Our wine correspondent found himself at Dead Zoo, an exhibition in the Art Box Gallery curated by Hilary Murray, featuring the work of Catherine Barragry, Teresa Gillespie and Maria McKinney. The exhibition and the unfolding events on the evening in question left him considering his chances of survival in an increasingly hostile environment.
Last Thursday I was delighted to hear word of a new space on James Joyce Street called Art Box. I got an invitation to an all woman show featuring some free alcohol and I just couldn’t say no. Getting straight to the point, the Alcohol was Finkbrau Pils / Pilsener, a Pilsener beer by Oettinger Bier Gruppe, a brewery in Oettingen, Bavaria, distributed in Ireland by Lidl. It’s not one of my favourite beverages, mind you, but at least there was a choice between the low alcohol and the normal 4.5%. In these matters I always defer to the higher volume of course.
The location of the gallery on James Joyce Street presents a particular challenge pertaining to audience when it comes to the surrounding vicinity in the defined innards of the city. The street is something of an art world enclave as it is also home to the Oonagh Young gallery and the Dublin City Council art gallery, the Lab. Both of these galleries have had to make peace overtures to the restless local youths that may not look so fondly upon the colonisation of the territory by the bourgeois art scene, and as the opening night unfolded it became clear why they did. I always traverse to the city’s north-side with a certain trepidation that invigorates the blood with an edgy, fever inducing excitement that borders at times on total fear, and the reasons will be made clear below. But please forgive me reader if at times I am prone to some dire exaggeration.
On the evening in question the beer certainly helped to take the nervous edge off of the proceedings and the intimidating clusters of local youths that would temporarily gather at the windows looking in, boisterously laughing, while occasionally kicking a football against the plate glass windows. Those of us gathered within must have appeared to them to be a very absurd assembly of unusual people surrounded by even more unusual objects. One of the youngsters, more curious than the rest, ventured in the door and began to vigorously handle a totemic sculpture by Maria McKinney that stretched from floor to ceiling just inside the door. When he was politely asked to desist he left with no apparent sign of animosity or annoyance. Another Finkbrau later and the night seemed to be settling into the usual opening night rhythm of muted conversations and confusing cheek kissing rituals. Suddenly the totemic sculpture by the gallery door came under attack by a group of restless natives that ran in like a confused blur of arms, legs, trainers and hoodies striking the tower a killer blow. They were gone before the work, that collapsed with an almighty bang, had even hit the floor.
As the opening crowd settled themselves from the shock of such an event Teresa Gillespie informed me that earlier that evening a far from esteemed critic with a dog under his arm had come in, tried to punch the curator and then proceeded to spit on her work. Thankfully the brunt of the art attacks had focused on the more robust installation pieces as I don’t think Catharine Barragry’s fragile installation could have survived such abusive treatment.
Once I had gathered my wits after the shock of the impromptu intervention upon the opening festivities I managed to have a better look around. All of the works on exhibit had a peculiar alien nature about them. Barragry’s work featured the process of water under the influence of gravity trying to find its point of least resistance as it descended from a plastic canister along a thread, passing through a bone on its course to a reservoir upon the floor. The bone appeared to be balanced precariously upon a cast metal rod rendered to make it look less sturdy. I feared for its delicate poise and balance in the face of such vigorous attention, the like of which the Maria McKinney sculpture had suffered just moments before. The grotesque as always was present in Teresa Gillespies work that ceaselessly manages to arouse within me an erotic disgust that I never find less than exhilarating. I have to say I’ve never seen raw chicken fillets in such a repulsive and compelling light as I experienced them in this exhibition. I then became lost in the forest of totemic foam plastic towers that inhabited the back of the exhibition, not unlike the solitary tower that had been attacked in the doorway. The colourfully painted towers generated what could only be described as an overwhelming and ominous sense of deep, toxic, under sea claustrophobia.
I began to feel trapped between the compelling and visceral art works, the underwhelming Finkbrau and the terrifying speculation on the dystopian future presented by the text of the exhibition. The exhibition’s accompanying literature prophesied an apocalyptic outcome for a humanity that has already pushed the biosphere of the planet beyond its tipping point toward an inevitable change for the worse. In a morose bout of introspection I began to consider the lives of those who had interacted most vigorously with the artworks, those restless youthful spirits that marauded by in the darkness of the street outside. Was there any hope for either group, those outside furtively watching from the shadows, somewhere beyond the light cast into the street from the gallery window and those within the gallery basking under the full intensity of the gallery lights. Who will survive in the post apocalyptic future? Which of us would survive Darwin’s natural selection? It will no doubt be those who are most adaptable to the challenges and changing circumstances of an increasingly hostile environment. Is it to be us the living animals of the concrete jungle or us the exotic creatures within the enclosure of the dead zoo?
I took another draft from my bottle of Finkbrau and let my fears melt away as I diffused my consciousness into the obscuring shadows of the darkening city, becoming one with the menagerie of humanity inhabiting the city of which we all are a part.
Dead Zoo featuring the work of Catherine Barragry I Teresa Gillespie | Maria McKinney will run in the Art Box Gallery, 3 James Joyce Street, Dublin 1 from March 20th to April 25th Thursday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm.