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Mandrake : A review by Deirdre Lyons

Deirdre Lyons reviews a recent exhibition of work by Francis Upritchard that took place at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin Sept – Nov 2013.


(a) A Southern European plant (Mandragora officinaram) having greenish-yellow flowers and a branched root. This plant was once believed to have magical powers because its root resembles the human body.

(b) The root of this plant, which contains the poisonous alkaloid hyoscyamine. Also called mandragora

Ten figures each one situated on its own piece of ground (plinth), map the landscape in the Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College, nine seemingly female and one male. They stay for 26 days and then move on.

What is their story? Whence did they come, what journey brought them here, and what is to become of them? Are there any answers to these questions? These ‘sleep-walking’ figures are clad in garments which might indicate they come from a cold or temperate climate, not dis-similar to that of our own. The ‘jester/magician’ (Mandrake) is dressed in the costume of the role; coloured check.

They all stand on ‘firm ground’ – a sturdy plinth made of steel. Like their occupiers the plinths are consistent in design, shape and material and only vary in height. They all seem to have come from the same gene pool and it is reasonable to suppose they have a common creator. All have certainly been mummified by the same embalmer. Except for the hard extremities (made of polymer clay), the bodies are bound and stuffed to form a firm, soft tissue material.

Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ offers a way in. His is a post-apocalyptic story of a journey across a landscape blasted by a cataclysm of a sort that has destroyed most of civilization and in subsequent years, all life on earth. McCarthy’s figures rake through a disheveled landscape in a slow turgidity of manufacture. Upritchard’s figures are frozen in time and we have to work a little bit harder to try and figure out what’s happening. Upritchard’s and McCarthy’s figures evoke a similar bleak existence. In Upritchard’s they appear blind, a kind of storm blasted ‘living dead’. Eyelids, barely open, form a squint and the viewer does not see beyond these lids. They have suffered and/are suffering – in this, credence to their association with human existence is plausible. Their bloodless bodies, barely alive, appear frozen in a timeless space. We are in the land of the living dead, only lightened by the questioning presence of the ‘jester/magician’ (mandrake) who stands apart.

The dilemma of these ‘tortured souls’. The precision of the defined symmetry of the plinth mimics and sets up a contrast with the fallibility of the figures it holds up to the viewer. The fantastical ridiculousness of the designed and the designer, the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’, the hard and the soft are called into question. Who, which, what is going to win out? The future reality in favour of the maker or the made, the alive or dead, the hard or soft?

The ‘jester/magician’ (Mandrake) is the neutral observer of the theatre of ambiguous demise – like us all, alive and half-dead: arms gesturing as if to ask, with a shrug and perhaps a wry smile, what can I say?

Deirdre Lyons
November 2013

Top Image: Mandrake 2013 modelling material, foil, wire, paint, cloth 125 x 88 x 35 cm

Second Image: Liar 2012 modelling material, foil, wire, paint, cloth, hair 100 x 44 x 19 cm

Deirdre Lyons is currently studying MA Art in the Contemporary World, NCAD.

Art in the Contemporary World: Podcast No. 1

This is the first in a series of recorded conversations led by staff from MA Art in the Contemporary World at NCAD. The discussions will address current exhibitions and related critical questions. In this podcast MA ACW programme directors Francis Halsall and Declan Long are joined by curator Vaari Claffey and critic Rebecca O’Dwyer to discuss the annual Futures exhibition at the RHA Dublin and to share some highlights from 2013.

Now open: Periodical Review #3

Pallas Projects
115–117 The Coombe
Dublin 8, Ireland
7th–21st December
12–6pm | Thursday–Saturday
Gallery open by appointment in January

Artists: Terence Birch, Martina Galvin, Gemma Gore, Ramon Kassam, Paraic Leahy, Maggie Madden, Eoin McHugh, Paul McKinley, Bea McMahon, Dennis McNulty, Yvette Monahan, Laura Ni Fhlaibhin, Alan Phelan, Alex Rose, Padraig Spillane, Jason Thompson, Helena Tobin, Kathy Tynan, Maria Vedder, Freek Wambacq

An artwork, like a book is not made up of individual words on a page (or images on a screen), each of which with a meaning, but is instead ‘caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences’.*

Pallas Projects/Studios presents the third Periodical Review at their studios and project space in Dublin’s historic area of The Coombe. This unique, yearly survey of Irish contemporary art practices, looks at commercial gallery shows, museum exhibitions, artist-led and independent projects and curatorial practices.

Periodical Review is not a group exhibition per se, it is a discursive action, with the gallery as a magazine-like layout of images that speak (the field talking to itself). An exhibition as resource, in which we invite agents within the field to engage with what were for them significant moments, practices, works, activity, objects: nodes within the network.

Each year PP/S invite two peers – artists, writers, educators, curators – to review and subsequently nominate a number of art practices, which will be selected via an editorial meeting. Such a review-type exhibition within Irish art practice acts to revisit, be a reminder, a critical appraisal and consolidation of ideas and knowledge within the field of contemporary Irish art. Additionally, the exhibition has a fundraising element, with all commission on sales going towards the PP/S curated programme.

The exhibition is intended to act as a critical account of current contemporary practice; to facilitate and encourage collaboration, crossover and debate within the field of Irish contemporary art (through the invited co-curators, the aims of its selection, and discussion around it); to act as an accessible survey of contemporary art, expanding parameters to art practices around the country.

Such a review-type exhibition within Irish art practice acts to revisit, be a reminder, a critical appraisal and consolidation of ideas and knowledge within the field of contemporary Irish art. Previous co-curators have been Ruth Carroll (RHA), Carl Giffney (Good Hatchery), Eamonn Maxwell (Director, Lismore Castle Arts), Padraic E. Moore (Independent curator).

* Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge


Freek Wambacq will visit Dublin, and will move his Galloping Horses from Askeaton’s Ranahan’s Bar to Fallons, The Capstan Bar. Halved coconuts are the material this time, and Wambacq will hold an informal chat with artist Sean Lynch at 5.20pm before the exhibition opening in Fallons, 119 The Coombe.


As part of Periodical Review Dennis McNulty will reconfigure elements from a performance first created for Performa 11, as The Eyes of Ayn Rand, and reconfigured as The Face of Something New, for the Scriptings showroom in Berlin 2013. Date to be announced, please see website for further details.


Michele Horrigan is an artist and curator. She studied fine art at the Stadelschule, Frankfurt and the University of Ulster. Since 2006, she is founder and curatorial director of Askeaton Contemporary Arts. Through an annual residency and production programme, the organisation has commissioned over forty artists projects in direct relationship to the town of Askeaton, County Limerick.

Matt Packer is a curator based in Cork. From 2008 to 2013, he was Curator of Exhibitions & Projects at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork. In 2013, he curated and directed a season of exhibitions at Treignac Projet, France. Matt is a graduate of the curatorial programme at Goldsmiths College, London, and a member of IKT: The International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art.

Art and Philosophy: What Happens Next? D.U.S.T. with MA ACW

December 6th (2013) 4pm-6pm
Harry Clarke Theatre, NCAD, Dublin 8

In the past decade the relationship between art and philosophy has undergone significant changes. In particular, the nebulous strand of philosophy known as speculative realism started to appear more and more on the radar of working artists, curators, and theorists. However, as with all new developments we have started to witness recent attempts to critically examine this emergence.

In this event we invite Pete Wolfendale and Rob Jackson, two philosophers associated with these speculative philosophies, to take stock and reflect on the nature of this relationship, but also to provide insights into where they believe it is now going. Responses will be given by artist Teresa Gillespie and Rebecca O’Dwyer (writer and PhD student, Visual Culture, NCAD). To finish we will have an open debate allowing the local community to provide their own input into the nature of this dynamic.

The Wrong Place | Michael Dignam

The Joinery | Arbour Hill Stoneybatter Dublin 7
5th – 10th December 2013 | 12 – 6pm
Opening 4th December | 7 – 9pm

The Wrong Place is a new exhibition by artist in residence, Michael Dignam. As a recipient of the recent graduate residency award, Michael Dignam will show a body of work in The Joinery gallery space.

The solo show is the second exhibition held as part of The Joinery Graduate Residency 2013. Dignam’s practice uses rhythmic patterns and formal juxtapositions to create a unique social narrative. Using subtle and unfamiliar combinations of common material, Dignam often presents riddle-like work, allowing the viewer space to decipher it.

The title of the exhibition is taken from the 2000 essay by Miwon Kwon of the same name, draws on the Münster Sculpture Project, Germany, as its point of departure. Taking works by Claes Oldenberg, Bruce Nauman and Donald Judd in the 1977 edition of the project, Dignam intervenes with both the physical and mental space that these sculptures hold. Questioning but also reviving the relevancy of these works, The Wrong Place points to the embodied human and its experience of isolation in public space.

The Wrong Place is curated by past and current students of Art in the Contemporary WorldMaeve Ann Austen and Jennie Taylor.

Michael Dignam is the recipient of the NCAD Student of the Year Award, 2013.

“Michael Dignam’s compelling performative video installation… features individuals exercising quirky personal, expressive skills in fairly brutalist urban, architectonic spaces.” Aidan Dunne, The Irish Times, June 2013

The Joinery
Michael Dignam

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