I would like to love and embrace at least someone…”. Watson chose less emotional reminiscence, reminding me of Maxim Gorki’s realistic confession : My universities (ie my life and experiences).
In another exhibit Watson performs to a camera. Consequently the aesthetic impact depends on both the performer and the operator of the lens. The Grappling Hook, made by an unnamed prisoner, is a found object. Watson uses it to climb so called Peace Walls.
It feels of now and essential. Also the artist making the performance is the man now, not that youth in the prison.
I suppose as it shifts from document to private experience, the performance hits the viewer with the impatient wish that Northern Ireland develops its future free of the inherited divisions. In places this video is poetic. It has a soul twin, made in collaboration with light, the installation, The Keys.
Metal Keys and Cables with Quadrophonic Audio, 13 Minutes 16 Seconds (2018)
Watson collected the keys after the Crumlin Road Gaol was decommissioned. He says that the aim was to examine the notion of imprisonment and freedom. That becomes visible on some of the keys carrying the label easily identified with the jail. However, it is not the sound, but the light source- as they project the shadows onto the draperies -that defines this installation as art. The sound track is almost able to stand on its own somewhere else, or not to be there at all.
When projected onto the curtains The Keys morph into human silhouettes, reminiscent of one Magritte’s painting, making up a mute chorus.
In addition, Watson installed six more exhibits.
A Cold Floor,2002, yew and mahagony, 20x30x45cm
The book indicates traditional belief systems, the disembodied feet allow both inherited trust in the old belief and its critique. as the disembodied feet recall martyrdom of irrational believers.
Blast Bomber,2002, bronze and sandstone, 35x15x15cm
In a visual paradox of the move, the figure is ‘playing cricket’ and ‘letting go’ of destructive forces. Your choice.
Visible mutilation of bodies by sorrow evokes contrary interpretations.
Not my Son,2002, limewood, snadstone, 45x15x50 cm
The motive of mutilation, of cut off limbs as sign of martyrdom, appear also in the painting with identifiable “holy” books as a ground on which some people feel safe standing.
Holy Books, 2019, Oil on Canvas 60 x 80 cm
A kind of bitter irony feeds the increased loss of identification in the only print exhibited, The Legend, 2001, photo etched, 95 x 127 cm
The confessional exhibit twins images and speech in Unlocking. Close up photographs of keys and identification tags describe Watson return to the de-comissioned jail. Watson shares his memories and reflections about them.
His preferred mode is relational aesthetics as he gives up autonomy in service to devotion to the grand and impressive historical facts, in service to documenting politics and self as its part. Reminiscent of socialist realism? Yes, in being dominated by the ideology of the day. It is as if he realised that the power of an object and a story fails to switch on that all important denouement, catharsis. As the exhibition battles against the anxiety of remembering it cannot win against the anxiety rooted in the gap between its intention and viewers current experience of the real. The multiple triggers of history then and now are similar and yet constant state of emergency to change.
Peter Bazalgette mentioned the inherent values of culture in defining personal and national identities through collective memory. Watson challenges that by stripping that idea down to the personal experience of material objects: It is only as good as the person who tell it or write it, or paint it, or sculpt it. I do not doubt that he also is acutely aware of the power of choices, and of necessary incompleteness.
While many people were involved in the lengthy process of bringing peace to Northern Ireland, journalist Brian Rowan assessed Fr Alec Reid’s legacy in the 14 Days documentary: “I think when the historians look back on 30 years of conflict here, and on the journey of war to peace, the story will not be told without the name of Alec Reid right in the middle of it all.” Also in 2013, the Irish president, Michael Higgins, led tributes to the late cleric “Fr Reid will perhaps best be remembered for the courageous part he played in identifying and nurturing the early seeds of an inclusive peace process…Fr Reid’s role as a channel for peace laid the ground for the achievement of the IRA ceasefire and created the political space for the multiparty talks that ultimately led to the Good Friday agreement.”
If there was a mention of Fr Reid somewhere in the exhibition, I missed it.
Carved out of lived past the exhibition opens entrances to synchronised resonance, that may impair spontaneous self-organisation of viewers own responses. In that it is similar in theory to Zhdanov doctrine of social function of visual art and to the Situationists’ stubborn struggle to obtain “denouement”. This exhibition whispers and echoes many other previous works of art, from Diego Rivera to Andy Warhol.
Images courtesy ArtisAnn Gallery who produced and curated the exhibition.
Eleven Voices, Nov 8 –December 21, 2019, Belfast Exposed, Belfast NI
Antoine d’Agata (b 1961, in Marseilles) joined Magnum Photos in 2004, the year he made his first, of two films rooted in a chosen site, be it a person or a city, or both, Ventre du Monde. Two years later, he focused his longer film Aka Ana on Tokyo, as a visualisation of Guy Debord’s concept of psychogeography, defined as a “study of the precise laws and specific effects of geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” (gallery handout notes).
He spent 11 days in the city of Belfast meeting and interviewing eleven individual citizens, taking photographs of them and of fragments of close to them environment.
The display illustrates Antoine d’Agata’s stated judgement “only the voices let me understand” by large panels with the transcribed recording.
The gallery walls are divided by vertical boards reminiscent of pilasters on a church walls. Each board carries a text of one ‘voice’ – in varying lengths ( e.g.29 pages) quite difficult to read, and demanding on viewing time). The unedited texts match the willingness, spontaneity and commitment of each speaker.
The visual representation of the time and place of each encounter avoids identification, protecting the speakers privacy. Each voice is made visible in four prints:
Take day 4 for example:
1/A diary note 2/ Fragmentary view of housing in the area where the artist met the “voice” 3/ Intensifying what was visible and static, e,g, separating walls 4/ A chance encounter with a person (not necessarily the ‘voice’) in that environment.
Day four for example has 29 pages of text – from an active retired solicitor, who teaches English to immigrant and works for various sanctuaries for disadvantaged persons/immigrants. He feels that his modus vivendi is determined by his family with four children, by his very different predecessors, by him becoming gay later in life, and by a section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 that gives the Belfast council statutory duty to promote good relationship between people. He shares a motto with immigrants: ” Welcome, Safety, Inclusion and Integration”.
The text is as rich as it is long – more suited to a book than a wall display.
Antoine d’Agata saturates his camera with multitude images of fences, gates, walls that are an opposite of this person’s raison d’etre: “Walls should not be there”, he says.
Thus the central image is a coexistence of the two, the desire to get rid of the walls and the reality of the walls casting darkness of the home life.
Another set points to a better housing, and links to the voice talking about the differences between people with different incomes.
Transcription of 13 pages of a voice telling of going to integrated school and thinking about “identity all the time”, is critical of lower paid as not open to new ideas.
The speaker treasures both the school and family influence on becoming tolerant while acutely aware and critical of class based divisions of society: in comparison with the better off citizens, the working class are apparently less tolerant, less willing to free themselves from inherited indoctrination and toxic masculinity : “People have opinions but they do not know why they have it”.
The verbal makes the visual secondary in relation to time needed to view each.
An uncanny reminder of how people view visual art in large museums and galleries, they read about it for longer than they look at it.
Here, that dualism is heightened by the relative scale of each part. From that point of view the dissolution of the boundaries between art and life, between visual art, the visible, and words, experiences, memories, life, is overwhelming.
A similar display has been chosen by Chloe Bass(b 1984 NY) and Bill Dietz (1983, Bisbee, Arizona) for their current exhibition Trade Show (http://www.kunsthalle-willhelmshaven.de) – clinical precision that echoes architecture. Divergent values of exhibits forge dissonances among objects, texts and sound miming those in life. Both exhibitions share willingness to dissolve the boundaries between art and life.
Another current five exhibitions present some of the most compelling artistic practice in the Netherlands today. All five artists work with forms of storytelling, witnessing and testimony. They re-introduce forgotten or silenced narratives using evidence drawn from personal histories and official archives. Positions #5: Telling Untold Stories invites visitors to encounter the politics of story-telling in myriad ways. (https://vanabbemuseum.nl/en/)
Back to Belfast Exposed.
Having the comfort of similar ideas does not guarantee, nor aims at, similar aesthetic experience. The BX chose a display that visually accentuates sameness at first, only to harvest the power of details to reveal differences. Those are presented in the images of houses and the verbal long stories.
One is told by a policewoman, another by a priest, another by a grandmother etc The openness, sincerity of the “voices” is surprising – they trust the foreign artist, they give their accounts warts and all.
Value for a value – D’Agata listens, he is not a threat to them. Uncannily, it reminds me of Also Sprach Zarathustra – the passage where Nietzsche introduces perspectivism. Perspectivism argues that all truth claims are contingent on, and the product of, a person’s perspective.
Antoine d’Agata presents eleven perspectives on truth as lived and shared in words by eleven persons in contemporary Belfast. The visual is servicing the lived and recalled, in most cases with sincere ambiguity and limping logic. Hence this would be a good book, better for considered attention than the walk in exhibition.
Nevertheless, the photography is stunning in a particular way. Not as a fashion or celebrity images, glorifying some ideal. I sense its submission to the fleeting truth, just its visible appearance.
More like a war correspondent snatching fragments on a move, not knowing what will come next, thus allowing verism to bond with the chance, d’Agata saturates the exhibition with the images of the environment, not just one environment, housing, which is omnipresent. The commons gingery appears as if we need to be reminded of it.
Just as well – at the time when so many have no safe home to go to – all over the planet. Surprisingly – faces on the wall become a kind of the commons, shedding the privacy as unnecessary weight.
In d’Agata’s photographs of people, there is an endearing sincerity – drug addicts, old who move with difficulty, young confident students, well made up women – variety of appearances signalling other values. They could be from another city, thus harvesting a greater context of the civilisation that includes, but is not identical with, that troubled Belfast. In that sense it corrects the limits of Debord’s notion of precision, while the stories are not just specific effects of the environment, as they harvest different judgement of the same environment. The aesthetic experience of walking through “that diary” of a ” visual meeting” eleven persons at eleven sites, is not in any way flamboyant or shocking. It is reminiscent of some 20th C art and poetry focusing on “ordinary things” (e.g. J Walker, K Capek, K Teige etc) – not as deeply intoxicated with foregrounding as poetism, but nevertheless foregrounding the ordinary being in the world. Taken together – it brings forth differences between individuals as significant.
It is a good exhibition – if you give it a lot of time.
It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.
W. Somerset Maugham
Images courtesy Belfast Exposed.
“Movable, stackable and transient” they are not separate abstract images as in Ellsworth Kelly (e.g.Ellsworth Kelly at his 2006 exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian)
The title of the Kennan’s installation echoes words uttered online together with an image of underpainting reported as found by the staff of Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow: It’s not that black…
The configuration of the painted surfaces on a white ground evokes interaction among the black low reliefs and the white rectangles of the ground.
Although each rectangle on the wall can be associated with a run of the mill minimalism and abstraction of 20th C, Kennan wiggles them out by a) destabilising the order of display by variation and b/ by scientific precision of the distinction between an image and art. I make this point because the commonly accepted opposition of art and science is unsatisfactory. I just bring one voice from the top science for support: Albert Einstein is reported that in 1926 he said this:
” I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Kennan favours presenting many paintings as one all over image in four different permutations: hers, and those by Mark Hackett, Peter Richards(the one I saw) and Robyn G Shiels. Consequently, the subject is not just what is visible, but what each viewer perceives. Richard Gregory pointed out that our consciousness at times ignores that objects have so-called “emergent properties”, the sound of an orchestra is not a simple collection of all instruments playing. The dense configuration of black on white can be read as white next to black, but not both at once. In addition, the natural or artificial light modulates what is perceived more energetically than it may appear in the first encounter.
Kennan’s monochrome rectangles may appear akin to the blue or black in the art of Yves Klein. One of the significant differences is what kind of seeing matches those “emerging properties”. Klein calls for a meditative approach securing that call by the singularity of tone. His appeal to the power of the tonality, of the sameness across the surface connects with the meditative kind of the seeing. In turn, that seeing tolerates uncertainty where it is in the space. As a physical object, it seems to hover just in front of the wall, as an image it is somewhere in the space behind the wall.
That charming dualism supports completely opposite aesthetic judgement: some of us identify it as beauty, others as an unsatisfactory and suspect art. This split has a long history, it is not born just for abstraction.
William Blake offered this: The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way… And it has been proposed that a person of genius makes not just an excellent art but new different way of seeing ( letter to Trussler in Alfred Kazin, The portable Blake,1987, Penguin) …
A visitor, or funding bodies, may demand an explanation of what the artist’s intention is and what it all means.
Blake argues beautifully: “I cannot previously describe in words what I mean to design, for fear I should evaporate the spirit of my invention”. Sadly, the pressure on contemporary artists to write proposals, state intentions and argue for some purpose other than an aesthetic experience, sits of the opposite pole to Blake etc.
All that is visible invites us to be attentive, curious, observant and sensitive because the state of consciousness shapes new perceptions. Kennan’s variations on the configuration of two colours, both the sum of all colours, one ends as black, the other as a white, privilege the quiet impact and reflection over the shock tactics (but still may shock some viewers) preferred for example by Dansaekhwa. This installation is the art of the encounter, of correspondencies, as grasped by Charles Baudelaire.
Compared to Klein, Kennan’s surfaces are more like vapours, clouds, foam on the sea.
Monochromatic painted surfaces appear also in the art practice of Charles Walsh(b 1970).
( more on http://www.artasart.com/home) exhibited black abstract monochrome paintings in the Golden Thread Gallery in 2009 each with a subtle addition of another hue, tying the chance to a rigid order. Note the power of tone to define a rectangle.
He decided on the mix and placement in advance. He made his own paint from pigments and oil.
One obvious difference between Walsh and Kennan in immediately visible: perfect grid governs his and is abandoned in her display and choice of format.
Kennan prefers open variations of placement by letting others to change the hanging.
Her apparent additions of other hues to the black happens during the process of painting the ground and feels instinctive not planned and measured. The image below may be perceived as a detail from old masters. Its placement challenges that. It does not privilege one viewing points, angle, light, distance – it plays with my freedom to imagine and freedom not to be sure. Is it a sky? A distant planet? Another galaxy? A corner of a room filled with smoke? A corner of our universe, both the one we do not know and the one we live in, playfully whispered with the paint that wants to be a vapour. Like a J.S. Bach’s fugue it goes on giving.
It is about sensibility to the correspondence of what is made visible and the viewer’s power not to miss narrative support, including labels and captions.
Martyn Anglesey issued a cry decades ago: “one of the most disturbing features of the current approach to visual art is shying away from the operative sense, namely vision…” (p.34 in The Visual Force, publ. by GTG, 2009). Hence the admiration for Kennan’s focus on the visible. No story, no legend, no political credo, just call for renewing our senses, our seeing. Italo Calvino calls it “a basic human faculty” (Six memos…p92) and quotes Balzac’s view that “literature killed the fantastic”(ibidem p96).
In the first version of Le chef-d’oeuvre inconnu “…the elderly painter Frenhofer’s perfect picture, in which a woman’s foot emerges from the chaos of colour, from a shapeless fog, is admired by his colleagues: Combien de jouissances sur ce morceau de toile! (How many delights on this small piece of canvas. )
By changing the display the relationship between forms becomes an edition, a variant, of the other “configurations”. Kennan disables a part of her authorship to achieve that. I applaud that. The “meanings” are now so distant from the first intention that they create a rich field for variations on a theme, a method revered in music.
Painting reached to verbal art in its devotion to the narrative. Here, it reaches to music and nature in a special kind of mimesis: even figurative art depends on viewers knowing a narrative that exists outside the image they are viewing. Abstract paintings still have content and subject that is hinted by the physical material in space and time and finished in the viewer’s aesthetic experience.
The resolve not to privilege one configuration to another raises the significance of the intrinsic value of art and lowers the aura of the authorship. This open-ended installation favours sharing as a moral principle for people’s relationships to all there is.
Images of her (first) configuration by Peter Richards.
Richard Canning graduated from the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University, in 2018 with a series of A1 size rectangles carrying line drawings. The current exhibition still flirts with that mute agent of the change, accepting the artist’s intention to make large scale line drawings this time. Drawing is a glorious chapter of humanity’s leaving […]
The first look at Adam registers eruption of intense opposition of hues aiming at unease via spacial disorder.
Recognisable eyes, nose, open mouth – would invite the meaning indicated by this small painting title. The macabre dissolution of the shape dismembered from the rest of the cranium and neck, as well as bizarre flat surface drip-dropped with diluted hues while the background top is treated with precision near bona fide Ellsworth Kelly. Hagan invades the painting with elements of the nightmare, the cranium explodes in roughly defined coloured particles as if denying to ever be parts of the head.
The question who is Adam is left without answer. A friend? The biblical Adam? Or both at once? The insecure transience of meaning appears as a deliberate part of Hagan’s practice.
The macabre roughly modulated hue (yellow) allows the living eyes to look believable but denies it to the rest. In that sense, Adam is reminiscent of Goya’s Saturn devouring his son, of its ability to render the body both living and dead.
The unexpected facial disorder signals unease of the theme as well as that of the painter who revisits the morbid, menacing elements in his largest canvas, After Goya,
The drama of light and dark achieves ferocious intensity in reds and tiny speckles of white. Hagan’s trust in geometry to hold the menacing macabre elements is not misplaced. The rectangular planes allow reading the falling bodies as paintings inside the painting, dislodged from the innocence of the vertical wall by falling into a surreal surrounding: cloud in front of a grid, dark triangle like a sail on water on the left, fat block at the top that appears to continue outside the frame, two blind spots placed on a diagonal corners of the rectangle, illogical deep space on left top – all contribute to a possible judgment that the painting is confused. My reading disagrees. The whole crystalises into transient perceptions of each different motif as falling into the hot cauldron of sameness. It is about trauma, dislocation, turbulence, to invade mind in the way Goya did in Enterrar y callar ( Disasters of War,1810 -14), Bury them and keep quiet. Hagan gives the opposite advice.
Karl Hagan is dedicated to and serious about painting’s power to invade mind. The six paintings exhibited at the Platform have nothing to do with “ego importance” and all with the ability to apply what he learns from and values in significant paintings of the past. He constructs his own history of painting rooted in affinity of feeling and morality, rationality and its opposite. He studies the chosen art carefully to learn. The After Goya appears painted a la prima, however, a study of the cloud recently exhibited at Engine Room betrays a careful preparation.
The soft modeling of tones of the hue in this study are like Goya’s fresco in the San Antonio de la Florida where he used no brush but a sponge, yet managed to render the final version in crispy high tones.
A history painting used to be the top Europen academic category of visual art after replacing the hegemony of biblical stories. Modernism flirted not only with abandoning the narrative painting but also with rejecting the history of art and any remnants of mimicking the observable reality. The inner image took over. The current generation of young painters are building up the courage to restore some of the most intriguing power of brushes and paints, that which Robert Ryman called “seeing of painting”, and which Leonardo da Vinci called “mute poetry”. Hagan tests the proposition on contemporary scenes, accessible via printed photographs.
Lacrymogène = Tear Gas connects to the Gilets Jaunes protests in France in 2018. The painting rehearses newspaper photographs like this one and abstracts it out of time and place.
The painting deprives the edifice of stability and clarity seen through the lens while dissolving the transition from matter to experience through chromatically smooth vapours.
Right angles, vapours, darkness, and exact descriptions (eg: yellow fence – gate) are mobilised to match some indelible strangeness of tactile experiences. The image mines the spatial uncertainty of abstraction by confident geometry paired to high keys (yellow, orange) while the rest is dark and smoky, suggestive of no escape. The image is transparent to allow various associations, however, it locks them into the material character of details, eg rectangles (banners? buildings?)
War image, transparent to apply to any conflict, thus marshaling deep distress that humanity keeps failing to do without killing each other. While it is a “window” into history, the spacial disorder wrestles it out of a particular historical event, sounding a profound J’accuse. The light peppers the composition like shrapnels might, like automatic guns do. It aims to access that quiet part of our mind where the distaste collaborates with hope.
Its noise, its polluted air, its destruction removes any signs of heroism (so loved by socialist realism for ex), letting in the sense that the man operating the gun is a victim. Hence, this image wears black.
I am not familiar with this actor and his life story. The painting’s title gives the clue to its subject – and there are also visual clues to his playing the Count Dracula: the trio of threatening hands. For those in the know, this would be a transparent image. It gives me visual access to some boundaries between real and pretended, known and guessed…
This complex composition is nevertheless centreless. I find that telling.
Images courtesy Karl Hagan and Platform.
My essay on Tony Hill‘s art exhibited at this three days event is on https://slavkasverakova.blogspot.com. Here I wish to focus on Susan Hughes. I shall fail to make justice to her multiple talents. On the last afternoon, she played the violin, the performance I missed. A sample from another concert given at her 2018 exhibition at […]
My essay on Tony Hill‘s art exhibited at this three days event is on https://slavkasverakova.blogspot.com.
Here I wish to focus on Susan Hughes.
I shall fail to make justice to her multiple talents. On the last afternoon, she played the violin, the performance I missed.
A sample from another concert given at her 2018 exhibition at Framewerk, Belfast, is accessible on https://vimeo.com/299023505.
She connects the violin to her visual art in a way we all connect sound and vision when staying/walking in any environment. That connection is not causal, both perceptions happen in parallel, with unexpected crossings over, sometimes one overrules the other
as apparent in the line of her memory of arctic terns:”…the island was quiet…” (the birds were not)
The absence of human activity forging that silence is significant. She admits the forming influence of her father’s knowledge of birds, and her living on islands: Rathlin, UK, Hrisey, Iceland as significant conditions for her art.
Kría is the Icelandic word for Arctic tern
In June 2018 I spent one month in Northern Iceland on a small island which has the largest breeding colony of Arctic terns in Europe. The island was quiet (almost dead in fact) in terms of human activity but the birds, whales, and midnight sun kept life vivid, strange and exciting. Sleep was never deep, dreams were always remembered (https://cargocollective.com/susanhughesartist/Exhibition-1)
Noticeable geometric “bleeding” from terns’ wings and beak may appear as a whimsical addition. Until – I saw Hughes’s snapshot of terns in the air (below) – the narrow line of their tail shooting out as if from the wings.
Also, on her website, she linked two experiences across time and distance: the flying birds and casting bronze 4000 years ago…
At a Bronze Age symposium in Kerry this August I explored ancient and sophisticated processes, learning from others, offering my music in return for their knowledge. In bronze, casting sprues are created in the mould to allow air to escape the outermost points and most fragile ends of the object. After the intensity of the symposium where we essentially went back in time 4000 years, these sprue lines began to present themselves in my recent paintings of terns; helping to find structure in space, to support the sharpened fragile points of the birds, to let the air escape… (ibidem)
The above small painting is significant not just for its inspiration (the symposium) but also for connecting to all other exhibits: the snow paintings, the assemblages, and the videos, by its reduced palette. It is not completely gris-en-gris, whispers of blue and other shades of grey, typical for northern daylight infuse it with life.
The five videos
Alarm, and Bruresmarsi (Wedding March) both Norway, 2015
Rue Light, West Light, both Rathlin, 2016
Fairy Pylon, Kerry, 2018, (whistle Robert Harvey)
appear in full on https://cargocollective.com/susanhughesartist/Video
Some editing decisions are diminishing the aesthetic experience, e.g. the black dividers of the flow, whereas, the sober lengths/duration holds the viewer’s attention. Thankful for the absence of egocentric abundance.
The small objects Snow Paintings, December 2018 (mixed media on card) are confident in association with mid 20th assemblage and Frank Stella’s mixed media as well as earlier Modernism.
The display on the shelf accentuated the similarity to small handheld sculptures, whereas the layers of material and modulated hues claim painterly domain as their own.
It would appear, where Arp insists on a chance, Hughes focuses on the match between the shapes and experience of wintery sensations while making space for a memory of home.
(Statement on the gallery handout reads: Much of this work was created in Hallingdal, Norway in December surrounded by deep snow with a few hours of soft daylight. While influenced by these sensations and colours I was drawn back to the coast and relationships of home as subject matter) There is more of her texts on https://susanhughesartist.wordpress.com
Other echoes of Modernism, e.g. Juan Gris, Le Gueridon, 1922 in objects penetrating each other to awaken association with the sound, are not necessarily intended, yet, appeal with the allowance for different media.
I am happy to risk being wrong, as the links are with significant art. Hughes’ images are comfortable and confident in that company.
Images courtesy Susan Hughes unless otherwise stated.
In a simple thoughtful display in both rooms, the art of print manifests itself through forty-nine images by as many artists, 24 from Belfast Print workshop, 25 from PRISM Print International.
A digital catalogue is available at
It contains a brief history of both BPW and Prism, and their international network, list of artists, and images with captions.
Printmaking’s power to embody free labour artist, inventor of techniques and skill and publisher, secures its attraction to many; a value often described as “democratic” as opposed to elitist “Beaux Arts”. K Marx issued a distinction between a piano pianist as an artist and a maker of pianos as a worker. Printmaking embraces both.
While the MFA and Ph.D. degrees in fine art over the last few decades focus on the verbally describable idea as well as on the application of scholarly methods, this exhibition is “twice-born” through its focus on the chosen single image, the visible, and the development of ways to make its multiples.
A reminder of the thoughts of F Nietzsche (The Birth of Tragedy, 1872) on “primordial unity” of Apollonian and Dionysian principles he observed in the classical Greek tragedies. In classical Greece, in fourth- and fifth-century Athens, the major artistic prize of the era, for drama, was given under the auspices of Dionysus, a god of wine and ecstasy. a curious proto-patron saint of the arts, given the story of his birth.
Hera, Zeus’ wife and the goddess of heaven, tired of her husband’s philandering, convinced Semele, Zeus’s latest conquest to ask Zeus to reveal his true form — lightning — a sight Hera knew would kill her: No mortal can bear a god in full. Semele died. Zeus tucked their unborn son into his thigh, carrying him to term, earning the child the epithet “twice-born”.
This exhibition contains both mining of the history of art and inventive responses to here and now.
Recently commentators recognized that the rebirth of realism in visual art echoes that “twice-born” story. Modernism argued that realism is a conservative, commercial mode for a visual image. Whereas at present, it contains a thread of radicalism: the demand that we encounter in a work of art the particular depth of another person’s consciousness. Not a belief.
Michael Branson made me aware of a rare objection to the dominant (conceptual) mode of the majority of the visual art, seduced by multimedia and time-based processes. He translated Avelina Lesper’s argument:
“We need art, not beliefs. But just as atrocious crimes have been committed in the name of faith, we see how, in the name of the belief that everything is art, art itself is being demolished. The change of substance that turned any object into art is a phenomenon of language, it focuses on the conceptualization of the work, on the meaning, on the intention of the artist, on the curatorial discourse, on an aligned and complacent critical explanation, that is, on a rhetorical exercise. The constant of this rhetoric, of this concept, is that it contradicts the very nature of the object.”
(El fraude del arte contemporáneo* [The Fraud of Contemporary Art] (Bogotá: Panamerica Formas e Impresos, 2016: 16-17:)
I have not read her book – I have no idea what she means precisely by “the very nature of the object”. However, I share her defense of tacit visual thought, the what and how is made visible. The tacit direct link between what I see and how and when it becomes my aesthetic experience. Often it is instant, direct.
The deepest significance of the “Graphic Editions” is the autonomy of the visible.
The very first exhibit on entering the exhibition sets expectations high. Apology – the image is too small to make the drama of people in evening attire with faces of the skeletons, visible.
MIN JIE ZHANG offers a dynamic revival of social critique as an apocalyptic story. It echoes the paintings and prints of Dance of Death, e.g. Hans Holbein or Bernt Notke(Totentanz, Luebeck, end of 15thC, below, courtesy Wikipedia)
The freedom to connect across time and space is not only a precious avantgarde idea, but it is also deeply moving admission of similarity of fears and concerns our species have across differences in time and place.
The practice of selling artist’s prints in medieval markets on stalls next to vegetables, which Albrecht Duerer encouraged his wife Agnes to do in Nuernberg, just opposite the window of the room with his press, established print as “more democratic” than singular painting.
While the public (patrons, art market, galleries, auctioneers) makes a value difference between the aura of originality and aesthetic experience the artists did not, do not. Joseph Beuys even looked for terminology that would distance his printmaking from the commercial one, calling his prints on blocks of wood, or felt, “multiples”.
Visual artists today are like magpies, picking up new techniques, processes – mixing them up in unexpected measures. This exhibition offers excellent examples of the virtuosity with single techniques as well as combinations of several.
Take the exquisite drypoint by Mikael Kihlman, its details, and the rhythm of light and dark recall the softness of brush or charcoal. Adorable is the craft of balancing the rational observation with feeling through a gradation of light.
Market in Cracow, 1994Printed images often served politics, ideology, and news. The story of Agnes, Duerer’s wife, points to their supporting role for the painter and the (hand-printed then) books.
Visual artists developed group exhibition ever since Le Figaro (I think Albert Wolf 1876)) compared the First Impressionist exhibition to the disaster on the par with the Paris Opera being damaged by fire. Soon – Europe’s printmakers joined across boundaries (like in Prism) and entered the galleries as equals.
Art dealers, auctioneers etc turn visual art into a commodity but tell nothing about the aesthetic value of a work of art. Multiples attempt to shift the value judgment away from the business and close to the viewer’s experience. Making visual art is still free labour – as it was in paleolithic cave paintings and prints.
Printmakers often focus on moral issues. Think Honore Daumier.
John Read wrote: The new series of ‘Songs of the Earth – Masques’ explores the vision of an underworld of chthonic forces masked behind elaborate metal ‘faces’ composited from metal drain covers I photographed on my recent travels in Japan, Poland, Italy and the UK. The frightening face of what we repress! (www.john-read.co.uk)
His series renews a call for people to act as good ancestors, while younger generation prefers attacking habitual thought,e.g. the- white- on- white photo etching by Fiona Ni Mhaoillir. When clarity is the same as confusion, and a chance is like an order.
The glory of observation and economy of means do not disable poetry of a considered still life by Lisa Murray. Her photo-intaglio is also an enchanting refrain of naturalist’s catalog and Dutch 17th C still lifes – minus pyramidal composition.
It is reminiscent of playful Hellenistic mosaic.
The fluency of mastering the technique is a part of the viewer’s aesthetic experience – I suppose Monson got it during the years with Stanley William Hayton who furiously protected the work standards in his Parisian studio. Yes, furiously – on my visit decades ago.
Rebecca Jewell prints on real feathers. The image titled Fragmentation I(Blue and Orange) is surprisingly whole, together, in the way First Nations in USA and Canada manage/compose their wearable art. It feels both dead and alive, a trophy and a loss.
The technical mastery is not necessarily detracting from the unfathomable aesthetic experience of the image of nature, in this case, the blue sea. It is removed from a precise observation while it effortlessly engages memories of salty and fishy scent and cool of the sea on a hot day. Sensual riches are feather light in relation to the laborious process.
Print making is also a friendly helper to verbal art, this time with a portrait of the writer/filmmaker, rather than an illustration of the poem by Coleridge.
The black gnarled tree reminds me of Altdorfer and Danube School of the landscape, their departure from Middle Ages. This image of an abandoned man-made construction in a powerful landscape is similar to the late medieval statement about the death of something man-made. Here that verse resonates for me again.
Consequently, a dose of constructivism in jolly light colours offers a balancing act. With a smile.
Masahiro Kawara’s sensitive observation and steady hand mastering the chosen tool and technique cherish the unimportant, neglected, yet significant sign of privacy, whereas it allows that powerful edifice on the left to evaporate. It feels that both entrances are out of use. The elegant drawing carries a message about us that is not at all elegant.
Visual pleonasm? Not quite.
A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.
Adapt Bachelard to visual art and you get: the particular depth of another person’s consciousness.
Sharon Kelly introduces the viewer to her exhibition by a brief paragraph on the gallery handout:
“The seeds for the MIND FUEL project began in the closing stages of the World Championship 24 Race held in Belfast Victoria Park in July 2017, a race in which competitors run continuously for 24 hours. The race organizer and director, Ed Smith, had invited me to engage as the race Artist in Residence…”
As a keen runner herself, she accepted the invitation from the organizers and made over 40 sketches then. In 2918 she stayed for the whole 24 Hour Race, and recorded the Endurance runners, in drawing and interviews. She also added video.
The sentence The Solitude is the Comfort comes from an interview.
Kelly’s observations, and numerous sketches of people taking part in both the World Championship 24 Race (2017) and Belfast 24 Hours Race (2018) fill all three gallery rooms and the corridor.
For some time – at least since 2013 when she made The Liminal Space of the Runner – Kelly reflected on the similarity between drawing and running:
“finding something out of nothing and that both running and art can take you to another space – it is a force that involves heart, head, and hand (body) just as it is in the process of drawing… trusting your instinct, finding focus – an expression of energy and passion” (her statement on the gallery handout print).
As if new forms of self-knowledge and respect for nature were born from similar sources, a mixture of endurance and exhilaration fired by an intention to dissolve one’s ego in a kind of resonance.
Shared aesthetics of a calm respect for visible truth within each image unifies the different sizes and media, not just in the series of Table sketches (2018, mixed media).
The appearance of cut-outs, the stark choice of what is visible and what is erased by the ink, accommodates the altruism of three runners. The black and white contrast visibly carves the pain of an exhausted and unwilling body as if out of the light behind the black surface. The bodies appear in front of it. The tree in that background marks that light as the will to go on, as sublime nature, as energy. The powerful constructs of hiatus and foregrounding secure the truth of the experience in a remarkably chaste use of poetics.
The simile born from both observation and memory forges such truth through confident verism in some other drawings. The drawing below is a convincing transfer of the dynamics of moving into a still fragment, overcoming the need for “correct” proportions.
There are two lens-based exhibits both edited by Kelly’ son, the young film maker Éanna Mac Cana: Stop Motion Drawing animation of Kelly drawing a head etc. The other is the video Mac Cana shot, directed and edited: The Long Path (2018).
It includes the technical background to such events as well as inventive shots of runners behind trees, on the pathways. The trees erase the chance of identification of the persons taking part, instead, they offer the feeling of two kinds of togetherness: with the people involved in the race, and with nature willingly embracing it all with dignified disinterest.
In a series of eight powerful ink drawings With My Breath (2018, each 38x28cm) Kelly maps the stages of growing fatigue. Usually, her forte is a sensitive and sensual charcoal mark viewing carefully every detail, whereas in this “confession” the brush stroke and the selection of hue are brutally resolute carving details from the observed real. Reminiscent of Goya’s portraits of physical and mental pain. Kelly’s (red and) black paintings?
That intensity of conflict between will and nature is somewhat hidden when she revives her classic way of grading, modulating blacks and greys. The observed reality is subsumed into the distance measured between verism and abstraction.
The deliberate, honest and intimate, insecurity in the drawing of the left hand in her large drawing below, reminds me of Alberto Giacometti’s complaints.
The moment before the move.
Giacometti complained about his insecurity when he worked on the portrait of his brother. His drawings also contain evidence of his sensitive mapping of the gap between the visible and the perceived.
Images courtesy of Sharon Kelly.