The gallery handout introduces the photographer thus:
“Pullitzer Price winning Northern Irish photographer Cathal McNaughton travelled to Cox’s Bazar in 2017 to document the plight of the Rohingya people who were fleeing a deadly crackdown by Myanmar’s army on Rohingya Muslims, forcing hundreds of thousands across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh”
I cannot be sure that the similarity of the composition and viewpoint is deliberate reminder of a biblical story. However, even the distribution of light echoes some well know paintings. Even if its authorship has been disputed, the image still appears as painted by Hieronymous Bosch or his follower, 1510 -30.
The similarity is more in the feeling that both images represent, the capacity of both the irrational hatred and the way to cope with adverse experience.
The last photograph is life size – covering the whole height of the gallery wall, reminiscent of medieval and renaissance European frescoes. The photographer said it was enlarged by Photoshop.
Cathal McNaughton stated “Documenting this crisis is a harrowing process. The thing you can’t appreciate in the photographs are the noises when thousands and thousands of people are fighting for their lives…. You see humanity at its most basic in front of you. Children fighting adults for food, adults stealing food and aid from children, it’s very hard to take in…. To see these people being beaten back from basic necessities – even though if the guards hadn’t done so there would be mass casualties – it’s a very surreal environment and not something you can be prepared for.”
And that is the substantial difference between these photographs and that older art. They are not born out of a “word” uttered and recorded centuries ago. Instead, they document the failure of humanity now.
Vision to vision.
Eye to brain and vice versa.
Semir Zeki devoted the whole chapter to give a sketchy account what happens in our brains when we look at works of art (see Inner Vision, 1999:99ff). It is not significant whether these photographs are perceived as document or as visual art, because they are, in the view of the institutional theory of art (Dickie et al) both.
Zeki claims that narrative art is a search for essentials and constants to build up knowledge about the world. Even if the viewer does not know the data, the who, what and when, these images constitute a profound knowledge about human species. He points out that even if a small part of the perceptive field is stimulated in the appropriate way, it results in a reaction of the cells in the brain. Antonin Artauld has compared art to a plague, that infects the body before you know it.
The reason why it does not matter whether the viewer think of these images as documents or art is rooted in that receptive field, when stimulated. When you look and see the images…
And then the viewpoint, colour, composition, role of detail, in this case similar to passions of Christ painted centuries ago matters. Together, it appears as the stimulus which conforms to the characteristics of the visual cells receptive field. Then and now.
A caveat: there are many examples of the specificity of receptive fields. Zeki concludes: “It is for this reason that I speak of the art of the receptive field, because it appears to be so well tailored to the physiology of single cells as studied through their receptive field..”(ibidem 103). The significance of this offers one implicit supposition: that what happens in one brain (=artist’s) is pretty similar to what happens in another brain (=various viewers).
The caveat, to allow for differences in judgement, comes from the peculiar characteristics of the aesthetic function. Jan Mukarovsky(1936) observed that the stimulus that evokes aesthetic experience for everybody works, because the aesthetic function is fluid, it can appear either as religious, historical, political, poetical, biological etc at the same time to different viewers. In the case of photography this fluency is narrowed down (not erased) by the apprehension that the lens captures the truth.
Zeki concludes: ” It is true that we cannot today relate aesthetic experience directly to what happens in the brain…and about the power of works of art to disturb and arouse us emotionally.” (ibidem 217/8) But the finding that what on elementary perceptual level happens in one brain happens in another, is one reason we can communicate about art and through art.
For a contemporary viewer, the suffering locked in these lens based images- which are but fragments- has power of truth about all humanity.
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:
‘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 LivesOn 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.
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.
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.
To become one, both the full and empty present themselves with the conviction of the bird’s song, the song, and the pause… echoed in the title of this exhibition: The Space Between
Cut out of the whole, the detail below makes visible the sensibility of the drawn line, stretched or waved or pulsating, as well as its mimetic force, namely in the open door.
Trace of transitory being
The gallery handout introduces the thought of “intimacy” made visible through the empty spaces and unfinished lines. I sense an approximation of going down the stairs and through that open door. Its lower vertical edge is equidistant, on a midpoint, between two other points: the lowest loop of the left balustrade and the top end on the right one. With the rest of the wall (glass rectangles ?), it forges a right-angled triangle.
I perceive that as a kind of intimacy between the full and empty, between the mark and its ground. Canning photographed the Student Union building opposite the Queens University in Belfast in the process of abandonment and demolition.
One of the exhibits in The Space Between translates this view into a line drawing.
Comparing the photography and drawing exposes Cannings process.
In addition, the absences and presences in the drawing remove some haptic weight of the material. Instead, the drawn objects insist on forging something entirely different – visual discourse between what is visible.
The corner made by a row of many and the separate single invites thoughts on hierarchy and exclusion. The easy chair dominates and prevents the single chair to join the many, like a class barrier may do. The size of the single chair on the right is wrong in relation to its position. So are the last stacked chairs on the left of the easy chair. That perception animates the composition and nudges it to obtain the symbolic meaning of inequality and division of power among people. I can almost “hear” the inflated ego of a person who might have sat in it. This interpretation is validated by the switch in the scale of the identical chairs, the same design, and manufacture, yet, some are different, smaller.
Canning’s visual intelligence manages to be fresh and measured at the same time. A good value. He invents representational minimalism rooted in the prestige of technical drawing, of architectural drawings, but slipping away from the expected “correctness”.
Actually, the drawing dances away from the correctness in another exhibit. Reminiscent of the freedom of the medieval marginalia, the drawings prefer the subtlety of privacy in visual art – so rarely presented on this scale.
The viewer is offered a mute proposition inspired by compositional rules, angles, distances, lines, scale, which Canning made visible. It is a loftier part of the imagination that these drawings activate.
Italo Calvino distinguishes between two types of imagination: the one that starts with a word and ends in an image, the other starts at the image and ends in words. (Six Memos…:83) Canning started with a word and a photograph (“Upon hearing of the imminent demise… as stated in the gallery handout paragraph 3) and ended with a drawing not afraid of absences.
If you think that the installation looks like many other exhibitions in Europe over the last two decades, you may be acutely aware of the spirit of the age, borrowed from the German language as Zeitgeist. Philosophers associated with that idea include Herder and Spencer and Voltaire. It counters the Great Man theory popularized by Thomas Carlyle which sees history as the result of the actions of heroes and geniuses.
For compariosn I selected an image available online from the 2018 exhibition by two Slovak artists
Roman Ondak (b 1966) and Štefan Papčo (b 1983), from their exhibition titled Sky Gravity (19 Jan – 16 March, 2018, Zahorian and Van Espen Gallery Bratislava) Ondak called his exhibition in South London Gallery (2026/17) “The Source of Art is in the Life of a People” – a claim easily adapted to Platform members, e.g. Aoife Earley: Street Series 1-3 (Digital photo on c-type photo paper), 2018 taken by iPhone7; “I enjoy the convenience and connectivity of my phone camera” (gallery handout)
Earley also explores the chance mobile phone photography harvests while the photographer is mobile, i.e. driving or driven. It may appear obvious for now and here. The implication is that the viewer’s mind drives the aesthetic experience.
Let me digress to test that.
In 1966, the philosopher Karl Popper conducted an informal experiment: During a lecture at the University of Oxford, he turned to his audience and said: ‘My experiment consists of asking you to observe, here and now. I hope you are all cooperating and observing! However, I feel that at least some of you, instead of observing, will feel a strong urge to ask: “What do you want me to observe?”’
Then Popper delivered his insight into observation:
‘For what I am trying to illustrate is that, in order to observe, we must have in mind a definite question, which we might be able to decide by observation.’
The question for Earley appears to be the value and power of spontaneity. Of a flow which she arrests.
Andrew Glen(b1981) makes the “curious relationship between object, experience and artist” into a locus that facilitates the choice of a found object. Yes, it nods towards the Arte Povera, yet, it has an up-to-date root: Glen’s personal collection he started in 2015. On the far wall the blue-green Bute wool&found objects is a part of the ongoing series ATOMICA.
Andrew Glenn is recycling a useful object into a free art by canceling its usability, not miles away from Duchamp a century ago.
When a person visits an art exhibition they carry in their mind both “closed” and “open” questions.
The closed questions are “a priori” thoughts, likely to be connected to their previous experiences with and memories of art. They refer to similarities and differences. The open ones are those formed by dynamics of curiosity and creativity of the viewer on one hand and the power of the work of art (the artist).
It is not a straightforward process – ‘All observation must be for or against a point of view,’ is how Charles Darwin put it in 1861. Hayley Gault included two long paragraphs in the gallery handout to explain how her curatorial practice which focused on environment and landscape was supposed to champion “ the value of exchange and types of transparency”. She printed a stack of sheets listing similarities between her father, a farmer, and herself: an artist, curator, activist, researcher, writer. She named this installation Things me and my father have in common.
Its roots are in installation art, in conceptual art, in early modernism minus Dada, in the art and language tradition of the 1950s. It also echoes, perhaps unwillingly, the not so glittering removal of specific talent as the indispensable protector of visibility. (I have in mind those periods when we see the hegemony of ideology). Her exhibit confirms Ondak’s statement that “The Source of Art is in the Life of a People”. That includes the visual artist’s ingenuity in crafting questions, expectations, hypotheses, and theories to make sense of their subject – visibly.
This exhibition strips the objects of flattering their makers’ importance. Instead, it matters what is vitally located in each exhibit.
Christopher McCambridge revives the conviction of William Morris that so-called lesser arts are equal to the rest because they are life supporting. Except, he moves in the other direction – towards the removal of the original practical use see http://www.chrismccambridge.wordpress.com/
Hand stitching the fabric aims to remember the hand weaving of the cloth before it was more often machine – made. Both processes (sewn by machine and by hand) are legibly there, so it is not a case of canceling one and replacing it. It is a method of a metamorphosis of one object becoming another. Remember Ovidius Naso? He seduced even P Picasso to illustrate metamorphoses…
Here, it occurs by replacing the very value of use championed by W Morris. Yet, McCambridge entertains a similar aim: to make an object recognized as an aesthetic object by replacing the machine with a hand.
Something similar to a replacement appears on the surfaces of Dreaddgerm, which Gerard Carson describes/defines as ” a manifestation of stratified oily techno objects, dredged from antediluvian sludge territories morphed into objects that speculate on the dark forces of techno-capitalist time”. (Gallery handout)
Quite! I give up, but do not deny the link to the 1918 manifesto by Tristan Tzara quoted below.
To impose your ABC is a natural thing— hence deplorable. Everybody does it in the form of crystalbluffmadonna, monetary system, pharmaceutical product, or a bare leg advertising the ardent sterile spring. The love of novelty is the cross of sympathy, demonstrates a naive je m’enfoutisme, it is a transitory, positive sign without a cause. But this need itself is obsolete.
Gerard Carson may agree with some of Tzara nonsense as nonsense, but in visual terms, he is a dead serious player for tacit communication between optic, haptic, and illusionary.
Consider his Statement
Stretched like elastic, it’s untethered from hermetica, blooming from conjunctions.
A speculation on futures via a tenuous materiality that is constantly on the verge of dissipating.
(Re)Mixing from the mutating jungle of matter, feeding through a viscous interstitial mesh.
I see the chain and I read a sculpture, a rough immobile silent sibling to the chatting mobiles by Alexander Calder. Its prettiness gives way to terrorizing sadness of broken lives, broken by those dark forces, he mentioned. In between the cascading down and never reaching the ground, it seems to stutter J’accuse (thinking of Emile Zola). And then it wiggles out and pretends that nothing matters, whispering: I am a construct.
Rachael Campbell Palmer
exhibits installation with sculpture and print. It may be thought of as three objects not connected, but the way they are placed is softly considered to signal togetherness.
She gives it all one title: “Untitled (Inventory), 2018 (polyester casting resin, concrete, plaster, digital print). Maybe she entertains the thought of a chain, and not just of grouping. After all -she prefers traditional techniques – a kind of a chain, a thread, between now and before. In her statement on the gallery handout she singles out the connections to locations and memory and preference for multiples, both an association with time. The supreme chain.
Her trees(or magnified weeds) are like personages – meeting in a meadow … I hesitate to rule out conflict, or an accident.
Moving away from the back wall, the visible space is dominated by Damian Magee.
“Theta Waves”,2018, Graphite on paper, brass eyelets, paracord
Its dorso is empty.
He suggests that it is a “depiction” of Gigantomachy from the Pergamon Altar, based on a low resolution digital image. (Gallery notes, image downloaded from Wikipedia))
It would appear that the drawing selects a perceived rhythm of the volumes as a wave of subjective attention. Magee makes another claim for his drawing: ” This treatment of a fragment …seeks to explore the ways in which time has informed phenomenological shifts in the experience of cultural objects.” As I understand it in relation to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit published in 1807 and based on a precious philosophical intuition: consciousness is not a completed institution, it is constructed, transformed to become other than itself. As if the selected wave is how the sculptural fragments appeared to Magee’s consciousness when he aimed to capture the essence of what he observed. That subjectivity is one of many possible.
Iolanda Rocha lets her subjectivity move on and on, claiming equivalence for each state of what she saw, recalled or imagined. Those rich pickings are downsized by the summary title “Schema”.
The seven small paintings/prints (cyanotype and gesso on wood (all 2018) do not tell a story that has one beginning and one end. Each stands confidently alone and together as if there were identity between the two states of being.
However the absence of nature – beyond signaling the atmosphere – become a significant sign of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism.
Hannah Casey-Brogan aims at the intimacy of seeing, viewing, by altering the expected, normal, when observing a small format image. Her “Untitled” (oil on aluminium, 2018) does not fully escape into abstraction, allowing the red become an arch above a melee of either a very distanced crowd or some insect, or just a multitude of dark traces.
Another small-scale object is made with several materials: text, paper, vinyl, glass and frame. Jane Butler ‘s School of Thought #4,2017.
Reminiscent of the preoccupations by the Art and Language of 1967 -70 – it seems to be re-visiting the group’s early conceptual concerns as shown in the example below.
Alex Brunt installed a digital video, 19 mins, 2018 titled Spit and Honey,
both those materials descending onto a head of a willing person.
Reminiscent of cinema verite it exposes the visceral, the setup, the observed, fragmenting the whole, perhaps in a hope of lessening the chance of absence of any subversion of the intention, by sympathy or its opposite.
The exhibition felt like a sanctuary of vanishing ideals. Subdued.
Then, two days after the opening, the five artists came for a 2 hours durational performance, leaving its traces.
Schizophrenic exhibition? Or overconfident? Neither. It revives the memory of Situationists and Bruce Naumann, inter alia. If Ludist art was a fundamental method of critique of the consumerist culture – what is this display a critique of?
One clue is already in its title. Habitually artists work as individuals, or in pairs, e.g. Gilbert &George. Over the last decade, the Belfast based performance group Bbeyond developed a tradition of monthly group performances harnessing exchange and free co-operation between individual artist, making the aura of authorship to become an unnamed multiple. The five exhibitors appeared in some of the Bbeyond Monthly. The decision to keep the individual autorship on one hand and to give it up on the other may be strange. Strangeness, estrangement, is a value that permeated Modernism – as witnessed by the early essays by Victor Shklovsky. And it seems to be coming back.
Svetlana Boym writes, in Architecture of the Off-Modern:
By making things strange, the artist does not simply displace them from an everyday context into an artistic framework; he also helps to “return sensation” to life itself, to reinvent the world, to experience it anew. Estrangement is what makes art artistic; but, by the same token, it makes life lively, or worth living.
This is different from the Marxist alienation of the worker from the product, but similar to Bertold Brecht’s concept of estrangement as a method of enhancing criticality and an awareness of the levels of fiction. It is also similar to Shklovsky’s foregrounding – drawing attention to.
The plastic has become a ubiquitous threat to life, a knowledge borne out of current research, made accessible in TV documentaries. Ginn lets the material to become a poetic mover, seemingly innocent but dependent on electricity, which in turn is still far too dependent on fossil fuels. The use of energy other than the maker’s own is prevalent in this display of machine embroidery, video, and photography.
It is latently there in all the materials used: bamboo cotton fabric, glass beads, bitumen, wooden sticks, roses … all recycled away from the original function.
That foregrounds our significant challenges, existential issues.
Elvira Santamaria Torres used her signature motif of flowers and a photography. I do not know who left the residue of that installation on the floor.
It is, unintentionally, reminiscent of mosaic still lifes found in Roman villas by foregrounding chance and disorder as an aesthetic function. The charm of leftovers resonates with this exhibition.
Next to the roses is a photographic still of a bare foot with sticks between toes, as if to rectify a degenerative change.
It reminds me of “calculative image” by Luke Evans:
Through an intentional arrangement, both images evoke play as a resource. That, in turn, invites reminders of surrealism’s equivalence between observed and imagined, harvested with panache in the video by Katrina Sheena Smyth.
She exhibited also a still from a more recent video Providence, 2018.
The strangeness of this image lies in not telling what experience became its source. It may be a play or sorrow. Thus it foregrounds the observation that a strength of a belief is not a strength of evidence. Something very apt in relation to the conditions for life in Northern Ireland.
That became intensified in a video Dislocating the origin, 2002, 2018 by Siobhan Mullen
I may be wrong, but I assumed that the mixed media display on the floor near it treats the same subject.
Those words “dislocating the origin” resonate deeply with a critique of focusing only on differences. They allow accepting differences and similarities together, rejecting the submission of one to the other. Evoking the current theories of the beginning of life in our universe that observe the similarities and differences as equivalent forces are harnessed to increase awareness that our most significant challenges like clean air, water, and soil are not tethered to one gender, one belief system, one tradition.
This exhibition by minimizing the artist’s aura and by installing anonymous co-operation makes meaning of what is made visible to depend on lived life.
As Jan Mukarovsky observed, the aesthetic function of art is transparent. Dissolving ego, taking risks, perhaps enhance the cognitive dissonance between need and want.
Paul Klee warned that art does not reproduce the visible it makes visible. This exhibition, like several others recently, makes visible at least two conditions for truth and change: freedom of thought and courage to dislocate the origin.
Displayed on the walls of the stairwell and in cabinets on landings are photographs by Lynne Connolly, Moira McIver, and Mo White.
Lynne Connolly manipulates her lens-based or digital images by stitching and texts, some end up like small books or paper houses. Her work focuses my eye on the charming and sensually rich crafts, even when dealing with a hostility experienced by her central subjects, citizens of Northern Ireland’s “absence of representation of identity”. (see https://lynneconnollyphotography.wordpress.com).
Significantly, in one of her reviews, she proposed that the visual is better than words in slipping into viewers’ consciousness and staying in their memory, in the sense that and how it rejects questioning of the image’s truthfulness. I cherished her addition: “… only if we really see, what we are looking at”.
“Everything can be taken from a man,” Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his treatise on the search for meaning, “but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Even the political simplifications of reporting do have their visual equivalent. So the choice of one’s attitude is open-ended.
This is my first contact with Connolly’s visual art. An overwhelming saturation of memory with familiar modes like boxes made by stitching together old photographs and leporellos and other kinds of folded pages came swiftly to my aid.
Her folding books (looking like my childhood leporellos) are also toy houses, one exhibits an image from her other work
Printed on the pages are both words an images, aiming to exhume hope from under despair. She says she likes a “happy ending”. Connolly is a writer of stories, some of which she then “translates” into images, that are aimed to be not just “added” illustrations.
On her university page she states inter alia: I am interested in the use of constructed imagery to explore meaning….
While her objects and images slip into a world of playful sweetness through an assembly of not-quite-from this-world-high-keys they are rooted in fragments of that intention.
For me, she visualises kindness in its many appearances and stages. Perhaps because she indeed aims at “happy endings”.
MO WHITE: KITCHEN ACCOUNTS (2012)
are records of a performance to a camera held by Lynne Connolly (see the artist’s handout).
The series entertains a visualization of similarity and difference as if reading Plato on Demiurge in Timaeus. The sameness of the set-up introduces a rigorous, cold examination room only formula. It does not explore all the methods of creation Plato mentions.
The words printed under the serene visual composition appear to be superfluous, a sign of unnecessary dependency on the verbal. On the other hand, they are meant to protect the integrity of the artist’s intention, thus ensuring competition with the dignity of viewing.
White writes that the series has roots in the Irish diaspora to England, specifically the 1950s generation “who were unable to assimilate”. This claim is not otherwise supported by the images.
(It is also not supported by my experience of teaching in the Middle school where the majority of staff and pupils were recent additions from Northern Ireland, escaping from the Troubles. They assimilated easily, whereas the treatment of children from Jamaica drove their fathers to leave the UK. The Irish boys ruled.)
There is a fundamental dignity in the openness of visual art (not necessarily the artist) to various interpretations and not every intention succeeds without being challenged by real life.
Remy Debes offers elucidation of our problem with dignity:
And yet, the idea of human dignity is beset by hypocrisy. After all, our Western ethos evolved from, and with, the most violent oppression. For 200 years, we’ve breathed in the heady aspirations of liberty and justice for all, but somehow breathed out genocide, slavery, eugenics, colonisation, segregation, mass incarceration, racism, sexism, classism and, in short, blood, rape, misery and murder. It shocks the imagination. (https://aeon.co/essays/human-dignity-is-an-ideal-with-remarkably-shallow-roots)
White chose the severe classicist discipline of clarity and order. In a row on the wall she mimes small acts while sitting behind the table.
I value the intensity and power of visual thought, of what is made visible while preferring to ignore the verbal directive. The text dilutes the meaning of the visual thought, it directs my response. It curtails my freedom to relate to the visual directly. There is a strong symbolic meaning issued through the choice of colours: green background, pristine white empty page, and the gray subdued I of the sitter.
White’s severe discipline of planning, of order, and the clinical cleanliness evoke clear, incisive images – the exactitude compared by ancient Egyptians to the “fundamental note of the flute” ( as in Italo Calvino, Six memos , p.55)
In practical life it feels like a call to start again from the blank page.
The two of her photographs have words in Irish attached. That means that I do not know what they mean. An experience similar to my looking at Chinese ink paintings, Japanese woodcuts, Arabic illustrated manuscripts etc.
However, for Irish speakers those words have strong emotional associations, I observed.
Making a particular language a condition for “getting” the tenor of a visual / aesthetic trope is a dubious advantage, connected to an inherited divide. McIver tailors words to memory, moreover, uses them sparingly. She kindly translated some for me – they had an easy power to subvert expectation signalled by the image of the child, or of the celebrating a religious rite. Issued a light touch.
In the vitrine, she arranged images from different periods of her practice. All are visual equivalents of known and anonymous, two of her preferred dualities.
In her thesis submitted for the Higher Research Degree she writes:
…present and absent elements are equally valid, moreover, they are necessary for diminishing integration and emphasising oscillation and cross-over. (see Moira McIver, Traces of Self, Between Practice and Theory, May 1996: 180) It is the same open-ended character familiar from poetry.
Her art does live within the riches and confines of visual thoughts, which overcome at least some of the boundaries that divide people and lifetimes.
In a vitrine (above) she installed some older work for surprisingly up-to-date- realism infected by whimsical framing, e.g. the cowhide morphs into a view down through the gaps in clouds when the flying or viewing snow on rocky mountains from above…
The animation is as spontaneous as seeing may be, and perception, at times, is. The gently enjoyable reminder of the richness of play.
McIver demobilizes habit by juxtaposing different found images, or, in the image below, by adding a restricted comment. A few painterly touches on the girl in white look like being made by time collaborating by chance with the atmosphere.
Her focus on memories started in her undergraduate work. It was her fascination with and respect for her family roots in Donegal that nourished her lifelong devotion to memory and history as a subject for her art practice. Early on she selected four strategies for visibility: overlap, oscillation, merging and obliteration. Not to get drowned in Self she fondly cherished dualities, eg unique versus similar, and singular versus multiple, and further eight pairs of expressive dualities to match the visual code to the source.
The photographs in the vitrine illustrate flattening of the depth of space – the cowhide is almost flat, so is the “necklace” of fish. They also revive the older strategy of the juxtaposition of the fragment as a whole (hands), favoured by McIver both in her videos and photography.
Her work refuses to fit its own date, in a sense that the decades between the take and the current print do not influence the meaning. Such a light touch of time, this frivolous play with uncertainty, is never allowed to dissipate the whole. Her mastery of these complex phenomena is visible both in her close-ups and video loops. It seems appropriate to summarise her art practice only with the complex concept entertained by Leonardo: mute poetry. McIver never betrays that.
Images courtesy the artists. Installation shots by Moira McIver.