Curated by Hugh O’Donnell this is a display of video, photography, embroidery, painting and “poured bitumen relief”
a la Lynda Benglis (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynda_Benglis ).
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.
( Buell Center/FORUM Project & Princeton Architectural Press 2008, p. 18–19.)
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.
Images courtesy Atypical Gallery.