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.

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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



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‘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.

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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.


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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.















































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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)



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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.








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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….





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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





















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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

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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.









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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.
















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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.

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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

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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.


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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.

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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

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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.





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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

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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 practice dated, rather it makes the prevalent ways of improving life dated and easily deformed by the slow application. Consequently her “complaint” feels actual, of now and here.

Art traditionally “complaints” of hazardous relationships, power struggles, injustice etc …Jiri Kolar used to say that art is to wash the society’s dirty linen.  If that idea is still entertained, it is a proof of art tiny impact or of people paying no attention to it whatsoever.

Cherry  walks  in impossible glass slippers  using two fragile (glass?) looking sticks, with head covered in a mass of tulle – possibly – from  her own  wedding headdress.

Her face invisible and her body appearing  as  small as the corner  she appears to merge with,  grey on grey, rather than a real body an apparition  resists a solution.  She moves unnaturally slowly, crippled by  non-visible harm that governs all she is or could be. Her slow, slow progression, accentuated by the insufferable angle of the glass slippers  which she is unable to take off, feels fatal and tragic.  There is no safe ending. Only cries. Luckily the sound comes after the long silence, which mirror’s the statistics mentioned in the title of the performance.  And when the voice comes – it lightens the sadness  too much, almost crossing over to the theatre codes.

The locus of performance art  is in the interaction, it is in the meaning which viewers abstract from the experience of observing.  Cherry does not present an abuse directly. Instead, she  engages  my empathy.  She is not reclaiming herself yet … ending on the last scream repeated twice.  She reveals  no answers.

Artists grappled with the ways to ask questions instead of resolutions and final  answers. One of the most sincere and well known ones is a 1967 neon and tubing  statement by Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967, neon and clear glass tubing suspension supports; 149.86 x 139.7 x 5.08 cm (Philadelphia Museum of Art) (photo: Giulia van Pelt, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Bruce Nauman’s neon sign asks a multitude of questions with regard to the ways in which the 20th century conceived both avant-garde art and the role of the artist in society, it questions universal statements.

. With regard to this work, Nauman said:

The most difficult thing about the whole piece for me was the statement. It was a kind of test—like when you say something out loud to see if you believe it. Once written down, I could see that the statement […] was on the one hand a totally silly idea and yet, on the other hand, I believed it. It’s true and not true at the same time. It depends on how you interpret it and how seriously you take yourself. For me it’s still a very strong thought.


Indeed, Cherry’s performance is also true and not true  at the same time.  She chose a powerful greyness that minimises danger of  multicolour  to seduce the mind of the viewer. It also contains a danger – of something happening every day in ordinary lives.

Later this year, her performance in  St Martin Church,(East Belfast, 18 August 2017) contrasted multicolour with the power of grey.


Both performances relate to her life experiences. To avoid illustrative narrative, Cherry zooms on “objects”  charging them to tell the impossible.  The glass slippers abandon their fairytale  role to find the truth  and become a torturous tool  to tell that walking away from deep loss is hard, nay impossible.

Her cherishing of a crown of growing ivy is like a KOAN – resisting a solution. Hakuin’s well-known koan comes to mind:  “Two hands clap and there is a sound, what is the sound of one hand?”


Images: courtesy the artist and  Heather Dornan Wilson

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Graham Gingles: Boxes and Drawings, Fenderesky Gallery Belfast, 7th Sept – 7th October 2017

Boxes in the upstairs gallery – and few impressive drawings.  I like reading drawings – they tell what a final work of art hides. Note – I do not think of it as finished, just as of final version stopped to develop any further. But then with boxes, the size  would assert itself  stopping the imagination to go on and on.  Hence the occurrence of  a visual fugue or a  variations on a theme.  E E Cummings warns of  the need to respect unassailable creative integrity buoyed by relentless work ethic  without any “buts” and ” ifs”. 


In the following  video Gingles points out the difference between his concept of “boxes as art” and those made famously by Joseph Cornell.

The two salient points of comparison include the way Gingles makes the objects for each box as well as the box, and the motivation to strip ” death for a political cause”  of its mythical power over the present. Thus both the instrumental and the intrinsic values develop as one.

Reminiscent of Nietzsche idea of “renewal”  the boxes focus on the short circuit  between art, democracy and all embracing life – with a warning that we  cannot be sure that life in all its variants will win.  The desire to share what is unfinished has a glorious tradition, renewed in Europe in the 1968 movements – which, in a welcome coincidence-  renews the ethos of  Ce n’est pas qu’un rebut  at National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art  in Rome.  Ester Coen accompanies it by an  essay  E solo  un inizio.   Gingles makes high relief items, “protected by ” or “locked away” in elegant clean lines of boxes of wood and glass – as indeed “ it is only a beginning“.  The viewer is expected, asked, invited to complete the  proposed change.  If only this desire  was allowed to trigger the needed change. Regardless of the diversity of different items, the boxes create a desire  for cognitive shift.  Death calls for dignified respect, but life  calls for strong committment to  the presence and the future.

Apology for the absence of images  from the current exhibition.   The Ulster Museum  and Art Council websites  do not present an image of his work online.

The first image courtesy Helen  G. Blake


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Helen Blake, David Crone, Tony Hill: Works on paper, Fenderesky Gallery I, Belfast, Sept 7 – Oct 7, 2017

Works on paper – what does it mean to you? It is a specific art speak  born out of undisciplined open ended dionysian intoxication with multitude of materials an artist can use to make visual art on the ubiquitous paper. Paper thus anchors a class of objects that may look like painting, a low relief, collage or print, or a greeting card.

Paper is the net into which all the ephemeral instincts, thoughts, feelings, broken promises, stubbornly chiseled decisions  fall like into a voluntary prison.

Jamshid Mirfenderesky displayed them on the glorious airiness of the white wall – evoking visual aesthetics of harmony amongst the strangers.  It worked like a composition as big as this  groundfloor gallery.

He situated a group of small painting by Helen Blake  as a grid conversing with the daylight coming through the glass wall from outside. Hence the intimacy of each image was heightened. They did not agitate for attention, confident that your eye will eventually look at each of them – akin flowers in the meadow, they were not competing amongst themselves.  Reminiscent of abstract mosaics in Italian churches, Blake’s paintings mastered the muteness, silence as visual power.

Choir 2017, 25 watercolour paintings on Langton paper, 15 x 10.5cm see

Each is strongly individual refusing similarities even of nuanced tone, every red out of seven present is different, for instance.  The greys – to my surprise, hold to one tone, possibly because the white  patterns breaking them  cannot be modulated enough? It is watercolour – after all.  Another quality wrestles for attention –  the hard edge in watercolour  is particularly demanding an intention.  Blake has written that she paints freehand – slowly moving the brush to obtain accuracy of the edge with  few trespasses.  If you try it you will appreciate her effort and success. The  different saturations and tonality tell the story how the drawn image was given its painterly character.   The geometry is like a shelter where one flow meets another, in a kind of animation that reveals different characters: strong, weak, gentle, forceful etc. Some quietly immobile, others chatty and  on the move.

I strongly suspect that this “installation” is a collaboration of both Blake and MirFenderesky. It is beautiful as a whole as well as in parts.


David Crone  offers a surprise: words – Snow after Louis MacNeice – a poet. Made once  for an exhibition on the theme of poetry this is a rare departure from his style of painting.

However, its power, gentle yet insisting, does not come across in the small scale, like it is here.  The whole has an aura of a birth of a day – of morning light promising to stay.  The words are the curtain being drawn  the let the light in.  Choice of light rococo sensuality  of a high key is accompanied in that effort by abandonment to variety of marks  holding them all in that warm gray frame. Note – that it is unfinished, open, where you may, as if, walk into it. All the noisy calligraphy does not win your attention without your curiosity to read the words, written so densely as to frustrate your effort. As a reward, the colour the words are written in allows the background hues to talk as well.

Two other drawings  satisfy the expectation of quality, but do not offer the excitement  of mute poetry.


Reminiscent of ancient mesopotamian tablets  the “black broken marks” link Ballymarcan with the Snow…  The black neurotic wiggles speak of damage of growth, loss of life, a sort of closed history, like any dry twig you may find on the floor of the forest, while the renewal happens next to it.


Tony Hill  displayed his drawings over the far corner of the gallery.

Each images focuses attention by different means: vibrant contrasting hues unsettle the distances from observing eye   in one, and next to it the differently coloured dots obediently stay calm  in a given  depth ( or absence of depth). Activating different visual centres  taps into  the way we allocate meaning by linking unrelated elements. In turn it taps into survival responses, not excluding  aesthetics.

Unexpected visceral force of the hues and “scribbles”  is not an easy “sibling” to Hill’s measured minimalism.  Yet, in this case,  it has  relaxed into  studied carelessness – albeit too dionysian to fit the tradition of  sprezzatura.


As a whole this exhibition issued a sincere promise to Italo Calvino’s hope that 21st C will not kill off silent poetry of visual thought.


Images courtesy of the artists.


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ALISTAIR WILSON: Signs and ciphers, GTG Belfast, 3 August – 19th September 2017

I open up with a paraphrase of  recent research:

Like so many artworks, the brain is largely an object of mystery. One secret yet to be discovered is how the fragile folds of matter locked inside our skulls can not only conceive art, create it and contemplate it, but can also experience being transported by it, out of the head, out of the body, out of space and time and reality itself.   The general wisdom  has it that visual art activates visual centres of the brain and taps into survival responses. (see:…/your-brain-on-art/… IS YOUR BRAIN ON ART  By Sarah L. Kaufman, Dani Player, Jayne Orenstein, May-Ying Lam, Elizabeth Hart and Shelly Tan   Published Sept. 18, 2017)

Alistair Wilson  offers a chance to contemplate that re-cycling, isolating one issue(material) at the time, contrasting  distinct edges(cut-outs) and flat flowing surfaces, and unveiling  links between unrelated elements  can do that.  And yes, this sounds dry, and powerless to forge an aesthetic experience.  Yet, Wilson’s strategies replace both the possible failures with visual thoughts/ art that can relax the viewer to play.


Ellipse Drawings, Witness

Hung systemically in  neat rows, these uniformly sized  cut outs  from  used and marked  desks, initially suggest repetition, but closer inspection reveals a refreshing multiplicity of different spatial configurations that a single structure can generate.  I use the noun “structure” for what is substantially a drawing on board. It is suggestive  of Alastair Wilson thinking  as a sculptor,  whether with three-dimensional or two-dimensional  material. This ability is shared also by architects and designers . In its classical form it embodied mathematics, geometry and proportion in statues of human figure, e.g. Praxiteles.

One part of Twin Peaks, steel, 2016

And there is a lot of geometry here…

Curves and rectangles on the walls, on floor, floating in air, standing  in corners,  are equally confident as their   biomorphic  neighbours.  The precision of the cut outs from stone, mirror,   wood, board or carpet  advocates  aesthetics of machine made, of the exact, of the reliable.  As if thinking of the prisoners outside the cave in full light (viz Plato, Republic, the myth of the cave, wonderfully worked through by Iris Murdoch in her The Fire and the sun, 1977) – these objects are disrobed to the minimum.

The other artery  of this exhibition  is lighter in definition and heavier in  impact.  Wilson striped it of mystery by placing a landscape  painting bought on E-bay at the entry, opposite the metal stand with the sculpted mountain calling it Twin Peaks.  He modelled the shape it has in the anonymous painting.  Appropriation by translation.  Invitation to compare the two there and then.

This intoxication with honesty goes on throughout.  The cloth mountain covers a gardening tools, including an upside down wheelbarrow,  fully visible from the opposite view.

Mountain on wooden legs… the clumsy support is cherished as well as the lovely drapery that in certain light from certain distance achieves transformatory conviction.

The rude awaking ,when seeing what the dorso is, provokes on of two sets of responses: either seeing it as a contemporary  grotesque or questioning why so numerous objects were necessary to evoke the  illusion of white mountain range?

Long Range, 2017 and a part of Witness ,Apparatus 4, 2009 (kinetic device, mirror)

Video, installations, floor sculpture and drawings complete the  variations on the  two themes: precisely new (shiny and smooth)   and  recycled.

Witness, ellipse drawing, 2010

Painting ? Drawing? Both?  I sense different kind of freedom in these – less of a responsibility to be an artist in an art world, more  being maker in the privacy of inventive play  feeling unadulterated joy of being.

These images keep their secrets placed in the multitude of irrational touches and constructs –  some perhaps starting off from the marks on the inherited surfaces.

They are spaces of imprisonment of matter in layers and repetitions meshing some disparate perceptions in a single mass. Indeed, it is akin the starry night offering both sense of disorientation and  the heighten anxiety of never knowing it all.

Serenity, silence, intimacy – usher the viewer inside the seen, insisting that the mute poetry, Leonardo thought about, is still possible, and that the task set by Italo Calvino  in his “memo” on saving visibility, is achievable.

The exhibition has been accompanied by a catalogue with interesting texts that refuse to be just of one kind.  It contains images of his output not present at GTG.   The catalogue Alistair Wilson, Signs and Ciphers,2017, copyright the artist, is meant to accompany the part II, planned for the Millennium Court  Arts Centre at Portadown later this year.

Images courtesy the GTG



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Unafraid Yellow (August 4 -31) and Unafraid Blue (September 8-28) at QSS, Belfast, 2017

Sean Campbell, Toy soldiers

A variant of these  toy  was soldiers exhibited, not so lushly yellow,  spiralled around a column supporting the gallery ceiling could have been  easily overlooked. In a spirit of Barnett Newman’s aesthetic discourse my first image here represents both the  inner sanctum of the series, that started with red and is destined to end with white.

Sean Campbell  exhibited also a print and a yellow installation.

I slipped down the wall and landed on my ass (Yellow with blue rectangles)n.d. 170 x 200 x 32 cm.

This photograph distorts its shape and angle, consequently, it offers a reading which the installation  refutes.  In situ,  the yellow hue is less modulated and  has a clear role to overwhelm both the scale and the other hues. The red, blue, grey and ochre simply settled where they fell   within the obedient order of the ” yellow floor boards”.  Yet, the small interventions not only interrupt   the monotony, they engage the yellow next to them  in an optical illusion.  E.g. The darker blue  on the left  makes the yellow surround shift the tone.   Consequently the yellow “pulsates” like a  dense liquid under the smooth surface. The , blue, red  etc coloured patches seem to just about hover above the yellow field – imagine a Mondrian’s abstraction exploded and carried on the stream of yellow towards you…. The patches animate the yellow field.

Zoe Murdoch chose to give the yellow hue the smallest of surfaces.  As if she wished to measure its power… in addition she disabled any poetic power of that heavily used yellow  wooden ruler, it has been used, damaged, broken.  If anything, it may evoke sympathy. Yet, the ruler rules over the complex screen with the window, stating how small it is.

Zoe Murdoch, The Window, n.d., mixed media. 23.5 x 22 x 6 cm

The unexpected power of a simple fragment over an complex image becomes even less friendly, when the eye connects with the rusty bolt behind.  The assemblage  works like a visualised  philosophical debate,  about what is real and what has which power.  The frame positions it all in the realm of  the stream of boxes  revived  by Joseph Cornell  – zooming on  what a visitor may or may not see.

Joseph Cornell, Magic Soap bubbles set, n.d, courtesy of Christies


Murdoch balances the ruler  on the edge  as if in despair  at being superfluous to the image of the window, which establishes its own, different  scale.  The tool that carries an agreement of many  is powerless  in front of the “convincing lie” – a lens based shrinking of the real size.  The  fragment of measuring tool is  “real” in the way the window is not and vice versa.    The  issuing ennui gets uprooted  when the eye notices the bolt  embodying  sense a threat.  Three incongruous objects in an accidental frame is a proposition of an unstable reality outside, i.e. where I am.  Suggestive of a dream, it is a take on the Lautreamont’s  “definition” of surrealism, slightly polluted by Arte Povera.  The yellow  in this assemblage appears to follow a line from his Poesis:

I replace melancholy by courage, doubt by certainty, despair by hope, malice by good, complaints by duty, scepticism by faith, sophisms by cool equanimity and pride by modesty.

Turning to the six charming small  paintings by Ashley Holmes evokes melancholy. In some the yellow describes light, in some a surface.   In one, shown below, the yellow is the power to drown the rest, like a tsunami.

The house appears twice.  In the foggy  (smoky) background the edifice recalls comfortable living – as a memory. Heavy sheets of  as-if-rain, yellow and purple, do not notice the powerful   black uprooting the “home” and turning it upside down.  Not enough. It blackens it out of being and sends its  tentacles high up  to touch the frame, and thus establishing its plane, with confidence,  as the picture plane.  It could not see the yellow hurrying up to erase the black foundation strip.   In between – there is a sweet stubborn decor – something between  medieval marginalia and very busy wall paper.



Ashley Holmes, Everything was coloured, acrylic on canvas, n.d. 38 x 25 cm

All Holmes’s  six small paintings are reminiscent of the Dutch Golden Century dedication to  houses inside and out, to the comfortable life of those who owned such houses.    The charm of narrative detail is threatened by the duo of black and yellow spelling a danger.  It is a parallel to Munch’s Scream – in the mist of destruction   by natural forces (like a hurricane or tsunami) contaminated by fear.   The calm embodies paralysis of all parts of the image, which easily offers different reading.


That the overall cover of visual field by one hue is not a simple matter is made visible by comparing the yellow in Campbell’s minimal installation with the complexity of misty  landscape (?) by Clement McAleer below.

Clement McAleer, Journey, oil on canvas, 183 x 152 cm

This colour field is visibly constructed as  frame-to-frame  layers, steps, flat and at the same distance from the picture plane.  I recognise four straight line horizons  with a expanse above that may be read as a sky.

The stripes! each previous one replaced by another vista…. I favour the second one with the moon coming out of the clouds  at the time when a red sunset on its left  below. eases itself into a  watery world, into vapours without  beginnings and  ends –  a state of the universe  inviting  for a journey  while making it difficult to see any particular  depth – instead just one continuous.   McAlleer’s yellow colour field  suggests distances and swiftly denies them holding the image  at the picture plane.  He makes the slippages pretty, and daring.  Is it a  mighty storm? Are those red smudges wounds, fires, fallen constructions?  Those insecurities make the prettiness unsettling, bringing about recognition  of what it feels like being on a brink of a journey…reminiscent, inter alia, of Dante Alighieri:

 “I found myself, in truth, on the brink of the valley of the sad abyss that gathers the thunder of an infinite howling. It was so dark, and deep, and clouded, that I could see nothing by staring into its depths.”

This is the vision that greets the author and narrator upon entry the first circle of Hell—Limbo, home to honourable pagans—in Inferno. 

While Sean Campbell chose to overwhelm the given space by large scale,  Robert  Moriarty preferred minimal addition of yellow  to the given size of  a common manufactured object.  In both cases the yellow hue matched the simple concept, by not crossing over the line of obedience.  Where Campbell chose  to cover the constructed object completely in yellow,  Moriarty  decided on minimal intervention, allowing the yellow hue to  cover only  the lowest part of the found object, with few yellow tiny strips littering the rest very  scarcely.


Robert Moriarty, Untitled, OSB Board, 244 x 120 cm, detail


Both strategies  forge an image, each with a narrative that could be read from the gossipy marks on the surface.

Dr Colin Darke, the curator,  points to the two concepts, the western civilisation built up about the hue: One is rooted in ethical norm:   Yellow cowardice, yellow bile of irrational anger, yellow garments in Renaissance portraits of Judas, yellow fear.  The other, considered by theologians of  early Christianity,  proposes yellow as colour code for dignity, joy, eternal existence; this for ex. by Grunewald in the Isenheim altarpiece.

The yellow hue  pairs with sunlight, gold and heavens and also with unbearable heat experienced by van Gogh in Arles.   In his last small painting, Wheatfield with crows (1890) he invested  this hue with eternal fear.

V van Gogh, Wheat Field with Crows, 1890



Blue does  that too.

In the well considered accompanying handout for the third exhibition inspired by the title  Barnett Newman  gave to the group of painting  Who is afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue (1966 -1970)  Dr Darke recounts the blue from  ancient mosaics to the  Yves Klein’s invention (1950s)  mentioning Italian love of lapis azuli as well as the deep sorrow embodied in “the blues”.    Sadness, coldness, melancholy, joyful blue sky, clean air,   clean sea – blue can manage the contradictory values  and multiple meanings.

Classical role of holding contradictory elements together appears in the painting by Angela Hackett , with a title referring to time of the day when cognition becomes impaired by diminishing light.

Angela Hackett, Entre Chien et Loup, oil on canvas, 92 x 66 cm , n.d.

Its title:  “Entre chien et loup” désigne le soir ou le matin, … ”  “quand l’homme ne peut distinguer le chien du loup“, according a source from the 2nd century AD…. the dusk is that level of light and its absence when our sight becomes  partly disabled.  Some blues do not speak, they hardly even whisper, bleached by grey  of their easy brilliance. In four cases they still appear in all their sonority, only having their vitality strangulated by the  divided brushstrokes and by being pushed into an illusory depth.  The hue blue is given almost full range from pale to deep, from green blue to  the red blue registers.

Colm Clarke prefers the full light and clear vision, both in his installation and in the video.

In the small installation, shelf-installation, the blue painted on the shotgun shells feels both admissible and arbitrary.  The tenor of the installation is signalled by the plant whose seeds can be distributed in shells  to start the growth on enemy buildings. Buddleia slowly destroys their fabric.  The text explains the military take on this.

Colm Clarke, In the rounds, eight shotgun shells, native wildflower and selected seeds, Buddleia cutting, A4 text, various dimensions, n.d.


At first the calm of the order and the preposterous idea how to win a war  may bring in a superior smile, but then  … Clarke insists it is feasible, and retires to the role of presenter, asking his art to report “the facts”. This concept appears to govern his video Lofts (30 mins) about men keeping pigeons, preparing for competitions, and just sitting, talking.  The blue, is the blue of the air, of the sky captured by the obedient lens.  This is a life supporting story of people who opted out of sectarian war – or any war.  So the bombing an enemy  with seeds suddenly connects: both the birds and the shells make use of seeds.  I appreciated Clarke’s aesthetics of waiting calm,  as  combating the prominent obsession  of our civilisation with speed.

Catherine McLaughlin also presented a  video – of a landscape, of clouds, sky, sunsets, sea …  with subtitles in Irish language, and a voice over.  

As I had difficulties to hear it correctly, the artists kindly sent me the written version of  both:

Delectable voiceover.

A love story, simple and sweet. 

An increasing of heart rate, announces your presence, bodily. 

All night I watched your lashes twitch across your cheek.

Open and close.

Open and close.

Where they mine?

A consensual viewing or illicit pleasure?

Tomorrow,today, I received all the answers I needed.

And I am, will be, remain, content in your gaze.

As I read it, it confuses the visual impact, the impact of the visual thoughts, which may not at all  become less ambiguous and problematic than the words  disrespect for  logic and grammar. The noun Tomorrow and the verb’s past tense  –  clash.

Gladly I note that the rhythm of the images  not only avoided disharmony – it promoted the sublime of what was made visible.


Grace Murray’s  mastery of craft  strengthened the  values of honesty and  beauty of  the narrative  power  of differences. Of tonality while the shape is the same, repeating tirelessly.  The Nest accepts being completed  while unfinished.  Think of poetry here.

Grace McMurray, Blue Frame, ribbon and thread, 23 x 16 x 8 cm, n.d.

Grace McMurray, Nest, Ribbon, cotton, headboard, 62 x 92 x 5 cm,n.d.

Grace McMurray, Inverted Colony, Embroidery on cotton, 21 x 21.5 x 5 cm, n.d.

Grace Murray, Blue Cutcomb, plaster and ink, 27.5 x 32.5 x 5 cm, n.d.

Her website ,,  contains a respectable profile of  her art practice. Surprisingly for me, she mentions a connection of her art  to Sylvia Plath poetry and life, namely fear and loss.  I sensed poetic tropes resonating in the tonality of blue, intensity of suggestiveness of each tone  of a muted feeling.  What feeling exactly? I sensed deep ravine in the darkest of the blues and  hyperactive escapes from it by the lightest once, be they blue or pink.  The elements are like cells, like single sounds, single words, bubbling up above  unforgiving deep – not quite black- holes.

Rarely – the techniques of embroidery, patchwork, weaving etc achieve the poetic strength, most visibly established  in the Nest.

David Turner  favours lego as material to make images.  The industrial sameness is both an  advantage and hindrance.   Without surprise, I note that some of his motifs are connected to films, another strong representant of the 20th C.

David Turner, Misspent Youth, Lego, 25.6 x 25.6 cm

The ambiguity of the title  is reminiscent of irony.

David Turner, Electric Blue No 1, Lego, 12.8 cm x 18.4 cm, n.d.


David Turner, Electric Blue No 2, 12.8 x 18.4 cm, n.d.



Often, Turner tells the story of his experiences of living in divided society, torn apart by not just differences, but hate and violence.  This “blue series of three” exercises  some freedom from inescapable history into some kind of presence.  It is a kind of presence of the thought,  of being in the world, yet  separated  from  received view of social history, politics, and ideologies.   The  blue hue has only two tones in Lego  –  dark and light, hence the amassing of related blacks and greys to intensify the presence of blue in both abstractions.

In conclusion,  Dr Darke’s decision to gather  art around a hue and its tones proved as good as any for  a group exhibition. Yet, I find at least one strong advantage: focusing the artists of one particular tool,  evoked, provoked  researching its range and ability to drive, not illustrate, a meaning.

Images courtesy the QSS and the artists.



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CAPTURED: Rich, Rugged and Fresh, Goose Lane Gallery, Belfast, 7th – 23rd September 2017

My first visit to this small gallery behind the Tivoli Barber’s  shop in North Street happened courtesy  the painter Gary Shaw.


Until this encounter,  I failed  to register an art group  Belfast Bankers, a name inspired by  the group of 29 artists, and ” a load of bees”, taking a short term lease of the vacant Ulster Bank  building on Newtownards Road to use as studios.  As I knew nothing of its story,  I asked Zara  Lyness. Her response  ( email 1oth 09 2017) I re-print here with her  kind permission: Continue reading

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Part 6 Cumulator 7 – just the rest of images taken by Jordan Hutchings – 7/7/2016


DSC_9630 - Copy





DSC_0500 - Copy





Christoff 2

Christoff Gillen


Brian and Christoffer


Keike, Siobhan,Brian


Siobhan Mullen Wolfe - Copy - Copy

Three of them

Siobhan,Keike, Colm, Brian...













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Keith Sheppard, Reflections of Nebulae 2, Arts and Disability Forum Gallery, 03.08 – 08/09 2017

Interpretations of Sunrise from  Gliese 581c? Indeed that is what the artist named it as.

“How might a sunrise appear on Gliese 581c? Gliese 581c is the most Earth-like planet yet discovered and lies a mere 20 light-years distant. Although this planet is much different from Earth, orbiting much closer than Mercury and containing five times the mass of Earth, it is now a candidate to hold not only oceans but life enabled by the oceans. Were future observations to confirm liquid water, Gliese 581c might become a worthy destination or way station for future interstellar travellers from Earth.” ( the artists’s  statement emailed to me by the gallery)

Continue reading

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Dougal McKenzie: A Dream and an Argument, 30 June – 8 October, 2017, the MAC, Belfast

Installation, from the left: Set for Painting; History Painting; Eremite; Netherbow I; Netherbow II.


Whatever subject, motif, intention,  McKenzie  leans towards being a history painter born in  Scotland, a root  which he intensely identifies with as if it were palpably one living organism akin to a family.  With few exceptions, McKenzie frames and re-frames a memory  kernel by  abstract right angled areas, or by parallel brushstrokes  so dry as to almost evaporate (History Painting)   around a biomorphic, decidedly not isomorphic,  floating irregular shape.  That is an exception though.  The most severe case of importance of framing is the largest of the exhibits, Set for Painting ( Quad) due to the addition of wooden frame and a separate cover of the painting’s dorso, covering another painting,  invisible to the viewer. A slight imprint of a rectangle in its top area is a sign of a possible presence, an the empty frame as a lament about not yet born image.


At times the framing/nesting is more like an addition of two images above each other, without any comforting togetherness.  In the painting below, the top has its own re-framing in blue that separates it from the wall it crash-landed upon. It sits slightly in front of the bricks, bleeding some blue onto them, allowing an illusion the the wall continues behind it.

H.o.M. Painting, I, 2017 Oil on linen 240 x 190.5cm

The painter morphs history painting of old to be a journey, visiting, re-visiting a microcosms of his memory, its fragments akin the quantum theory of superposition.  “This painting began as a recollection of a high, whitewashed wall at the end of the garden I grew up knowing as a boy…The painting began as a close approximation of the garden as I remembered it, but changed significantly as I gradually  gave more prominence to the wall itself.” (Notes on Painting. Dougal McKenzie: A dream and an Argument, p 2)

McKenzie  adds that the top part of this “framed” painting appears both  as a wall and as a projection screen presenting an ambiguous  figure and a details from the cobbles of the jail where Captain John Porteous was jailed. Both refer to the historical event in Edinburgh 1736. The painting makes its utterance about the history with tension and friction, slipping from one meaning to another. McKenzie suggest the figure may be himself or Porteous.

Observed details, retained memory,  a story he reads or listens to,  is kept high up in McKenzie’s making of art, sincerely and with a force of  a conviction that it belongs to him and he to it.  Yet, he is not subservient to politics or nationalist ideology. Instead, he reconstructs  a story, happening, event, or experience with the  passion of a lover of painting  inspired by life – importantly, in the past tense.

The lower part of the painting is a wall  fading in the last rays of a sunset. It has no justification in relation to the “projection screen” above – that part could have been on its own. There is one powerful motif for placing it, almost mechanically, inside the same painted frame.  The fading wall  creates a tragic dissonance with the jail story  by making it impossible to see, to  know what is behind it…. for ever. Eternal nightfall.

That jail story  appears once more as a straightforward narrative in the composition illustrated below. Nightfall, heart symbol, triple framing tasked with suggesting depth, reminiscent of Velasquez solution  in Las Meninas.   Both moving bodies are drawn with a superb command of fluent modelling while thinning the volume to transparency. History told and  illustrated is bereft of substance?  What is included is sufficient and necessary to lead the viewer’s attention to a source. Or so the painter decides.

H.o.M Painting II, 2017, oil on linen, 240×190.5 cm



He seems to make fragments of past the salient sine qua non of an image.  Placing the then  of the story with the now of selected hues and tones and brush strokes  does not guarantee an immersive experience for the viewer.  More often than not,  these paintings  seem to refuse to become sensual – in the sense described by Nietzsche.  They are rarely intoxicating (  in two cases and only  at certain distance from the picture plane the hues emanate light : in Set for Painting, the blue painting with the umbrella and this small image, its red reminiscent of Matisse’s red that emanates light)

Leith Sauna Fauvist, 2017, oil on linen, 46x55cm

This exhibition is faithful to the Apollonian  principle. It leans away from the power of its opposite.


The two concepts link art and nature, art and society by alternating between knowledge and imagination.

Comparable dual attitude  to the mix of art and life had been at the the birth of  western art history. It started as the stories of life of each artist.Italian painter, architect and writer Giorgio Vasari  born in 1511, published what is regarded as the first art historical text, known as ‘The Lives’. It featured biographies of mostly Italian Renaissance artists – Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Titian among many others. The  British Museum has a copy of the second edition from 1568.

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Vasari’s take on art history feeds into McKenzie’s concept giving fragments of his own life experience, even a vague and uncertain memory upper hand.  I cannot be certain that the painter recognizes that link at all times.   Having followed his paintings for decades now, I am certain that his subjects have to do with his life, his watching films, television, reading, travelling, listening.  Reminiscent of an approach proposed by   Sainte-Beauve (Charles Augustin, 1804 -1869) which may have filtered down to McKenzie during his undergraduate studies.  Sainte-Beauve  conceived an idea that art is best understood when  focusing on extensive data concerning the  character, family background, physical appearance, education, religion, love affairs and friendships,etc.,of the artist/writer, so much that it provoked  allegations that he was providing merely biographical explanations of literary phenomena. It has been a  standard method of historical criticism ever since. Happily, different approaches are at present  tolerated even in some anglophonic writing on contemporary art.   McKenzie may feel uncomfortable with a suggestion that his paintings are  auto-biographical. My contention is that they tell the story of his interests, of his knowing of fragments of the past or taking film or photographs or other paintings as  templates for a new image. What he paints includes parts of his  experience/ memory  formed  before he puts brush to the canvas.  I sense that it may be  linked to his endeavour to keep his sincerity in unassailable condition.

McKenzie also  merges history with memory, remembering for example, his young son running, on the right hand side here.  He calls it, significantly, a History Painting, here on the right.

On the left: Set for Painting (Quad), 2017, oil on linen, 275x50x192x199cm; On the right: History Painting, 2017, oil on linen, 240×184.7cm


I mentioned already earlier, that the  inside out umbrella,  at certain viewing distance morphs into a sparkling diamond with dust surrounding it, and that on the back of this canvas is another hidden image, covered with pink textile. It has ever been present to the maker, not to the visitor of the exhibition.  Why to exhibit it under a cover at the back of another painting? Exhibiting a painting  is making it present to the others, to the world. Exhibiting it under a cover replaces that by making it present to the artist (creator) himself – perhaps reaching intensity  of something to be  yet born.  Not yet alive, without knowing what and when. Being completely alive is thought of as a task to be (or not to be) accomplished. ( Parallel to some ideas proposed by Anne Dufourmantelle in The Ideology of Security, 2011.)  McKenzie’s  decision to frustrate viewing  is reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s  Etant Donnes 1946 -1966 (Étant_donnés

The idea to remove art from display that facilitates visibility  is still felt not only confrontational, but also dated. At present, the curators  drive forward  ideas like ” equilibrium and engagement”  announced for example for  the 2018 Sydney Biennale .It is a call for intimate viewing of details as presented, inter alia, by   Mit Jai Inn  (born 1960, Thailand)who  will participate in the 21st Biennale of Sydney next year.

Mit Jai Inn, Junta Monochrome #1, 2016, oil on canvas, 800 x 800cm x 50cm, photo: Jirat Ratthawongjirakul

Abstraction and illusion, stain and relief, canvas like a carpet or tablecloth – defy the conventional boundaries in order  to achieve an immersive experience that is self-directed, an experience of access and openness.

There is one painting in this exhibition which sets itself  near  an immersive experience.

Eremite,2016/17, oil on linen. 185.5 x 151.5 cm

Its lower part  is evenly lit, wholesome and dreamlike, plants captured with the lightness of chinese  calligraphy. The heavily modelled man is about to fall …The highlighted, aggressively decorated ring holds him like a magnet, to prevent such destruction of the mute poetry below.

In his notes for the exhibition, McKenzie offers the clearest evidence for my  proposition  of this art being auto-biographical, that he paints what he knows of, what he experiences even if on a kind of removal:

” It began with the upturned figure at the top floating the correct way up, in the middle of the water. At the later stage in the painting, I decided to invert the figure and move it partially out of the frame. As a result, this could be read as a reflection of someone who is actually out of the frame of the picture, or a Chagall-like method of suggesting a dreaming figure floating in the air. The strong  turquoise greens and blues suggesting algae, and the thistle-like silhouettes in the grass, were actually observed by me on a walk around St Margaret’s Loch, another location featured in Walter Scott’s ‘The Heart of Mid-Lothian’. Standing at this exact spot, you can view, but out of frame of the painting, the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel on the side of Arthur’s Seat (the extinct volcano in the centre of Edinburgh). One of the St. Anthonys was known as The Eremite, or Hermit. The floating figure is taken from a scene in ‘The Swimmer'(1968) a movie reference I have wanted to use for some time. I have always thought the adventure of the plot of ‘The Swimmer’ (originally a short story by John Cheever) is like the adventure of painting: altogether strange and unknowable in terms of where you are trying to get to,  and what it is you are trying to remember”

McKenzie’s brushstroke is rarely this sensual, at the same time never so tight as to forbid the charm of the split of the second light touching a face or a fold in the garment.   I find the addition of frivolous abandon in construction of depth both optimistic and charming. (see the spatial relationship of the circle and the man’s left arm, he is carrying whatever it is, as if unaware, nonchalantly, in the painting below.)

An Argument (Flowers for the Prisoner), oil on linen, 195 x 213 cm

McKenzie  defies  conventions  of history painting by merging it with the intensely personal evocation. In the above composition the idea of a “wall transfigures into an interior with a lamp shade, window behind. High key is deprived of its sparkling power, dry out like pressed flowers.  The composition places a half figure where in medieval painting is a  predella with a substory. McKenzie writes:”The section at the bottom is in fact taken directly from the movie “The Parallax view” (1974) …This painting came early in the series and is in fact a reworking of an image I’d tried out some years ago.” He continues saying that he had in mind a story  of a wrongly sentenced  Effie Deans.  The two figures, in the main part of the image, represent her talking to her suitor Reuben Butler.

After D McKenzie read this post he kindly corrected me in a comment: “Dear Slavka, in the section on An Argument (Flowers for the Prisoner) you describe the two upper figures as being that of Effie Deans and Reuben Butler. They in fact perhaps represent Jeanie Deans, her sister, and Reuben Butler. Effie is perhaps the figure below.”  (Added on 05/09 2017)

McKenzie is sincere about his sources, but keeps under wraps  an insecure doubt how to translate his adventure of painting to the viewer.  These two paintings, twins in spirit, break  structural logic, by exploding partly defined right angled order, by breaking continuity, by inviting  irrational world   to seep  into the rational one.  These are battle scenes of senses.  Not surprisingly his Notes on Painting are silent about both these images.   Having them installed as twins – they oblige to open to suggestions.   The multicoloured areas in their top half continue from the left painting to the right  one as if unfazed by having the wall gap between them.  Having avoided any narrative hyperbolic link, the eye is happy to guess and play.  The verbal story becomes secondary to the  painted one, told by  hues, tones, light and shadow, hot and cold, smooth and spiky … the ghostly figures are  almost erased or on the way out, possibly the accentuate that these images are not anthropomorphic as history is, yet they are about humans on this earth, possibly present some time ago.  Dreamlike figures in a floating state… see through and not bounded by a particular time.  Superposition.


From the left: Netherbow I (Mob), 2016/17; Netherbow II (Mob), 2016/17; both oil on linen, 195 x 21.3 cm

Inspired by Walter Scott’s “The Heart of Mid-Lothian” (1818), the story of Porteous Riots of 1736 – they take a leave  to transform a history onto an experience. Poetry knows about such transformation.  I just read this helpful paragraph:  In “Why Poetry?” (Ecco), out this summer, Matthew Zapruder defines a poet as a writer who is prepared “to reject all other purposes, in favour of the possibilities of language freed from utility.” Where people who are puzzled by poetry go wrong, he thinks, is in expecting poems to say something straightforward about life, to be useful. Poems are really about language—ultimately, about the impossibility of fixed meanings.

Not far from McKenzie’s words quoted above  on the adventure of painting   as ” altogether strange and unknowable”….

Images courtesy MAC and  Simon Mills.

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Fine Art at 2017 Annual Degree shows, University of Ulster Belfast, 2 – 10 June

Fiftysix pages of a newsprint 36 x 29 cm ( a size of not the smallest of canvas) carries the basic administrative information about courses and a campus map. BUT not the layout of the placement.  Each cohort of students in each  degree is given two pages of visual documentation, for few selected students. I am not impressed.  After my visit, I would have preferred list of names and contact sheets of all graduates work, to assist memory and to be a valuable source document for archives. To my dismay, someone wasted this valuable opportunity.

Now and here,  I have recalled one of the ground on which this inadequate handout  may appear “adequate”. Continue reading

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Diarmuid Delargy, Monotypes, 15 June- 28 July, Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast


The cubist painter  Andre Lhote (1885 -1962) jealously  chastised  Emil Filla (1882 – 1953) for being  “plus Picassian que Picasso  lui même” – a   memory of which surfaced when I saw one particularly superb  monotype  at the  current exhibition upstairs at Fenderesky Gallery: Continue reading

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Helen Kerr, Batik and Stitch, Oriel Gallery, Antrim, 1/5 – 30/6 2017 (and some others)

Curved Glass Self-portrait 1995


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Tony Hill, Selected Works 2017 – 1972, F E McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 14 April until June 4th, 2017

The current psychology view seems to insist that we have two attention systems:  one  wondering over and around the perceivable  is a friendly support for wandering around this exhibition to get  a better focus. The other snaps our focus to anything that stimulates the senses: e.g. a loud noise.Many of the images Tony Hill made available for this essay are surveying what is there.  I asked for only  three  to snap out of that all over viewing.

On  entry a warmth of yellow mixed with orange tones presents the artist as a painter.

Yellow Canvas, 2017, Mixed Media reconstruction of lost one, exhibited at 1972 Maidstone Degree Show

On the two adjacent walls  are prints of drawings from the same year, Hill says they are for  “structures, situations and colours”.

Intriguing use of the term “situation” – something I recognise in much later lens based work. Here they  face some: On the left six cibachrome  prints, Hand Shapes exhibited in Octagon Gallery in 1981, are reminiscent of an image on the stairs of the Ludwig Collection at Aachen. Sorry – unable to locate that. In relation to the Modernist’s call for”originality” – long before calls that it is a myth,   Ludwig van Beethoven wrote   to a young pianist: The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun. (  July 17, 1812  in Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations , 1951) 

On the right, a memory from visiting Venice, A Lover’s Kiss, 2009, Inkjet  photograph.

On leaving the bay of silence:  Too many doors!  In some cases amassing the sameness is essential to weave a net capable to capture  multitude of thoughts and judgments.

Crown/Castle, 1991, doors, lime-wash, Scarlet Lake Pigment. Exhibited in 1991 at Fenderesky Gallery in the exhibition Poesis- Line-Object

From this viewing point the denouement slips out effortlessly.  The recycled useful objects keep their appearance but not their function, instead, they appear to have a conversation not unlike the hybrids of people and sacks installed by  Juan Muñoz, Conversation Piece (Dublin)  at IMMA, 1994.

The number of the doors installed in the middle of this gallery works well to do that, but not so well by occupying so much exhibition space and by blocking views.

Turning away from the doors  the installation intoxicates with diversity: a small blue wooden “high relief”, narrow as a crack in a  wooden fence, one of many “sticks” in the exhibition, stubbornly optimistic that its size is not undermined by the large wooden ladder wearing a cardboard square in colour of dry soil.

The twin  slide projection  inside plywood cavernous, door -less, cupboard, also blocks the view at the smaller two- dimensional items on the walls.

The large installation in the middle is: I Stand- Island, 1978, the slides were taken by Lynne Davies – Jones.

This shot  of  the  Renaissance Ladder (2013) which the catalog entry calls “installation”  opens a link to Duchamp, who located the art between the artist’s will and the viewer’s attention.    Dr Jamshid Mirfendersky in his catalog essay  points out that Hill’s art requires  “aesthetic attention”.  That is what stimulates a  “focus”  that will differentiate  this sculptural assemblage from a  similar one  in your garage or a shed. At the height of Modernism theoreticians entertained the significance of ” not just  a retinal response”, hoping to shift the aesthetic experience away from seeing.  The current research on attention   (e.g. Nilli Lavie, University College London) proposes that attention is a limited resource  and that filling all its slots leaves no room for distractions.  The two objects – one, the square, purposefully made by the artist, the other  an object of common utility –  leave empty slots, thus inviting distractions from your treasured  creative thinking.

Snapping out of the first encounter with any work of art   depends on the creative analogy a viewer brings to it. In her catalog essay Dr Antje von Graevenitz  turns to the analogy between alchemy and art, with imaginative focus on the orange square evoking hues from the depth of the Earth, namely sulphur: “…seeing them in an alchemical way, then both objects might be part of a rather symbolic language: the square with its colour orange seems to be like sulphur directing to the volcano, to fire and the sun, the square-pictures hues  or earth seem to be fetched from the ground.”   She also writes that it is” a humorous  image with serious suggestion”.

Tony Hill often undermines the serious idea with  detachment from it, possibly  to avoid heavy handed accent of persuasion or propaganda.  He does not preach,  he takes the risk to entertain with the highest abstraction.

I observed these “sticks” from all angles and distances… and was rewarded with actually slips of meaning, once  of pristine determined three-dimensional form chiselled out of precision, once, from a side view, flat and fluid and temperamental  like abstract expressionism ( albeit on a small scale).

This is the last bay from the left: Wall sculptures, 2007, maple, pigment, tempera on gesso. The small pastel on mahogany For An Adventurer, 2016, shares the sentient of that blue next to the Renaissance Ladder.

Water, maple. gesso, pigment, 2013

This composite variant of Hill’s vertical sculptures was given the whole wall at he garden window.  The empty surface around it intensified its visual power.  It filled all the slots of my attention  while harmoniously allowing a kind of reverence, known from encounters with votive objects.  Blue waterfall  cut out of its natural surroundings, yet keeping its magic  connection to the world…

Hill’s choice to allow the seen fragment of the world to resonate with our associations, analogies, memories, comparisons, playful guesses, does not preclude closed composition.

The next two examples of photographs on a similar theme  provide me with a question: how is his body and mind doing two operations at the same split of the second? One is to hold the twig (with one hand)  in a particular relation to the horizon, the other is to direct the lens to capture it( with the other hand).


Stick and Hill, County Donegal, 2009, Inkjet Photograph


Stick and Cliff, County Donegal, 2009, Inkjet Photograph

In my catalog essay I called it mindfulness  -as in filling all his slots of attention with  that simple trinity of eye, hand and mind – recommended already by Leonardo as the necessary condition for mute poetry.

Thanks to Dr Riann Coulter for sensitive curating  of a more complete   survey of Tony Hill’s art practice, as he puts it from 2017 until 1972.

Images courtesy Tony Hill.

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Paddy McCann: Eyes to the Wind, Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast, 11 May – 10 June 2017

Paddy McCann, The Refugee, 2017, oil on linen, 42 x 36 cm

A face, neck and shoulder  of a three quarter “portrait” , positioned between two calm and cold walls,  addresses us over a mad riot of exploding red, yellow,  and other hues. The blue above the head suggests an open space behind, open space abandonned and  not accessible anymore? Like an unfulfilled expectation?

While its visual force arrests me easily, even  bribing my attention by the exquisite abandonment to confident abstraction, I willingly struggle to decide what this painting wants.  At the same time, I am not anxious to grasp all at once, knowing that McCann’s paintings change their minds a little on subsequent viewing, never abandoning their central empathy to our being here and now. Nevertheless, I accept that my relaxed attitude is not satisfactory for those viewers who insist on a clearly defined narrative, ie instrumental value.

W.J.T Mitchell suggests that answers to the central questions of visuality “must be sought in the specific, concrete images that most conspicuously embody the anxiety over image-making and image-smashing in our time.” (What Do Pictures Want?)  

Paddy McCann, The Last Smoke on Donegall Street, 2017, oil on Linen, 46 x 38 cm

The words seem to connect to the place where McCann had a studio until the owner decided to sell the building to a developers.  It is a part of the replacement of what is by what exists in sketch books and proposals only.  Something is burning – either objects or memories – or even ethical and aesthetic judgments.  The abstract  rectangles lost the sharp corners and outlines in parts – as if their power to define had been weakened by erosion of sorts. Erosion of morality included. Paradoxically, a larger part of this painting prefers rococo sweet hues in high key – even dissolving in one another.  The painter’s curiosity how much  that “dissolution” can take  is pushed to the extreme in this grey large rectangle.

Paddy McCann, Chair, 2017, oil on linen, 100 x 82 cm

The folds of the cloth on the left  display attention to detail, seen  also in medieval paintings (and Alfons  Mucha)

Madonna, National Gallery, Convent of Saint Agnes, Prague

I put this in terms of the following analogy (roughly paraphrased): “when it comes to images, then, we are in something like the position of savages who do not know where babies come from. We literally do not know where images come from, or where they go when (or even if) they die.” (W.J.T.Mitchell in an interview  accessed on

The sliver of the drapery on the left of the chair  shares in indeterminacy with two more details that surround it. The marks above its top edge are to be marks made on the wall during some reported torture. They also work like evening clouds or small waves at the shore.  There are small marks near the right top corner of the chair – they morph – if viewed on the original – into a squashed face with two eyes and a nose.  The mouth is almost invisible, the eye on the left is swollen.

Ghost Carrier, 2017, oil on linen, 36 x 20 cm

This title above pins the meaning to the obviously visible,  a dark coloured figure holding   a figure painted in white and other high key hues. Both surrounded by an evening tone of a pink.  McCann’s pink mixed with grey.  A case of empathy for someone’s state of mind?  This could include the painter too.  McCann  here returns to his friendships shattered by the past Troubles, and possibly other losses.

Paddy McCann, The Stone, 2017, oil on linen, 61 x 46 cm

While The Stone  remembers old selfportrait, in a confident shifting of the theoretical issue of appropriation back to his own  early   paintings, the blocks of colours resonate back to Rothko and to  McCann’s own  small colour rectangles destine to minimise retinal recognition.

This is the clearest case of McCann’s specific brushstroke, watery and loaded, capable of smooth cover or a  resolute division of the colour field.  This schizophrenic definition suits perfectly as visualisation of memory with weakened but not a weak recall.

Paddy McCann, Evening, 2017, oil on linen, 36 x 27 cm

Landscapes keep appearing  – and have been central to McCann’s largest paintings over the last period.  This one is painted with dryer brush where it called for textures, witness to McCann’s keen definition of observed object.  For me it evokes to last seconds before the sun disappears behind the evergreens.

Paddy McCann, Water, 2017, watercolour, 31 x 21 cm

On occasions, McCann switches to watercolour with this excellent technical and poetic mastery.  Usually there is one central form, a figure or a tree, or just smudged face.

Paddy McCann, Painter’s Hat, 2017, oil on linen, 36 x 31 cm

Indeed, on occasion, he includes a smile, a greetings to other painters. The tonality is reminiscent of Velasquez, the motif  of a story. The whole is  a vintage McCann, when he wins over the dark forces of recent history.


Images courtesy of Sharon Kelly and the painter.


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Sharon Kelly at ArtisAnn Gallery Belfast, May 4-27 2017

Sharon Kelly watercolours with graphite  form a half of two persons exhibition titled Dissolving into ambiguity  with Lenka Davidikova( b 1980, Dolny Kubin,  Slovak Republic).  Both  graduated from the University of Ulster – 26 years apart.

I have written about Kelly’s drawings and video  before, this little collection marks a shift towards poetic freedom, freedom offered to and by complex ideas visible as a transportable object.


Half Hand, 2017, watercolour, graphite. 41 x 31 cm

Meditation.  Drawing a drawing. The process is opened bare, equivalent to the fragment of the motif, the marks flow on the hand  and forearm, and next to  and around, as if  competing how much each dares to escape the duty of describing.

Sharon Kelly, Cave, 2017, watercolour, graphite, 48x40cm

The distinction between the noun “drawing” and the verb, is meaningful. Once explicit as duration, as process, with a beginning and an end, and once as stasis, a stable moment  when the past  becomes the present and the future.  Once observed or imagined, the motif  determines  the mortality of  other  variations, hinted at by abrupt cuts or empty areas. Both watercolour and graphite  offer generously fluent suggestion of what is not optically there. Conversely, the anatomy while madly disturbed, still  holds to life.  The headless torso  is like a flat, fluid “garment”.   The  voluminous blue selfportrait  suggests depth.       The  convincing charcoal outlines  and modelling  follow the obedient observation of arms and hands  with  confident denial when, for example,  the outline of the  left arm is visible through the   right hand’s fingers.  It is real, but only as a dream is real.


Sharon Kelly, Blue Cloud, 2017, watercolour and graphite, 48 x 40 cm

Habitually – blue sky is behind  white clouds. Poetical visual trope reverses that, the cloud being blue and sky “white” or near white. And the “cut-off” hand is alive and caressing the air as if not wishing to catch the blue apparition; rather it looks as if the hand gently released that fluffy blue.

Drawing as a verb inhabits immaterial world. It prefers the world of thoughts to that of objects. Jealously, it is ephemeral, guiding its privacy, and at times it is impossible to apprehend it by senses. Hands can draw in the air leaving no trace, yet transporting an instruction or expression. Issuing sheer joy  of co-existence of a blue blob with the anatomically correct hand –  the hand treats the cloud as it would treat a butterfly – afraid that touching it will disable it.

Kelly offered an insight:

“…the animation work took place over a number of months and it meant I had to shut all daylight out of the studio to keep the artificial light constant for stop motion work. It was one charcoal drawing that changed, slowly so the whole process is very slow and can be almost impossible to work gesturally. From the middle of March I was able to lift the window coverings and clear the space and explore imagery with watercolour and pencil. So the watercolour work was like a flash of spontaneity in approach! The animation was for a projection for a dance production, a project I have been involved with for about 3 years and explored the territory of grief over time. “(email to me  15th May 2017).

Indeed grief is not an object….


In his essay ‘On Being Modern-Minded’ (1950), Bertrand Russell describes a particularly seductive illusion sensual and  intellectual progress. Because every age tends to exaggerate its uniqueness and imagine itself as a culmination of progress, continuities with previous historical periods are suppressed: ‘new catchwords hide from us the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors, even when they differed little from our own.’

Kelly’s use of a blue  as a fragment of sky,or of a head or a hand as a fragment of her own body,  invite comparison with a very well known drawing of hands  by  Albrecht Durer.  Like Durer she  confidently  places a  fragment of the living form into a viewing frame. Both ground the meaning in a state of mind when it escapes the uncertainties of daily life.

Albrecht Durer, Study, 1508, 29×19 cm, pen and ink, Albertina, Vienna, accessed on Wikipedia

There is a habitual hierarchy between the  drawing  as a work of art  and a drawing as a study. Both Durer and   Kelly  cherish the responsiveness of drawing to hold its truth without becoming a servant to any one truth. Both  give the viewer a freedom to complete  what is visible by what he or she imagines.  And that is, as Giordano Bruno advises ” a bottomless well”. Durer  connects the hands with status and the belief in a superior being.  Kelly’s connection  is grounded here but sends empathy over there into the universe.

Sharon Kelly, In the Rain Cloud, 2017, watercolour, graphite, 48x 40 cm

Image of grief? Image of empathy?  It seems to oscillate, preventing me to be sure, except that the graduated definition  of the watercolour mark  moves  from a standing firmly on the ground to an attack by emotion that disintegrates the  head and part of one arm…  The darkened volume of clashed fists belongs to despair.


Sharon Kelly, Vein, 2017, watercolour, wax, graphite, 48×40

The materials are promiscuous. Making mark with whatever is willing to do that on the ground of choice is not an anthropocentric act, it appears across the animal kingdom. The same tone of a hue expresses despair and resolve  in relation to different outlines that are “carved” either from a light or darkness. It activates  our cognitive faculties, invention, daring, scaring, feeling, intuitive guessing. It marks territory of invention that is mute, visual. In the next image – a memory of a dancing ballerina… both wet and dry outlines are obedient and enclose the from with clarity.

Sharon Kelly, 2017, Ochre Dress, watecolour, graphite, 61×51 cm

A drawing becomes sometimes evidence or a witness – like the print of  hands on the prehistoric rock face.

Pech Merle, East from Cahors, accessed on Wikipedia

Drawings addresses us as individuals, secretly offering seductive respect as a bribe. They flaunt their beauty, intelligence, even their hidden sources, through the rhythm of the trace and its tone. Even when there is a story, it is secondary. The viewer is invited to make up hers or his own.

Sharon Kelly, Ghost Dress, 2017, watercolour, graphite, 61 x 51 cm

This reminds me of August Rodin’s drawings  of dancers made  after 1906:He is quoted as saying

I invent nothing, I rediscover.
The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation

courtesy of Musee Rodin, Paris

The lines and texture are the main message, however much they pretend to be just messengers. Drawing is gloriously free – any size, any material, any subject, from a sketch for a monumental building to an acute observation of a fly, to a definition of the plant atlas, to private loving greetings. Apollo or Dionysius? A wrong question. How much of each is in each drawing is the correct one. It is the classical Greek moira, a measure, of each that differentiates the characters of drawings. Rodin is reported saying  that the Cambodian Dancers made him think of antiquity.

I sense complicity in these drawings between silent observation and mute inner world to make all over perspective  redundant –  or at least discreet.

Sharon Kelly, Dust, 2017, watercolour, graphite, 48 x 40cm

Some drawings  do not like to be an end  – they wish to serve as a seedbed of different meanings. What is it like to despair? What is it like to feel happy? Human condition opposes certainty ( with the exception of death, which seems to tower over this image). The nurtured faith in the benevolence of fate recedes to allow uncertainty as a subject matter in.

Some  drawings submit their force to a fresco or concrete and glass, or stone and bronze, other drawings, Kelly’s drawings amongst them,  confidently stand alone: I am who I am. Let your senses and mind resonate with what you look at. There are treasures to be had.




Images courtesy Sharon Kelly and the gallery ArtisAnn unless otherwise credited above.

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Stuart Calvin, Greater than I, May 4 – 18 2017, GTG Belfast






Stuart Calvin wrote to me:

“The process for creating the plaster forms involves pouring the plaster directly onto a flat smooth surface. Before the plaster fully sets, I shape them until they are slightly domed.


The plaster is then air dried and repeatedly sanded to achieve a smooth surface. The gold leaf is applied in the traditional way using size. In the past, I have various types of adhesive but none of them achieve the very reflective finished attained with the size. ” (email 7 May 2017) Continue reading

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Unafraid Red, April 6 – May 4, 2017, QSS Belfast

Unafraid Red  (and the following U-Yellow, U-Blue and U-White)  curated by Dr Colin Darke has been inspired by Barnett Newman’s  Who is afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue ( four paintings made between 1966 -1970 as a pun on Albee’s play)) and not directly  by Edward Albee’s 1962 play Who is afraid of Virginia Wolf   even if it shares is principle, e.g. Act 1:Fun and games)

Albee described the inspiration for the title thus:

I was in there having a beer one night, and I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.[5


Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Ellsworth Kelly, had begun to reclaim primary colour, using it on their own terms. Newman, who had previously always mixed his own colours, felt compelled to respond. ‘I was now in confrontation with the dogma that colour must be reduced to the primaries, red, yellow and blue,’ he said. The challenge as he saw it, was to make the colours ‘expressive rather than didactic.’ (Tate Gallery room 13)

1966.Oil on canvas.

The hue is inherently validating a meaning. Why? Because it is there.  Because it is a voluntary discrimination of the rest, because limiting selection of art to “red or yellow or blue or white” is an “unnecessary obstacle” that carries risks.  I recognize it as a principle motivating  climbing an Everest as well as  Albee’s play, Newman’s minimalism and Darke’s curating.  F. Nietzsche’ ” superficiality out of profundity” defines it well.

Darke hoped that focus on one hue will provide ” a level of visual cohesion, while retaining the conceptual and aesthetic diversity that defines Queen Street Studios.”( Gallery handout – worth reading all of it: the curator researched the hue’s flexibility to symbolize life, love, class struggle, fire, charity, gravity, dignity, grace and attractiveness)

Displayed in two rooms, it had to borrow the back space for the   performance by the superb Amanda Coogan.

Amanda Coogan, Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, performance Saturday 29th April, 12 noon – 4pm

Her  decision to fragment the body into hidden static and visible moving  is one of those “unnecessary obstacles”. The spiritless container  still squeezes in the idea of a game even a smile, thus acting like voluntary discrimination against “body art”, inflicting contrary thoughts of imprisonment and disability.  The grace of arm movement, the drama of frozen open mouth, slow movement of head, all combine forces to disgrace, to overcome the obstacles.  Illusion of a whole body alive and well.

The ability of the artist to work through imposed limits  to protect the  freedom of thought, joy of unpredictable imagination  and to contain various skids and shifts of meanings  bounds the exhibition together.  A comparison of “Rose” and “Red Rhythm”

Catherine Davison: above “Rose”, below “Red Rhythm” ( both acrylic, n.d.)

Although in both paintings Davison  allows the red to look continuous over the colour field,  both tonality and brushstroke make obstacles to it.  As well as other hues. Yet – the red holds command over the “light” and “temperature” , a reminder of Cezanne’s rule that the painting should hold the same temperature from the left top corner to the lower right.

In a nod to symbolism  the red oscillates between several meanings (blood – fire) with holding on to its history as one of the three used by early humans, i.e. black, white and red)

Gail Ritchie. Wounded Poppy, watercolour on paper

The graceful fragility of the plant silently engages with Ritchie’s other set of the  hundred tracings of war titled Century (ink on tracing paper)

The technique of transfer and historical themes  attract also Jennifer  Trouton presented here as a grid of  “tiles”, each capable of standing alone, titled  What Remains (oil, decal transfer and wallpaper on board)

Her forte, the painterly illusion is represented by oil painting “Yield”.  On comparison, it seems  somewhat unfinished.

 Sinead McKeever  installed two of her crawling “relief/drawings” made from recycled material.

Sinead McKeever, Some Velvet Morning, Mixed Media

And when  this fragile looking velvety  tangible “line” got stepped on

it survived the change by embracing it. Her larger piece  Untitled  has not taken that risk of contamination, “crawling” safely on the wall as if coming out from the line between it and the ceiling.

Cheerful and melodic, it voiced the visibility of youth, energy – life.

For the way these artists treat humanity this exhibition was a very welcome alternative to the more brutal slogan like art  in some other current exhibitions. I particularly applaud   the curator and the artist for “raining the images” on the visitor as stimulus to their own imagination. While their points of departure are different, they coalesce  independent play with growing the meanings from different soil/sources  to make art that silently stimulates visual thinking.  Formed by intrinsic logic of visibility they -as if – obey Dante Alighieri’s celebration of imagination ” stealing us away from the outer world and carrying us off to the inner one…”. Not forgetting how they shelter under Goethe’s thinking about the red – cited by the curator – that it ” conveys an impression of gravity and dignity, and at the same time of grace and attractiveness.”


Images courtesy Dr Colin Darke and artists.

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Bbeyond Symposium Belfast April 3-8 2017

“I beg you….let us begin anew by doubting everything we assume has been proven.” (Giordano Bruno,1548 -1600) Continue reading

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Robert Ellis: Proverbs, 3/3 – 15/4 2017 at Belfast Exposed

The gallery handout makes astonishing statement calling this small exhibition upstairs ” “an ongoing  body of work using photographic images and audio recordings that engage with the contemporary landscape of Uganda while exploring its layers of memory.”

Whose layers of memory?  Memory of what? The body of work is not using images it is those images…

The exhibits were given a collective name “Proverbs”  for one reason: “… story telling still seems to hold a certain degree of reverence.”( Robert Ellis in the gallery handout)

Looking at the image above does not provide a persuasive evidence that it is an image from Uganda. Ellis spent there three months in 2013 and some undisclosed period in 2016.   Instead, the lens based image gives credence to the enthusiastic welcome  to Ellis as a part of a “terrifically competent” graduates  shown under Photoworks  2007 in a review by Aidan Dunne (The Irish Times, 27 June 2007), Dunne perceived Ellis’s document of Brazilian community then as “an outstanding project”. The recognition continues,  in 2014 Ellis’s photography appeared at Plat(t)from 2014 an the Photo-Museum Winterthur, Switzerland. That is a curated exhibition  gathering young artists – who are invited to be present  as well as they artwork.

So – I have almost classical dilemma (Aeschylus Iketides) between the visual thought of a foreigner  and the disinterested  subjects, natives or landscape.  The tree  appears  in a proverb I know – not a Ugandan one. My grandfather told me to protect trees, because killing a tree is killing a city.   My association to the wisdom of my ancestor is made admissible by Ellis’s juxtaposition of the majestic tree crown and distant roofs and lights and a light tower…

Easily – another connection surfaces while looking at the image – the tree looks like a kind of a platan tree, admired by Handel’s Xerxes in the aria Ombre mai fu  for offering shade:  dear, friendly and gentle tree.

The framing sets the tree in the centre of this fragment of the landscape  while the human settlement nearer the horizon sincerely admits that it continues beyond the frame.  The image has thus a tenor and the chorus – in two different rhythms – in a seamless co-existence.  Do I sense a latent conflict? Yes, but the artist holds me firmly on the side of the tree,  agreeing that human species depend on nature.

People appear in the rest of the exhibits, alas, I do not have those images.

Photographing persons anywhere raises the dilemma between the aim to document and the encroaching the privacy of the subjects. It is possible that they do not mind… it is possible that Ellis did not need to ask their permission. Nevertheless, he is an outsider  giving his view of what his subjects think of as familiar.   By chance this theme surfaces in a current exhibition at the Photo-Museum Winterthur  titled Unfamiliar Familiar. Outsiders views on Switzerland.

That is a parallel theme to Ellis’s view of Uganda.  He portraits the local people, standing, walking, perhaps talking.  That the images do not contribute to a particular national identity is their strength.In my view, the repertoire Ellis presents is not inflating stereotypes, his curious eye zooms on subjective characteristics of the viewing, it is not restricted by stereotype or advertisement.  Seen by an outsider – the subjects carry warm familiarity, replacing sharp differences by overarching similarity of life lived now – here and there.

Successfully, Ellis offers authentic fragments of the seen at every given moment, some look staged, but all subtly claim the status of a document, of external evidence.  Yet – since all meaning could be questioned, Ellis offers the insecurity of free interpretation with instinctive promise of beauty, the beauty of something ordinary, unexceptional, yet  uniquely  true.  I almost said  uniquely  beautiful and good – in agreement with Socrates’s  twinning of  kallos and agathos.  (Plato, Gorgias, 474d-75d)

And so Ellis  escaped the  danger of offering  exotic as the grounding for an outsider’s view.




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ADRIAN O’CONNELL: INTERSTICE, March 2017, Engine Room Gallery, Belfast

The ribbon window of the gallery on second floor of this modernist building offered picturesque view over Belfast and light and calm to envelope O’Connell’s   paintings. A gentle host to the unleashed passion for the modernist idiom. Yet, it made me think of Tintoretto in the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, “San Rocco in prison visited by an angel” (1567) – minus the visual noise.


The baroque painter developed exquisite mastery of irrational lighting.  He gave it a poetic role to disconnect what is connected in the real world. Disembodied  by light and dark the anatomy  became a tool for passionate astonishment.

White as the highest light and black as its absence govern several of the all over  paintings O’Connell presented.  I shall come back to his attachment to other hues.

On one hand these illegible messages look like painting. On the other the white and black layers are disembodied by a sharp end of a tool that ploughs the field unearthing the first layer, in a manner an artist could work out a low relief.  Taking away is appropriate to sculpting, before Modernism developed abstraction.  Piet Mondrian applied almost clinical rationality to subtraction  in the painting  kept at the GementeMuseum Den Haag, the 1911  Grey Tree.

O’Connoll, however,  sides with Robert Motherwell who praised Clifford Still  for not working through images.  The painted surface is the image – a kind of tautology aspiring at becoming an image.

In many of the displayed paintings there are added small canvases painted in calmed manner with one hue.

Extensions: Green; Mixed Blue; Red; Yellow; Mixed Green; Blue (all horizontal, 2015)

Reminiscent of Clifford Stills cry: “It is intolerable to be stopped by a frame edge” O’Connell admits a need to tame the sensuous irrationality of the “carved” surfaces by the obedience of each hue  to be a good, minimalist, steadying, grounding area.

The carpet on the floor unwittingly, and less successfully, echoes that aim.  The larger paintings abandoned the neurotic baroque altogether. The high hysteria of emotion  is thus only on the smaller formats – adding the feel for private  contemplation.

Minimalist billboard scale examines the power of hard edge geometry  so softly used in the extensions of the smaller paintings.

Sentenced to  find home in public spaces, they are immaculate and confident.  The grey and black harks back to the light/dark play flipping the surface out of rationally measurable space.  A quite lovely break towards a play.

The discipline of modernism has its rewards when it offers soothing co-existence.

Detached Blue(vertical), n.d.

There is a renewed interest in this kind of painting – see in particular the S2A Group. (They list an artist from Ireland: Carol Diver)

The contrast of painted and unpainted, dark and light, do not preclude the poetic role of present and absent parts of what in a viewing conditions becomes an image.    It is different from  “working through images”( Robert Motherwell) in that it works so that the viewer can form and carry its image as one whole.  So -working for an image?

O’Connell has explored the various stages of ” working – for – an- image”  for some time, without leaning on Minimalism.  I have in mind his installation at Platform Arts 2012, namely the sculpture made of keys…   ( see Jason Higgins photograph on Off Limits – Belfast Project)

The fascination with repetitive occurrence of similar but different visible “objects”  seeped through  from those keys to these paintings  made during the  2015 – 2016/17 -.


The tonality of hues often whispers only about light and dark, thus being nowhere near the  Tintoretto’s drama of the belief in the extra-celestial beings.  Yet, the tenor of all O’Connell’s paintings  is an invitation to believe.   The low reliefs look like frozen Jackson Pollock  as well as like incomprehensible appropriation of the universe.

Stubborn to tell me more these paintings demand free fall imagination, they make that visible.


Images courtesy of Adrian O’Connell.





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Michael Hanna: Predictable Contact, Naughton Gallery Belfast, 16.02.17 – 26.03.17

The installation is made up of four TV monitors  and a continuous projection on the wall.

View towards the end

The  colours and sounds of Predictable Contact,  while allowing me the freedom to play Continue reading

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David Turner: A Series of Small Explosions,QSS Gallery Belfast, 23-25

Mosaics? Tapestries? Embroidery?  The look of Turner’s objects constructed from Lego Bricks or Hama Beads meanders from  an association to toys, to rules of construction controlled by gravity or frames. The sizes vary from huge Megaton #1 and #2  to hand held  little figures.



The gallery handout states that the exhibition was curated by Francesca Biondi as a set of “powerful images  of bomb explosions…intended as a critical commentary  on war and terrorism”.

David Turner has experienced the Troubles  growing up  in Belfast  during the 1970s – consequently, the explosions, the killing, the violence,  became part of his personal experience of the world.  No wonder if it surfaces in his consciousness, as reflective intentions  remove glorification from armed conflicts  and the proverbial ” my side” bias.

The gap between artist’s intention and the impact of the work of art invested with it, is always there, otherwise there would be just narrative, illustrative visual art.  Notably, the dynamics of creativity always wiggles out of the intention  – more or less freeing itself from the illusion of explanatory depth.

Turner uses real documented events as a source for the compositions, e.g. Oil Rig/Explosion, 2016


Oil Rig Explosion, 2016, Hama Beads, 80 x 60cm


The image does not illustrate one such event, but any such event… anywhere, where the humanity becomes hubristic  in relation  to nature, to the Earth.  The drilling companies demand freedom to drill for oil, even if they cannot fully  control the outcome, even if there are warning signs not to drill a particular site. Such companies are driven by hubris, not by precaution principle. If Turner’s image  increases awareness of the public to the gap between the companies intentions and a likely harmful outcome – it would have contributed  to safer future life on this planet.  This artist does not preach – rather he invites the viewer to reflect whether the current generation are responsible ancestors.

While the motives are rooted in Turner’s experiences  -whether direct or mediated – the works of art follow their intrinsic agenda, locked powerfully by the material and tools. Less of “art in service of…” and more of “art as a potential for increase of connectivity of brain.  Effective connectivity, the current  science proposes, depends on covariance  between intention  and the resulting impact.  Turner trusts  the  incongruency between the tool and subject matter, play and killing people, to undermine the so called  “confirmation bias”  of those who justified the Troubles. Or still do.   Some exhibits appear ambiguous.


This figure built from LEGO bricks  prefers the robot like appearance – androgynous,   of ambiguous gender and age – to  occupy the established territory of toys and souvenir.  In addition, in the gallery context, it requires affinity with small modernist  abstract sculptures. Contemplating it easily favours  associations with obedience, order, and loss of identity. The warm colours over the cold white skeleton  evoke desirability. The calm ” in-betweenness” of this  small statue has  left behind an earlier strategy of  sarcasm and hyperbole of Little Dudes (2013) and Nano Dudes (2015)

nanodudes98a5f73b-afce-4ed9-8d7e-b17c555adf87The similarity between Turner’s current  softer approach with Modernism’s abstraction surface in several of the framed- like- picture  assemblies of the tiny Hama Beads.


Structural damage #1 and #2, 2016. Hama Beads, 40 x 30 cm



I find this image interesting for commanding freedom from the artist’s intention.  Although inspired by a real tragic vent, and titled Structural Damage #1,  it is capable of a presenting clues either to surface or  to the structure of the Earth. If perceived as a segment of a structure it progresses from  the black heavy core, the fluid magma, and the green thinner surface with atmosphere.  I admit that my reading has been triggered by the recent scientific research about the centre of the Earth, and not at all by Turner’s, or the curator’s intentions.  I celebrate the art’s ability to open ways of being not predicted by the artist.  In that sense, I do not need to know what the intention ever was.   It is all between the work of art and me. Or work of art and you.  Luckily, people always thought that the universe was made of both similarities and differences, perhaps the most famously formulated by Plato in Timaeus. So- this composition is also similar to a progression of light from a shadow over reed sunset reflected on water and sky.  And may be more…

Not all works of art allow such a openness –  often they insists on limiting the viewer’s imagination.



Both images on the far wall represent decipherable objects … boats, ship, ports. Both have the word BOMB in their title.


Ship/Tug Bomb #1, 2017, Hama Beads, 40 x 30

Both look like tapestries, cross stitched embroidery – similar to Bayeux Tapestry in their clumsiness to present in right angles what it not right angled… an  explosion.


Ship/Tug Bomb #2, 2017, Hama Beads, 29 x 21


In real viewing the white departed from industrial even surface and breathed in space that kept declining away from the lower frame, calmly and with determination of a poetic word.

The association with the patient work of female of the species embroidering something while guarding children – is rooted in the vast history of human division of labour.  Turner decided to own it, I sense, inspired by his being a parent.  His faithful use of toy material… something to assist development of various skills, has significance for his tolerance to the gap between intention, inspiration, motif, and the art object.  He does not condemn the art object to be a servant of a reason to make it, for its link to identifiable source. By using tools for play – Turner admits  the importance of play for  creativity.  And for freedom of imagination. Not something to sneer at. Charles Baudelaire called imagination the queen of all faculties. qssturner003

The even machine precision of the surfaces  does not allow anything flamboyant to happen.  Yet, the very technique of accumulation of sots is quite open to that, as illustrated, inter alia, by the rather undervalued and magnificent  Yayoi Kusama’ “Infinity – Love Forever” (1966 – 1994)



Turner does not favour symmetry, rather he dismantles something real into useless, e.g. a weapon. While holding on to the convincing appearance, he  denies its function. He makes fakes, ignoring the possible undesirable mistaken perception.  Making  explosions and weapons pretty  is not without pitfalls.



All exhibits are for sale.  I like that combination of a gallery and dealership… it has glorious history on both sides of the Atlantic.



Images courtesy David Turner.


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BOSTON,02/02/17 – 11/0317 Belfast. Golden Thread Gallery

From the University of Massachussetts  via a dialogue at Scope NY, 2015, to the Project Space at the GTG in Belfast is a journey less startling than the  choice of making Belfast a  Sister City for Boston. Yet, in 2014 the Boston Mayor Martin J Walsh   spoke of  “…our historic connection and deeply linked heritage”. His name places him anywhere in island of Ireland, and quite comfortably among the many Walsh’s in Belfast and Dublin.

The four artists Margaret Hart, Zach Horn, Elizabet Marran and Cat Mazza  show competent visual art – a sort of polite gesture of a guest.



M. Hart’s video at the window and collage on opposite wall near the door; facing wall  with 6 Cat Mazza’a Electroknit series; near right Elizabeth Marra


offers  insights into her art practice  in her


“”To review my entire portfolio is to see a diverse group of works. There are definite relationships between bodies of work,and it is possible to trace the progression from one work to the next. As I was organizing my entire oeuvre, I was struck by the nature in which certain themes kept surfacing. The content of my work, as well as my approach to different materials, has grown and evolved over the years.

 The majority of my work is installation based. I was drawn to this form in graduate school and have explored it ever since. Installation allows me to bring together the variety of materials I enjoy working with and provides me a forum within which I can address larger critical issues. I have always been influenced by theoretical writings on the subject of identity. Both feminist works, and more recently, the many cultural studies texts on the developing cyber culture have fed my creative impulses. Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Elaine Scarey. Donna Haraway, and Roseanne Stone have been very influential authors for me, especially their writing on identity formation and on the nature of the individual. Body issues, and the development of the individual identity, have always been central to my work.

 From this centralized position I have continually examined the nature of the internal and external. In earlier works, such as “Masquerade” and “Mapping Memory: Recollections of the Self” both in 1993, the examination was focused on body issues from within a feminist framework. The internal psychological impact of body image, and it’s part in identity formation, being determined from the external patriarchal culture was a large part of these earlier works. Later, as my research for teaching purposes began influencing my creative work, issues of the technologically enhanced body began emerging and intertwining with my earlier concerns. “(base)Pair Recognition” is an obvious example of this type of work. In both cases the internal can be interpreted as the psyche, as well as the voyeuristic internal gaze of society. The external can be seen as the construction of the identity or the masks we wear.

Physically, the move from photographic based installation to sculptural and digital based works has been a slow, but obvious progression. The manipulated and repeated photographic imagery are now being interspersed with objects and digitally manipulated imagery. There has always been an obsessive element to my work. This has manifested itself through sheer quantity, physical labor, and, more recently, through the production of multiples. The materials have occasionally changed, but the obsessive nature of the work has remained constant. I have always been drawn towards technology and the content of my work raises many critical questions about the nature of technology, it’s impact on the individual, and our ever-shifting definitions of self.


A shot from the video Dreaming Metal, 2016

The video feels unstructured. Abstract fields alternate with precision favoured by design and – in the case of genome, by science.  If the viewer accepts that an open-ended   lens based sequence has a potential to trigger either awareness or aesthetic experience , then  the video succeeds. If not – there is no seductive beauty or distressing terror, or anything in between, to wake up deeper attention.  On the surface, it is informative about the basic knowledge that nature in all its forms is connected. It attempts to disturb an expected comfort zone of viewing “just art” by  deep cutting consequences of something flawed.  But that peters out before the end. While I read this video as a “macho set of values” –  her earlier series Tying the Knot exhibit subtle and private existence  not unlike to moments we need to be still and quiet.    (seen on Hart  sent to Belfast  collages titled Liquid Metal Series, 2016  instead:



CAT MAZZA (born 1977) exhibits six panels  of Electroknit Series 2016. 



The Electroknit Series   is made in uniforms size of 12 x 16 in while harvesting handknit patterns from 1523 until  the present.


A view of the studio of Cat Mazza


Labor Sister Sampler 1824 -1999, 10ft knitted timeline of women’s Knitters history

Cat Mazza(b 1977) is an associate professor of New Craft and digital Media, the founder of microRevolt – aimed at improvement of working conditions in globalised knitting industry(see It seems that Mazza hopes that digitalizing the knitting will improve those working conditions.  So far in the published interviews and statements she did not pronounced on the impact of that change on the availability of jobs.


Soon after the WW II, anticipating the augmentation aspect of the debate over AI and jobs, Alan Turing suggested that humans will be needed to assess the accuracy of the calculations done by digital computers. At the same time (similar to many of today’s commentators on the subject), he also predicted the automation of high-value jobs (held by what he called “masters” as opposed to the “slaves” operating the computer) and the possible defense mechanisms by what today we call “knowledge workers”:

The masters are liable to  get  replaced  because  as  soon  as  any  technique becomes  at  all  stereotyped  it  becomes  possible  to  devise  a  system  of  instruction  tables which will enable the electronic computer to do it for itself…

They may be unwilling to let their jobs be stolen from them in this way. In that case they would surround the whole of  their work  with  mystery  and  make  excuses,  couched  in  well-chosen  gibberish,  whenever  any  dangerous  suggestions  were  made.


Turing concluded his lecture with a plea for expecting intelligent machines to be no more intelligent than humans:

One must therefore not expect a machine to do a very great deal of building up of instruction tables on its own. No man adds very much to the body of knowledge, why should we expect more of a machine? Putting the same point  differently,  the  machine  must  be  allowed  to  have  contact  with  human  beings  in  order  that  it  may  adapt  itself  to  their  standards.

Mazza puts herself as an artist in that context. The aesthetic/art impact of her exhibits  is somewhat lesser than  that of original hand knitted samplers,  members of “lesser arts”  so named by William Morris, who defended the subterrean kindness that governs knitting.