Bill Saunders: Side Steps These Ferried Measures Rise, 30 June – 24 September 2017, MAC, Belfast


Bill Saunders named the sculptural assemblage on the floor  “…pool (floor and counting).

From this angle it looks like a headless protective clothing of an explorer placed here by a tide that got muddled in arranging the other end.

In a clear confidence that Arte Povera still confidently belongs to contemporary ways of making art objects, Saunders caresses each part like a dedicated craftsman who loves  hand tools.

The Sunken Gallery  has an identity.  Away from the other exhibition spaces higher up in MAC’s building  it more often than not, punched above its size.  This time it  brought to the public an unknown  to them an artist who is cherished by his former students, as artists’ artist. Saunders is more like a renaissance sculptor by insisting on well made objects, that do not suffer vertigo of from knowing what they are.  If you sense any traces of anxiety it is about knowing of two solutions but having to select one.  Quantum indeterminacy – they call it.  Whereas the  resulting object is imbued with all the faith and confidence of being lovingly made.

Saunders chose for this one an old used milking stool ,seat and step in one, item used all over Europe, in every kitchen, there  was one.  It is placed in the centre of the row of  newer followers made just  during preparation for this exhibition.   The rhythm of the display is simply charming – it forbids the boredom of a supermarket shelf – it animates the company of  sculptural objects, each colourfully  individual, yet capable of harmony with others.

 On the other side of the room Saunders used that “supermarket shelf” – quite well, however, it introduced a straight like not the playful skipping up and down. Saunders softens it by adding a special tray with a very secret code in a variety of coloured rectangles(holding two  grey figures). Humour is invited to topple one and make the other on far right look like being drunk.

The central two morph easily into characters  evoking memory of those drawn by H Daumier (1808 -1879) These two are in a conversation. Not the Sacra conversazione  rather something streetwise.

They have a strong narrative power – able to change role and relationship and character.

…both (the door and what came through), 2017, mixed media, detail


Saunders has intensified the ability to recycle discarded materials  in two ways: first, he selects the material he had in the studio he left earlier with whatever he found in the new  studio on arrival. Severe recycling may follow.

The selection is not yet  free from self- forming action when  his will is divided by several possible  solutions.

He revives the aesthetic of Arte Povera  for here and  now, when global changes in environment are part of our  concern about habitability of the planet.

The assemblages and records of found and traced patterns, for example,  the rubbings of the floor in his studio,  move  Walter Benjamin’s  sketching of  ” optical unconscious”  up to the modernists irrepressible sense of delinquency vis a vis aesthetic norms. The composition is about as firm as clouds on the sky – but as they the floor pattern is given the same  power to astonish or at least surprise.

Saunders does not shy away from the surreal – as confirmed by the title of his exhibition, and by interpenetration of the found by the selected ( I sense an analogy between this method and Benjamin’s  interpenetration of body and image in his essay “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia” ,1929 )

The installation  is faultless, both from the point of view  of each exhibit, and from the point of view of the viewer.  Possibly, the floor piece is too optically heavy for this space.

The display  can be thought of as a hall of mirrors in which the individual can be surprised by the reflection of a multifaceted self. The objects approach the viewer  with a question akin this one: ” and what would you have done with this old newsprint, with old paper bags, bits of concrete, remnants of glass sheet, thrown away cut outs etc.”


The MAC make  video recording  Meet the artist related to  exhibitions.

1 day ago – Uploaded by TheMACBelfast

Presenting the first major institutional exhibition by Belfast based artist Bill Saunders, who works primarily in ..

Saunders in his studio: In the foreground parts of wall high relief, and floor installation; on the wall some of the drawings  – all part of the  current exhibition.


In the right hand side corner  of the Sunken Gallery  a line meets another  and supports a kind of semaphore.

It stands out not by how it is made, but how it looks,  what kind of visual thought it either embodies or  haphazardly inspire. Clarity and pink together with parallels and right angles  while different from the suitably  expressive closed forms of other exhibits disarms any feeling of damaging conflict by its fit on the wall and the corner. As if in an embrace powerful to remove animosity, it extends the virtues of difference to being similarly confident and quiet  as the rest.   Maybe not quiet, more like the artist who embraces all that others may find conflicting.

A choice of metier not at variance with the method of picking up and responding but with the weight and volume of the rest of the exhibits who favour a closed form. (even if protrusions are welcome)


Yet, the shallow relief – drawing  does neither clash with the mass of each of the chubby small sculptures, nor does it lose the right to belong and share the enigma of the common ground which Saunders – in the MAC video Meet the artist  – links to the association with the name of space,the  Sunken gallery. He  associates sinking with rising out of  water.

This minimalist, modernist  lean “drawing on the wall”  evokes the  optical illusion that a vertical bends under the  water surface. Saunders asks the right angle not only to dance, but also to sing. This imagined whisper  is inescapable when viewing in situ.  It also beautifully holds its own in comparison with well established similar sculptures. e.g. Personages by David Smith.

Saunders responsiveness  involves the self-forming action, when our will is divided  and we arrive at a solution that rules out all others.  Not only this process aligns with the chaotic amplification that runs the world, it also protects the visual thought as mute poetry.  Not all contemporary visual art achieves and trusts that. More often than not, artists hide their possible courage behind up-your-face narrative, even sound and text.

Compare Saunders  rhythmical call for attention ( akin birds calling mates) with somewhat heavy didactics of  another stick like sculpture (more like a tree trunk, which carries its own wonders)

Haegue Young (Korea)  exhibiting this installation at Graz Kunsthaus. (Accessed on //

The anthropocentric principle adds  here  a narrative tenor ( imagined gathering and conversation)   masking  thus the beauty of  the found part of the tree.  Otakar Hostinsky  would defend its superior beauty with a claim,   as do I, that our aesthetic sensitivity  is born  from experiences in and with nature.

Saunders manages to revive that aesthetics with machine made sticks and cut out, and rigid Pythagorian principle as well as with handmade forms. Quite an achievement to make it this poetic.


Images courtesy the MAC and Simon Mills. With heartfelt  thanks to Hugh Mulholland.

Posted in essay, review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

David Moore, Lisa and John, Belfast Exposed, May 4 – June 16 2018

The eighteen  photographs Pictures from the Real World  are displayed  in a rumbling visual essay of small formats that accentuates the feeling of gentle trespassing into  private lives, this time with the  enthusiastic agreement of the participating family.


If the display  makes you to question the ethics of trespassing into someone private life, it would be both in line with Moore’s intention and the issues of representative visual art, in particular lens based.

(all 18  photographs on

The  two channel video   Look at us in the upstairs gallery obeys so much of the nonchalant confidence that their aesthetic impact becomes minimal.


As visual thoughts  the images are similar to the stills downstairs,  while it is assumed that every visitor can follow the spoken part.  I could not, I refrain from any conclusive thought here, except that the sound marred my experience. However, when shown at the festival it earned highly positive comments. e.g.

“..fascinating to see how you’ve progressed the collaborative practice thing to the point that most of the usual criticisms of documentary just don’t apply. I felt Lisa and john seemed to represent some part of the atmosphere of Allenton as a whole. Really good work, congratulations”


“Out of everything that I saw over the Format launch weekend it has stayed with me the most. It felt highly relevant within the context of the festival, but also an important endeavor within its own right” – Mike Brown / Arts Funding Derby City Council”

(accessed on

In addition BX displayed also  small maquettes  Lisa and John, Oh My Days


The BX handout  text provides interesting teasers:

1.It is a new solo exhibition …. it is a multi-media exhibition … it is a document Moore made between 1987-88 in his home town Derby, England.

2. The 18 photographs were published in 2013 as Pictures from the Real World 

3.It is a collaboration  with Lisa and John between 2015 -2017 to create this exhibition described as “archive intervention”  – apparently they were invited separately to make their personal edit.

On my visit – I did not judge it multi -media … although there were photographs, video and three- dimensional maquettes.   Somehow they all  jelled into one – like a river, flowing at times, hitting stones at times, accepting tributaries at times.  There was no one centre or hierarchy. Also uneven aesthetic impact.

In the context of visual art Moore images connect to  European 19thC narrative paintings, and in the way the lens dwells on objects they admit themsleves to the long line of  still lives.  Chardin and mid 19th C realism come to mind.  Moore avoids  both socialist realism’s cosmetic lies and fragmentation favoured by Modernism, not escaping the renewal of slow perception as in cinema verite and some late 20th C video, Sophie Calle, for example, or the Canadian story telling at Venice Biennales.

Moore avoids conflicts and does not always manage to hold to  the possible emotional charge.  It is as if the creation of “normal” being in the world  were on its way out  of the world of wars, shooting and conflicts,  needed Moore’s documenting, protection by  holding it in memory.

Are his images alluring?  They are marginal – but not extreme.

Whereas, in its display of photographs by 60 artists  the current  EXTREME  RAY    touches on extremeness as alluring.   (

” Crises, wars, extremism, and populism shake our values, norms, and organizational infrastructures. The extreme is booming. Especially in this age of digitally circulating information and images that demand an economy of attention, the extreme triggers the desire to be captured in an image. The more extraordinary and marginal the image, the more alluring it is. “(my emphasis)

Moore offers not exactly the mid 19th C “gemuetlichkeit ” of the Biedermayer, nor the blink of 17th C Dutch still lifes … and he escapes the “improvements of the real”  favoured by the  20th C socialist realism.   How? By attention to narrative observation of  what is there… not what may be there.  I found an oblique confirmation in Moore’s review (2013) Alec Soth’s Looking for Love. Moore writes:

Returning to and publishing old work can be an interesting and problematic proposal, particularly if the photographs haven’t been seen before. Various questions present themselves; does one re-edit, reproaching one’s younger self? Is it desirable to avoid the contemporary in your reselection? How important is the work in the ‘photographic canon’ and what are the reasons for publishing now?

A fetishisation of the everyday re-surfaced within documentary genres In the mid to late 1990’s and by the end of the decade was beginning to circumnavigate in a descending and self referential cycle downwards into the pay of the advertising.

Moore escaped the sleekness of adverts by earthiness of colours and by cropping the  scenes to obtain the  suggestive power  of a convincing lie: to make me a witness.


Easy to “hear”  the noise the children  make… to feel the temperature … to register the smell of stale air …

Images accessed on

Posted in essay, review | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clare Gallagher, Verges, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, May 3 – June 30 2018

Clare Gallagher, Verges

Clare Gallagher does not name each image in the set of Verges, instead, she gives the viewer the choice to attend closely  and directly to the subject her photography,  weeds:   ” They defy preoccupations with property and boundaries, growing wherever  suits them … (on) tiny scraps of dirt to grow roots, weeds use ingenious ways to find spaces in hostile environments to thrive…They suggest a view of nature as autonomous, rather than one in which it exists only to serve us.” 

Clare Gallagher, Verges

Her dismantling of the hierarchy of anthropocentric view of the world is  welcome.  However strongly the  aesthetic experience  impresses a viewer, it is questionable that the transfer of  new point of view could dismantle the habitual thinking.  Nevertheless, I share her hope.

Making meaning, finding connections is an aspiration frustrated by insecurity whether what I see you see too.

Yet,  it seems to happen. A Dartmouth-led study published in an advance article of Cerebral Cortex, demonstrate empirically for the first time how two regions of the brain experience increased connectivity during rest after encoding new social information.(

The study demonstrates that it appears that the brain consolidates  as soon as it has the opportunity to rest.

“When our mind has a break, we might be prioritizing what we learn about our social environment,” added Meyer.

( Meghan L Meyer et al. Evidence That Default Network Connectivity During Rest Consolidates Social Information, Cerebral Cortex (2018).

It amuses me that  D H Laurence realized that back in the early  20th C. I failed to locate his exact words. So from memory, something like this:  I did my best work when doing nothing.

Clare Gallagher, Verges

I also experience advantages when the visual art is not accompanied by words, sounds, noises.   When, indeed, its aspiration stays within the Leonardo’s idiom of mute poetry. Photography can be that. And often happily is.

Clare Gallagher, Verges

Clare Gallagher  harbours an admirable aim:

These photographs aim to reclaim some of the freedom and creativity

that weeds exhibit.  


A talented Ingrid Gault,  harvests such images daily with her mobile camera and publishes them on her Facebook page: Pics by Ing

Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, outdoor, nature and water

Ingrid Gault, Beltoy Reservoir

The comparison  indicates that the technical means are very likely not the dominant tool or force or tenor,  to reclaim (or mime) creative freedom.  They matter for the optical quality though.

Clare Gallagher, Verges

In some cases the technical means  are the conditio sine qua non of the resulting image. ( see Andreas Gursky’s best photograph … Salerno I, 1990, which left him feeling ‘overwhelmed’. Photograph: Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017, courtesy Sprüth Magers Gallery:


 Clare Gallagher  

delivered a display that sings on the walls of the small gallery room.   Different sizes dance in a view contently.  They stand together, not competing.

The variety of sizes contributes to a resolute distance from any authoritarian message, perhaps, smuggled through Gallagher’s committment to celebrate the neglected.  Habitually, farmers and gardeners have a firm view what is weed and hence should be removed, poisoned, killed.  Over the decades,  the weedkillers and pesticides continued to kill pollinators and other insect, and found the way into our food.

Gallagher’s exhibition offers a thought – inspiration – to reconsider the habitual thought, to revoke curiosity,  the courage to change our view of nature.   Verges  cannot guarantee that all who visit  this exhibition will follow its suggestion.  Instrumental value of art is like that. We can hang it on an image, but it is not sufficient.  Aesthetic  experience has greater chance  to move us.

Clare Gallagher, Verges

That aesthetic function is promiscuous enough to appear as ethical, political, social etc has been established  so long ago, that it would be reasonable to expect the instrumental value to be just subsumed in it wordlessly and completely.  It has not. So, I refer  once again to Jan Mukarovsky’s thesis on Aesthetic Function (1938,

Clare Gallagher, Verges



Images accessed on and as otherwise indicated above.


Posted in essay, review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Charlie Scott, What Fell From the Mountain, The Georgian Gallery, Newtownards, 19 April – 24 May 2018

Growing  surrounded by the silent bogs, lakes and halted railway line in Co Donegal, I am interested in nature…”

would have been enough of an introduction to Scott’s  peaty paintings.  Nevertheless the young painter  feels the pressure to propose  an instrumental value to his art – to cure  elements of today’s rash visual culture.”

Is it a call for the “spiritual in art” a la Kandinsky? Or….? After all,  learning to see is not an innate gift; it is an iterative process, always in flux and constituted by the culture in which we find ourselves and the tools we have to hand.  Whenever I ask  another  viewer whether they see  in/on  a given work of art what I see  – there is some difference, sometimes  a resolute and confident: No, I do not see that.

Scott does not paint pastoral qualities of unsullied heritage.  His paintings have a schizophrenic attitude to the past and present, while fighting against nostalgia the love of nature shines through.  Something old  comes in when he  reduces the  palette – giving the tenor  of the visual thought to the tonality. Like in the less dramatic branch of chiaroscuro (more Leonardo than Caravaggio) – the accent on light and dark  tamely distributes saturation and translucency  avoiding dramatic contrast.  The compositions appear enveloped with a  light  modulated, yet not sharply different.  Even appearance of another hue loses its alien character by  miming the dominant tone of the whole.   The blue in the geometric form below is softly mapped in a tiny register between high and low light,  pushed  into transparency in carefully chosen details, as if in dignified respect of the  dominant hue.  These paintings whisper  about volumes and distances  like a light in caves.  There is a drawn  entrance and no exit  for  nostalgic memories. The brush is promiscuous – it  suggests the real world and then subverts it by liquidizing  some of the definitions.  The shape  echoing  Mount Errigal  is shredded into pieces reminiscent of peat cut to dry.

Memory Trap, 2018 Oil on canvas 90 x 130cm

The light behind the “curtain” if raining brushtrokes  appears reminiscent of the dissolving sun in Grunewald’s  Ressurection (Isenheim Altarpiece at Colmar, 1517).  The space in both  two small paintings below is built by slow gradation applied in fast  parallel strokes.  As if illustrating  Scott’s verse “…fragments of a holy  land…”

Time (and what it left us) |’ 2018 Oil on canvas (shelf with ink bottle and pine needles) 34 x 46 x 56cm

‘Time (and what it left us) ||, 2018, Oil on canvas (shelf with bottles and lake water) 34 x 46 x 56cm

This art, perhaps accidentally   and with preference for sharp angles (below) , evokes  a theme that appear also in Zhang Zhaohui’s  Soul Mountain Series, 2012 ( ink on paper, Michael  Goedhuis Gallery).

Application of multiple hues – but nowhere near the whole spectrum –  introduces melancholy as if pushed towards to picture pane by the threedimensional rectangular tunnel, reminiscent of  industry. Or a train. Scott mentions the railway line elsewhere.

First Slate at Min a Lea, 2018, Oil on canvas, 90 x 130cm

However, it is the “soul” of the mountain that dominates by being central to the image and being unbelievable.  I am reminded of a manuscript illustration of  Dante’s Purgatory, with similar modeling of  rocks in layer after a layer.

Dante Alighieri, Comedia Divina, Purgatorio XXV, The lustful in flames

When the painting deals with atmospheric change  caused by a powerful natural force, it becomes amenable to less  strict  limitations of both means and application.  Below, the storm introduces greater number of hues, modelling obeys the rationale of the observed forms,  sky evaporates, the ruin  assumes defined shapes. And the purple foreground washes away the monotony with  newcomer hue and  lines of drawn debris.  Two chords, blue and gold,  green and red purple  submit to the narrative.

After The Storm, 2018, oil on canvas, 162 x 203 cm

The diptych  below  similarly does not diminish the narrative elements , even when it introduces sample of the real – bottle with water collected in the natural environment. The combination of panel painting and installation  appears in four exhibits.

From the Water, From the Bog 2017 Oil on canvas (With wooden frame and bottle) 90 x 137cm

Between the Water and the Pine 2018 Oil on canvas 137 x 90cm

Fallen Spectre 2018 Oil on canvas 85 x 120cm

The largest painting cum installation   introduces peat and words as if  the painted surface  could not hold  the thoughts mute. Scott’s paintings evoke tactile association effortlessly, so addition of real peat and a page with words appears superfluous.

What Fell From The Mountain 2018 Oil on freestanding canvas (With turf, cog, heather and text) 164 x 220 x 250cm

However, the haptic value of the habitually cut peat  acts as a ground on which the visual thought  can indulge in freedom from logic and static laws  allowing the industrial  forms to float on water…  and to reflect in it.  The tonality moves towards heat, reminiscent of burning peat.



Detail of the What Fell From the Mountain


Scott writes: ” Deep thickets of pine, endless continuum of water and turf coexist with architectural ruins and remnants of the tragic Donegal’s railway line.”  He thinks of the paintings as ” reconstruction of spiritual landscape” , the  insight that made me think of medieval illustrations…


These landscapes are neither illustration, nor romantic dreams – they connect to the memory,  avoiding the illustrative sentiment. Even if the memory includes potato famine… and mass emigration.

Images courtesy Charlie Scott.


Posted in essay, review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Elizabeth Magill, Headland, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 11 May – 23 September, 2018

Elizabeth Magill, Still(2), 2017, oil and silkscreen on canvas, 183 x 153 cm

Elizabeth Magill, Still (1), 2017, oil and silkscreen on canvas, 183 x 153 cm


In a sight rooted practice the similarities and differences between these two  images have defining power.  They define even those images that are on their own.  These landscapes are a modern equivalent of Plato’s answer to Timaeus asking  how  the Demiurg created the universe.   Magill’s choices of mimetic subjects are heavy lifters for the armature of repertory of thoughts and associations  with roots in both observation and imagination. Italo Calvino reflected on this with the reference to Starobinski’s two modes : imagination as knowing, and as identification with the world greater than us. (Six Memos, 90). Calvino adds a proposition , revoking Giordano Bruno, that imagination is a  repertory of what is potential, what does not exists, until it might become  a part of never saturable world of  images. Magill zooms on this insecurity  of decision and choice of potential, by reviving methods favoured by  JS  Bach and  Claude Monet.  With sprinkling of  A Warhol mix of techniques.

In the Still  images she repeats the composition by changes the hues and tonality, space (depth) and light.   I found, a predecessor for the light to bear the burden of  thought in  her contribution to the exhibition  A certain Kind of Light (2002)

Without, oil on canvas, 91 x 122 cm)

It is spiritual twin to the whispered  horizon in Grunewald’s Crucifixion, 1517, now in Colmar

It is likely that Magill would not claim divine inspiration a la Dante  or the Danube School. A quote attributed to her opens the  way that leads to her chosen title Headland of the set of these exhibits:” … unfolding openness I try to follow…. ”

In the catalog that accompanies  Headland   also in the installation at the Ulster museum I read a passage where she aims  at painting to simulate what is going in our head when seeing landscape.

So – it is the seeing, that is her subject? I suspect it is more,  the whole chain: what I see, what the lens captures, what the print transfers, what the brush transfers, and some more in between.

While the image is predetermined in the sincere admission that it is one possible choice, the making of the painted image takes command in another direction – to the attraction of many possible choices.   Much of the decision is not grounded in what has been seen, in optical terms of memory, although that’s the armature for the composition.   It is all the rest  that defines the image: her silent reflection, play with spectrum, edge of consciousness, temptation to go on, to stop, to rest without any need, to  be unaccounted…

Her art reminds me of John O’Donoghue :”To live in a valleys  is to enjoy private sky (in Anam Cara… somewhere) . Magill extends that to water, trees …how trees smell after the rain.    Compare  her  OF   and  Red Bay (Garron Point)

Tom Nys  thinks of her gaze as spying, to see while not seen.  That would apply to the viewer of the painting too.   Cezanne used a criterion of temperature as a measure of success in painting.  Red Bay  heats up  the whole picture plane as if obeying Cezanne.

There is a better painting of Errigal among  the exhibits gently flirting with Hokusai, the above example illustrates  Magill’s reflective monolog  miming the intensity of heighten  awareness.  I imagine her telling me: nothing between me and the sky – just my thoughts. Paradox – unsolvable, just what drifts out of the arms and bodies of the trees (Dylan Thomas) . As if she agreed that to really knowing something means  imagining it.  Her paintings are simultaneously witnesses of what she sees and know and of what is only becoming a part of my being ( as a viewer).

Elizabeth Magill, Headland, 2017, oil and screenprint on canvas, 153 x 153’5 cm

Elizabeth Magill, Anterior. 2017, oil and screenprint on canvas, 153 x 153 cm

Like Monet, Magill follows the image in different light.   There is more: the intensity of secrecy, privacy,  grows from red spectrum to the blue, which also reduces the visibility of the background and harnesses some tremors that shake certainty.  What I see is  what I see now.  Looking again  will be a different seeing. She paints not just with her eyes…

I find an affirmative answer in these paintings to Calvino’s question:

“Will the power of evoking images of things that are not there continue  to develop in  human race increasingly inundated by a flood of prefabricated images?”

It is as if Magill still  resonated in the privacy of her studio, more, in the privacy of her thoughts, with Paul Thek’s teaching note : Remember, I’m going to mark you, it’s my great pleasure to reward real effort, it’s my great pleasure to punish stupidity, laziness and insincerity.



E Magill, Fishman, 2015, oil and silkscreen on canvas, 213 x 183 cm



Images accessed online courtesy Elizabeth Magill and Kerlin gallery, Dublin


Posted in essay, review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fragmented Mind, MAC, Belfast, 4 May -29 July 2018

It is an exhibition  and  several events that include: Friday Lunchtime Recitals (horn, cello, orchestra, harp), poetry reading on a Saturday, screenings a films on Tuesdays, lectures on Thursday and nine workshops offered by artists Sharon Kelly, Ursula Burke and Tonya McMullan.  There is a booklet with times and  venues.  Hugh O’Donnell  leads a series of “closed” workshops  focused on collage in response to exhibits  in the Sunken Gallery.

Covers and Counterfeits by Neil Gall



Covers in the name of this  exhibition mean  covers of The Studio cut and  assembled as a collage. Haphazard and systematic are harnessed together  to make it hard to discern what was there before the intervention. The cuts are occasionally visible, even when they are not there, due to clever use optical illusion.  Together, a full wall of them,  become a kind of oratory to instability of meaning, of visual thought. A positive one.

Viewed from the entrance of the Sunken Gallery  Gall’s rectangle exhibits look like hard, dry, decorative cut outs – on the lowest  scale from Henri Matisse.


From the near – a shock to the consciousness: it is all meticulously, carefully, attentively, patiently, painted under the command of optical illusion. Absolutism of a kind, trompe l’oeil so  loved during the baroque period in Europe, however, appearing on and off since the 5th C BC.

A story of a contest between  Parrhasius and Zeuxis  centres on the “tricking the eye”.  Zeuxis claimed his still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. That inspired  Parrhasius to  ask Zeuxis to judge one of his paintings  behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study.  Zeuxis attempted to pull back the curtains, he could not,  they were painted.


L-R: Portal, ; Ventriloquism; Crafty, all oil on canvas, 2016


Gall achieves trompe l’oeil both in painting, collage



and sculpture


Gall’s drawings are  veritable partners for architects  like Andrea  Pozzo, who placed an illusion of a cupola on a flat ceiling.

Only – Gall does not break the background but the picture plane, making the sphere to protrude towards me even at close up.    Precision… not robbed of beauty.


Form Interest drawing, 2017 ,pencil on paper, 98 x 74 cm


Below, yellow,  one of nine tiny sculptures, four acrylic on cast resin, five acrylic on bronze. No other material is involved.  An inescapable illusion governs optical perception completely.


Unable to separate their own identities, 2008

Like his artistic predecessors, Gall postpones the recognition, allowing the mistake to take hold first and for as long as it takes for the eye to be  near  to the art object . Only then the swap may happen.

William Michael Harnett, Still life with a violin, 19th C


Tromp- l’oeil presents sight with a cognitive conundrum. This sense is dedicated to a role of “knowing at a  distance”  whether something is a food or poison, enemy or friend.  Here, from a distance it tells that these are paper cut outs and  the resin or bronze objects are  bandaged  with a textile or a plastic tape.   A convincing lie –  words Pablo Picasso used for whole art… yet at least once he used an optical illusion – at the top of a still life – from the dark spot a nail sticks forward.  ( 1912, Violin and Grapes, oil on canvas 61 c 50.8 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York)


Like Parrhasius  – Neill Gall tricks the eye effortlessly.  But – it is not related to a  fragmented mind as understood in the  other two installations at MAC.  The Sunken Gallery sinks its links with the rest of the Fragmented Mind  display.  It is convincingly art,  made by artist, it is not governed by either of the two categories making appearance  in the Tall and  Upper galleries.

Gall’s command of his chosen way to make art  offers  precision, lighthearted play,  pleasure, as well as a serious question about the power of our perception, an unease, without actual discomfort.



The Tall gallery has three offerings:  a friendly  participatory workshop for visitors,

listening to sounds that some may find disturbing( I did )

and  a display of mostly two-dimensional visual objects in the larger parts of the gallery.

Anchored in the Musgrave Kinley Art Collection  the display is supported by notes on each of the participants: Paul Duhem, Dwight Mackintosh, Richard Nie, Oswald Tschirtner, Shafique  Uddin, James Price, Madeleine Lommel, Raphael Lonne, Farouq Molloy and Johann Garber (image below)

It all appears as “normal”  drawings or paintings after Modernism removed the barrier between academic art and dreams, between clear order and all its opposites.  The selection from the collection are defined not how the objects look but who made them, i.e.   Sainte-Beuve’s conviction that the life of the maker is central to the outcome.

not an installation at MAC. Accessed on

On the back wall of the Tall Gallery  hangs a set of overflowing black  Letter Paintings (2017)  by Lindsay Seers who is also  the author of  the only exhibit  in the largest  space on fourth Floor.

Every Thought There Ever Was  is a simultaneous tri-partite  audio- visual projection  of  miscellanious mimetic and abstract images, including distorted faces.  The sound was not clear enough for me to follow.  The projection is split between three circular elements, each doing their own thing, the central is stationary, the other two move.  Hardly elegant  they introduce some – perhaps – deliberate clumsiness. A reflection on how we view mental health?

My generation grew up with the  excellent art like Laterna Magica and   increasingly splendid science  programs on TV – making  my aesthetic judgement of this installation hugely problematic.   Naked facts interlaced with imagined world became   passages in a disconnected chain of possible meaning, given the abrupt cut from one scene to another.


Every thought that ever was?

The Fragmented Mind project is capable of overcoming that conundrum  as  several exhibits in the Tall Gallery  indicate. Whereas Seers’s moving picture  is time based, has a beginning and an end, thus calls for a structure.  I can return to a detail in a  drawing or painting  freely, not so to a detail of the video.

Rational hubris  (as in its title) and haphazard accentuation of observed or generated facts    fails to deliver more that a rough sketch.    The  large imposing clumsy “robots” add subversive  feeling of inadequacy of power even when –  as a contradiction,  in few animated sequences – they  lit up and appear humorous, like  toys.

It sums up as a spectacle injuring any just  about to be born empathy . It raises  a question how to dismantle  elitist visual discussion that is inherently divisive. How to transform the visual fragments into  a critique and invitation at the same time.  I felt that  Seers  is  committed to the subject  while trusting the selected means for their aura of being  amenable to a peer reviewed  system.  The spectacle fails to  overcome its  entertaining element when dealing with a “grave public issue” – a phenomenon J Derrida renamed as “hostipitality”.   Living in a fragile state is more enervating  than any form of narrative,  any normative thought ( e.g. art versus outsider art) born by it.

This art made me think (once more)  of Levi-Strauss ( in La pensee sauvage, 1962) ” …the final goal of the human science   is not to constitute man, but to dissolve him”.  (I replaced “science”with ” art” in my silent musing.)

Spectacles have a bad habit of weaponizing instincts.


Images courtesy MAC Belfast, accessed online or otherwise credited.


Charles Augustin Sainte- Beuve (1804 – 1869)  :

He wished, as he said, to understand fully those about whom he wrote, to live alongside them, and to allow them to explain themselves to present-day readers. To this end, he conceived the practice of providing in his essays extensive data on an author’s character, family background, physical appearance, education, religion, love affairs and friendships, and so on. Though now a standard method of historical criticism, this practice led to allegations that Sainte-Beuve was providing merely biographical explanations of literary phenomena. (


Posted in essay, review | Tagged | Leave a comment

HELEN G BLAKE, New Paintings, Fenderesky Gallery Belfast, 26 April – 18 May 2018

Marky Sparky, oil on linen, 2018, 14 x 17 cm

Fourteen images each  in one of three sizes favoured by Blake for years now –  are beautifully displayed in a gentle embrace of pristine white walls.

L-R: Sweets for Hetty and Ted, 2014, 32 x 26 cm ;Baby Blanket, 2018, 14 x 17 cm; Waves, 2018, 17 x 14 cm


They are reminiscent of abstract paintings rewarded in 2006 by the Turner Price for “…vigorous and consistent approach to painting”. Tomma Abts (b 1967) uses consistently a format of 48 x 38 centimetres in acrylic and oil paint. This is a detail from her  Heit, 2011, Arts Council Collection.

The following was written about Abts and seems to embrace Blake’s work seamlessly.

“Planes that appear to be located in the foreground also remain embedded within the structure of the painting itself; shapes are both overlapping and integrated. Abstract elements might hover on the edge of representation but are then undermined by an incongruous perspective or colour scheme.”

L-R: Peace and Time, 2018, 45 x 36 cm; XXXXX, 2018, 32 x 26 cm

L – R: Building, 2018, 45 x 36 cm; Peace and Time as above

The incongruous perspective clashes with titles that associate with habitual meaning, like building or blanket and is completely free of any  when title holds abstraction of verbal kind, like peace, time …  There is a reason for both – to force  or deny association by selecting  particular  words to name the image. But with abstraction such a link  is a treacherous condition, a sort of penalty,   as those words injure the visual marvel of incongruity falling into a whole tacitly.

Life in Winter, 2018, 36 x 45 cm; Sentinel, 2017, 32 x 26 cm

Installation view.

Blake trusts her sense for contrast in tonality and repetitiveness in shapes, something well rehearsed in history of art and design, born in the laws of  optical  perception  and illusion.  Accent is on seeing.

L-R: All the Yeses, 2018; Blanket, 2017; Cake, 2018; all 26 x 32 cm

L-R: Rill and Still Pool, 2018; Lodgers, 2018. both 32 x 26 cm


Each is an image that stands for itself, sparingly referring to something outside the visible, like the tactile value in the Baby Blanket.  They share luminosity and strict denial  of a  reason coming from outside the painting itself.  This hard nosed autonomy  does not fit the ubiquitous demand for art to achieve something outside itself,  like health or elimination of violence. Nevertheless, each and all of these unassuming private messengers  insists on moral standards as those are subsumed in the aesthetics.  Nihil novum sub sole: the classical Greece understood that in their thinking as kalos agathos.

Liking one of Blake’s oil on linen, elevates you from your mundane habitus – into  imagined harmony, your own.  The painting is the trigger. Being abstract it houses numerous ways to succeed, given the chance.  Play is  these paintings intrinsic and instrumental value.  Similar to music in that way.


Images courtesy Helen G Blake, uploaded from her Facebook page,  these are only to remind you/me what each looked like.

Posted in essay, review | Leave a comment

Helena Hamilton, Semblance and Event, Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, 7April -23 May 2018

Untitled(with) Edition of 36, interactive sound sculpture, 2018; Order, Effect 01 and 02, Paper, 2018. photo credit Simon Mills

Light.  Invitation to unthink the familiarity of the tube lights, the inevitability of a particular use.  Standing near it, watching, looking, walking around, near and away,   reminded me of  Keyezua’s  recent comment on her photographies:

“After finishing at the Royal Academy of Arts, I decided that I do not have to care about my decisions as an artist,” explains Keyezua, who is based in Luanda, Angola. “It felt good to have the freedom to do something without having a certain idea why you were creating it.”

Both the light tube construction and the paper “reliefs on the back wall evoke that freedom.


Does their not- too- shy- energy  transform the space?

from left: Order,Effect 01; Order,Effect 02, both paper, 2018; Untitled (with), edition of 36;Interactive sound sculpture, 2018, Credit Simon Mills.

In proportion to the space this open “volume”  commands attention effortlessly. Perhaps the significance of the question  “how many?”  will shed any assumed irrelevance when the eye compares the “36” edition with a fewer light tubes.

The Agency Gallery London, 17 February 0 1 April 2018

This is an earlier variant in a smaller space, yet, the  wordless eloquence feeds imagination  as well as  the version with  many more tubes.  It parallels the difference between an orchestra and a chamber music – and similarly, in both  cases the aesthetic power is independent of the number of instruments.  An aria and a chorus?

The vertical  tube standing firmly  upright, while the other two are in a free fall,  not only anchors the moment of  movement, it also enters into a dialogues with the other verticals in the visual field, i.e. walls.  thus providing a spontaneous belonging, not so much to a hierarchy, as to  revelation of what may occur next.  Dance? Fall? Nothing?

The  light tubes as they navigate space,   share something with Vikings.  Those sailors used calcite’s power to reveal the light patterns in the sky, that exist even in overcast weather.  T The  light tubes reveal spots,  stains on floor, walls and ceiling, light patterns  that change as I walk around.  Visual art favours its appeal as a transformer of perception of space.  Hamilton invites the  sound to contribute. I found it superfluous for this installation.    Reminds me of horror vacui, which is, after all, governing  some of her  earlier work, where she covers every surface with variety of marks and patterns,


Drawing performance at PS Square, Belfast

Whereas in Semblance and Event  she timed her  drawing performance to shorter duration, wore a paper bag over her head,  and recorded it on a video.

NOTETOADISTANTGOD, 2 hour performance, 2010- 2018

Hamilton’s tumultuous outpouring  favours luxurious outburst and invites  vacuous pauses as if to interact.  Visible and imagined wait for the sound. The sound then  dominates the large  projection of gesture tracking, mark making on acetate sheets over the  glass surface of overhead projector.

A still from the Butterflies, 2014

On the adjacent wall,  a large number of acetate  sheets with such drawings produced between 2014 -2018, a growing archive, are deliberately losing visibility.  Like Eva Hesse, Hamilton hangs them in a row, making the drawing hardly accessible to an eye.

Her performances, on the other hand,  zoom on the surface of the walls  as a received ground, and make every details accessible.   There are two photographic prints (2016) that also call for near viewing involving private thoughts.

Two ink drawings on paper (2014 and 2016) confirm, in this installation,  her acceptance of  more traditional way of making images.

However, the arrogance of sensory and hedonistic pleasure from tactile values  inspires two of hers  not so ordinary paper reliefs. They are just about visible in the  image i repeat here (I  used it above)


In an earlier  installation, which is lit up  to reveal a little more of the detailing. The paper is squashed in irregular  interaction of push and pull, a very rare technique. Invented technique – in comparison with origami, this is wild.  Paper’s integrity is respected by unusual dexterity of – I assume – hand and fingers.

Order, Effect, Art Centre, Tokyo, 2016


I do not see her practice as crossing borders between “…object, digital interaction and action/performance…”(see gallery handout) simply because all are objects, more or less durational.   The sound,  light. movement, timing etc  are added to objects found, received or resulting of action, space and time included. In addition there is the  control by the viewer as moving object about angles of viewing,  time of the perception, attention to detail.  Light and shadows, stasis and movements appear to be the the grounding matrix,   central to Hamilton’s courage to invent.

Even if accidental, the  reflection on the floor gives aesthetic experience distantly belonging the the exhibit. A chance for the beauty to join the mundane.

The gallery notes offer a startling summary for Semblance and Event:  ” …(it) seeks to draw together old and new works that will bring into dialogue stark and austere examination of materials and matter with processes of making that resemble ascetic practices of repetition.”

That is an insider’s view that does not matter to the incidental aesthetic experience of looking, walking around, listening and looking again.  The installations offered some poetic passages and some hard nosed rejection of such a fanciful expectation.  The sound was so feeble in the main gallery, that it called for a search. In the second gallery, the added noise to the expected sound of the tip pen on acetate at times overwhelmed the visual tacit components.   As if to soothe that  hanging in parallel in a right angle to the wall , that prevents seeing the whole drawing,  the flicker of light on the hangers  is pure poetry. I believe it was deliberate to set the spot lights so, that they transformed dark clasps into two  patterns of light paths that meet in the middle of the projected curve while disappearing there.  Beautiful.

Images courtesy Helena Hamilton’s website and Facebook page.

Posted in essay, review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Listening Wall at QSS, Belfast

Iris Garrelfs  contribution to the current Sonorities Festival  in Belfast   consists of 30 A4 sheets with printed words  displayed in groups on the walls of the first room of the QSS gallery. ( – wall)

The second room houses a video, hand drawn city plans and  schematic notation of some sounds heard on the walk guided by an Austrian artist katrinem ( She defines it as a “path of awareness” both of space walked though and the sounds produced by walking  and  surrounding architecture.   Focused on  the “walkability” of urban setting, observation of  a site and experience of what is heard, each group starts from the QSS gallery on similar and different pathways and indeed path of awareness. It is narrower and parallel to the walks  around Belfast organised by  Dr Aisling O’Beirn, over several years in a recent decade. I have not participated.  Often – we walk with a arrival point in mind when the perception and expectation meet.  These walks differ: beginning is known, the arriving point is not,  blending the insecurity with mystery of recognition hungry to belong to our consciousness.


<Silent Sonorities> slipped easily from conceptual art to  a play between run of the mill  cognitive  test  and sound related instruction scores.  Two artists based in Belfast, Gascia Ouzounian and Sarah Lapin  are included in a large number of exhibitors. The visitor is invited and encouraged to take all the “score sheets” home  – a generosity valuable for later  leafing through them – as if they were documents/memory of  looking at the Listening Wall.  Woven from imagination and synesthesia  the  ensuing aesthetic  experience  is indomitable. Unless you disable it  by habitual expectations.   The installation  unfolds consciousness evoked by the “scores” and  nourished or disabled by viewer’s response.  Some would be “Walking on the Pastures of Wonder” ( courtesy the title of John O’Donohue book published posthumously on 2015), others may echo Manon de Boer’s fascination with “open time” as condition for innovation. Tacitly. Others  will – with surgical precision examine how we experience sound through mute, written, language. Conscious that words are slippery. That the power of subliminal matters. Or – leaving insouciant.

Under the carapace of driest possible score  there is a telluric plane where even the porous vessels of languages do not destroy luxuriant burst of fantasy  or dream. Not valid apart for the person not afraid of arrogance of charm  while you read the words.  Charm that may leave the conscious mind in a split of the second.

It is precisely that – ephemeral.

The oldest score is by John Cage.  On August 29 1952 at Woodstock NY  the three parts of Tacet  were performed for 4’33” by David Tudor at the piano. Opening and closing  the lid marked the start and end of the composition.   Here, the viewer has just three identical words “Tacet”. The accompanying text mentions that the “ work may be performed  by an instrumentalist or combination of instrumentalists and last any length of time”.  This makes one’s  response, the body,  into an instrument.   Imagine dancing it like a waltz… one tacet, two tacets, three tacets …

Other scores are less open  issuing  instructions to the visitor  to follow – a strategy identical to Hans Ulrich Obrist in his Do It.  By transferring the method to the viewer – any creative force  becomes subordinated to awareness of something given, defined, to be followed.   Only the gap between the following and  experiencing harbours fragments of  freedom.

Some instructions lead to instant shifts in perception , others, being lengthy and elaborate,  end with an ennui. E.g.

Viv Corringham: Stand very close to a wall … Turn sideways and close one ear by pressing it onto the wall. Listen to the sounds of your own existence. Can you hear your breath, your heartbeat ? Slowly release your ear and listen as the sounds change. Can you hear the wall? Listen through the wall. 

Majority of participants, in adroit and unsentimental way, conceive scores  as a dynamic collaborator in making a meaning.

 Cathy Lane, Barry Cullen, Jo Thomas, Dan Scott (cups),  @radio_mind,,  Sharon Gal, Lisa Busby,Jude Cowan Montague, Iris Gareelfs, Bianca Regina  issue prompts like: sit quietly, consider practice, prepare, start, recline, repeat, go somewhere quite noisy, find, make, find,tilt your head, take 4 deep breath, drum with feet on car floor, stick one ear into a small encounter, stop in a yawn, etc.  I suppose the offer of the score sheets to take home fits these Do It exercises.  The one from @radio_mind trespasses from imagined to made, by asking : Copy the sounds the device makes. Send me a photo or short film.

Typing each on a text score card Marina Papadomanolaki  asks  Can you hear your footsteps? Can you hear your co-walkers?  Similarly Iris Garrelfs   posits one question at the time: How does one blade of grass sound? What does yellow sound like?Does the tree to your right sound the same as the tree to your left?   These do not depend on others, on place or time.

Garrelfs also combines instruction with a question: Listen to the voices around you. What does their sound tell you?  In three  text scores she sticks to the cold instruction: Listen to the transition between spaces. Listen to the voice inside.  This leaves me with a cognitive puzzle that would interfere seriously with any listening: where and what is a transition between spaces?  Which inside is meant?   Ambiguity of instruction is brought to the daylight also by  John D’Arcy   who  offered crosswords crazy maze to find words like bang, eel, gallop, gasp, grind, hum, hump…. strongly leaning to cognitive and visual patterns.  Deluge of words makes Catherine Clover’s  overwhelming.  Demands repeated reading, and lot of time.

Leaning on the verbal touches on poetry in Barry Cullen’s “Redburn”. His note made me smile: *extra sensitivity here if this route is used for the return journey”.

I suppose perception of very art is a journey from nothing to something.

Ian Stonehouse  starts with musing about sound, memory, our senses offering a conclusion that “our bodies are self-aware portable recording devices that gather, carry and discuss sensory information about the world we inhabit.” It is followed by a DoIt instruction worth quoting in full for  echoing  Dada and play.

“Approach someone and request they say their name aloud. As they are doing so gently draw a circle on the palm of your hand with a finger and commit your recording of their voice into your hand.  Pause for a moment  and replay the recording by redrawing the circle on your hand. ”

He adds a note: A moment is defined as lasting up to ninety seconds.

That brings me back to John Cage and a score for listening #84 displayed at QSS. It is made up of an image ( a blue crumpled plastic bag and a flowering branch)  and  a statement: sounds appear randomly placed intentionally.  (My apology to the author – name not printed on the score….)

Sherry Ostapovitch and Anita Castelino  move from “Listening is an active process. Hearing is not listening” to instructions and questions, ending on the instrumental role of art: Who do you listen to? And who listens to you?

Majority of the scores are tailored to urban  civilisation.  Only one starts with : Find a place in the woods… Tansy Spinks  offered a triptych of instructions, she says,  inspired by 1950 source:  the Braziers Park School of Integrative Research and Braziers Adult College Brochure.  ( The idea that the subjective and objective understanding may be not in conflict is still with us, unresolved. Spinks adds an asterisk : *… (so) get busy with the creative work that a sick world needs so urgently.

I hope that by creative she means also  how we know what we know, science, technical inventions, and participatory democracy for equals.   Ideas woven from the gossamer of  insights and still unbreakable, help us  unthink the inevitability of the power relations that calcified over the centuries..

This installation at QSS  certainly offered a  fair chance.












Stephan Dillemuth (*1954 Büdingen, Germany) considers his potential as a visual artist in front of the backdrop of a changing concept of what the word “public” implies. Contemplating his own involvement and the possible ways he could act as an artist, he asks to what extent self-organization and personal and collective integrity can be created within the framework of a society bent on control.


Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ashley B Holmes

Essay for Ashley B Holmes 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Alastair MacLennan – a visit to his studio at Noon of 10th April 2018

On his kind invitation  we met in front of the Flax Art. The lift was made dysfunctional by someone not heading the printed advice to close both gates when leaving.

MacLennan’s  studio has almost Corbusier inspired  ribbon windows  on two walls – flooding the large room with light making  shadows nowhere to hide.

The view of the mountains  has been replaced by the recent Belfast Best Architects  supported by Ulster University establishment with building more repulsive than ornament ever was to Adolf Loos.  I ask: why is it that an architect desecrates the mountains and sky …does he/she luck the culture?  Why do Papuans have culture and Belfast  architects not?  Until now that has been no period of non culture in the red brick Belfast streets with charm of  19th C  reed brick and and Art Deco facades.

We both feel diminished by the bad design.  Looking down from the window, the lower roof offers an invitation to recover – tiny grass and mosses colonized the roofs in an almost regular pattern above the walls marked with stains of rain water.  Water and air. Thinking of Leonardo’s advice how to train your imagination.

On the table next to the door – huge piles of the same size paper, some untouched, some painted on.  Too many to guess. On top -there is one with a whisper of light blue – novelty in Alastair’s black -and- white and  more- black-  art world.  Stays with me for the next three hours. Then I take it home.

On the floor on  separate crumbled and then straightened  black plastic bags, nests either   drawing  or painting.  Black.  Either  painted in oil or drawn in ink.  The pen makes marks like engravers tool, the brush drip drops like a faulty tap.   I do not think there is one yet, that combines  ink and oil … brush and pen… to replace the either or…

I hear MacLennan’s  words describing the process  – the paper is soaked in water first, then the marks are made, then it is left to dry  overnight or longer…  until it is as if ironed flat again. The waves created by the water are lifted to the walls and ceiling.

Alastair signs both drawings and paintings thus:

air, water, Alastair MacLennan.

Deliberate deflation of anthropocentrism… although the process starts with I Ching limiting the number of marks allowed  to 29.  Do I  remember the correct number? I am not sure. It matters less to me than the  glorious contamination of artist’s intention by natural forces.

This artist works daily – producing large numbers of the same size results.  Some  include a chance meeting of the marks  and resemblance –  on occasion the recognition is humorous – I zoomed on one that looked like deep ocean fish which I saw in  David Attenborough’s revelatory   Ocean  The Blue Planet.  When I turn the sheet that resemblance disappears completely.   The memory lingers, the eye is searching for more.  Bad habit? Perhaps.

It is freedom. This art is freedom that younger MacLennan did not dare to contemplate.  It is also freedom for me as a viewer – like music it does not describe appearances, ideology, politics,  it is a free as art Kandinsky dreamed of in that letter to Schoenberg.

Schoenberg created atonal music with free chromaticism, nonharmonic
tones and unresolved tones of dissonance. In his music, Schoenberg used what he called “developing variations,” which were  chromatic structures; the theme of the piece constantly changed. An apt parallel to MacLennan’s current series AIR A LAIR.

Kandinsky thought  that painting could not provide such freedom for the viewer, but aimed at it.

MacLennan is offering that freedom in heaps.  His compositions do not diminish your prejudice or habits only invite you to let them play with other chances, other possibilities.


Kandinsky once said,
“The very word composition called forth in me an inner vibration. Subsequently, I made it my own aim in life to paint a composition. He also aimed at harvesting “cosmos”.

MacLennan directs  the composition  more down to earth. He embraces  air and water ( the necessary conditions for life)  to collaborate as co- authors. A strategy – I suspect- still connected to his  life long dislike of art market values.

The  drying drawings and paintings  on the floor  gently  managed to heal the insulting pain  sent over from the buildings visible at my eye level.  Freedom against the dictatorship.   Only until I looked out again.

White Cottage,14/04/2018, 17.14






Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sinead McKeever, Antenna, Millennium Court Art Centre, Portadown, Feb 2 -March28, 2018

The transformatory power of McKeever’s exhibition is apparent when the space is seen without  her installation, Antenna, during an earlier exhibition.

McKeever’s installation effortlessly seduces the useful rational construction to abandon its mathematical precision and to  join in a play.  It is a play determined to involve the whole scale of real and imagined, haptic and reflected.  Its willing  collaborator – light – joins in with a  verve of youthful energy. 

I am afraid, I cannot report what it felt like – I have not seen this exhibition.  This essay thus is reminiscent of studying art history  from photographs, mostly black and white then, when visiting art collections abroad was forbidden by the regime afraid of tiniest scraps of freedom.  Our sight was trained to read the archaeology of art objects.  All these decades later – I revive those skills to “read” this installation without seeing it in situ.

Coincidentally,  the absence of seeing the installation  is mirrored by Brian McAvera’s   Components of the Scene  written when “the installation …has  not yet been  constructed” ( the full text is on

It is of interest than he thinks first  of McKever’s   control of viewers moving around the installation, then he describes the plan – and I can vouch that indeed the charcoal drawings were installed in a smaller gallery.

Geo Stare, 2018, Globe, easel, graphite, pigment, plexiglas circle

And  that there was a globe “mounted on an easel, but if you touch it you will get powder on your fingers. (p2 of McAvera’s handout).  The globe is mounted  onto a portable artist’s tripod easel  and associates/ connects  with an eyeball  lens of surveillance  and lens of a camera, and connectivity across space, like in Marconi’s invention.

The charcoal drawings echo the appearance  of  celestial view     saturated with several types of transmission: there is a visible “corona”,  a spiky bulb shape, and straight lined transmitters – tied to the main theme of the exhibition. In addition – those subdued whispered scribbles made by hand held point are  marks of the artist’s presence, hesitation and exuberance alike.  They do not present a shape or form – they are imprints of wondering mind.

Transfer, 2017, charcoal on paper, 152 x 122 cm

At times McKeever gives up her obsession to  match a received form to a trace on the paper. Free thought governs her hand wondering over the  aluminium  surface.  It works as a  diagonal composition whichever way you turn it.

Can’t hear my eyes, 2017, mixed media on aluminium

The desire to understand  -as Aristotle recognized  in the first sentence of Metaphysics – is ubiquitous, while it is obvious that not everything in the world matches that desire.  The elegant curve of the dibond strip  denies clarity of meaning while cherishing the optical clarity in defining light, shadow and matter.  The fakir left, the snake still dances.

Advanced Static, 2018, dibond, spray paint, pigment, charcoal

The sinuous dibond curve receives its double made of light and shadows. Switch the light off – and the aluminium composite loses more than its ephemeral  companion.   Yet both are real.  The differences define the stability of the form – and point to a hierarchy, the dibond  spiral is stable in the dark and light  as if in a continuous treaty with time for the duration of the installation.   Its twin is not, moreover, it depends on energy from another source. The determination of what is seen by presence or absence of light is a  necessary a  condition for optical input.  It is insufficient  to the extent to which  visual thought escapes the confines of the optics. Where does it escape to? Your  memory, your imagination.

Advance Static, 2018, dibond, spray paint, pigment, charcoal – detail

The poetic charge increases with application of coloured light in the large Antenna installation

Construction, reflection, and  shadow are reminiscent of  confident repeats and  variation as in a JS Bach’s fugue.  The sameness and difference  have not abandonned the Apollonian clarity of constructions while  joining  the intoxicating Dionysian  instinct for jouissance, joi-de-vivre.

I imagine that the uplifting pull of that corner  in the gallery was never weakened, before the light switch ended it.

Different from James Turrell’s secret vows of more behind what is visible

James Turrell in Naoshima, Japan (accessed online)

or  from Anish Kapoor’s perceptual uncertainty:  Laura Cumming described her experience thus

Go closer and the glow turns out to be nothing but a huge yellow wall. Closer still and the wall becomes literally nothing: a hollow, a colossal dimple in which your eyes drown in the search for some definitive form. From visual richness to nil visibility, the transition is as smooth as the colour. (Anish Kapoor at Royal Academy, The Guardian  Art Review, 27 September 2009)

McKeever’s art is holding its own.  It allows the clarity of construct – like David Smith’s  metal drawings in the air- yet dissolves  in light and reflection by multiplying and connecting.

Star Crossed, 2018, Dibond, LED lights

Even the floor joined in.


Images courtesy  Simon Mills via the artist.





Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dan Shipsides / Shipsides and Beggs Projects, Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast, 22 March -20 April, 2018

Armscliff; Great Western Oil on Canvas, Dan Shipsides,1994

To meet the word on its own terms,  to meet the world on its own terms is  an art immensely rewarding yet immensely difficult.  The title of this painting  has a letter R whereas the name of the site known for climbing  has an “L”.  When both harbour their confidence to be its names, I have to admit both. And accept that I shall not know the reason for that difference.  I looked up what the climbers publish about this rock:


Rockfax Description
18m. Perhaps Almscliff’s most famous classic. The steep corner leads to the roof and a large spike, traverse left into an exposed position and pull into a short crack with difficulty (hidden holds?). From a rest on the uncomfortable pedestal, finish up a short crack or, MUCH better, head right up the jamming crack on Western Front – the icing on the cake. Be aware of rope drag problems. © Rockfax

UKC Logbook Description
Climb the corner below the overhang till it is possible to take the horizontal break on the left. Follow this till it is possible to climb up into the niche at the end (cramped rest). Then decide either to climb up the original awkward crack above and slightly left or much better climb ‘The Five Star Finish’, which takes the steep crack up and out right in a magnificent position (

In Shipsides painting the colours and shapes are expressive of the mass rather than a portrait of a site, somewhat in agreement with  Charles Olson who wrote:“Art does not seek to describe but to enact.” (1951, Human universe).  Indeed, this image is saturated  with, and seeps out, energy needed to perform.  Performing may  appear as being. In a close up.

Whereas, a socio- political protest  is deliberately public, not a private experience.


Sorry.Photographic print, acrylic mount,Dan Shipsides, 2004

 A large scale text a 40m x 14m  made from plastic sheeting pegged out on the hillside above Belfast was a response to city councillors being outraged by a copy of Vacuum and demanding apology.(

The relationship between the people on opposite side of the dispute is what defined this image. As Olson wrote:  relationship  is what defines that forest is a forest, especially in an era when we have ceased to meet one another as whole persons and instead  collide  as fragments. (op.cit)

The exhibits  in the current display at Fenderesky  were made in a number of materials and  techniques :  weaving, word piece, watercolours, drawings, photography, paintings, collage, etching,  recycling and assemblage.  Their sizes vary from a badge like to a large construction. In 2000  Shipsides memorably was commissioned to make exquisite bamboo facade in Dublin when he won the Nissan Art Award IMMA (Bamboo Support) Dublin. A visitor waiting for a taxi to the airport  on the opposite pavement  next to me remarked: ” … beautiful – the reason to come to Dublin. ” I shared that before… and now  with a private regret that it is no more.

This exhibition as a whole is not a whole … the space  struggles to accommodate  the angles of viewing, while   not  able to command similar power  over a whole  it privileges  individual exhibits one by one.   Harvesting their seductive power to share with me in luminous solitude, they are approximations of some older memes and experiences, as if the obeys Sol Le Witt’s dictum

art makes order from chaos /clarity from obscurity/ something from nothing

(sometimes nothing from something)

Armscliff  painting next to the window seen through an aperture in the largest exhibit, one of 6  of the Shipsides&Beggs Projects

Detail through hole in the Téléphérique Stations of the Somme Summit Cross, Mixed media Dan Shipsides / Shipsides and Beggs Projects, 2016-2018

Thinking of Sol Le Witt – his Five pointed Stars(2008, 15x30ft) have here few tiny siblings.


from the left: Five Pointed Distraction machine, 2012,acrylic paint on oak; Six Pointed Distraction Machine, 2012, acrylic on oak; YUPA – 2010, Carton Lantern, Led Lights. Shipsides&Beggs Projects


Six Pointed Distraction Machine, Acrylic paint on oak, Dan Shipsides,2012 (photo credit: Peter Richards)

I hasten to point out differences: Shipsides executes the object himself, elegantly careful, measured, every aspect considered. It may appear as a meme – but sincerely distant. The significance of the similarity I raised above lies deep in Plato’s Timaeus, patiently making a list of similarities and differences as the way Demiurg created the universe.  In this context the “measure of things” is the defining quality. It is not a thoughtless decision to  position measure/ “moira” at the centre of being. Shipsides’s aesthetics differs from Sol Le Witt for its closeness to experience of making, of knowing, of being with the process all the way. It is intensely personal, like Egon Schiele’s. Different subject, similar dedication to art as living thing, not  a box of treasures.

Shipsides shares authorship with Neal Beggs in  Shipsides & Beggs Projects.  The one below bears the title Telepherique  Stations of the Somme Summit Cross , 2016 -2018.

Téléphérique Stations of the Somme Summit Cross, Mixed media, Dan Shipsides / Shipsides and Beggs Projects, 2016-2018


Found objects, used climbing materials, toys, ladder, torches,  cooperate with  screen prints and with scientific precision of the right angle, stopping, once the construction stays upright and stable.

Reminds me of Panamarenko ( real name Henri van Hervegen, b 1940, Antverp) who  has made hovering constructions, flying rucksacks, helicopters with pedals, airships, may beetles, submarines and walking chickens. Assemblages.

Panamarenko, Raven’s variable matrix, MHKA, Antwerp

Obsessed with flying Panamarenko observed insect and birds…  Shipsides metamorphoses   climbing into   visual art  mostly via performance or impossible objects, but also through a kind of souvenirs – memories of climbing  experience evoked by the lens, sound, moving image or any other  combination of techniques.

Téléphérique Stations of the Somme Summit Cross, Mixed media,  Dan Shipsides / Shipsides and Beggs Projects, 2016-2018 . Seven details, first four given to me by Peter Richards.

Photo Peter Richards

Photo Peter Richards

Photo Peter Richards

Photo Peter Richards



Several of the items were used in climbing before they appeared in this assemblage, becoming visualised memes.  This one  above reminds me of medieval gargoyles spouting  rain water.

Incongruous, bizarre, playful, the spatial object ticks some points on the Wikipedia definition of  Grotesque:

Mother Nature in Villa D’Este

Various renaissance grotesque moti

Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English), grotesque (or grottoesque) has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, mysterious, magnificent, fantastic, hideous, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks. In art, performance, and literature, however, grotesque may also refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as

well as sympathetic pity. (Downloaded from Wikipedia)

Shipsides assemblage  is incongruous in the way children’s phantasy is,  strange in the way it combines ordinary (the ladder) with weird (signing the right angled frame as UVF ambulance).  Bizarre in the way it presents precision ( circular opening) next to a soft toy.  As a whole – it avoids the other possibilities  ( pitty, disgust, hideousness) in favour of a comfortable materialisation of dionysian impulse.

Making thoughts visual is central to Shipsides practice, although on occasions he adds sound, sensitively, organically connected to the matter that produce it. In that sense he adds an element of life to that Sol Le Witt’s limerick.


Star Star Syzygy, Found Newbridge Silver on Belgium Tile, Dan Shipsides,2015

Even his “stars” have an organic feels – the surface carries its own history made visible, a strategy similar to a climbing route  marked on the photograph of a mountain’s face as in

Capella Head Point (no. 5 )  Ink on photographic print on dibond.Dan Shipsides,2008

Photo Peter Richards



“ha” Hiatus: Right, Bespoke righthand VW van door panel. Dibond. Dan Shipsides 2015+ detail



Meticulous attention to clarity of  secrets governs Shipsides attention to meaningful details. It is not a narrative detail like in the art of the late 19th C. It is akin poetry, poetic trope  that gives the syllable a particular rhythm – in visual terms the gaps between marks.  Visible clearly on both panels.







Both the  number of apertures and shapes  are given differences  both how many in the line, where, and in what relationship to the whole.

“ha” Hiatus: Left Bespoke lefthand VW van door panel. Dibond. Dan Shipsides 2015

+ detail








Smaller exhibits cherish  soft material as opposite to hard metal, while successfuly ignoring  competitive associations.

Accolade Tree, Woven badge, Shipsides and Beggs Projects, 2017

Two hands in knitted gloves  applauding ? Frozen in the open state  enabling to become a crown of a tree. And more.


Similar verism governs the drawings or enamel paint on etched aluminium as it fills the frame from edge to edge. The pattern is obtained via dada strategy, from asking hues  to marshall an order out of  play with letters reluctant to offer of meaning.

First from left: NOS LOS SOL SON Red Orange Yellow, Etched aluminium and enamel paint, Dan Shipsides, 2016

Shipsides art is sensitively taylored to truth of lived experience. It engages  aesthetic categories to define sincerity: his beauty is striving for perfect labour with a touch  of a play; his comic avoids satire, sarcasm and parody and stays open to phantasy. His sublime is measured, born out of climber’s respect for nature. His tragic is hidden  deep  under the inevitable.

Liervik and the highest sea cliffs in Europe, Dan Shipsides, Photographic print on dibord, 1 0f 5, 2004


Images courtesy of Peter Richards and Dan Shipsides.


Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eanna Mac Cana: Och Ochon, Crescent Arts Centre Gallery, Belfast, March 19th – 31st 2018

Multitude of caps of tea.  Disposable plastic. Ocean full of plastic and dying whales may not have been in this artist’s intended context

– but they are, as the erosion of the  anthropocentric model of life progresses through our consciousness.

This exhibition is about  death of people, members of family, community –  in isolation from the rest of life on the Earth.    The overwhelming traumatic power of  unbridgeable loss  of one of our species  exercised invention of traditions that include lament, keening, wailing, as well as  wake, processions  and memorials: ” Keening is to lament over the deceased, usually taking place at a wake, but sometimes at a funeral” (Artist’s handout)

The artist wrote a poem/ lament and filmed an actress and story teller Frances Quinn performing it in Irish.  English version is provided on the printed  handout, for later reference.  Thus the simultaneity of the visual and verbal is dedicated to Irish speakers only.

Shot on one faulty and one working DCR-TRV33E it includes a short found sequence of the artist in graveyard as a small boy, shot on Canon XHA1.

The analog camcorder was set to night light which determined the dominant “mythical” hue. The vertical scratches visible across frames  are necessary results of the deteriorating equipment, left deliberately behind.

Both the sound and image are, in different ways,  disabled in the range of communication, but not in expressiveness.  The language makes it private to the initiated – which raises a question why people speak different languages and why sorrow increases that need for protection.

Exhibiting sorrow publicly therefore contradicts any hope  promised by a fortress mentality.

In the furthest gallery room an installation of cups of tea  evokes sharing as a response to trouble.  Sharing tea.

That could be a specific tradition, slavonic communities prefer hard alcohol and lot of male singing. Whereas, in Ireland, and Arabic countries it is the noise of female lament announcing the bereavement.


The installation is silent, dominated by an order of the related shapes.   Relentless.

Day after a day the invisible bacteria make visible signs of decay. Inescapable betrayal of the intended use.  Or – a testimony that intentions do not lead to expected result?

The duration of the installation thus determines the “tenor” of the aesthetic communication,  order and decay become concomitant qualities of being.

The teabags on a table with a tablecloth   – colour and texture reminiscent of the earth excavated for the burial and returned after the interment.  Child like size.

Displayed on its own in the large gallery  the installed object exudes anxiety both about    the direct associations and its own substance.



An anxious object as described  eloquently by Denis Donohue (b 1928) who advocated the range  and multiplicity of viewpoints as well as the value of the silent place in people’s  heart.   I stay with him a little longer.   The tea bags in both installations are  visual metaphor, more precisely synecdoche.   Denis Donoghue turned his attention to the practice of metaphor , simile, metonym, and synecdoche in language. It is applicable to visual metaphors.  Metaphor  replaces something habitual, ordinary by something unexpected (see Metaphor, 2014, Harvard University Press).

The magic of a synecdoche depends on another “ordinary”  to become the “unexpected” as in a believable lie.

The point of a metaphor is to enrich the experience by bringing different associations to mind.  The essential character of metaphor, Donoghue says, is prophetic. Metaphors intend to change the world by changing our sense of it. Metaphor celebrates imagination.

Synecdoche then uses a part of the whole ,  e.g.tea bag standing for  making tea at the time of a distress, to permit greater freedom to construct feeling and  meaning.

The installations, the tea cups and tea bags each occupy a gallery  on one side of the  video installed in the middle gallery.

Thus   forging three stages of the keening:  gathering of the people ( sharing a cup of tea), listening to the lament, and leaving after interment.  Hence the three rooms forge one exhibit.  Like a triptych.

The Lament is intensely personal as the video includes shots of living world standing for humanity and nature.

The anxious objects  are abandonned, left to decay. What will and will not be after death is left to free thought,  to different association of each of us.

This artist retreats from preaching.



Images courtesy the artist.


Apology for not having the “fada” for this artist’s  first name and the exhibition title.  One should be above E  and the other  on the penultimate letter of the title.




Posted in essay | Leave a comment

Ausrine Suratkeviciute at Household Belfast , 2018

By a chance this appeared in my inbox:

“Being: New Photography 2018,” the latest exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art’s ongoing for up-and-coming photographers. “Being” is a gripping survey of how photographers today are dealing head-on with the knotty things that make us, us—the ways communities, politics, and systems influence various people’s identities, for better and worse.

This is a different direction from the last “New Photography” show, 2015’s “Ocean of Images,” a mind-numbingly academic exploration of how pictures circulate, both on- and offline. A lot has changed since then. ”

Indeed. Even in Belfast.

While being part of the Household Project, I have got an insight on the history of the Sailortown, as well as about its’ people. My art pieces are connected to Sailortown’s people. I have taken several photographs around Sailortown and enlarged them to an A4 size. These photographs were later worked on using nail varnish remover that included acetone 0n cotton buds. I have tried to create a ghostly effect of the people, as if they were light shadows from the past. The movements of these figures were very free and natural. The first two photographs were enlarged in a KODAK photo shop, while the third one was printed in Ink Monkey. Because of the difference, the nail varnish worked differently on the photographs. The ink from photographs from KODAK, rubbed off very quickly, creating almost  a dissolved look. On the other hand, the ink on the photographs from Ink Monkey did not rub off that easily, therefore I had to use a little bit of force with cotton buds, in the end creating a more figure like silhouettes.
Ausrine Suratkeviciute


AUSRINE SURATKEVICIUTE  describes connection to history of people who do not exist in a place that still is where it used to be.   The process also enabled significant difference in the resulting image. The  figures in “Ink Monkey” print  (on the right above)  are alive, dancing.  Like the souls in Hieronymous Bosch.


Being  is defined by  gestures and moves, albeit virtual.  Association with painting breathes softly over the fluffiness of  grass next the  determined definition of hard, shiny, static  multi- coloured surface. This optical poetry somewhat disappears in direct viewing of photoprints  displayed in a gallery, on the wall.

I hail this young artist’s lyricism – so rare especially when connected to anthropological and anthropocentric subject. Yes, you can have social concern and be poetic about it… many 1920s  European artists were good at that.  I do not know whether  the link is known to her, for it is in her work as her invention.


The left image  (Kodak print) is so cruelly removed from the whole of the actual, particular,  place that it resumed  existence as utterly independent from it.  These details may be anywhere, anywhere where boats were repaired or built … the people now free to do  relax around the remnants as if on holidays, or on a lunch break.  Labour is burried under the remnants of the berth – people are lounging  as if freedom has been at last theirs.  Some, at the distant view became cutouts, as imprints in  a prehistoric cave… slightly funerary … or perhaps that may be a purgatory?  The grainy wet surrounding  is on this  Earth, but are they?


The lines of the bench imprison the seated adult and a child as time does all our yesterdays.  They cannot ever leave  – not that they wish to… look how relaxed both are.   The walking pair  froze as if wary of  making that fateful step into the imagined world.   And then – the artist takes away all of this imagined “truth”  by dry exact  faithfull appearance of the real place.  So hard is its clarity! No escape.

That contrast between the real and dreamed up seems to be the ground of the visual thought. Like Italo’s Impossible City  turn upside down… the city is real … the travellers are not.

These three images in spite of their apparent clarity and simplicity are opened to  free thought,  if you are inclined to think about humanity, like Bosch did,inter alia.


Images courtesy the artist.

H Bosch accessed online.

Posted in essay | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mark Shields, at F E McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, March 1 – May 19, 2018

I sense that Shields’s  process dominates the image by piercing intention with invention and chance.  Reminiscent of John Cage.  By “herding “creation, principle and belief together.

In Principio, Seventh Day, 2016, charcoal on paper, 42 x 29cm

Shields  named this exhibition The Inaccessible Land … quoting Georg Buechner’s ” beyond the endless searching”  (on the recto page – opposite illustration frontispiece on the left page of the cover of  the  catalogue. )

Indira Raman revisits that search “…wondering whether the transience of our satisfaction may not in fact be inescapable and instead may reveal an inevitable aspect of the way the brain works, the understanding of which might provide a clue to how to contend with it”(accessed on

Riann Coulter  opens her  excellent catalogue essay  precisely with a contrast of two experiences citing Camus’s  analysis of the myth of Sisyphus: struggle and happiness.

As a curator, she achieved a calm and measured display for most of  the artist’s output of the last four years, seducing the space and light to mellow the strictness of black frames  of most of the series.  She spoke of  more art left behind in the studio. Reminiscent of the Gustave Moreau  house in Paris overflowing  with multitudes, and which Shields visited as a student.

Indeed the connectivity is a necessary part of Shields exploratory strategies.

The Inaccessible Land, 2015,oil on paper, 28x21cm, 1 out of 30.

Riann Coulter cites Shields making connections  e.g. to his garden, to Ernst Shackleton’s  crossing of Antarctica as support for his  painterly process (p6).  Thus framing Shields’s art between observation of his being in the world, and multiple sources of other people’s beliefs and knowledge, and the will to embody a visual thought  in prints and painting.

In this exhibition there are also five arte povera/brutalist low reliefs “Plaques”  made of found wood, white plaster, nails, rust and board. The one below assuming the appearance of a funerary relief, and all  related to one person each,  meant as  markers of their deaths.

“Plaques” For E.R., 2014/15, plaster, wood, iron on board, 60 x 60 cm

Death appears a powerful subject also in the large paintings, even if each  professes different subject matter.  Their surfaces are  tactile blind, after layers and layers of activities, as if caressed with whole  palms while gradually  closing eyes.

Sensitively- they hold that last breath – before closing  eyes for good.  Like found fossils  they hold truth and challenge  my power to unearth it.  I see only the last layer that is allowed to tell me very little about the life under its surface.

When We Dead Awaken, 2017, oil on canvas, 152x122cm

John Hutchinson  has contributed an essay  On Dust, Dance and Transcendence to the catalogue – a marvel of different associations and sources, pointing to sameness they harbour with Shields’s art practice: Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Tantraloka, Strindberg, Rilke, Kleist …

As one way to achieve the  state of grace/transcendence  he points out that”…for Rilke (as for his predecessors, the German Romantics), death presents us with a direct means of transcendence as it allows us to lose the self-consciousness and physical limits that separate us from unified existence.”  (p11)

And then he corrects any possible power of transcendence by citing  the end of Rilke’s Elegies  where the poet  thinks of more pressing task: to transform the sorrow and pain of human existence into an aesthetic experience. (p12)

I sense a parallel here to Shields’s resolve to make the existential fear mute and invisible.  His painted surface stays eloquent in a strange disobedience.  He may have freed consciousness from the visibility, but  not from a visual thought that zooms on hues, tonality, brushstrokes.   It is physical,  and it is wiggling out of physical means to be measured. Similar to Rothko’s paintings making people cry.  I hasten to add: it is not the story, it is a thought. Hence, I find  Hutchinson’s reference to H von Kleist’ On the Marionette Theatre to work as a valid  parallel to Shields funerary subjects.  Moreover, taking his penultimate paragraph leads to the rest of the exhibition:

“Grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness.” (p14)

I have in mind  In Principio.

In Principio, day 1, image 1, 2016, charcoal on paper, 42x29cm



Shields adds The Poem of Job, its first line governs the set.

Where is the path to the source of light?

That question embodies one of the pathways through the seven days of creation, as Shields  moves images  from saturation by charcoal to  its vapourised state – as if.

path to the source of light”  not  ..of  the source of light. 

On day one of Creation, in the first of 49 images(above) the light is  somewhere behind the horizons. Blocked. Has it  not been created, yet ? …”how could I ever find the answer?”  

Then, the seventh image of the seventh day  introduces grace  of – what looks like  a dry tree, winter leafless branch, blade of grass, a dancer’s silhouette ( that Kleist’s Marionette?)   – ballet of resolution.


And the light – its white hue  relentlessly dominates  also the  largest two  paintings in the installation  The Tables of Law I and II.

The Tables of Law II, 2017, oil on canvas, 152x122cm


Naturally the progression includes the Tao – The Way, twelve small woodcut prints.

The Way, 2017, woodcut print, 35×27.5cm

Actually –  this particular image which I downloaded from the web page is not  exhibited.  A very similar one is:   what is on the left shifted to the right and vice versa.  A sign that Shields still feels free  to cherish a chance in preference to discipline.  My favourite from this set,  is the tri colour one for its anthropological association and sheer prettiness.

The Way, 2017, woodcut print, 35×27.5 cm



The frenzy of “divine love” gave birth to red set of energy boxed in right angles: twenty small abstract fields  are given an archaic title “ Revelations of Divine Love”. And no. There is no logical sequence or narrative order – each just confidently burst in a given rectangle as if on its own, privileged to share a secret.


Revelation of Divine Love, 2015, oil on paper, 20 , each 21x14cm

The Inaccessible Land is also  a summary name for 30 slightly bigger paintings, that cherish colours – multicolours, any colour. Even saccharine pink so loved by rococo painters appears above a mere guess of a landscape.


The Inaccessible Land, 2015, oil on paper, 28x21cm. 30 items

Hidden words, or just letters – how have they descended on that paper? How have they managed to stay on, and stay legible behind that milky mist?  It looks more like a watercolour than an oil – however, these light washes were nurtured by painters since Middle Ages  needed them for Nativities . ( And the white aperture in the sky looks  to me like a baby in nappies… …am I forgiven?)

There is so much more in this exhibition that feels like celebration of visual thinking.  The ideologies cheerfully gave way.


Images courtesy Mark Shields, accessed on



Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Four Northern Women’, Engine Room, Belfst , February 1 -24, 2018

Art objects by Anya Waterworth, Sarah Falloon, Joanne Jamison and Leanne McClean benefited from the  daylight  in the smaller rooms  of the gallery.   The windows were never far away from the surface of the small formats luxuriating in an imagined togetherness in a high key.

The variety of techniques ebulliently celebrated not so much each different powers, rather  calm confidence to keep the technical data in the magic box of secrets.  While the  being of the exhibits depended fully on how they were made,  they all submitted to the conspiracy  to keep the rest between the object and its maker.  Instead, not unlike natural forms, the sculptures and paintings/drawings/ collages  offered  to the viewer freedom, limited by the personal taste and preferences.  Their titles harbour each artist’s preference how much to determine the visual thought by  words.

Sarah Faloon trust the affirmative description of the look of her sculptures e.g.  Strider, Orange Bill, Bird, Bone Men and Class of an Eider Duck as their ID. Brief and to the point.

Seeing the Bone Men  and  Eider Duck   in relative proximity  successfully induced a feeling of a play, of animation, of story telling, as in a puppet theatre.

Class of an Eider Duck


Bone Men

The “birds” aspire to appear as puppets too  on a remove from the anthropocentric meanings.

I cannot tell what was the intention and what was her response to the intention issued by the found objects.  The assemblage, however, has been guided by simile between the found and something familiar, like a bird previously seen.  Reminiscent of children’s propensity of seeing other meanings in found objects this artist favours abrasiveness that escapes the spontaneity of a child’s imagination.

Orange Bill, n.d.

While the construct looks effortlessly put together, Faloon carefully adjusts and manages the seams of incompatible parts to share  resemblance to a until then non existing bird.


Faloon exercises her phantasy with an enviable ease and sincerity , with determination to achieve resemblances to natural forms, while preferring discarded  fragments of nature . Her assemblages  flirt with being sculptures, or ornaments or play, dipping into the grotesque, bizarre, incongruous , even jarring appearances, with one ambition:  to carry the correspondence to a natural form.  Birds, bodies. She achieves an immediate recognition grounded in sensory similarity to a priori experience.  Her art invites playful recognition -not the kind rooted in rational judgement.  She makes visible what does not exist but looks like something that does.

Leanne McClean  seeks  something indicated by one of her titles:  In Between 2


Litmus  is a dye obtained from certain lichens that is red under acid conditions and blue under alkaline conditions. It is used to determine whether a substance is acid or alkaline – a memory from grammar school chemistry classes.  This image wiggles out from its scientific roots and wrestles into the realm of abstract art. Where Faloon’s subject reached back to the concept  of air,  McClean’s subjects connect to  matter to Earth. The above painting is both a record of chemical reaction and an abstraction of standing forms  with slowly disintegrating certainty.  Their from dissipates into uneven outlines, as if the substance in between seeped into the surroundings, hesitantly but driven by some law.  The organic and no- organic are placed into a proximity that erases the living force, as in mumification. The organic mater appears comfortably unorganic, as a replacement of the real.  Approximation is the chosen pathway.



I had to look up that word.  Definition of sulcus – a groove or furrow, especially one on the surface of the brain. (  While looking at the image,  I would spontaneously think of breaks, fissures, grooves, but not of grooves in brain.  Rather, it appears to me like a fossil, some unknown organisms locked in hard rock  milions of years ago.  The marks look  like imprints or debris. Not like the neurons  and synapses seen in scientific illustrations.   Maybe that’s the point – to make a generic similarity between scientific knowledge and visualisation   that  does not rule out future improved research.   Ignoring the title – opens a varieties of meaning – connected to abstraction, archeology, broken tiles,  old and new art systems.  Open ended.

Anya Waterworth   exhibited four small abstractions.  In one, collage appears under the large white gesture marks  blinding any possible depth so laboriously constructed by the black blobs.  Or ?  Starting reading from the blue lower part this flattening power of white is replaced by an illusion that it, in particular,  is far away from the picture plane. As intelligent as playful, the familiarity with optical power of hues and tones is delivered with dionysian freedom.  By intoxicated brush or pastel.

Spanish Series

Continuing with my simile of the art’s character to one of the four classic elements of existence, this is neither Air or Earth, it is Fire.  Even the absence of heat remembers fire as ashes.  Renewing life.

Blue seed 1


Blue Seed

Fittingly her last image goes underground like in layers of life in deserts, or across geological  changes.

Underground Series


Joanne Jamison  exhibited images born out of the place she calls home.

Fog on Antrim Coast

Nothing near my own experience of driving up north in the fog. When I disregard the words of the title,   the recognition of something frustrating clarity not just of a vision, but of knowing where it is, where am I in relation to it.Yet. it is not uncomfortable – only masking something, preventing me to know, to be sure.  In that sense it is an image for “human condition”. This association increases when moving to her  two images with the same title: Brave New World – Lagan.


Right angles, incised lines, horizontal and vertical co-exist in the same plane as they habitually would do on an architectural plan – but there is a sun or moon as if visible through thin clouds!  All together – it does not celebrate some “brave new word” – rather it issues doubts about the principles of those professing it.  Who are they? There may be an answer in the two images below, figure in snow and with sun.

Figures in the Snow

Impossible to identify them.  A simile to how we are governed?

Figures with Sun

Reminiscent of some French abstraction of the 1950s -60s these two broadcast confidence into the power of absence of direct identification of perceivable forms. Invented forms  effortlessly hold energy the way the universe does.. or conserve an imprint of a collusion of nothing and something while refuting the narrative in favour of the lyrical. She is quoted that her ambition is to  portray a place and its soul.


She is  a founder of Engine Room Gallery, technician, cleaner, curator et al… I have known her for decades, as strongly dedicated to contemporary artists. Her own art practice had to squeeze between that and family – I recall how her tiny twins cried while she brushed the gallery floor minutes  before an opening.  In between running the gallery with others and family life, she steadily developed two parameters  that define her practice:  abstraction  and sensuality.

Apology for not having data about all four artists and captions for their exhibits.  I let those to fade into the February past… and failed to recover them.


Images courtesy the Engine Room Gallery.

Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

THERE and NOT THERE. GTG Belfast. 01.03.- 21.04. 2018

Victoria J Dean, Untitled VIII

Curated by Sarah McAvera, in a thoughtful display, the small gallery room  elegantly housed four  large images ( The Illusion of Purpose II., IV, V, X. all  110 x 110cm, 2017 All in edition of  5)  by Victoria J Dean and  nine  by Sharon Murphy,  dated 2014, two smallest measuring 210 x 297 mm, five twice as big at 419 x 609 mm  and further three still slightly larger at 419 x 419 mm.

Victoria J Dean,Untitled XVII

Ever since Chuck Close bridged over an assumption that a photographic portrait may cross over the privacy boundaries, until then habitually preferring the range from  medailon  to hand size scale, photography appeared  driven to dethrone murals and billboards from their hegemony. In this exhibition the variations in size are closely related to what the lens is aimed at.

Dean’s single “monuments”  tower over the horizon, slightly destabilising themselves  from the vertical plane, giving the lens the role of a window, reminiscent of Alberti’s concept of painting.  The two  Untitled, XVII and   VIII, above have not been displayed  in this exhibition.  My including them has a simple purpose to make visible  the sameness that governs the series by the feeling parallel to  a  current  UK project  carrying similar words as the title of this exhibition:

A small variation: the “but” is replaced by “and”.

Hence the independence of emotional impact of an actual selected motif. In this context photography is wedded to circulation, to gifting what the lens (as a window)  cuts out the whole  turning it into another, partly independent, object.  A photograph is never just one thing. It grants the visual thought a degree of freedom.  However, Dean, exploits one visual habit: we are too eager to attribute extravagant agency  to one picture, turning ourselves into participating witness.

Victoria J Dean Untitled V

Dean thinks of her art as  of exploration how and that  the physical  is registered and made visual by her preferred process. She emailed me her Statement:

The Illusion of Purpose

Technology is restructuring our communication methods, transforming our perceptions and interactions with our environment, and rendering the physical realm comparatively cumbersome and slow. Disconnected from the modern digital world, these material structures and the systems in which they once functioned are obsolete. With the simplicity and directness of a symbolic form, each structure withholds its message, alluding to a relic from a forgotten language.
The Illusion of Purpose explores ideas of materiality, monumentality and the sculptural, questioning the relevance of the physical in our increasingly virtual age, and in a world of communication hijacked by technology.

Not surprisingly her preference for capturing  an image  of obsolescence activates traditional methods, archival pigment print on Photo Rag, Dibond mounted.   As if in agreement Sharon Murphy makes images using ” archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle mounted on Dibond”.

Untitled (There was a Child), 2014, 419x609mm,archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle, (Fine Art Pearl) mounted on Dibond

Their methods  seem related to a printing process  invented by Dunstan Perera (Creart) and/or to  Heliochrome. He used “non-toxic and non- carcinogenic chemicals”. Once printed onto watercolour paper the images, he says,  are archival.  From looking at the surfaces – I cannot tell.

Victoria J Dean, Untitled IV


The curator Sarah McAvera thinks that “Victoria Dean’s  photographs are notable for their lack of people, yet they are not simple landscapes or seascapes, the structure are the key.”  Yet, that absence is only on the physical level. This red cone is a witness of people’ s concerns that memory is fleeting, insecure, imprecise.  This object is an anchor of that  impermanence,  made visual through focus on marks of neglect, pathway leading to the unknown, invisible behind the horizon, and a nonchalant  interaction of the cone with the huddled bushes.

Victoria J Dean, Untitled 2

People are there and not there…  somewhat similar to Karl Marx’s observation that the worker in a factory becomes a part of the machine and is alienated from the whole.  Dean’s capacity to select and store a fragment of being as a “whole thing” enables a discourse not of what was there before this image, but what is the image “saying” about people scattering objects like these. What is it saying not about itself, but those who made it, placed it, and those who never even noticed it. This is an  extravagant aim – with a huge hole filled with uncertainty and free imagination.  It stays worldless and mute.

Sarah McAvera summarised that thus:   while absence is the quality that connects both artists  ” There is something sinister in the works of these two photographers, a feeling that danger is present even though there is no evidence that it will occur. What is there and what is not is not so easy to decipher, allowing for multiple interpretations and stories to be seen.” (gallery handout)

However – the process  of enabling that mute discourse would be not the only concern. Perera questioned the aesthetic value of “straight” photography advocating instead use of the camera as defining the image.  I like his question:My memory is far more beautiful than anything I can take, so what is the point of producing ordinary photographs?” (

So – what makes Dean’s images a memory?  I suspect different viewers will offer different answers.  At this stage I sense manifestation of morality  as human nature within nature, with contradiction.  The photographed objects and nature are insouciant to the choice made by the viewer.

Would this be a case when the lens  views people and not objects?  Sharon  Murphy’s  children in nature  harbour an answer by forging a co-existence of care and abandonment, memory and imagination.   She explains her intention:

 There was a Child (2013-2014) is a series of staged ‘self-portraits as child’ set in natural settings that are at once actual, the constructs of memory, and allegorical. The series operates between the physical landscape and the inner contours of the private self, staged in the landscapes of my early childhood. These images draw on my adult love of theatre: of costumed pose and considered gesture.

Untitled VI, 419 x 419mm, Archival pigment print on Hahnemuhle(Fine Art Perl) mounted on Dibond, Edition of 6

Childhood disappears after contracting memory to play hide and seek with consciousness.

Untitled V, 419x419mm, as above


The psychological effect of constructing  Self  from that interplay of real and imagined  is as valuable as disorienting  but energises the diptych.

Untitled XIV, 210 x 297mm, as above

Murphy trusts the aesthetic function of constructed sight  to give some permanence to fleeting certainty with emphasis on nature ” of her childhood”.

It envelopes the “disinterested figure” who cannot be her – an admission embodied in different subjects, and colours of their attire.


Announcing impermanence the images harmonise the mundane with boundless solitude.

Mutually exclusive they got hold of pleasure from knowing that perception is a fiction.


At times they  lead to persuasion through composition that the child is safe.  The child trusts whoever takes the photograph.  Yet – I sense a strong invincible invitation to be  palpably concerned about each child.

Murphy manages to point my attention to all that is outside the frame.

The oscillation is unnerving. Victor Hugo thought that sublime combines the grotesque and beautiful, Murphy  combines the safety with fear. Her images are not mechanically objective, even if they are technically obtained under that pretense.

Edmund Burke sought of the danger as conversant source of the sublime.  Empathic tuning with the object of observation requires abdication of reason to enable the encounter to stay impressive.  Murphy leads me to think through the details… yet not being free of the impact of the whole, both of each photograph and the series. That I see parallel to theatre.

Both Dean and Murphy work with a duality of constructed sight dominating the unseen.

In that sense these photographs obtained a relationship with painting.



Images courtesy the artists.


Posted in essay | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

DAVID GODBOLD:Nightfall – amplissium terrarum tractum , Golden thread Gallery, Belfast, 3 Feb – 10 March 2018

An unexpected move to use Latin  as a title of an exhibition these days… the words are written in neon tubes above the painting titled  Three little words, (2010, neon, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 115 cm, sorry my mobile camera erased those words))  


Alice Maher just has done it too, calling her exhibition at South Gallery Thurles,Tipperary (opens March 28, 2018) Vox Matter. Is it a new take on  art  shedding  its chains to particular time, period, style?  Similar  ahistorical move exhibits the  current web page  by Woodland Trust displaying   this ” fictional forest”.  On the surface level – they all introduce an idea of continuous existence, of simultaneous existence.

Those parallel marks, contrast light,  and repetitive modelling, all appear in the current Godbold’s exhibition. For example: Just don’t give up (2010, ink and pencil on paper, 54 x 75 cm) is drawn with  red ink and pencil – as a simulacrum of red chalk favoured by the European painters of  Gothic and Renaissance, including Raphael and Leonardo.


The appearance sets a doubt about authenticity –  a viewer may be forgiven to think that it is an old work of art or a Godbold’s copy of one.  The confident parallel marks  betray  that neither is correct. The marks are fluent, vivacious and energetic – not hesitant copies.   Moreover,   the same composition  appears in an acrylic  painting  in a larger size, displayed   on a diagonally opposite  wall.

My past burried in a shallow grave, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 115 cm

Viewers would need  to walk the whole length of the gallery to become aware/certain of the similarity.   Godbold deliberate use of a display  as a tool to  construct a meaning, allows similarity becoming surprising, and issues a  call  to  the viewer to go back and look again.  Doing so forges a story, or several stories.  One story offers a “death of the new”, the new formulated by Modernism as partaking in the inner life of the artist – not observable.  Godbold dual use of the same model sincerely admits  that he collects images, like a 19th C botanist would flowers and seeds.  The aesthetic  categories tied to the New are tied to the old, through a remake.  Remakes are appropriate in films and theatres – rarely in paintings, notwithstanding the fascinating Picasso’s work with   Las Meninas by Velasquez.  Godbold limits appearance of one model to two – in this exhibition. As if he wanted to say look and look again once.  Significantly – this is what his art is rooted in.  I recall William Blake’s thought: “…the windows of our perception are cleansed when we are drawn in  or out by stories”.

One such story is charmingly chaste in these two  related paintings.

Its title gives a clue to a common existence, known experience: Every evening I plan to enjoy the sunrise, and each morning I fail to get up (2009. acrylic on canvas, 175 x 250 cm)

Its daylight sibling lives under an absurd title 100,000.000 Angels singing, (2008)  Both accessed on

Observant  comparison rewards the viewer with tiny changes in what is visible, e.g. the smoke from the chimney is clearer in the daylight variation, which lost a little of tree trunk on the left.  Those are substories to the story of sameness and difference dependent on light.  Plato chose a Demiurg to deal with those two (in Timaeus).  Godbold makes the score for each of us to play with,  to invent our story.  He significantly departs from the distrust that forged Kandinsky’s  On the spiritual in Art, 1911.  And he shares the confidence  that his art also provides the kind of experience valuable in its own right and not obtainable from any other activity.

His round-about selection of models, as something already visible as art, forges with his responses a kind of a silent fugue.  Admirably – he respects each  model with humility, which was not his chosen mode early in his practice.  He used  to  scar, eliminate, visually assault parts of the appropriated  images with large gestural marks, that abandonned  hope of avoiding vulgarity. In this current exhibition is one drawing where numbers prevail over two  humans ( Adam and Eve)  standing in the middle of that “universe” – diminished and doubtful.

An  appropriation of compositions  and accentuation of the narrative detail,  both are in combatant mood vis a vis early and heroic Modernism.

Selected  motives/ forms/compositions  he may have seen  in galleries, museums, churches, books and on internet, forge a  depart from 20th C obsession with originality ( the myth analysed by  Rosalind Krauss) and from  “not breaking the flat plane” ( Clement Greenberg).  Can I assume that he selects what moves him?  Clive Bell is often cited as defender of  “art’s quality that provokes our aesthetic emotions…….when I speak of significant form, I mean a combination  of lines and colours (counting white and black as colours) that moves me aesthetically”  (The Aesthetic Hypothesis”).

Godbold chose those lines and contours that were already proved to deliver that impact on him. Does that make  him a copyist at times? To some degree? Not in the slightest.

I wonder if comparing a source to his image will provide a solution.  Below is Baptism of Christ, a 5th C mosaic in the Arian  Baptistery in Ravenna (image courtesy Mary Ann Sullivan, 2006)

Godbold’s ink and laser print  Semi-Submerged Saviour, 1998 (25.5 x 18.5cm)  keeps the proportions and detail seen in Ravenna(or online)  including  the impersonation of river Jordan on the left.

A  copyist would include all – whereas  Godbold’s leaves out the liturgical, most significant,  St John the Baptist, and more than a  half of the mythological bystander – river Jordan. The absences transform the meaning.

Yet, he keeps as much of the original style as the chosen technique guarantees.  Consequently – style is something he is analysing, disputing, debating, re-thinking – but still applying.

Mayer Shapiro usefully defined the style  as  not attached to a particular historical period, which flies against some of the basic tools of art history, but as something shared by a group, which presupposes co-existence: “Style is, above all, a system of forms with a quality and meaningful expression through which the personality of the artist and the overall outlook of a group are visible. It is also a vehicle of expression within the group, communicating and fixing certain values of religious, social, and moral life through the emotional suggestiveness of forms.” 

Those two points hold a promise  of an answer: Personality of the artist  and the overall outlook of a  group….  His personality reminds me Albert Camus  musing about The Myth of Sisyphus  – on the will to live with dignity and authenticity. Those two qualities are grounded, in his case,  in seeing, in observing, in  what he makes visible.    Obviously he cannot belong to a group working in the 5th C  in Ravenna . Instead – he can share an overall outlook of a group of  artists  living during his life time. Art Povera and Conceptual Art contribute material and  idea.

In 1969, Sol LeWitt publish “Sentences for Conceptual Art” in the little magazine O-9 (New York), edited by Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer.

Here are the first five sentences:

1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
2. Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.
3. Irrational judgements lead to new experience.
4. Formal art is essentially rational.
5. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.

Will any of Judd’s conditions appear in  the  red drawing?

Just don’t give up (2010) 

and in the  acrylic painting on canvas titled My past burried in a shallow grave (2010) ?


Instantly, on reading the titles  – the realization that the same  idea and visual composition of it  appear as addressing future (in the drawing) and past (in the painting)  provide that leap that logic cannot reach.   There is no rational, logical reason for leaving out John the Baptist from Baptism of Christ.   The print looks like an image of shivering teenager as if under the command of an older man, half out of the frame on the left.   And the  drawn landscape  insists on hiding  Godbold’s initials which appear visible in the painting in two tine circles.  The “shallow grave” is under the tree on the left lower  darkest passage, and is marked with tiny initials:  DG. The ground there is indecisive: a grave or a flowing water? Both  works of art adhere to Bell’s Modernist rule on “significant form”. Both, the drawing and painting admit fidelity to another  concept:  to an idea,  of reaching  “beyond ” appropriation or resurrection of verbal  hierarchy over execution.  In that sense Godbold  protects visual thought as sufficient to make a drawing or painting.  Leonardo’s trust in what he named “a mute poetry”  and Italo Calvino call that visual thoughts must be protected, both  stand  at the birth of a-historical freedom to reject original contexts. Significantly – his trust in story telling  is a critique of Modernism. In support I recall a neglected thought of Clement Greenberg: “Modernism criticizes from the inside, through the procedures themselves of that which is being criticised”

Godbold works in an “0bsolete form”  – using current means, he goes beyond abstraction and inner model. Does he share anything with conceptual art? Does he share Donald Judd’s dim view of painting?

The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangement of whatever is on or inside of it.

 In defiance, Godbold  does this: numerous rectangles, framed and placed in a way recalling the Salon or  commercial galleries in Paris…  I sense that the Judd’s  view of conceptual art  both attracts and challenges Godbold – to provide something that protects freedom to be irrational. Not only that – it must satisfy something in his imaginations.


The seventeen metre wall  was painted in red, in situ, by Colin Darke, following projection of Godbold’s drawings of a landscape.  On it are 114 framed  drawings or paintings whose stylistic pedigree  includes medieval and renaissance citations.

This art is  not a case, or variant  of copying, so disliked by early Modernists(Futurists).  I have seen paintings done by copyists trained at Viennese academy  before WW2 – and having   access to a regular planimetric samples of old art to copy in oil on canvas. The  commercial rule was: change the size.  Current research claims that copying improves creativity.  (

Some people will disagree.  I visited  an Academy in Leningrad in 1962, and  in a private discussion, the students tearfully  complained about being forced to copy museum pieces, day after a day,  year after year… no freedom their western counterparts enjoyed.   The same year  Nikita Khrushchev published  an article in Pravda newspaper,  calling  the sculpture by Ernst  Neizvestny, exhibited in the Menagerie in Moscow,  degenerate.  It was a stump of ancient tree  carved partly as a face and hand of a violinist … a fragment of a body as if growing out of the tree trunk.   The sculptor  also experienced  – as a student in Riga- endless copying… did not diminish his creativity for ever. Neizvestny became a target  because he moved away from  prescribed socialist realism, which was rooted in obedience to  the aesthetic canon dictated by  the censor of Russian writers such as Anna Akhmatova and Mikhail Zoshchenko. Zhdanov  formulated what became known as the Zhdanov Doctrine :”The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best“. (  Irony is, that Zhdanov is not conversant with the  folk tradition of carved sculptures in stone and wood in situ, a practice  widely spread in forests where the Slavs live.  Perhaps best documented is the sculptor  Matthias Braun (18thC)  who carved biblical stories from rocks in situ at Kuks.   Khruschev would label it “degenerate”.

A measure is something Godbold both masters and ignores in turn, works on the thin line of difference between found art and  new.   This strategy  has active enemies: the fear of “not being original” as defined by Modernism … and the representation  as interpretation of intensified recovery.  Like a good researcher – he does commit to  one common value: hand made drawings and paintings,  dependendent on a tight co-ordination of eye, hand and memory.

His construct of  meaning becomes more obvious when comparison is made  with  another “translation” of older art into modern idiom.  Voynich Botanical Studies, by Miljohn Ruperto and Ulrich Heltoft, ongoing since 2013, are a good example.

 Nature Gone Astray at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Shanghai, 2018

The gallery statements gives the background information, which my readers may not have, hence I copy and paste it here.

The “Voynich manuscript” has been called a Holy Grail in cryptography. Discovered in 1912 by the American book dealer Wilfrid Voynich in the basement of a Jesuit library near Rome, the 230 page manuscript, completed in the 15th century, portrays a diverse array of astonishing fauna and flora, celestial objects, mysterious figures, as well as a huge quantity of script as of yet undeciphered. Based on the wildly imaginative illustrations of plants and vegetation in the Voynich manuscript, Miljohn Ruperto – a Californian artist of Philippine origin – together with the Danish artist Ulrik Heltoft, have made textural photographic works by creating 3D models then making negatives from these and finally printing them in traditional gelatin silver format. Entitled the Voynich Botanical Studies, the series has been ongoing since 2013. Both in the “Voynich Manuscript” and Voynich Botanical Studies there is an absurd attitude of humans creating nature. If the former provided the concept, then the latter has “rewritten” natural history by means of highly mimetic visual archives with the aid of modern technology. The mysterious plants in strange forms in the black background seem almost tangible with their crazy and beautiful leaves, branches and flower buds. Our love and curiosity for Nature are always accompanied by the desire to control it; such is the fundamental reason why natural history will “be led astray”.

Accessed online on Voynich Botanical Studies, comparison of original and Ulrich Heltoft’s response.

(Image shared from

Love, curiosity, desire to control it, the inner  connection with earlier culture – all appear in  Godbold’s  practice.   The use of  Latin  for contemporary art feels pretentious, showing off classical education.  The  words appear in  a modern medium – neon. A wry smile – confronting the ubiquitous neons  in blockbusters of international art exhibitions.  Sorry – my  mobile camera  got just a white cloud, which is a  visual lie.  Moreover – the neon is placed above   an  acrylic painting   Three Little words (2010, 80 x 115cm)



Three little words, 2010 , acrylic on canvas, 80 x 115cm , accessed on

Is the title of the exhibition, carefully chosen by Godbold, directing attention to that  thin line of difference?

The artist named this display Nightfall …

Nightfall – limits visibility, thus making the ” de terrarum tractum”  unmeasurable, irrational,  conceptual, imagined, uncertain,  not observable,possibly  not existing.

Things Happen (nightfall version), 2011, acrylic on canvas 140x200cm. accessed on


Godbold places drawing and painting into that remove  from the ample tracks of the Earth. Tracks which  his “sources” (previous artists)   might have observed. And then, mutating the size  he takes ownership  of what others observed,  of their wisdom or follies – and translates it, into the same medium!  The blue hues dominate the nightfall – the tonality is reminiscent of Dutch 18th C , but the high horizon signifies Italian landscape  from Baldovinetti onwards. It shares motives, not light,  that  Claude Lorraine mixed  in his: romantic ruins, large single trees.


amplissium terrarum tractum …start with an ablative of the  substantivum – I read it as designating a place anywhere.



Amplissium pictoris opus non colossus sed historia  appears written in 16th C  about Raphael: Vast part of painter’s work is but a story.  This connects well to my earlier awareness that and how  Godbold tells stories – stories of his being with other art.

If so, it matters what the story is of.  Godbold suggests landscape – terrarum tractum – parts of landscape.    A kind o subjective visual translation. And he is diligent doing that.  Madly so. But allows figural drawing.

The folded and bended  flying drapery of St Christopher is reminiscent of  Albrecht Duerer around 1500.


The exhibition  embraces multitude of motifs, sources, places, time… in harmony with that claim.  Like an incomplete visual dictionary –  Amplissimum as the genitive of the  superlative of  “amplus” means widest,  most spacious, largest , according to external circumference  and capaciousness within. Hence it is never complete, finished, closed. The openness, of course is a necessary condition of art.

The kernel of the word amplissium   directs the mind from the heights  of the universe down …   to the second word in the title, the Earth: terra –  and its genitive terrarum.   Not to all of it just to a one  tract  at time – a quest rather than achievement. Moving from “land” in the first gallery, to time in the second space.  There the same composition gets painted once as a night and  once in a daylight chromatics.


This is already too long ….  Godbold placed a conundrum without making a radical distinction between his art and that he uses as a model.  Yes, he changes the scale, the colours, the meaning, the context, material appearance –  something appears, though, as samaness. I need Buber’s philosophy to assist here:

“The basic formulation of Buber’s philosophy (the philosophy of dialogue) is contained in I and Thou (Ich und Du in German) where he makes a radical distinction between two basic attitudes of which men are capable, described as I-Thou  and I-It.

  • I-Thou designates a relation between subject and subject, a relation of reciprocity and mutuality
  • I-It is the relation between subject and object, involving some form of utilization or control, the object being wholly passive.

Godbold must have some reciprocity with the maker of Ravenna mosaics, to start with and then controlled which part to select.

“The I in the two situation also differs : in the I-Thou it appears only within the context of the relationship and cannot be viewed independently, whereas in the I-it situation the I is an observer and only partly involved. The I-Thou situation cannot be sustained indefinitely and every Thou will at times become an It…..  In a healthy man there is a dialectical interaction between the two situations : every I-it contains the potential of becoming I-Thou, the situation in which man’s true personality emerges within the context of his world.”

I sense that the interaction of the two kinds of I  forges the ground for Godbold’s aesthetics, that embraces the essential ambiguity  of human condition: the ebb and flow, irrational  exchange between free will and determination. It has been perceived as granting an artist a special status:

  1. Creating art is a privileged mode of assuming and realising the paradox  of being a mortal human being, conscious of the past and thinking of the future.  It blurs the boundary between the theoretical and biographical, personal and general.
  2.  The artist’s activity is also deeply significant in terms of its power of articulating a coherent world.  Their achievements are worthy of admiration because they involve the creation of virtual worlds.  To re-create a virtual world that can do justice to the complexity of the real world is an almost “miraculous” fact, as Merleau-Ponty says of Cézanne.  It is also doomed to fail – because an artist can never say all that may be revealed.

This leads  Albert Camus to conclude that creative activity, like all free activities, is in the end only another attempt at dealing with the absurdity of human life ( The Stranger, 1942, 130).  Art is the best instrument  we have to cope with it.

Godbold shares with a group of contemporaries fondness for citation, quotation, appropriation, his subject is the selection, combination, and matching of fragments from other art. Significance of his achievement is that it looks both old and new.  Not Janus like, rather like a well understood irony.















































Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

STUART CALVIN, The Earthly and the Uncharted, 25 Jan – 24 Feb 2018, Ulster University Art Gallery, Belfast

David Haughey  accompanied the installation with a breathtakingly beautiful essay extracting deep understanding of human condition from materials and hues while mapping the roots in ancient philosophy.  Applied to current EU strategies with migrating people it dips this art near James Turrell’s claim “[My art] is about your seeing, like wordless thought that comes from looking into fire”.  Not a whimsical link – Calvin’s use of light and space shares the mind expanding force noted in Turrell’s installations.

Event Horizon, 2017

To think of a mythic form as a catalyst toward “clarity” and even  action  is not that new as to be doubted.  Mark Rothko explored so called “mythomorphic abstraction” in paintings, so comparison with installation may feel out of order, until the nonverbal thought admits not source but impact.  In both Rotho’s and Calvin’s art the impact is unequivocal.

Mark Rothko, No 61, Rust and Blue

Muriel Spark “Art is an art of daring”  comes to my mind  while seeing Calvin’s installation,  while connecting uncrossable space of the oval of wax that appears black from the entrance and golden from the back wall.

Within the underside, Wax ,Dye and Gold Leaf, 2018



The sculpture favours Brancusi’s preference for absent plinth


The scars on the “gold” are not immediately visible, and as if holding their breath, they appear from some viewing angles.  On the far wall is a framed print  holding its secrets even tighter, but issuing impact from afar.

The crossing, Digital print, 25 x 38 cm, 2018

Can I be sure that “my meaning” is “its meaning”? No.  But I appreciate both  its confidence that the blue will not drown in the dark,  and my freedom to trespass with my imagination.  Calvin made a space for it. With a blithe indiference to my feeling this exhibit is both finished and unfinished.  Like any poem.   Its tomorrow is negotiable, it is adaptable to change of light and to the viewing by another.  Its consolatory dark smooth plane hides a proleptic invocation of a disabled object. And silence.

I hasten to add, that I do not intend to crucify  the installation’s emerging power  as I move in the space, to any one particular view.  The  blue top of the wax crucible indulges in being both  flat and of  immense depth, a hermeneutic snare to avoid certainty.  Is something else going to happen?  Yes – reflections play poker with angles and light.

Calvin never disappoints, if all you expect is  the force of mute poetry  without an end.

(The  images are not capable to approximate the aesthetic experience of  being there)



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Quiet Club in Florida, 2016

They were artists in residence  with the Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Florida, in January 2016. Published the album in 2017.

Playing every day at 2pm in a shed on Jungle Road they created this work.

The sound work is organised into five parts separate by seconds of silence:

Fire Ants (20.36), Jungle Road 16.06), Waldo Cottage (16.41), Laika Lane (14.22) and Snow Birds(11.24), copyright Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea.

 On the dorso of images are texts, two poems.  Michael Waisvisz  ends his with a magic two lines:

the pieces of grit however are not yet small enough to have                                       descended into their final states: the etheric dust

Explosive opening made by rusting world of materials abandonned in the wind provides a noisy decomposition of electro-sonic ensemble that occupies the lip of recurring questions – what is the sound? What does it demand of me?  Even the human voices just about audible over muffled distances relentlessly refuse to tell whether they are apocalyptic or just imprisoned. The sound issues relentless dictatorship of uncertainty.  Apparent is the refusal to commit the sounds to a flow, instead they pile up like rocks after a earthquake. The sounds are hermetic, without a message, a story, and powerful means to abdicate any duty or privilege.  I cannot persuade myself that  the two parts, Fire Ants and Jungle Road are  beautiful nor that there is no beauty in them.

My whimsical memory evokes parallels with  Fleurs du Mal – and how it could sound without words. Too many lacunas allow for discontinuity as confident as is the universe. Alas -the Waldo Cottage appears to include sounds of nature, which must be my illusion, because the artists claim that all was done indoors, every day, starting at 2pm. There is a high pitched line like sound in relentless duration, so long, that I wished it stopped at least three times. Technosound. It issues a kind of oblique disappointment – so oblique that  I cannot tell what it is, what it is about, yet, I cannot pretend that it is not, and it has not a powerful identity, aesthetic power.

These sounds are not humble. They are overwhelmingly confident  in subverting the expectations. Even  in repeats and monotony, the sound invents, behaving like a meandering river both knowing and not knowing what comes next. It descends from the universe down –  to the human breath labouring to achieve something that is not accessible to senses.

Glass high pitch breaks in  and stays high above the drip- drops that are  sounding too technical.  Yet, a welcome respite.

Silence is forbidden, unless it announces an end. A pause between parts.  A length of a slow breath.  Snow Birds  infatuated by the two- the  continuous high pitch and man’s breath syncopize a bodily  effort- slightly playfully rush to the end.

Jane Hirtchfield  poem, published with the disc,  A Well Runs Out of Thirst,  ends with a stanza that gently aligns to the  sound compositions:

There are questions that never run out of questions, answers that don’t exhaust answer.

Take this question the person stands asking:

a gate rusting open.

Yes stands on its left, no on its right

two big planets of unpainted silence.








Posted in essay | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Listening to DANNY McCARTHY: Rauschenberg Scores

I have a memory (drowned in the decades of forgetting)  of an summer evening open air  piano concert at the Maeght Foundation  near Saint-Paul de Vence: the pianist played the same score marks vertically, horizontally, clockwise, anti-clockwise, on a diagonal…. It was not my first experience with  that kind of music making, but for a reason that remains nameless, most memorable art vivant.

Danny McCarthy made an indoor  piece.


The notes on the envelope holding the disc with The Rauschenberg Scores  include:

McCarthy then used Rauschenberg’s piano in the main studio to interpret these scores. Working late into the night sounds appeared  in the studio for no apparent reason. These sounds  were incorporated into the recordings.The scores/prints moved on the walls, again for no apparent reason, except they read/looked better that way.

Whether “Bob” as Matt calls him intervened is open to interpretation, but as Matt Hall said ” It would not be the first time strange things happened and things moved by themselves in these studios.


To cut open such a work only to extract an argument is to kill its heart.  My only salvation from the foolish decision to write about it is trusting what Baudelaire called “correspondances”. I can’t quite articulate what it is that I’m reacting to. My grasp on what I’m hearing doesn’t seem cognitive, a free mix of visuals and sounds.  Both, which I know and which are startlingly new. Even alien.


First more words,now, on the necessary ( and insufficient) conditions for  The Rauschenberg Scores.

During January and February 2016  the artist Danny McCarthy was invited to work as “Artist in Residence” with The Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva Florida along with fellow  “The Quiet Club” member Mick O’Shea.


The residency was housed in Robert Rauschenberg Studio’s and estate. While there, the artists had full access to all the studio’s facilities including Rauschenberg’s own piano which Cage, Tudor etc had performed on. In the studio were the work tables used by Rauschenberg, when he lived and worked there. These tables were marked, scored and coloured by  Rauschenberg himself as he made his own work. (The tables were  fabricated  and built by Matt Hall, Rauschenberg’s assistant and still head technician in the studios). McCarthy took these marks,  scores and colours, photographed them, and used them to create a series of prints on antique handmade paper that Rauschenberg left behind in the studio. 

These became “The Rauschenberg Scores”, a sample is accessible here: (Sorry,some children  voices  follow autoatically)

During listening of McCarthy’s music, I hear sounds our ancestors would never  hear –   akin to engines of unknown kind  and sounds astronomy links with the sounds of the universe. In a way, these sounds  uproot me from my prosaic  presence,  they emerge to my consciousness as coming from the prehistoric era.  Are they Earth bound? Not all of them.  Those that sound like a piano key, are – and others deny that instrument and  that space. In complicity with his tools ( instruments, space, electronics)  McCarthy  achieved an enigmatic exchange that exclude the habitual listening to music and its relationship to time.  The middle could be the beginning or the end.  He translated that condition into an image of a circle and lines on the sleeve for the disc, possibly, it is one of the marks found on the tables – a silent message.


…lambent, obvious, forbidding, uggly, beautiful, even terrifying. Pelagic silence broken by oppositional, yet constituent roar. Too loud, too pianissimo.  I could not decide where to set the volume of the sound – Adorno’s concept of beauty as ” a necessary moment ”  circled the intensity I experienced.  What if the intensity of performance is all that separates art and  other being? What if all is required is that I stay loose  from the mad search for objective values?  Some passages are apocalyptic – some akin resignation to a disaster of something  becoming nothing.

There is more: on subsequent listening – some earlier perception accelerated to variations – for example a sound’s ending  changed more fluently into silence and visa versa.

Hence my conclusion –

The visual and sound variations are Danny McCarthy respectful  memorial to the space, and objects  as documents of existence of Rauschenberg  and intense sorrowful strive to activate  the loss back into presence (and future). With all the intensity of spirit McCarthy could evoke.

There is more….  and it is non verbal….





Posted in essay, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ronnie Hughes,Strange Attractors, The Model, Sligo, 16 April – 22 June 2017, catalogue, 71pp

I have not seen this exhibition. I have seen some of his earlier  paintings at Fenderesky Gallery.

This  essay exists  because Ronnie   Hughes generously  sent me the handsome  catalogue published by The Model in 2017. It contains two essays, CV and bibliography and 40 pages of reproductions of paintings  under summary titles Strange Attractors I and II.

The Space Between, 2015, Acrylic co-polymer on canvas,188x183cm

What is in the name?  On the practical level – identification.  But – underneath that clarity dreams a chaos of possibilities, a phenomenon completely vindicated by recent research, like that by Thomas Metzinger, professor and director of the theoretical philosophy group and the research group on neuroethics/neurophilosophy at the department of philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany. From 2014-19, he is a Fellow at the Gutenberg Research College. He is the founder and director of the MIND group, and Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute of Advanced Studies in Germany. His latest book is The Ego Tunnel (2009).  After comparing our thinking to dolphin’s behaviour  he muses that

One of the most exciting recent research fields in neuroscience and experimental psychology is mind-wandering – the study of spontaneous or task-unrelated thoughts. Its results have radical implications for politics, education and morality. If we consider the empirical findings, we arrive at a surprising result of profound philosophical significance: cognitive control is the exception, while its absence is the rule. Much of the time we like to describe some foundational ‘self’ as the initiator or cause of our actions, but this is a pervasive myth. In fact, we only resemble something like this for about a third of our conscious lifetime. 

I  welcome that as a tool against cognitive bias – which is so difficult to shift.   It is also  grounding  for my  utter delight  while reading the  essays A CODE OF THE HEART  for the first time earlier.  What happened to that delight  now when I engage the discipline of “facts”?  Its author, Martin Herbert does not yet list it among his catalogue  essays.

He casually introduces a derivation from the uncertainty principle in his first paragraph:

The artist, via design or fortuity or both cues both positive confusion and the desire to master it and then indefinitely delays such mastery, continuing to tickle eye and mind along the way (my emphasis) (p 13)

It reads like a generic statement for all and any. Given my interest in recognising the power of “wandering mind”, I read the “tickling” as analogous. Herbert zoomed on the same painting as I, seeing the Space Between  as between a diagram and cartoon …” both with cerebral appeal”(p13) and also – as I do- as a cosmos.  His meandering around received view of abstraction and the impact the painting has on him, is graceful and honest.

Contrary to his trust in the titles given to each painting  by Hughes – “as device for translating the signal” I concur only partly, to protect my intoxication with  freedom for the wandering mind,  a gift from the painted surface.  The titles help me to write which image I am thinking of –  identifying device.

Herbert is excellent in working out the link between the titles and  what the painting wants him to see it as. His paragraph on Transponder (2016) moves in a straight line from reading it as a signal knitted from hues, tone and angles  to a question: What is the translation?(p15)

Transponder, 2016, Acrylic co-polymer on plywood, 50 x 46.5cm

There is a group of Hughes’ paintings sharing the visual means (accessible on – that differ considerably in their “tenor” – or mood.  Transponder  is confident to show off cohabitation of right, obtuse and acute angles, as if illustrating Nietzsche’s discussion of  the apollonian and dionysian principles in art.

In comparison,  the  Switch (2013, 44×42 cm)  keeps its secrets, it 

insists on the light and temperature to be even from edge to edge – a governing principle made first, explicitly,  by Paul Cezanne about painting.  Less intense, it lets mind wander into a calm, sleepy, dreamy moments of time when doing nothing feeds creativity.  (D.H.Lawrence)

Herbert’s essay goes on for four pages  bristling with ideas and offering riches of  unborn ideas – I highly recommend to read it.  It fits the ethos of Hughes paintings.

The second essay employs a different wandering of mind.

Weaver, 2016, Acrylic co-polymer on cotton, 188 x 183 cm

It is an unnerving process to stand  on the surface, and to think about what exists beyond it”  so Joanne Laws   opens her  NOTES FROM THE SURFACE:CHAOS SUSPENDED (P 41). Her trust is placed into the possibility of simultaneous realms, including art and so called “lesser art” so famously defended by William Morris.  She confesses “ On more than one occasion, I think about the silk wall hangings and ‘pictorial weavings’ of Annie Albers and her meticulous preparatory sketches on gridded paper.”   This connectivity is not only admissible, but also  a welcome  invitation to mind wandering across traditional  boundaries. She perceives  that proportions of  a Persian carpet appear in Hughes’  Weaver  above ( does not list support). Under the subtitle  Ordering Systems (p 43) she brings a wealth of parallels to what she terms  as Ronnie Hughes’s  “grappling system …. encrypted”: theories of chaos, quantum physics, generic coding… cosmology, colour theory,  symbolism of a wheel,  “even language itself”.   She takes the reader on a journey across cultures and histories.

Her point about language  reminds me:   the title Transponder collapses two words: transmitter and responder. She takes the reader on a journey across cultures and histories.

Almost as if offering me a closing paragraph  – she turns to that red painting,  introduced above and  by Martin Herbert in his essay:  The Space Between (2015): “...we get a sense of things teetering on the brink. A continuous line spirals inwards, like a vortex or a black hole.”  While not disputing her reading, I confess of failing to have that sense before I read her sentence.  Maybe – as a result of reading it from centre out, I saw it flat.   As if supporting  Herbert’s uncertainty principle she introduces “…ambivalence in which dualities …could freely co-exist” in her closing page  headed with ” On Carnival” citing  Circus I-VI (2017)  and  Carnivale (2017)  as drawing in and on those dualities. (p45)

Enjoyable catalogue, beautifully considered, including the whimsical triangles descending wherever on the pages.    The Model, Sligo – a big  thank you.

Images accessed on





















Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob Raymond, this moment:missives from another world, 2015

This book came about because we felt compelled to share Bob Raymond‘s work with a wider audience after he died unexpectedly in 2012″  – so Jed Speare starts his Preface to the volume of 192 pages printed on square 25 x 25 cm. Attempting to name a value, Speare zooms on three : mindful public service, intermedia, and idealism of 1960- 70s. He names the Raymond’s collaboration as artist with Mobius Artists Group as recently as August 2011, in the multimedia performance of John Cage’s Variations VIII at its original site, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.  Continue reading

Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alastair MacLennan,Lie to Lay, 2017

Published on the occasion of the exhibition Air A Lair,organised by Summerhall, Edinburgh ( 2nd August -24 September 2017) the catalogue contains brief tributes by Richard Demarco, Dominic Thorpe, Paula Blair, Roddy Hunter and Brian Patterson. and a substantial, insightful, erudite  essay  Drawing Breath  by the co-curator Dr Sandra Johnston. It connects numerous invitations to perform  abroad with Belfast where he keeps a permanent studio. His  performance art  developed early  when he briefly lived in United States and Canada, before he came to Belfast in 1975 and stayed, frequently  flying out to international gatherings, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. One memorable exception was a collaborative performance with Adrian Hall and Andre Stitt in New Zealand, who have lived in Belfast  decades ago.

The catalogue contains  twelve drawings and stills from sixteen different performances. Roddy Hunter muses about the difference between the two,  Drawing remains, drawings remain, while connecting the ephemeral with stability of marks on paper with what action and drawing have in common: “… eyes closed but the mind still sees” and “drawing without seeing, without knowing”(p 41). Facing Hunter’s text is an image of two I- Ching’s hexagrams: 51(The Arousing) and 64(Before Completion), a reference pertinent to MacLennan’s drawings made in 2016. They all share one condition that derived from  I Ching:  29 strokes, a condition MacLennan adhered to in all drawings made in 2016.

Both the drawings and MacLennan persistent devotion to “a precise rule”  are given sustained attention in Sandra Johnston’s  nine columns that forge a kind of panorama of his art practice:  She cites MacLennan’s view that precise rules offer a means of working inwards, beyond the aesthetic consequences that emerge on the page” (p4) The formulation presupposes very narrow concept of aesthetics and  a guaranteed easy split up of aesthetic experience into  “what emerges on the page” and its consequences, both somehow privileged if the artist uses a precise rule.  This view presupposes that only a precise rule can make art open- ended. It puts unreasonable trust into a stability of  the “aesthetic consequences that emerge on the page” during the creative process. That page, an object, is not only forbidden to embrace a chance, but it keeps being governed by that precise rule to condition our experience. Whereas, there is a tacit agreement that  all art suffer an open end, a poetic force which   no “precise rule” can guarantee.

However, it may be a matter of Brechtian rejection of catharsis  and of commitment to feelings that do not culminate in any kind of cleansing or irritation or anger.  In other words aesthetic categories linked to feelings that are good in diagnosing definite need but not definite means to satisfy that need.

Aesthetic categories are growing  with and out of art practices constantly, continuously.  This has been recognised:  J. L. Austin noted in “A Plea for Excuses” that the  classic problems are not always the best site for fieldwork in aesthetics: “If only we could forget for a while about the beautiful and get down instead to the dainty and the dumpy.”

In 2011,  Sianne Ngai, a professor in the English department at Stanford University wrote

 The book I’m currently completing is on the contemporary significance of three aesthetic categories in particular: the cute, the interesting, and the zany.” 

Johnston’s  assertion  that  MacLennan’s  “precise rules” the “working inwards”  lead to  “side-stepping one’s own preconceived formulae and aesthetic preferences, an inner battle with complacency”(ibidem) appears to align with Ngai’s explanation of zany as pertinent to performing:

While the cute is thus about commodities and consumption, the zany is about performing. Intensely affective and highly physical, it’s an aesthetic of nonstop action that bridges popular and avant-garde practice across a wide range of media: from the Dada cabaret of Hugo Ball to the sitcom of Lucille Ball. You could say that zaniness is essentially the experience of an agent confronted by—even endangered by—too many things coming at her quickly and at once.(

Johnston quotes MacLennan’s thinking about Hexagram 29 in the I Ching: it is called The Abysmal (Water). It sets an example of action in “dangerous” situations …not avoiding any dangers… retaining its own “essential” nature… being  thorough … and moving on. She enlivens the discussion with her memories of tutorials, in which MacLennan  instilled in her the ability to perceive how and that  “unattended things can hold the veracity of the process”(p9). Meticulously, and carefully,Johnston links drawings to performances and concludes:  “…the act of drawing is also present  in the continuity of his  movements as lines in motion over time…”(p10). Based on some duo performances,  she invents a category of “ feral imagination” as re-occuring characteristics, illustrated by Drift 3(2014): “MacLennan stood on a crossroads between one of these thin, white erratic seams intersecting the grey beds, one leg either side of the line. Positioned on his head was the weathered corpse of the seagull….” She acutely pointed to the absurd simultaneity of ordinary(dress)  and “derelict and pagan”  item  offering the reader a beautiful thought: “Humility is key to how the work informs in the present tense, responding to the immediate moment through attrition and ‘poverty’ of means, replaced instead by a valuing of small gestures.”(p14) That is one way his art works as in this image from Bbeyond Monthly.

In the other way,  he encumbers his body by “various burdens” as if ” …to create a space of protection around this ‘innocent’ object.”  (p15) This appears in sharp contrast to his erasing (blacking out)  the “lived” days from his diary  – as in ‘what you cannot remember becomes irrelevant’.

From the performance in front of the Queens University in Belfast 2o12, Photo Juergen Fritz

May be  the protecting is an offering to the forces of forgetting, like a prayer or like lighting a candle.

p 25 of the catalogue – photo by Monika Sobczak

“Contemporary zaniness is not just an aesthetic about play but about work, and also about precarity, which is why the threat of injury is always hovering about it.” (Sianne Ngai)



The drive to adorn the head he shares with the purist  instinct well documented  in nature.

Festival Corporea, 2017 -accessed on their webpage

Those additions are not just to camouflage, adorn, play with … they are essential synecdoche for ancestry and future generations.   In human edition they often appear as a part of power game. Getting some advantage.  Getting others to give something, share something.

In Finland’s Nuuttipukki tradition men dress like this and go around demanding food.

The deer demands predictable  future for its genes.

Both are directing their sign to the future of the species.

MacLennan  finds his objects both by chance and planning –  for similar end: the future  couched in unremarkable natural objects  whose main role is to signify equivalence between art and nature, between work and creativity.

accessed on his web page


2016 -Ulster Museum, photo Jordan Hutchings

He  often appears handicapped – to minimise the possibility of hierarchy assumed between a seer and the rest.  Instead the visual  experience is constructed by the paradox: a man in ordinary daily dress carries useless object and paints one lens of his glasses black an inhibition for seeing clearly.   Instead of glaring visual acuity  he offers the seeing less. The whole issues a warning  that the substance consists of   the summary of praxis and play, ordinary and mad, useful and imagined, all in not known  proportions. The idea is reminiscent of Plato’s Demiurge in Timaeus  – cutting, weighing, mixing similarities and differences.    Even if it fails, it still makes an impact by rejecting the expected.


Note: If and when I find the missing acknowledgement for the photographs I accessed on the internet, I shall amend it here. Sorry.









Posted in essay | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Anka Lesniak, Invisible inVisible, 2017

With a subtitle  “Women disconnected from the history” the paperback  was published by Stowarzyszenie Sztuka i Dokumentacja (ISBN 978-83-931176-6-6). I have added ISBN so that you may identify the book,  missing little signs and accents in writing Polish names on this PC. Sorry. It is a substantial read, 164 pages. And more on and

Eugenia is getting married, photo-collage, 2015

The introduction describes the project as search for histories of persons not included in the dominant  histories. Among the first questions she names as in need to answer  the relationship between the canon of political and social contexts  and controversial stories.

The data base has been limited to “biographies of women who are difficult to interpret (p11) and who experienced exclusion by ” universal point of view” in all its forms”(p11). 

The author’s sources include the internet, friends and researchers and – a chance find. As for the method  she names a juxtaposition of what she subjectively perceives as questionable and engaging (with reference to Joseph Kosuth, Artist as Anthropologist, 1975 see p 15)

The next 15 or so pages is a survey of her art practice in relation both to greater awareness of feminist art outside Poland and, to the site specific performances,  to local legends and stories.

“Abandoned” biographies and abandoned places become then a focus. Hanna Reitsch is first, as a pilot who does not fit either the Nazi or the Polish history of WW2. “Then when I realized that the subject matter was too serious and if I still wanted to work with the biographies of women ‘disconnected from history’ I would not be able to do it without the help of the expert who deal with my topics from the historical and social point of view” (p38).  That realization  betrays her original trust in subjectivity. She now  accepts a leading role of other judgement.  Consequently she writes a long passage  on the differences between a historian or archivist or journalist and an artist as historian, as archivist, as journalist, while miming each of them.  She focuses the reader on two of her projects Grodska 5, Lublin, 2014, and Eugenia is getting married, Lodz, 2015,  as illustrating the differences.


Grodska 5 – in memory of a girl who looked out at the ghetto

 In short, it is a subjective selection of the available sources as opposed  to striving for inclusion and interpretation of all sources.

Eugenia is getting married

Not different from the tradition of  historical paintings and its symbolic revitalisation of places and persons.

Michalina, what a girl! installation, Lodz

There is a difference in the tools she uses : real windows, houses, replicas of already existing objects, ready made, remakes, etc: My installations are  not simple illustration of a given story (p46) This  may be understood as assuming that a history painting is a simple illustration?

Fifi Zastrow, Acta est Fabula, Lodz

I believe she bypasses all previous art that deals with history – perhaps it is not important – but it is also a given.  Yet, not in her sphere of interest.

The book is, in the first place, a  story of her search for a subject, most strongly embodied in the three biographies: of Fifi Zastrow, Michalina Tatarkowna-Majkowska and Stanislava Przybyszewska( pp 71 – 136).

The tools are framed by performance art, found objects,   installation, lens based media, site specific art – all well established parts of art system.  She adds  renovation, cleaning, and search for older layers of plastering, and last but not least, texts. I particularly cherish this: “My interference with an abandoned place and an attempt to find a new function for a ‘useless’ house is a kind of symbolic revitalization which allows us to ‘see again’ the neglected and thus ‘invisible’ building”(p49)

Consequently, her “given story”  benefits from the dynamics of the tools, from subjectivity of choices and foregroundings, developing from these first principles: the story is not a part of the canon, it is not well known,  it is about a female character and a place with forgotten history.  Providing the artist has access to  sources and spaces germaine to it.  She makes a significant claim here:  “…my aim is not to commemorate a given person… (p 50) – this is an objective ground for difference between history painting and her history-inspired- art.  Yet, the three last biographies are anything but different.  The difference is in manifestation of what she knows.   Her adjacent claim is not so obviously achieved by the stories, but by making the verbal visual : …”how the memory  about her can be useful in contemporary discourse”  (ibidem). 

When a contemporary discourse is placed above some earlier ones  the danger of a myopic service to it is not avoided.  Hence her summarising defense of adaptive and performative nature if installation and performance and their sincere temporaneity. ( see Conclusion, pp 143-147)

Lesniak faces the possibilities of misunderstanding, opacity, missing of the point,  by leaning on supporting material on “...websites that allow  for the broadening  or understanding with regard to the context and purpose of my actions.” (p145)  having previously considered  a concept highlighted by Gernot Boehme, about specifically placed objects producing a  perception of architectural atmosphere. (p144)

While I applaud visual documentation using paperless forms – I do not accept that to perceive visual art  I should need verbal crutches.   Visual thinking is independent, however, may result from words, like Dante describing Inferno, to excite my visual imagination.

And yes, once again I advocate with Italo Calvino the absolute value and freedom for visual thinking, irreplaceable by any verbal interpretation or description, labels or paperless.   Lesniak is aware that the visual aesthetic experience has to do with freedom of thought, and marvels of being tacitly with or be inquisitive about, what is seen.  “I am opposed to placing explanatory plaques” – she may  be including here also  labels, people read next to art object in galleries and museums.

This book is a confessional document of her art practice, uneven in the way art process are, and  as they, it is also open ended.

My subjectively cherished thought in the whole text  is when she compares  one part of a large assemblage to “visual poetry” – that made me to start believing in her.
















Posted in essay, review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Colin McGookin: The Joy of Eastern Compositions, October – November 2017, EastSide Gallery, Belfast

Curated by ArtisAnn commercial gallery  18 acrylic paintings on either paper, board, fabric, or linen and one oil painting on board, in a style McGookin has preferred since  his wife taught him to paint on silk, formed  The Joy of Eastern Compositions.  Not long after his graduation in 1981 McGookin switched from “panel” painting” to painted banners  often carrying images on both sides.  In the current exhibition all but one work are panel paintings, some unframed.

Marriage, Oil on board, n.d. n. s.

It is not difficult to recognise each and every  “sign” as borrowed,  in the above  flotsam of dark shapes over the four horizontal stratas of green, siena, yellow and red. McGookin appropriates/ imitates established symbols with drastically frivolous disregard for their habitual size.  The horizontal abstract areas are a distant evocation of  a Rothko  deprived of the mystery by visible pentimentos  on a backlit (often see-through) layer. Given the obsession with originality, does this  robust  imitation make this painter  a lesser artist? Not at all.  Others already recognised that.

Artists have always studied and borrowed from each other, ignoring the tidy categorizations of art history, e.g. renaissance was  looking at classical Greek, the art  chinoiserie in the 18th C  appropriate chinese style,  and  japanese woodblocks  were favoured by the  early Modernists. In a  more current case, the  exhibition, “Kiefer Rodin”  openly makes borrowing a theme.  ( The exhibition coincides with the centenary of Rodin’s death in 1917, it  premiered at the Musée Rodin in Paris  this year and travelled to Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation).

Anselm Kiefer, Berthe au Grand Pied (Bertha Broadfoot), 2016. © Anselm Kiefer. Photo by Georges Poncet. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

“There is no copyright among artists,” Kiefer wrote in a 2016 letter to Catherine Chevillot, director of the Musée Rodin, discussing a joint exhibition with Rodin. “What seems at first like sacrilege is, from the perspective of cultural history, an altogether normal occurrence. Painters often made use of their colleagues’ studies to create new images.” (accessed on

That confidence is supported by philosophy:

“Imitation, besides being the seedbed of empathy and our experience of time, is also, paradoxically enough, the seedbed of creativity — not only a poetic truth but a cognitive fact, as the late, great neurologist and poet of science Oliver Sacks (July 9, 1933–August 30, 2015) argues in a spectacular essay titled “The Creative Self,” published in the posthumous treasure The River of Consciousness (public library).” (

McGookin shares the obsessive liking of idiomatic pictographs and banners ( often painted from both sides)  with  AR Penck (1939 -2017)  who connected  his style of painting to “deficiency of means”.

Ottmann: How did you get to this sign language anyway?

Penck: That is really a very old thing. It started in the sixties or the end of the fifties, after I had intensively studied a number of artists. The decisive factors were essentially economic ones, not only material economy but also spiritual economy. And this spiritual economy has interested me, even at the time when I was well off, when I could get lots of paint. At the beginning, however, the scarcity of supplies played an important role — a certain Mangelform [form through deficiency].

Heaven and hell, 1967

Ottmann: How did you develop your sign language?

Penck: There are, first of all, possibilities to get to them through abstraction and then one can put them together again, that means deductively…. This is what I basically tried to develop, to transfer a kind of building block system to my paintings that I could really play with. (Laughs) … This is somehow a principle argument between the abstract system and the act of always wanting to take something into it that suggests more reality. (accessed on

In contrast to Penck’s sincerity others inflate his art like this

By utilizing a unique vocabulary of signs and symbols, he sought to express the psychological structure of mankind. His work is a unique and nuanced language: what may seem simple and composed of primitive pictographs has a strong sensitivity and depth of thought. (

or diminish like this:

Paintings in the Standart series featured a rudimentary stick figure, a motif that would become central in his work. Blank-faced and stiff-bodied… A stick man dominates …For Penck, the stick figure, though a motif that dates back to cave art, represented the first ideogram of a proposed new system of communication that combined text, symbol and image. Standart was a conflation of the English word “standard” and the German Standarte, meaning “banner”. (

Banners appeared in McGookin’s practice in the 1980s, there is only one in this exhibition and it is not in the expected smaller scale.

McGookin, Black Banner

The black banner is like a dictionary  of fragmentary visual thoughts capable of holding their meaning even when torn out of the context in which they originated.   They behave thus like words ready to be used in sentences, and each banner of painting is akin a sentence or a paragraph  thrown out of order.

Lashed Ladder,acrylic on board.

Intoxicated by poetic associations each “idiom” stands on its own, holding its identity while not threatening another.  The high key heightens the clarity of recognition of each individual  meaning  grounded in common knowledge.  McGoogin then throws it all into the air by frivolous disregard for relative  sizes.  The red hand is five times bigger that the hands of the man on the ladder which indicates a distance.  The tonality of the yellow hue of the ladder is the same as the yellow objects near the hand thus moving the ladder nearer the hand.  These wilful optical games add to  the whole a necessary freedom afforded by the mute poetry, the painting.

I used the term “idiom” above, mindful of the complexity pointed out by J Derrida in The Truth in Painting.  The run of the mill  definition is not fully apt:  an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as kick the bucket or hang one’s head… The man on the ladder may associate with the biblical story of Jacob – or not. Which it is, is not predictable.  More apt though is another definition of an idiom:  an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own. McGoogin paints each object, motif, item,  in high  visibility as if insisting -it is what you see.  The composition and wilful scale subvert that clarity by  a near surrealist  refusal.  So an axe can fly and a tower has two eyes.

Devenish, acrylic on canvas

I cherish the deliciously hidden humour  in many of these paintings.

Conspiracy, acrylic on board

Monthy Python meets Juan Miro in a computer game…   The danger is somewhat hidden, but not always.

Implosion (of the Refinery of Babel’s Children)

The discipline of Hieronymous Bosch  is evoked with mastery  of illusion  locked in silent secrets.  In an unearthly high light (more like a pop concert lights)  McGookin handles many different registers of persuasion.  Some are less challenging, offering recognition  soothing the exalted eye back to the  more believable relationships in space above a believable green landscape  with  believable blue sky above believable horizon.  The rest is sheer  flight of fantasy. Paradoxically, as in a belief.

It is about inherited beliefs and stories and about us.


Images courtesy ArtIsAnn gallery, Belfast.

Posted in essay, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charlie Scott – From the Water, from the Bog, 2017

It was a part of the group exhibition  Process Extended, at Goose lane Gallery, opened on November 2nd 2017.   Artists exhibiting in the backroom of the Tivoli Barbers were  Hannah Clegg, Hannah Johnston and Megan Kerr and Charlie Scott.  Continue reading

Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shonky:The Aesthetics of Awkwardness, MAC, Belfast, 20 October 2017 – 14 January 2018

Upper Gallery view towards the entrance

 The exhibition aims to explore the nature of visual awkwardness through the work of artists and architects Arakawa and Gins; Cosima von Bonin; Niki de Saint Phalle; Benedict Drew; Justin Favela; Duggie Fields; Louise Fishman; Friedensreich Hundertwasser; Kate Lepper; Andrew Logan; Plastique Fantastique; Jacolby Satterwhite; Tim Spooner and John Walter. (Gallery handout)

Ignoring the slippery meaning of ” visual awkwardness” the aim  that it samples  an exploration  is perfectly achieved by  all the exhibits.  Moreover it includes not just visual awkwardness, the sound gets involved with a  force, as does the relationship between humanity and habitats. The work of  14 architects and artists fills (overfills)  the Tall and Upper Galleries at the MAC . John Walter’s proposal was selected from 125 submissions  for 2017 Hayward Touring Curatorial Open. The artist/curator  presents the curating of this exhibition  as a follow up to his PhD research.

On my first visit  the two very loud  neighbouring sounds overwhelmed my hearing/viewing   in the Tall Gallery. One was the installation by Benedict Drew (image  below)  the other , in the next  space,  oversized cards. boards and music by a group Plastique Phantastic.

Benedict Drew, A Dyspraxit Techno, 2017, Tall Gallery


Plastique Fantastique, fragment of the installation


On my second visit the decibels were markedly lower.

Tall Gallery view from the entrance

Thank you, MAC.

Comments on Facebook included several younger visitors  loving the show without reservation. To attract those who otherwise do not visit art exhibition is – in this case- wonderfully connected to a question what is art for – these works of art  and their curator answers loudly: for aesthetic experience.

Even if the artist/curator, John Walter( b 1978) admits that  it is a mission driven exhibition:”… to privilege shonkiness  over other aesthetic forms that have dominated recent visual culture…”( see the Gallery handout)

That carries a responsibility to ensure that there is no confusion or equivocation  what each exhibit foregrounds by its own awkwardness.   This is safeguarded by  an idiosyncratic grouping and separation, almost as if reading Timaeus on sameness and difference, and,   the aesthetic experiences a viewer has before coming to this display.  Eg. If you have no memory of soft sculpture by Claes Oldenburg (1929) and Coosje van Bruggen

Claes Oldenburgh, Cravate sculpture, 2010, SF MOMA

you may accept the ckaim that Cosima von Bonin

Cosima von Bonin, Oysters

is “one of the most influential artists  in Germany” and that her art ” mocks the pomposity of the process of viewing art” and  “pits itself against the slick production values of much contemporary art” (quotes from the gallery handout pp1 and 2).

Oldenburgh  appears also as  a predecessor to  Las Vegas based Justin Favela’s   Floor Nachos.

The gallery notes  state that the exhibition is a celebration of “shonkiness”, employing it for critical purposes that include questioning the cultural status quo.    It helpfully lists means employed to achieve this: “craft badness, mistakes, glitches, tears, precarity, fragility, amateurism…irreverence and visual awkwardness”.   That pluralism is not a problem –  the problem is what status quo in the culture it questions, and does it question  at all or  rather represent it.

One possible answer includes the experience that vulgarity and bombastic attitude  offers satisfying aesthetic experience to some and  not to the rest.  Be it Biedermeier or kitsch or blatantly  commercial  seduction.  Variants of all three are present, and it is not a new way of thinking.  Just another application of the old.  As always it polarises visitors – who excavate what they prefer and not necessarily why.  The copious notes and the curator’s video lecture both shy away of identification of the reason for this particular questioning. It is as if the Stalin and Zhdanov theory of reflexion was being given new lease of life.  What else would you expect from a challenge to the “late western capitalism” mentioned several times as the target?

Arakawa and Gins, Inflected arcade house

The two architects made the above design of a house  expecting it to have soothing, healing influence on  the brains of the users. Utopia coupled with awkwardness? Possibly, but the visual tenor of the above is that of maze, of labyrinth  for  getting lost, for  failure to find easily both entrance and exit, for endless detours and search, i.e. dysfunctional habitat, a multicursal puzzle.  Alternatively – if i read the green rectangle as a door  I come soon at another green rectangle on the left which prevents me to meaningfully occupy it.  Consequently, it frustrates every expectation I may have about a home.

By chance this appears in my inbox a few days ago.

Critical perspectives on the discourse surrounding artistic research might be argued to already be too formulaic or self-defeating. Making a case for its own institutional legitimacy could unwittingly reinforce some of the very things artistic research aims to critique.”

… It moves onto more esoteric points that may or may not become apparent to a visitor of the “Shonki”:

”  Yet such onto-epistemological paradoxes can offer a rich territory for exploration along with generative practices that involve reflexivity, automorphogenesis, and recursive feedback loops. In recognising auto-cannibalism as an analogy for broader socio-political and environmental concerns, one of the challenges for artistic research is to respond imaginatively to the dynamic tensions between self-destruction and regeneration.” (from the invitation to 9th SAR-International Conference on Artistic Research planned for 2018)

The gallery handout defines “Shonky” term thus: “…corrupt, bent, shoddy, unreliable or cobbled together..”  significantly it  adds “ It is a form of making that purposefully pits itself against the slick production values of much contemporary art and transgresses  accepted boundaries of taste within late Western capitalism”.

The assumption that  the awkwardness transgresses accepted boundaries of taste  of current western society  is only a conjecture, not an established evidence.     The slang  word – as any word- has both narrow meaning and flexible range of meanings , and as such does not align with  art practices  in this exhibition any more than with those elsewhere, documented and accessible even online.

Beryl Cook, Tea Party, 1988

Freewheeling. amorphous,  can still pair with energy, empathy and inventiveness  without preference for any of the meaning of that slang word.

Fernando Botero, Mona Lisa Aged Twelve, 1959


A work of art wiggles out of any narrow category with an ease of an invisible chameleon combined with a serpent.  Not in vain Antoin Artauld compared art to a plague.

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 – 2002)

Niki de Saint Phalle used to shoot art objects before she settled on the  a mixture of the phantastic like in  a Juan  Miro and  earth bound like in a  Pablo Picasso.  Well known  to any visitor looking at the  the fountain near Pompidou centre in Paris she has been   a building blog of the cultural  status quo which this exhibition aims to subvert.  If people perceive it as that  challenge – they are not  likely   challenging the same cultural  status quo. In turn, this is an unintended fate of this exhibition  that it both confirms and questions various sets of aesthetic  categories, including the awkward.   There is nothing unexpected  in that,  given that system of art changes place to place, time to time, and not in a simple  vertical line as envisaged, for example,  by Marinetti.

Panem et circenses  come to mind on entering the multicoloured  Upper Gallery  – manifesting in the  distribution  of opening ceremony drinks  by the artist/curator.  He favours  the  practice of a sculptor/jeweller/performance artist Andrew Logan (b 1945), whose portrait of Molly Parkin (1988) oversees the space.

“they are goudy and gorgeous- full of colour, bejewelled and visual glorious” 

(Gallery handout)

Logan’s exhibits appear  distributed in several places in both galleries. In the Upper Gallery his hard  high definition objects  forge an exchange with equally determined and colourful  but soft  objects by Kate Lepper. She includes pre-owned  materials,  like dry leaves by nature  and plastic by  people.  No equilibrium attempted.

The other insistent memory is of  too loud exhibits in the Tall Gallery. Indeed, the status quo of current visual art   questions its insecurity to stay silent. When Denis Donoghue thought and wrote  about the Anxious object  (Reid Lectures, 1982) he considered art objects like A  Warhol’s  Brillo Boxes, silent insecurity about identity.  With the increase of sound/noise  and words – the visual thoughts are offered a help they do not need. A help which decreases the “mute poetry”   –  usurping the precious domain of visual arts.

That visual thinking is fully engaged by Niki de Saint Phalle, Kate Lepper, Duggie Fields. Cosima von Bonin and in the rather wonderfully playful  installation by Tim Spooner.    Cosima von Bonin  successfully reworks  common expectation  of  a low relief  in stone or metal  by  a collage of soft materials.  Spooner affords his constructions vulnerable absence of certainty, by irregular animation, including falling.  His small black  objects animate into a world of animals, cuddly and benign.  Or not?  Sadly, neither MAC not the artist website have   images of this installation. Instead -I copy his statement:

“I am interested in ways we try to explain the world: metaphysics and creation myths. My own approach to the mystery is to experiment with how materials behave, to get a better understanding of them. From these I construct collections of objects which come together into ideas for possible universes.”  (


I looked up other exhibitions of Louise Fishman (b 1939) to compare those exhibited here with the rest.    These two rectangles are exceptionally vacuous   in comparison- these paintings do not represent her dominant strength, so in that sense they challenge her  habitual take on abstract gestural painting.

Andrew Logan (left) ; Louise Fishman (right)

On the other side of the curtain with Hundertwasser’s facade , Tim Spooner’s kinetic  and inflatable objects share their endearing humour and vulnerability with ease  and elegance that mitigates against any pedestrian awkwardness. Their sincerity of being playful  does not extend to revelation, they guide some secrets with sophisticated resolve.

Since John Walter insisted on Shonky as an umbrella term – it may unfairly dismiss the more important  and valuable thesis, which comes directly from the exhibits: tolerance of differences, freedom and sincere co-operation. Not so much of any ideology – rather on the essence of art – the aesthetic function.   Jan  Mukarovsky famously defined it as transparent (in 1938 essay  Aesthetic Function …. accessible in English on Google Books) capable of appearing as different qualities to different viewers in different historical periods.  Well – not too far from phenomenology, isn’t it ?


This edition of the  aesthetics of awkwardness reminded me of this:

 “I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself,” said Oldenburg, “that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.”     (


Images courtesy of MAC and Simon Mills.


Posted in essay, review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Willie Heron: Sculptures and works on paper, Fenderesky Gallery Belfast, 12 October- 10 November 2017

They  exceed a size of hand, of handheld art like Books of Hours, whose investment in private thought is difficult to surpass.

Yet, the need to protect freedom of thought is as great and urgent as in the 20th C that favoured loud billboard format for painting and memorial sculptures. Even newspapers grew in size.  A preference for a domestic scale, so successful for instance in 17th C Dutch paintings, signifies Heron’s quiet confidence in intrinsic values of sincere re-assessment of  what and how we consume.  Absent is the celebration of riches and plenty.

Still-Life with a Nautilus Cup 1662 Oil on canvas, 79 x 67 cm Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

All  Heron’s 27 exhibits are described  as “mixed media” –  a term elastic to neatly allow different materials in different quantities, hence giving up on the identification of exactly what each is made off.   Since Heron makes the material and its manipulation visible, each object confidently carry its individuality through the way it was made, assembled.  Like  The Willem Kalf’s painting  above, Heron’s assemblages are sincerely showing off the materiality of their existence. On my first visit I sensed that the tenor of all of them was  delivering sensual and somewhat playful experience.

Anew (left) ;Untitled (right)

Awareness of colder warnings  about the absence of unanimity of  confrontational poses,  sharp angles, repeated cuts, dark hues seeped into my consciousness that the layers, outlines, hues are becoming one thing and than another. In the above display the two abstracted figures mime a kind of samurai combat – a quest for dominance.  This becomes absent from seeing it from another angle. Nevertheless, the display openly states that the meaning is changeable – something appears sweetly decorative and morphs into a powerful threat in a split of the second.  To keep the meaning so fluid is not an easy task.

Red Wing

The Red Wing  could easily be a larger, billboard  scale – and that’s a sign of strong composition guided by order/ composition (Apollonian principle)  rather than sensuality-or scale (Dionysian principle).

Some are sculptures. They have a volume and measurable weight and do not move or fall.


Some hesitate between a collage and an assemblage.

Rauschenberg solve that slippage thus:

“Every time I would show them to people, some would say they’re paintings, others called them sculptures. And then I heard this story about Calder,” he said, referring to the artist Alexander Calder, “that nobody would look at his work because they didn’t know what to call it. As soon as he began calling them mobiles, all of a sudden people would say ‘Oh, so that’s what they are.’ So I invented the term ‘Combine’ to break out of that dead end of something not being a sculpture or a painting. And it seemed to work.” – In Carol Vogel, ” A half-century of Rauschenberg’s ‘junk’ art,” New York Times (December 2005).

Both Modernism and Art Povera  of 20th C produced numerous examples of assembling of found and often  disparate elements.   They established that defects could be a significant aesthetic feature. The shift from found debris to a complexity of aesthetic object is akin a reconciliation of  neglected, lesser, quotidian effort  with catharsis triggered by recognition.

The found object’s past is seamlessly incorporated by replacing the original values of found material  by the values  found in  intention, imagination and  connectivity between knowing and inventing. Sensual impact is akin to a sophisticated play between knowing and dreaming.  The success of transformation  Herron offers in a non combative manner, signalling preference for sharing.  In that sense this exhibition refuses to hide its critique of contemporary society’s prevailing value system that  governs economy and ethics both grounded in ruthless exploitation of resources. This art,  like the medieval Books of Hours, invites contemplation as critical as you are capable of.  It does not preach. Yet, it includes a morality tale.


Images courtesy Peter Richards.

Posted in essay, review | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Hughie O’Donoghue: The Tempest, Carlisle Memorial Church, Belfast, 10 – 28 October, 2017

accessed on

The slowly self-destructing 19th C neo- gothic building has offered genuinely enhancing milieu to view the tarpaulin sized paintings. The Steady Drummer and Night Visitor are both 12x18ft and Cargo measures 12x24ft. With the smaller paintings  the installation has evoked not only the four characters-chosen by the artist but also the viewer’s memory and  recognised truth.

photograph by Jonny McEwen

Continue reading

Posted in essay, review | Leave a comment

OLGA DZIUBAK: “large array of negative feelings”, Array Studios, Belfast, 5th – 8th October 2017

The title and some sentences from texts by Valerie Solanas and Ulrike Meinhof  introduce the viewer to  Dziubak’s  installation of lens based art  made during her residency at the Array Studios.

”permanent state of emergency
to make violence unnecessary
men who speak when they have nothing to say
don’t know what to do with freedom
he interpreted her fight as an expression of her love for humanityIn three separate recordings, projected simultaneously, the “array of negative feelings” included a kind of chronicle of recent groups who failed to separate  fighting for freedom  from violence of terror.

Wall 5:11 min sketches from research on video

Archived images from media  recall the Troubles in Northern Ireland, IS, and  the Baader Meinhof Gang which caused mayhem across West Germany with its politically-motivated assassinations, bombings and kidnappings. Dziubak delivers shabby fragments as if  to debunk the myth of 1970s terrorist chic.

Without pointing out any hierarchy of value the video glides over from fragment to fragment  without escaping unfortunate equivalency of historical events. So  a group of women  protestors  during the Spanish civil war against fascism is silently appearing  next to Bernadette Devlin, an elected  member of UK Parliament. 

Notable use of purple  hue  is puzzling, no less so, that the juxtaposition of many different histories. The group of women workers faces no visible danger, whereas Devlin is surrounded by a mass of police helmets without exit.  The purple hue is in both images on the “side of the protest”, once as personal visual calls, once as a power to silence one.

She wrote to me:

On this film there are sketches and prints from archives and my own juxtaposition of them. The same pictures are at the background of video with performing person. I made interventions in those photos, deleted males, marked important gestures and characteristic elements by colour purple. At the project space during “large array of negative feelings” I decided to show only one sketch (dancing soldiers in the forest) at the cabinet in the middle of height.


Dziubak deliberately abandonned the colours with established and recognisable symbolic meaning, like national flags.  Her interest in purple as a meme  preceded  the ” array of negative feelings”.

“First time in my art practice I use colour purple in painting cycle „Oppression of the Picture” . I find lots of meanings and symbols of those colour: authority, catholic church, depression, treatment of obsession.”

The  “array…”video relates narrative that would be less familiar to younger viewers.  There is nothing inherently exciting about  the whole.  Stills, like the one with Bernadette Devlin are independent of previous knowledge of historical narrative.  That image shares  with Dziubak’s  abstraction the power to  marshall exciting  recognition of fevered anarchy of meanings. And the consequent catharsis.

Dziubak is sincere about codes of belonging as she includes her insecurity of judgement, as to who is the target. Whereas – pinning clearly the answer to what is the target – the ravine between those who do and do not feel deeply injured by the terror of any kind. The consequences are not isolated, just tacitly presented or implied.

Frederico Garcia Lorca  deployed “the many angels of intelligence”  – an option manifested in Dziubak’s choice of pantomime and performance.

Hand 3:40 min video, purple glitter

One hand, two hands, three hands, covered in  purple glitter , move in front of the lens, morphing at time into a cobra like creature, dancing to a fakir’s tune.

Unashamedly anthropocentric it loses its anthropomorphic look now and then, creating insights that easily slide across the surface and off the target.  It stimulates my ways of seeing and thinking –  as any poetry would.  Art is not rootless, the consequences of viewing are not isolated, they cascade through the viewer’s aesthetic experience in somewhat unexpected way – akin to a free thought.  The Hand  rejects a hierarchy of structures, it is attuned to the stream of images not pinned to specific event, time or place.  The presence of that kind of freedom is its strength.

The last video is partly attuned to local ( flag protests and flag waving) and wider ( flags on tanks, lorries in  war conflicts) contexts of collective memories.  Even though it has a long history of association with kings and rulers, purple is rarely in modern national flags. Only one country, Dominica, uses it in their flag.

Dance 2:24 min video performance, purple balaclava, purple textile, Revolutionary Etude Op. 10 No.12 by Frederic Chopin in background (remixed)

She wrote to me:


The most important moment for my research was, when I found an old US stamp with Susan B. Anthony (original purple). This colour have a revolutionary potential – there is no purple in national flags but  the radical anarchy – feminist movement-  is using this colour in diagonal combination with black.

Stamp with Susan B. Anthony was a starting point to look for female freedom fighters, soldiers even terrorists in archives.

I decided to set video – performance and video with hand as a pair.

 Small tv is stand at the metal cabinet, opposite the wall (on this wall I recorded all performative actions). Person in balaclava dance and perform with music. At the floor, there is big tv with minimalist picture of purple hand. Shiny hand is dancing / swimming in the darkness. Audio remix of “Revolutionary Etude” from performance is somehow connected also with this picture. The hand is looking for balance between left and right side of the screen frame. Dynamic of action in both videos is completely different. Hand seems hypnotising but on video with a person in action things are changing very fast. Figure disappear and new action is starting.

The above points to her intention and way of working. It also increased my interest in the meaning people pinned to the hue which is described as ” combining the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red”

The colour purple is often associated with wealth, status, luxury, power and also with states of mind like wisdom creativity, dignity, devotion, peace, mystery and independence.

The shoe, sheet of paper and balaclava evoke the relationship of objects, motifs and thoughts  favoured by the Surrealists(Lautreamont) definition of their art as the fortuitous encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.

The  whole is deliberately fragmented as if to forbid/frustrate  one continuous  narrative. People claim that purple uplifts, calms the mind, offers a sense of spirituality and encourages creativity.  Amongst the “chakra colours” purple is linked to the brain, to the thought and consciousness.  (  This art become a meaning when each viewer compoletes it in some way.  It has multiple meanings like the hue purple itself.


In Thailand a widow wears purple. In Japan and Western culture it signifies  wealth  and royalty.In Egypt virtue and faith.  In medieval Britain the purple was colour of mourning. in Iran it significe premonition. The list is long – it includes the popstar Prince and his album Purple Rain.Purple was the color of the first dye made by man. It was called “Mauveine” and was made out of coal tar. The recipe was discovered by William Henry Perkin in 1856.  In ancient times the liquid used to create it came from a tiny Mediterranean Sea snail gland. Each snail produced only a single drop of the needed fluid. To produce one pound of dye, during ancient Roman Empire times, took the acquiring of four million mollusks.Purple’s rarity in nature and the expense of creating its dye gave it a great deal of prestige.

The video with hands is also a tender meditation on loneliness, the performance is also about the collapse of history under the burden of here and now.   The third video is also  about  the possibility and necessity of collective memory, whether dramatised, theatricalized or fictionalised.

Does it give you a feeling of a vertigo?

Saul Bass, Vertigo for Alfred Hitchcock, 1958


Images courtesy the artist.





17 Attachments
Posted in essay | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art of the print….


The Art of the print.


The  title of my musing about print borrows the name from the first of the two exhibitions celebrating 40 years of Belfast Print Workshop.   

Installed by Fenderesky Gallery ( Aug 3rd – Sept 1, 2017)  in an exquisite frameless  display of 14 larger prints downstairs and 52 of various smaller formats in the upstairs gallery, it contained  33 etchings, 18 silkscreens, 4 lithographs, 3 aquatints, 2 mezzotints, 2 carborundum, 2 mixed media, 1 linocut and 1 woodblock. Compared to the large number of known  printing techniques , nine  is a narrow sample.   Yet, not as narrow as some commercial online gallery, for ex St Judes, founded and run by artists/printmakers. Continue reading

Posted in essay | 2 Comments

Jayne Cherry at Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, 5 August – 27 September 2017


As many of my readers, I have not seen this exhibition. Jayne Cherry kindly sent me  a link to the video  made  with sensitivity to mute poetry  by Stu Calvin.   She also emailed  two related  still images that  in her judgement capture the intention of her performance.

Bbeyond has that video on their website, 22 August,  2017. It openes with a citation  of reports  that a woman is assaulted on average 35 times before  her first call  to the police.

Thirty Five I Cant’s”
Performance by Jayne Cherry
Glass Slippers by Alison Lowry
Video by Stuart Calvin
on show as part of (A) Dress: Alison Lowry


It is confessional, autobiographic visual art with cultural roots in feminist analysis and  in the art practice  that came to the fore some 50 years ago. It does not make the