Wine Soak No. 16: “mind the gap”

Our wine correspondent found himself at the Hacienda bar for the opening of The Luxury Gap after an illuminating stop at Translucent Flag the sculpture factory exhibition at the Mart Gallery and Studios Rathmines.

I was pottering down through Rathmines last Thursday when I came across a table of colourful looking beverages at the door way to the Mart Gallery. Like a scene from Alice in wonderland a sign attached to the table said something close to “drink me.” At least that was my interpretation of the sign. I received a warm welcome from the Artistic Directors Mathew Nevin and Ciara Scanlan who thrust a cup of the ruby punch into my hand and asked me if I could guess the ingredients just from tasting the fruity beverage. Immediately there were hints of Vodka and Gin but I had to be told about the rum. I had believed it to be a fruity schnapps or something similar. Disappointed with my deductive skills I wandered into the gallery with a cup in each hand determined to repeat the divination process until I was sure I’d never mistake a rum for a schnapps again. It struck me as peculiar the similarity between the rituals of science, the repetition of experiment until a standardised result is arrived at and then the other process of ritual that is performed in divination to convince the participant that what results is truth.

This cross examination of ritual and science in which I found myself was inspired by the work of James L. Hayes. The piece is called The Essence of taste and is a peculiar mixture of scientific research project, bronze sculpture, robotic engineering and cult ritual around the process of physis. Physis is a Greek theological, philosophical, and scientific term usually translated into English as “nature.” More specifically it relates to the creative energy by which natural processes transform living organisms. For example, how an acorn becomes an oak tree. In this case the plant under analysis is the asparagus plant or rather some bronze and iron cast asparagus. One metal represents organic farmed asparagus and the other a mass produced asparagus. They sit in a circular drill of clay and are sprayed with a liquid from a robotic arm that rotates above the drill. The liquid was made by extracting the active agent that causes human urine to smell strange after eating asparagus. This complicated process of separating urine was achieved in a centrifuge in University College Cork. A fascinating and highly scientific process but in the more lowbrow quarters that Ligvine is used to one might think of it as “taking the piss.”

The ritual of rotation and spray is completed by a motion sensor so the visitor becomes an element in the rapid oxidisation that transforms and breaks down the metal asparagus plants. I had recently eaten a meal of these delicious plants and was very upset that my natural pheromones had become unfamiliar as I held up the wall of a local hostelry draining the spuds (to keep the tillage parlance consistent). It is very disconcerting to be reminded of the constant chemical processes and cycles that make up our materiality. Seeking more spiritual and uplifting succour I turned my attention to Alex Pentek’s Transcending Column. A tower of folded paper that forms an archway at the gallery entrance. Every time I knocked back another glass of punch my eyes wandered up and back down the beautifully folded paper leading me on a merry visual dance that recalled Brancusi’s endless column.

As my eyes hit the floor I couldn’t help but see images of human nether regions that were part of a viscerally inspired piece that was more performance than sculpture. This was the work of James McCann titled Monomania 3. A disturbing collection of pornographic images and moulded body parts surrounded by a-frame towers of dirtied and sullied boards. This obsessive work of unconscious and perverse repetition reminded me that I needed another drink. After swigging a bit by the punch table I returned for one last look at the work of Amanda Rice, Looking Back at Endstal. This beautiful landscape of course has a dark underlying past as it was the area of holiday, recreation and retreat for the Nazi’s during world war two. Somewhere in the historic human narrative there is always an inevitable darkness, a horror hidden in the sublime, that process beneath the surface where transformation takes place. It is a border of reason and unreason, chaos and order, good and evil that is immune to the immutable beauty of the natural world. It is also a constant reminder to get more punch.

As I was about to leave full of punch and the wonders of the Sculpture Factory artworks I bumped into Ella de Burca, recently returned from a residency in Ballin Skelligs, who was on her way to an art opening in the Hacienda, a quirky little speak easy beside the fruit market on Little Green Street. The ritual process of the opening crawl had begun and nothing was going to stop the chemical transformation that had been initiated by the punch. I hot footed it across town and arrived at the door of the Hacienda, invigorated and pumped full of enthusiasm by the brief bout of exercise.

Standing in the street awaiting the entry bell at 8pm (one of the quirks of the establishment) I was in the company of Jonathan Mayhew one of the exhibiting artists and Pádraic E. Moore, the Curator of the exhibition. This cluttered quaint drinking house is riddled with extraordinary bric-a-brac and is festooned with a rouges gallery of famous persons’ photographs, all of whom have frequented the bar. Trying to find the artworks themselves was an exciting treasure hunt as the visitors were set the task of seeking out the small art gems amongst all the kitsch flotsam and jetsam that the bar owner had passionately accumulated over the years. The bar itself embodies something of the high luxurious lifestyle of the paparazzi evading celebrity, a speak-easy of sorts, that has a very strict door policy. The art gems hidden within were reluctant to reveal themselves hidden as they were around the bar and the two other rooms each home to a pool table. Some of the high kitsch objects were very distracting, such as the sphinx that glittered with fairy lights and the vintage brass diver’s helmet upon the bar.

The observant and intrepid visitor was treated to the opulent interiors of the palace of King Ludwig II in Andrew Vickery’s paintings; Jonathan Mayhew’s printed mash ups of luxury items, junk food and fashionable laces obscuring the portraits of famous celebrities; there were two high grade desirable opulent items rendered in extraordinarily detailed watercolour by Marcel Vidal: Raw Fillet and Grade D Diamond; and Lucy Stein’s poster offered an art historical perspective contrasting the decadent pursuit of pleasurable beauty and the sufferance of martyrdom in art. I decided to also be a martyr to the decadent pursuit of pleasure and attached myself to a stool at the bar.

The venue was packed within seconds and throwing myself into the exhibition’s theme, I luxuriated at the bar at what is known as bullshit corner. I proceeded to buy fine pints of porter and ales for those in my close proximity until I was challenged to engage in a pool tournament. The night wound up into a jovial celebration with a festive atmosphere that led to fainting ladies and flying pool balls cracking into peoples shins. Egos were inflated and crushed in the fine spirit of gamesmanship. There was much hugging and celebrating I even walked into the furniture on more than one occasion when distracted by the wink and nod from a friendly face. On this fine night there was no need to mind the gap between the luxurious and the real as both came together in a perfect storm of common place hospitality and exceptionally fine art.

Translucent Flag an exhibition featuring artists from the Sculpture factory: James L Hayes /James McCann / Alex Pentek / Amanda Rice runs at The MART, 190a Rathmines Rd Lwr from the 2nd to the 11th of May Open Daily: 1-6pm [closed Mondays]

The Luxury Gap featuring the work of Jonathan Mayhew / Lucy Stein / Andrew Vickery / Marcel Vidal is a site-specific exhibition at The Hacienda organised by Pádraic E. Moore and is open daily at The Hacienda, Arran St. East, Dublin 7 2nd May – 1st June 2014 (8pm to closing)