State of Play – Review by Deirdre Kearney
EXHIBITION of Postgraduate Masters- Fine Art – Painting, Sculpture, Fine Print, Digital Media.
National College of Art and Design
5th – 11th December 2014
Emmet House, Thomas Street.
Pushing through the door of this unprepossessing facade on Thomas Street is a push through the back of an aesthetic wardrobe and into the realms of Narnia. Curated by Lynda Phelan we are led, by silken thread, through a thoughtfully laid out series of spaces comprising the State of Play exhibition at Emmet House.
Taking place over three floors, the exhibiting artists are at various points in their postgraduate journey. A pre-emptive peep through a keyhole, this exhibition whets our appetites for what is to come. Each work is a universe unto itself. Nevertheless, there is a beauty to this incohesion.
In conception, unlike a tapestry, each work is a patch of individuality stitched into a quilt of motive and meaning. As the old year wanes and a new year approaches, we are privileged to be given a momentary snapshot; a brief view of what is at stake for each contributor.
Earlier in the day on the 5th December, a quartet of pink and penile protrusions greeted visitors to this, the valedictory event at Emmet House. The evening brought a metamorphosis. Risking all, the piece had been flipped. This simple act revealed a confection of pastel pink mammae and the secrets to the internal structure of this male/female phallic monument. This work, by the artist Michelle Bourke Girgis, is a metaphor for the ethos underlying this exhibition and stands sentry to a show of breathtaking expanse. We follow our silken thread through the space of the building to be confronted in other places by risk takers, wrestling with notions of duality, gender, war, identity and language, often, but not always, with an underlying nod to playfulness.
The site-specific piece Endless Line Potential is housed in the basement of the building and runs in tandem with the State Of Play show. Angela McDonagh, Sam Byrne, Conor Nolan and Eric Stynes have transformed what was formerly the building’s basement car park, into a skate park. This piece references the Japanese principal of “Ma”. In a theatrical sense it is that place between pauses. Here the skaters, being the embodiment of this principal, cut lines between fixed points through a dust storm; a synchrotron, back lit in blue. Masked against the swirling motes, skaters wait patiently to make a run, as if at a kerb, in Tokyo.
A darkened room to the right of the entrance houses two works. Celina Muldoon’s dark performance piece is set against a backdrop of chalked domesticity. A soliloquy, delivered with tragi/comic fury by this artist, plays aloud the everywoman soundtrack to powerful effect.
Shirley Lackey uses light to illuminate found objects. Arranged as archaeological exhibits in this womblike space, these objects vie with the words of Simone de Beauvoir to confront issues of gender, death and decay.
Kate Cunningham has two works on view. Using silk as skin she plays with the texture of the fabric. The works’ skeletons support the ephemeral silk, softening lines and blurring boundaries, the fabric operating as a disruption of consciousness and a distortion memory.
William Murray uses his own skin as material, revealing himself as both cast and caste in this scraping down to the bone. We are confronted with the vulnerability of his flesh, the artist’s body being juxtaposed with the bone of the plinth. In these works Murray is forcing a look to the fragility of hidden structures both physical and aesthetic.
Austin Hearne’s “Butty” is one of four pieces by the print maker. A facial composite in clerical garb we are made to stand under this recreated icon of 1950’s Catholicism. Hearne’s four works are an exploration of the haunting and unsettling quality of the eyes in his grandmothers Sacred Heart picture. Operating as constructed and orphan images, they inhabit a space of nightmare on a landing, lit by a blood red lamp.
As viewers in this constructed narrative, we are positioned to look down at the diminutive hospital beds sculpted by Mags O’Dea. Mirroring the fragility of persons confined, through illness, to the care of state institutions, the artist addresses the unsatisfactory and hierarchal relationship that exists between patients and the systems of care supposedly in place, for their benefit.
Janey Rainey deals with multiples, digits and the contradiction that is representational abstraction. Her work raises questions. The artist is manipulating the viewer into engaging with the visceral quality of paint itself and the borders and boundaries traversed within the space of the canvas.
Ceiling hung, Denise McAuliffe Hutchinson’s piece is a documenting of that moment when, as individuals, we fall into our own shadow. “Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.” (Everything changes, nothing perishes). Colette Iremonger has three pieces in the show. The artist explores the essence of colour and the effect it can have on the human psyche. As mood based works these pieces speak of buoyancy but also of its flipside, melancholy.
Anna Bauer creates tensions using brush strokes. By rolling with the punches she allows her paint the freedom to create a dialogue of its own. Aisling Ni Chlaonadh has included two haunting pieces, portraits that speak of gender, identity and of marginal existences. Vici Waterstone speaks of learning to live and learning to die. Laura Healy focuses on the materiality of paint and its potential as a descriptive medium, inviting the viewer to trace the history of its making.
Orla Goodwin addresses the crossover issues of theatricality and representational technique. As an artist acutely aware of our role in this theatre of life, Goodwin is exposing us to the props, within props, that are the backdrop to our existence. The artist has two pieces in this show. Both are etchings and draw on reality, to create a fantasy within which the artist is staging a narrative of her own.
Hussein Tai shows a composite image of Baghdad in conjunction with two other works on paper. The old mill wheel at N.C.A.D is a recurring motif. This work explores memory, exile, war and loss. These pieces document the devastation wreaked by regular car bombings in Baghdad, the everyday Omagh that is the reality of life for the citizens of the artist’s home country.
The fabric of the building acts as a prop in several of the works on show. Olive Hanlon sites objects on the upstairs windowsill. These delicate paper constructions sit, enjoying the show, legs dangling and shifting to the rhythm of radiator thermals. Another quiet piece lies innocuously on a radiator, saying everything and nothing.
The stairwell of the building provides a ground for the charcoal works of Lorraine Cross. A commentary on the up scaling of lignite mining near Dusseldorf, these works reflect the need for a global response to issues of sustainability.
Saidhbhin Gibson’s Terms and Conditions (Emmet House) is a site-specific work. High above our heads and mimicking natures blueprint, the artist has positioned oak branches to sprout from a pillar/trunk of this former outpost of the HSE; a reclamation of sorts.
Inspired by the geometrics in an area of ceiling damage, Frances O’Dwyer responds to the space with a mirroring of the destruction both in form, colour.
Small gems are dotted about the space. Deirdre Lyons shows a black and white photograph entitled Press – Release which speaks enigmatically of thresholds, transitions and boundaries; a finger on the switch controlling light and dark, shadow and substance, the planned and the improvised. A sculpture of many parts by Clyde Doyle gently inhabits a plinth. Composed of stone, liver tissue, steel and plastics it fuses the organic and the synthetic in knowing silence.
The video artist, Donna McLoughlin, displays, in split screen, a simultaneous documenting of the future with the past. Tucked away in a small space Michelle Hall’s Title Sequence shows an atmospheric darkroom. Text emerges; time lapsed, in a photographic development tray. The image brands our vision with retinal trace as the text disappears to darkness before remerging in an endless loop. In another room, Pierre Jolivet immerses his audience in a body-activated installation of computer generated colour and sound.
We are now in the dying throes of the year 2014, heading for that period when our ancestors celebrated the hibernal solstice. Aligning in accordance with the calculations of ancient astronomers, it is the time when the winter sun shines a light through passages into pre-historic chambers. It is an illumination for a brief and sacred moment.
Here at Emmet House a light is shining for a brief and sacred moment onto these works. The products of a first trimester, we await the results of gestation. Robert Emmet, for whom this house is named, was executed on Thomas Street in 1803. At his trial for treason he spoke from the dock of his unfinished work in the cause of Irish freedom. “Let no man write my epitaph; for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them, let not prejudice or ignorance, asperse them.” Whatever is written now, of these works, can only be of fleeting significance. As with all things, time will bring changes. These words simply point toward possibilities. The work is as yet unfinished.
This is not an epitaph.