I had the great pleasure to attend an opening in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham recently. IMMA openings in Kilmainham have become a rare event over the past two years due to the closure of the main building, the former old soldiers’ home, for a major upgrade. This has resulted in IMMA seeking alternative accommodation in the former University College Dublin buildings on Earlsfort Terrace. The advantage of this city centre location is its proximity to many of my favourite watering holes. However, it has never engendered anything quite like the experience of grandeur one gets from the campus of Ireland’s greatest baroque building in Kilmainham. A trip to IMMA in the Royal Hospital always felt like ascending to some alternate exalted Elysium with its formal gardens, colonnaded courtyard and extensive meadow. You automatically assume that such a grand façade must house something fittingly grand within.
Thus, I was delighted to find myself once more on the steps of the New Galleries, formerly the house of the army physician and deputy master of the Royal Hospital, sipping effervescent pop from Veneto and basking in the glory of the fine architectural heritage. The tipple of choice was a dry Prosecco called Ca’ del Roro which roughly translated from its venetian dialect means “road of the oak tree.” The associations of the oak tree and the royal founder of the Hospital in Kilmainham made a nice connection as every explosive mouthful of the crisp sparkling wine danced upon my tongue like a thousand tiny court jesters on microscopic pogo sticks. I couldn’t help thinking of Charles II, the British monarch who founded the hospital, as a young boy fleeing his father’s executioners and hiding from Cromwell’s soldiers in the arms of an oak tree in the forest of Boscobel. I myself felt a little bit lost in the woods after several refills of my inadequate, low-brow plastic glass and the cloud of confusion that was forming around my experience of the exhibition.
The opening began wonderfully with a performance by a beautiful troupe of singers called the Silver Kites, the Dublin based a cappella group of Eileen Carpio, Fionnuala Conway, Jessica Hartup, Sharon Phelan and Lenka Pinterova. The piece they sang was derived from a work by Samuel Beckett and composed by one of the three curators of the exhibition, the artist Cerith Wynn Evens. The other two curators are Rachel Thomas, head of Exhibitions in IMMA, and the artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. Wandering through the conceptual installations and peculiar selections of odd art works, ephemera and archive documents by artists like Peter Doig, Ed Ruscha, James Coleman and Andrei Tarkovsky the spaces of Cloud Illusions seemed to be filled by exactly what was suggested by the exhibition title. I really couldn’t get a grasp on what was going on: the exhibition seemed to be shifting and evaporating in obscure mists and clouds of conceptual opacity.
I retreated in my own cloud confusions to the bar for more Prosecco to try and compose myself and figure out what this was all about. The wall text stated the exhibition was inspired by the artist/curators’ desire to make a homage to cinema and its influence on their visual art practices. There was also a reference to the “mise en abyme,” which literally translates as “to be placed in the abyss.” I was certainly starting to feel the instability of being placed between two mirrors as the excessive consumption of Prosecco became infused with the confusion of the flotsam and jetsam of the objects, projections and ephemera of the exhibition. Just as I was throwing back another glass of the bubbly we were all directed to the basement for a performance by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster that left me more confused than ever. The performance was inspired by The Boy with Green Hair, a 1948 American comedy-drama film directed by Joseph Losey in which a young war orphan becomes the object of ridicule after he wakes up one morning to find his hair mysteriously turned green.
Totally vexed and unable to make head nor tail of the exhibition and what the flamboyant artist/curators were trying to do with it, I retreated to the Royal Oak, a quaint little pub just outside the wall of the Royal Hospital grounds, where, after all the Prosecco and several more pints, I found myself transformed into a poor lost boy, turning green as I fell embarrassingly upon the floor between two stools – an ailment that perhaps has crept into this exhibition which has fallen between too many curators.
Cloud Illusions I Recall runs from the 22nd of June to the 25th of August 2013 in the New Galleries, IMMA, Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin 8