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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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.


Both Mazza and Morris value the role of “lesser arts” in supporting ordinary life.  Mazza’s project of microRevolt  seemingly  revisits Karl Marx’s distinction between political emancipation and human emancipation, the latter closely related to non-alienated labour.  On the other hand, her manifesto also subscribes to Marx’s conviction that within the capitalist systems  instruments of production must be constantly revolutionised.


ELIZABETH MARRAN teaches introductory and advanced courses in drawing and printing.


Elizabeth Marran, Print Series 2016 (Digital Print)

 Traditional media such as drawing, painting and prints  are remade with current  technology. Yet, it makes little difference to the art, more to the loss of the aura or authorship and original. Even this democratising principle has roots in all old techniques of multiples.


The lightness of her touch perhaps recalls Joseph Beuys’ Multiples – without his daring innovation to print of blocks of wood.


 The desire to keep the images abstract does not limit the semblance of some to objects the viewer is familiar with, allowing  perception of warmth to misplace the cold intention.


ZACH HORN sent a video and a small painting.





(accessed on

I started these drawings because my son was born and I wanted to make work downstairs. I mean paint fumes just wouldn’t do. So I went back to the basics, pencil and paper, and I started to draw. What I didn’t expect is that the drawings would circle back to such representational imagery. Maybe it’s the muscle memory of 10,000 adolescent hours spent drawing? But what I happily discovered is that by using the figure I was able to talk about a much larger range of subjects.

These drawings are about my life, my memories, my screwy psychology. I don’t plan them out. There is no order. Even when I start the drawings I have just the faintest wisp of an idea, like wanting to draw a puff of smoke, or a huge baby, some lions or a face. In the beginning I try to hold the drawings loosely, and as they go, they start to assert themselves. The drawings tell me what they want to be. The hardest part is not to filter. I have to trust that every stupid, off-beat, taboo idea bubbled up for a reason. I think that it’s healthier for the drawings (and definitely therapeutic for me) to let it all out on the page. In the past they have called this inner voice, the muse, the subconscious, or the lizard brain. It’s all the same thing, trusting that little goblin in my head.

I’m usually surprised at the end of the drawing. I swear I didn’t know that Colossus was going to be about Goya, that the lady in Byzantine would have that other mouth, that the figures in the back of Easter Island would be bearing axes. The drawings asked to be like that. It’s only later that I realize that I am making a drawing about my life, about having a baby, about thinking about having more, about love, fear, weight, empathy, and cynicism. If you look at all the drawings together it would be a map of my brain, like the way that Hockney composited those photographs to create one image. These works are the last 12 months inside my head.

Since the subjects are so personal, I have been agonizing over the images. The alternative would be to make more expressive drawings, ie. violent arm movements as a symbol of my aggression. But, expressionism has a trade-off in that subject matter is often subjugated to touch. Because I’m drawing my son, my wife, me, my friends, my memories, my brain, I haven’t been able to sacrifice them to a looser hand. And I like it. I enjoy the challenge of waves, rocks, mist, smoke, and flesh.

I have had a blast making these drawings. I used almost no source material. I made up the figures, the rocks, the smoke, the fire, the clouds, the sky, the waves, the hair. I had to look up lion anatomy and some women’s shoes, but the rest is invented. Drawing from my brain lets every detail serve the composition. Light bends, perspective warps, figurative proportion distorts. Since I’m inventing it all, it’s mine to play with.


Zach Horn, Fixit, 2016, oil on panel (left) and video Spring Garden Street, 2016, stop motion animation

The video is humorous animation of drawings of lorries, houses, the street  – superbly delivered.  The drawings style reminds me of Marx Ernst – even the light  touch free of heavy ideology or unsettling sentiment. (see


In conclusion: the vitality of Zach Horn’s humour, invention and technical skills invests a hope that his academic carrier will not rob him of it.

The inevitable use of new technology is valid, but it cannot by itself guarantee the intrinsic value of art.

The universities all over are guilty of stifling art by demands for statements that the administrators can understand and evaluate.  Only some artists have been able to wiggle out of that deadly embrace the rationalising creativity inevitably brings about. And arts wither. In spite of good intentions.

Images courtesy Golden Thread Gallery.


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LISA GINGLES, 2 February – 3 March 2017, Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast



Metamorphosis of the Elephant, 2016, pencil on found paper



My work is influenced by many things; mythology, folk tales and invented stories, leaving their dark side laid bare.   It is about my life, the lives of others, and sometimes the life of no one at all. I use images of the past, feelings of the present and dreams of the future to inspire me in my art. Continue reading

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Catherine Davison, A Kaleidoscope of Colour, QSS, Belfast, 19 -21 January 2017

Queen Street Studios started a new tradition: Flash Show offering their ground floor rooms  at 31-33 Bedford Street for  a brief exhibitions  – like a visit to a studio.

koc-image-4  Davison’s  Kaleidoscope of Colour   is the first of a planned series, enabling the public in a busy part of Belfast, opposite hotel and BBC to use their  Friday lunchtime break differently, perhaps?   Continue reading

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Fenderesky Gallery,Belfast, on 13th January 2017

I went last week – Jamshid  realised another of his reliably good displays. On the ground floor, in the cafe space, piano, bookshelves, tables and chairs hinted at his parisian models.  Upstairs – it felt more  like a piano nobile minus luxuries, tapestries and furniture.

Fifty and five art objects were each allowed  generous space.  Wrapping of something in nothing  reminded me of Yves Klein’s  conducting invisible orchestra, Jamshid’s instruments being size, scale, material, colours, volume and space.

In his garden of earthly delights the hell is absent having taken  residency at Golden Thread Gallery  Project Space, where Jennifer Mehigan  installed a large scale, large number of exhibits  named Butcher.  Violent, grotesque, revolting, its specific demands make leaving the space a blessing, echoing  other older  art that wished to impact also as a heavy weapon. (Goya’s Disasters of War come to mind, or indeed any of Hieronymus Bosch’s hell.)

Mehigan meticulously  imposed a  didactic spirit  in all that is made visible, including the multicolour blobs on the floor.  Not a sign of the  hygienic anger of Lynda Benglis…


Mehigan’s exhibition  connects to morality tales, like those of Dante or the one that in 15th C  became a bestseller translated into many languages, the  Visio Tundale (possibly written in early 12th C by a monk in Cashel).  According to the curator Alissa Kleist  the Butcher is expected to answer Mehigan’s questions   including for whom  is the imagery is created. why and what happens when it is presented in a gallery space.  This also mirrors the aim of the texts like the Visio. 


The pragmatic strategies are rendered as authoritative and legitimate representation of the reality that born them out.  The visual force is performative, whether on the floor, on the canvas or a video, its fragility hidden. Some  defensive strategies are mentioned in the handout, presumably written by the curator, reminiscing on sources like a film or a poem. Alissa Kleist cites a line which could have been Mehigan’s leitmotiv: “what resembles a grave but isn’t”

There is a sense of strive for originality, to make something striking and controversial. It is so powerful that the exhibits huddle together like a crowd of people in a strikingly adverse conditions.  There is not natural end to that condition.

Leaving the lesson of the “hell” behind, Fenderesky offers a salon of small scale works of art, that can be either send to the wilderness of the  art world, or domesticated  in anybody’s home, anybody’s life.


In the so  called Christmas show ,Fenderesky makes  any aggressive role of art  firmly absent. Demands on tacit visual thinking  are to unlock your “inner” Self, that most private being that responds to poetry of the night sky or  snowed over mountains. This art carefully insists on the benefit of not knowing something, of not crossing every distance.

Jamshid chose what goes were with the eye of a lover, oldfashioned lover of very contemporary art, the oldest is Martin Wedge’s  Personage (1993)  followed by  Felim Egan’s  Blue North (2005). There is a price list which illustrates differences in the market values, you can have one painting  upstairs for the same money as several on the wall downstairs.   And no, it is not a reference to that TV series. The intrinsic value of each work of art is independent of the market value.  I was drawn to many, but chose to write about four only. They share nothing except nuances in variation.

Dan Shipsides ( art practice is multifaceted. His subject of choice is “visibility”.

I quote from his web page:

‘Pata-perception: perceive-something, recognise-nothing, conceive-anything, cognise-everything.

I’m interested in a creative and critical relationship to place, spaces, encounters and events in all and any of its potential manifestations – political, personal, topological, psychological, phenomenological or nonsensical. My work manifests as video, image, sculpture, installation, performance, sound, music or text.

The processes of my work reflect and embody encounters – adventures and misadventures in ‘real life’ which often includes climbing and mountaineering alongside my day-to-day life and an open response to the politicized landscape of urban Belfast where I live.

The sculpture exhibited on the ground floor has  history of  three “lives”, as a part of Kaleidoscope, of a video  and sculpture.   More on  his link below:

Three Triangles 

In fact it became the motif and device around which this work was edited. I like the plastic dimension of the video and it’s link to the wooden shapes (which originate from the design of the Kaleidoscope I made which is used in the filming of the video).



Threetrianglerainbow. Acrylic paint on oak wood. 35 x 20 x 4cm 2013



The measured simplicity reminds me of Duke Ellington who also ventured into various directions, e.g melodic – slurs -syncopation, motives and phrases: “…you have got to find some way of saying it without saying it…

I find it easy to like – and no, I do not worked out “the meaning” –  I prefer a sort of wordless conversation with it, it gives me lively responses back if I stay mute enough, never exactly the same…I  imagine how it will look after a layer of household dust… it seems  able to cope with the  glimmers of said and unsaid, real and imagined.

Some of the reticent attitude to hegemony of content lies at the cradle of “sticks” as I name this mode of sculpture by Tony Hill.


Tony Hill, Blue and Two Yellows, 2015, cherry wood, white gesso, Ultramarine, Naples Yellow, and Chrome Yellow ,30 x 2 x 3 cm

Graceful, poised and seamless it is also private and even  intimate.  It  appears to stare back knowingly  – something about absurd emergence of painting. It protrudes into real space from a slit in the wall of exactly its size, that origin is never revealed, but the visual illusion admits its existence, incapable of ruling out its denial.

Gary Shaw – a painter of patterns, was once a painter of landscapes.   In my memory a red australian  mountain  still commands a large “macho” canvas.    While taming the size, a poetry of suggestion of almost seethrough shapes  joins effortlessly the pythagorian precision of hard edges, straight lines, acute angles.   The discipline  invites the gossamer of brushstrokes to sing from the same sheet.  Each identity is respected in classical trinity of calm, harmony and rationality, or from the point of view of architecture, trinity of restrain, simplicity and proportion.   The single dot in the middle  and free read brushstrokes  enliven the strict order – even bring it to animated humour of some unreal creature getting through the gossamer.


Gary Shaw, Untitled, 2016, oil on board, 30 x 30 cm



There is a strong history of  collage and assemblage during the 20th C. as a part of the autonomy of modernist  visual art.  Its prehistory in religious and folk art is often forgotten. Northern Ireland has a steady devotee in G Gingles  who exhibits here  CUBA, 2016. (Sorry no image)

Zoe Murdoch does both boxes and no boxes…   recycling of found, bought and received objects:  Pripiat I and II, 2015  position themselves as assemblage of incompatibles.


Look at everything as though you are seeing it for the first time, with eyes of a child, fresh with wonder. Shadow boxes become poetic theatre or settings wherein are metamorphosed the elements of a childhood pastime. (Joseph Cornell). Murdoch aims decidedly  on adult view of the world.  Playfully at times, and threateningly serious at other times.  The spanner in the works  is physically and metaphorically commenting on a place she knows something about.  Before the Chernobyl disaster  Pripyat was a thriving town. Now it is a ghost town near the borders between Ukraine and Belaruss.   Murdoch makes the two of the composition to look at each other as if being two pages in an open book.



Mutilated into flat layers each has no air to breathe.  Ashes and destruction still retain memory of being once  spaces for life.  The calm overwhelms the explosion that killed the living place, not dissimilar to the burial of  two towns by eruption  of the Vesuvius.  With a difference. Pripyat was 16 years old.

Named after the nearby Pripyat River, Pripyat was founded on 4 February 1970, as the ninth nuclear city (a type of closed city) in the Soviet Union, to serve the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.[3]It was officially proclaimed a city in 1979, and had grown to a population of 49,360[4] by the time it was evacuated, on the afternoon of April 27, 1986, the day after the Chernobyl disaster. (accessed on Wikipedia) 

Murdoch chose a small size, even less than of a box for ashes of a cremated person, thus associating the death of a city with a death of a person.  Hence the prominent place for a hand held tool of construction.  As in hope.

The Fenderesky exhibition offers works of art  – all offering a rewarding visit, alas, Belfast public has no that kind of habit.


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Ciara Finnegan at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 2016, August 4 – September 10



And yes, it has taken me this long to  write this essay about it.

Click on  grubberguide to see the sketch for the main exhibit  and the artist’s valuable notes.

There were four items exhibited: Continue reading

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Aisling O’Beirn at Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, 2016

Curated by J. Baker . the exhibition  titled another day in futile battle against the 2nd law  of thermodynamics   included, maps, diagrams, installation, and video, all presented with meticulous care. Selection of gallery exposition  and O’Beirn’s introduction  is accessible on as the latest of many  of the delightfully rich inventory of her art practice.

She wields the uncanny mastery over chaos, without completely taming it, holding its energy present.  Found objects willingly forget their identity  and -with some tacit humour – co-operate with O’Beirn’s  will to transform base metal into gold, or the other way round.

As a characteristic of alchemy the transformation of found objects by O’Beirn is  reminiscent of Arte Povera, namely Gilberto Zorio.

“The various media used within his oeuvre include lead, copper, steel, clay, concrete, Tesla coils, compressors, strobe lights, lamps and incandescent objects, which are activated through processes including reaction, solidification, evaporation, oxidisation, fragmentation and precipitation. These are presented not as scientific occurrences, but are rather elevated to be considered on a more ethereal, universal level, foregrounding their primordial or even esoteric qualities that relate to the nature of existence, the cosmos and evolution. (

O’Beirn filled the first gallery with translation of scientific data about distances of stars  in the constellation of  Great Bear, the second with video projections.

I remember, hearing  it as a child  curious about the future, the adults expressing their fatalism thus: well only stars know…

O’Beirn juxtaposed the peak of each shower  with a memorable event,e.g  Lenin’s  appearance at Petersburg at the start of the October revolution.  I read it both as “predicted”, i.e. determined and as coincidence, a chance parallel.  O’Beirn allows both.

By insisting on the same pattern of juxtaposition of facts  O’Beirn fabricates the ennui born by the disinterested repeat. This makes the theoretical law  into a concrete,  experience, accessible to senses.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics States that whenever energy is transformed from one form to another form, entropy increases and energy decreases.

The installation of Ursa Major in the large gallery has been rooted in O’Beirn’s delicate interview of an astronomer, the whole is presented as  a video record:

The didactic element manifests further in diagrams and a poster.


This is Arte Povera with a PhD.  O’Beirn respects science and knowledge and truth and reality of the socio-economical conditions for living artist, so similar to the group in Turin and 1967 when Germano Celant published  Arte Povera. A large part of her practice utilises the scholarship as a method to make visual art.  At times the success is as if free of that intention – confidently engaging  aesthetic categories, including  beauty.




Ursa Major, Miza and Alcor, chair base, splash protectors,flexible cable and chalk

Significant layer of the installation depends on the success of persuasion. In recall of Duchamp’s Fountain  a dish rack wants to be  the constellation of star that is hardly visible. O’Beirn, the alchemyst, gathered the star dust out of the thin air, serving them on a plate. Some irony of human condition wrestles in.  Palpably, the coexistence of domestic chores and science and art, is possible.





Knowledge and art  meet in imagination, its transformatory power  of one identity into another also depends on viewer’s attitude/expectations what art may be.  At first I felt  dictated to – and resisted it.  Deliberately, I focused on  the objects abject refusal to transform.  This was strong tenor of all parts of the installation from near views of each part.    After watching the video where out of camera range O’Beirn politely questions the expert, I went back to the main installation. Still the pedestrian translation of distances in the universe into scaled down sizes  of each star in the constellation was an irritant.

Only when I abandonned the idea  of  the installation being a model for Ursa Major could i delight in the witty combinatory poetics of  play – objects playing  – like musical instruments in an orchestra.  They followed to prescribed size and strength, while displacing that objective rule by subjective  joyful gifts of surprising willingness to abandon their original role. Plates  pretend to be like vinyl records of yesterdays.  The stands could hold the sheet music for members of an orchestra … and it all started to work as the music of the spheres.

The bitter-sweet dialogue between the married couple, Jessica and Lorenzo, at the beginning of the final act of The Merchant of Venice, includesdiscussion of  the stars, each in its separate “orb,” or sphere, each sphere contributing to the heavenly music that only the angels (cherubins) can here. Ordinary humans, clothed in their earthly, decaying bodies, cannot hear the music of the spheres:

Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

When classical writers speak of the harmony of ideal order and creation, they are not thinking of the terms just as a metaphor. O’Beirn  does not either.

Images courtesy the artist.


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Moira McIver, Shadow Catcher, November 2016, Ards Art Centre, NI

As an invitation to a Shadow Catcher ( in my thought a rendez-vous with Mnemosyne)  the artist states:

In this exhibition in the Sunburst gallery in Ards Arts centre, I have used the historical photographic process called wet plate collodion. Wet plate collodion was invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. This process involves coating plates made from either glass or aluminium (originally used iron or tin) with first collodion and then silver nitrate. The plate is then exposed through the camera and developed and fixed for exposure to white light. The camera needs to be suitable for holding these glass or metal plates in plate holders. I use a Russian FK plate camera which is from about the 1930s and was used for studio portraits and passport photography.


The process involves lengthy preparation. She wrote to me:

I have been working with wet plate collodion for the last three years, mostly in the summer, when I get a week or so, to set up a darkroom and work at this technique. It takes quite a lot of time to get the process working correctly as you must first master how to pour the chemicals to coat the plate correctly and then get all the chemistry working to get a good result. The silver nitrate can be quite tricky to get right as if it is too fresh it will fog and it will lose contrast when over-used. The collodion also requires some time to get used to the process of coating the plate, so that the whole plate is covered without gaps or bubbles. The collodion is sensitive to temperature and will pour quickly in warm conditions, more slowly in the cold. The bottle of collodion also must be kept still to prevent dust being stirred from the bottom of the bottle and ending up on the plate causing white spots in the final image. The plate must be developed immediately when exposed, therefore one must have a darkroom or ‘dark box’ close-by to prepare and develop the plates.

The advantage wet plate process has over Daguerreotype consists of a choice: it allows either positive or negative image. The latter  facilitates multiple positives.  McIver also researched its history: it was used during the American Civil War not only to document soldiers on a battlefield (Matthew Brady), the collodium  was used to knit the wounds.

McIver illustrated the process in a glass cabinet – of the opposite side from the  camera.


The wet plate process, that artist feels”…has an ability to unsettle the contemporary relationships with photography. It sets the subject into another sense of time and place…there is an unpredictability or wildness  inherent in the process”

The exhibits are grouped according the place and time they were made.


In 2014 a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie centre  led to construction of “dark box” to take outdoors, to make the wet place in it and to make images “within minutes of exposure” with it.


Darkness Descending, 2014


Each print is an after-life of the exposure, shaped by the mundane matters of preparation of the plate and “the dark box” for the  image becoming visible :”The dark box seems almost like a magic box where these images are revealed”

Two weeks in 2015 at Clo Ceardlann in Donegal were spent in a bright lit studio with a small dark room attached.


Cyclamen floating

The painterly marks result from a swish of silver nitrate around the edges caught on the wet plate.   The background behind the plant is a cloth with printed image, which may invite a false guess that the image has been altered by using Photoshop.   Three more images stand for that kind of experience, all portraits of women, the artists mother and two nieces.













The style of this image connects with the Guthrie group as well as being nearest to a more modern photography techniques.  Although painterly, its highlights are dry.

McIver scanned the images and used them in a simple animation, presented  as a video on a small Sony box monitor. The sense of intimate encounter evoked by the 2015 set seems levelled and wrenched outside, as it is broadcast over and over…

There are three original plates that bring  forth a surprisingly poetic  experience:

” I had been playing with some of the original plate holders, standing them up and creating triangular shapes between the slide holder and the plate. I discovered that when I put one of my glass plates against the black of the inside of the plate, it was visible. I enjoyed that the image was visible only from certain angles. This again played with the sense of the image being quite ethereal.”




McIver scanned images for animation and layered a red transparent circle over them



The images achieve resonance with something else at times releasing the original object, at times not.  It is akin releasing a censor in our consciousness. It also insists that artist may lose a control. As a reward – under the surface of image scanned from life is something akin oceanic meaning. Snatched from brief encounters the images do both – document the encounter and fly away from it as existential anxiety buffer into the sphere of symbolic immortality.  McIver is never irreverent, she  is audacious with  the archetypal visualisation of a portrait.  In the beginning I compared this exhibition to a rendez-vous  with Mnemosyne, the Titan goddess who with Zeus produced the Nine Muses, while herself was an offspring of Earth (Terra/Gaea) and Heavens (Uranus/Coelus). Photography is a visual memory tool par excellence, even if its relationship to truth is slippery.

The rich tonality of black and white  is reminiscent of those not so rare decisions by painters to make black painting( eve if not quite black only, Goya), monochrome black drawings (G Seurat)  and even the black figures painting on early Greek ceramics.  It is like a remembrance of sorrow in a song chosen by Aoide, named as Mnemosyne’s daughter, when the muses are reduced to only three, by the respected Roman Scholar Marcus Terencius Varro( 116BC-27 BC). The other two he allowed,  were Melete, the muse of practice, and Mneme, that of memory.

McIver evoked these three: memory, practice and poetry, as if effortlessly, by reviving the magic of collodion.


Images courtesy Moira McIver

Quotes from her letter to me in December, 2016


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Sinead McKeever: Tipping Point, QSS Gallery, Belfast

Sinead McKeever  does not do compromises.  Her installation at the Queen Street Studios Gallery  title CIRCUIT (2016) echoed several of the perceptual tasks examined since 1960s by Michelangelo Pistoletto. Continue reading

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Keith Wilson, Calendar, MAC, Belfast, 2016

The curators issued the following information:

Keith Wilson: Calendar

12 Aug 2016 – 16 Oct 2016

For this major exhibition in our Upper Gallery, British artist Keith Wilson further develops his longstanding investigation into the cultural status of sculpture, considering how ideas develop in the private sphere of the artist’s studio and transform into a public presentation of work in a gallery.

At the core of Calendar is a large-scale galvanised steel structure made up of multiple cubic units, organised in a series akin to the familiar monthly grid arrangement used for wall planners and electronic diary systems. These units are then occupied by various objects, items, and ephemera that offer a view into the artist’s studio from the wider enclosure of public space within the MAC.

Calendar whole1471019727_20160811-MAC-010


This artistic practice comprises an ongoing enquiry into the contingency of meaning specifically in relation to the public functioning of sculpture. The artist is interested in exploring the power relations inherent in everyday human interactions and his exhibitions are often dramatized by having to navigate your way around apparently authoritative pieces of highly ordered sculptural material.

Calendar several days boxes1471019754_20160811-MAC-016

Keith Wilson is currently based between New York, Sheffield and London. Over the past two decades he has staged major solo exhibitions at institutions such as Camden Arts Centre, London; Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston; Milch Gallery, London; Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes; Eastside Projects, Birmingham; and the Wellcome Collection, London. He has also contributed to numerous group shows and projects at; the Hayward Project Space, London; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds; as well completing a major commission Steles for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. From summer 2016 he will be Provost’s Artist-in-Residence, the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, New York.

those few boxes in the whole1471019735_20160811-MAC-012

One of those days

Celndar detail

and a question: which is art? The metal bos is Wilson’s product among the industrially produced buoys.

Calendar box outside1471019770_20160811-MAC-033


A calendar is a time piece,  like  neolithic stones  or medieval tower clocks,  it is driven by an intention to bring order into past, present and future. It insists that it is possible, due to predictability or planning.  Paradoxically it is both divided and continuous. full and empty, finished and incomplete.  All done both with a considerable effort – and  slight boredom. The last quality has been invented as an aesthetic category  around 1500 in Italy – spezzatura.  No obvious effort was invested into selection of objects



– some are still unpacked small parcels.



Wilson was trying hard not to try hard




and still have some perfect artful dishevelment of mismatched items to entertain the curious.

Calendar objectcs14021726_656999007783777_7456359122645843231_n


Quizzical consciousness aims to remove nostalgia


possibly associated with an early design of a mobile phone  silent and alone in one grey see through box of a day. It sends around a note of sadness which infects intellectual defences.

Calendar yellow chair13895243_656998977783780_4391985055599772373_n

The yellow chair dares to nonchalantly  pierce through overnight to another week .

Wilson relies on cubes made with an industrial material and precision  to represent the sameness of 24 hours long day, repeated on the orbit of Earth around the Sun.  The grey march of the right angle is relentlessly collaborating with ennui and fatigue.


It looks rational, but it exudes mystery.

Calendar sideways13925058_656998851117126_5598642475759616988_n

Stonehenge it ‘aint’ – although if Wilson lived then I bet he would be one of the hard working men  hands on, calculating weight and sizes and distances.  His earlier work flirted with uneven, organic edges and sizes and allowed material to flow in the space, so rough shapes would not be a problem. Therefore, I felt at first quite alarmed with the relentless march of grey cubes stuck above and next to each other –  I could not see  where the march begun or ended. So – anywhere then.  It the flow stutters over gaps – irregularly – up or down or all the way from the ground to the top.


After all, he constructed the whole aedifice himself. His allegiance to Homo Faber  identity were manifestly present in his previous exhibitions  like the one at Platform Art.


Calendar box outside

The box among the buoys addresses a Modernist concern about anxious object: Warhol’s Brillo boxes inside a supermarket would not look like art, in a gallery they would.  Wilson  ups the stake: a simple ubiquitous kind of metal (?) box next to maritime past.  The visual difference does not carry conviction – the object is not reluctant to stay double faced.  The question mark in brackets refers to my insecurity of knowing what the box was made of. When I went to look, it was not there anymore.

The Calendar started in 2011 and was developed in 2912 to look like empty bookshelves.


courtesy of Aesthetica/Keith Wilson interview

Shelves with life taken out, life a walked away shadow.

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
—William Shakespeare, Macbeth, (Act V, sc. v 24–28)

In an interview with Aesthetica Wilson said about the above construction:

KW: Calendar is the last in a long series of galvanized steel works, which end here with these cube-form arrangements. Each piece is set out to represent a different indexical system, from the alphabet through to the periodic table. Starting with Vertical Hopscotch (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0) the cube-works bring the apparent liberation of the third dimension to more familiarly 2-D languages of representation, only to reveal their own tyranny. Asking these small spaces to represent time seems a fitting way to end the game. My Calendar structure has an inside and an outside. Inside I think of as the space of the artist, perhaps even the studio, with outside being a more consensual, public space. The apparent rationality of the system begins to crumble as you realise how very different the inside is from the outside.

He follows the quote above  up later in that interview by a magic departure:  he thinks of it as a silent work and if placed in a field, it could appear as a fenced tomb, a forest could grow inside…

That thought he connects to imagined “late Henry Moore” – which is a fragment from Wilson’s adherence to UNIT ONE Group, 1933.  He shares their concern about revitalising contemporary art.

No wonder  reference appears during his work on the Calendar.


courtesy Aesthetica/Keith Wilson interview


This is a cerebral calendar … marrying Mnemosyne with  a storage shelve housing just one mobile phone as a memory of a friend who is no more.

Accumulation of time and objects  forges serendipitous connections –  even denial of some:  Wilson never overloads a field of vision with objects, only with the whole that appears like fortress with no entrance.  In practice slim bodies may squeeze through narrow gaps inside to note that several objects are visible only from inside.

Is it  suggesting that time has an inside?  That I cannot answer. Instead, I think that  it approximates the orbit – not around a source of life, rather around a void.

Wilson does not offer an immersive visual experience. On my first visit – the objects dribbled in the field of  vision  broadcasting their insignificant ordinariness, with the exception of  those still unpacked. Those held their secrets.   Subsequent visits woke up familiarity  as well as  broken off  sensory experiences.  Round and round, whether walking around or inside, the tension of repetitiveness grew heavier with connectivity.

I sense philosophy creeping in, namely, something, Giordano Bruno was burn alive for on 17 February 1600  at Camp del Fiore in Rome:  The continuity of the universe ( he proposed that God was all over the universe, not just in one place, Earth) , the calendar goes round and round – I am not sure where it begins and ends, so it may be anywhere. Even if Wilson marked every months as a group separated from the previous and the next  by a gap,  a small hiatus.



Wilson’s intention is to make art that can do for the now and here what the UNIT ONE achieved before the mid 20th C for then and there.

To the extent to which art mediates freedom – he succeeds.  He seems to be attracted to the cases of  flight from the theoretical constructs  of sovereign leaders/ a  master signifier, e.g. Duchamp or “late Henry Moore”. Wilson is  questioning whether such theoretical overcoding can be absent and void.  As a consequence he treats all he includes as siblings  of visibility, in the Italo Calvino terminology.



It is also a silent, fenced of tomb of the past time.

Images courtesy MAC, Belfast and as stated. For all images see:



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Liam Crichton: SLEEPER

Liam Crichton: SLEEPER

12 Aug 2016 – 9 Sep 2016

The curators,  Hugh Mulholland and Eoin Dara, issued an accompanying text:


We are pleased to be presenting the first institutional solo exhibition in the UK and Ireland from Belfast-based artist Liam Crichton.

This newly commissioned work responds specifically to the architectural space of our Sunken Gallery, transforming it into an immersive installation that takes its name from the psychoactive sedative Benzodiazepine.


This work layers together concerns relating to classical Greco-Roman frieze sculpture, contemporary urban voids in the built environment, and ideas of philosophical consciousness through a rigorously considered process of abstraction and minimalist aestheticism. Crichton will distil these varied and somewhat disparate touchstones and references into a single sculptural entity to envelope viewers within the space. Exploiting the sculptural qualities of industrial materials commonly associated with labour and construction this project will enact a kind of psychological emptying-out of the gallery, exploring ideas of social entropy, the void, and the sublime.

Sleeper bottom

Liam Crichton is a Scottish artist currently based in Belfast. He graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art in 2010 and is known for creating large-scale sculptures and installations that investigate physical space. Containing references to and elements of a post-minimal realisation, his aesthetically driven and predominately site-specific work is often characterised by a sense of dichotomy that challenges traditional perceptions and cultural surroundings. In a systematic and reductive process, he breaks down the impression of the familiar to its bare essence. He operates through a non-linear, conceptual and formal vernacular sculptural praxis. Crichton has recently exhibited in Edinburgh, London, Philadelphia, Dublin, and Belfast.

SLEEPER is one of a trio of exhibitions at the MAC exploring the possibilities of sculpture, installation, and object making in 2016. As well as Crichton’s project, don’t miss Keith Wilson’sCalendar  in our Upper Gallery from 12 August – 16 October, and Barbara Knezevic’s The Last Thing on Earth in our Sunken Gallery from 16 September – 16 October.


Does it matter if you see visual art in an established gallery?  –  Crichton has made an installation using stone  in an empty office suit in Belfast that was as well thought through, perfectly delivered and  sensitive to the space and materials. Has it been valued less? Not by me.  I suppose the difference would be in the number of people  viewing it.  The purpose built art centre  – like a  cafe- attracts  habitual use. In that sense – it is meant to benefit the artist and the viewer, the art’s instrumental values – not necessarily the art’s intrinsic values ( well: unless you  consider Dickie’s Institutional theory of art …)

However – the task to make a given, already defined and found,  existing  space into a receptacle of art that does not yet exist except as an idea, as an intention, as a belief, presupposes a kind of a match between the space and the installed art.  That produces a  circular symmetry between the artist’s response to an empty gallery and my response to   his art in it.  I entered  the Sunken Gallery on my own, luckily. The impact of the three sides of a  continuous bas relief in warm  not-quite-white  with softly pink whispered tones  saturated my senses. Yet – it shares something with the solemnity of  Ara Paci .

ARA PACIS 02ee32b2b7ed98ab21dc2679b45d29040baf434f

Processional scene (south side), Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum, Rome) (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The procession indicates sacred action of beneficial peace, of living in peace.   It is responsive to a state of a place  in the absence of war, not the place itself. Can be anywhere. For the consistent response to a place – perhaps the best case is Sansovino’s ability to hold the genius loci, its brilliant light sharing the gaiety and splendour of warm colour  of Venice.Sansovino img_0870Jacopo Sansovino (1486 -1570), Library, San Marco, Venice, 1536. Image courtesy

This facade is a skillful weaving of a few simple elements, interlocking rhythm of volumes and light and shade.. letting the stone obtain  painterly softness.  Crichton starts with a pliable cloth and wet dripping plaster, and ends up with an illusion of stone…  a poetry of drapery – as when visual art dreams of itself.

sleeper corner

Have I perpetrated a corrosion of meaning of SLEEPER? Indeed, I have focused on the vast existential distance between poetry and sleep, between sensual passion and an unruly subversion by a brain asleep.  The voluntary interdependence of intimacy of the folds and surface  emanate peace and play with the light (thus embodying salient values of the older art cited above)  so that the intimate forges close companionship with the public. Days apart,   three times it delivered the same impact  – effortlessly, with a breathtaking discipline of economy of means. The way this art enhances well being has nothing to do with quantity or service – and all with autonomy, like music.  It even circumvents both  Plato’s belief that only philosophy can lead us out of the prison of a cave, and  Immanuel Kant’s fortification of that prison by claiming that we  cannot perceive reality (Das Ding an Sich).

Sleeper part1471019671_20160811-MAC-028

SLEEPER  proposes that space and time  are the essential ground of things, that ” la duree” of Henri Bergson.  Appropriately – the slow drying of the plaster on cloth  turns flexible into hard and  changeable into fixed.

sleeper middle The shadowy  lines appear almost chiselled – or at least pencil drawn.

I find it remarkable that Crichton hardly ever repeats a sequence of folds, and includes happily some echoes of drapery in 15th engravings and sculpture. Just one engraving to illustrate:  Martin Schongauer (1453 -91), St Agnes, n.d.


Crichton shares with Schongauer  a wish to convey the power of texture and surface  to communicate a feeling. Crichton does that while disposing with a master narrative – or any narrative. Except the one told by the folds of the material  in a simple display that echoes the room.  As the panels cover the surgically white wall – they hide the unknown – and then they appear like a shroud ( and also like an abstracted San Marco  when looking from the basilica towards the Museo Correr)

Images courtesy MAC Belfast and as stated.

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Part 5: CUMULATOR 7 at The Point, Groomsport, 7th July 2016/Addendum


Rainer Pagel has visited the site of the Cumulator 7  ten days later.  He took  photographs of the gilded stones and shells, his installation. High and low tides changed his arrangement.


The sea made its own installation – with seaweed.


Still some gold leaf attached morphing the stone into a face  reminiscent of  paintings by Hieronymous Bosch.


A shell  –  no sign of ever being painted with a gold leaf… some gold leaf left on the large stone…the suggestion of a circular arrangement of the smaller stones become more apparent in the next shot


Taxing perception, the acuity of vision, the discrimination between a  chance and an order.

Lovely case of the debunking of  artist’s intention being dominant. It is a mover but not the harvester.

Rainer 10dayslater1

Easily, Pagel’s installation  connects to land art of Richard Long  or Pawel Althamer.


Richard Long, A Line in Bolivia, 1981


Pawel Althamer, Sculptural Project, Munster, 2007


Pagel shares with them the limits he puts on both his interference with the found reality and on the durability of its impact.  Redolent of  various associations, Pagel  leaves his performance open to natural forces in a kind of conceptual symbiosis.  An idea explored earlier by Robert  Smithson, not only by his  Spiral Jetty, 1970.


Natural forces are as if calculated into the process of making art as equivalent to the artist’s intention.  This equivalence is benign – and contradictory.


Robert Smithson, Mirrors and Shelly Sand” 1969-70 50 mirrors back to back, beach sand, shells or pebbles, installation at The Met Breuer, NY, March 18 – September 9, 2016

He is not on his own. Three days before his forty-second birthday,  Alfred Kazin (June 5, 1915–June 5, 1998) explored  in a series of Alfred Kazin’s Journals (public library) — an immensely rewarding trove of wisdom  like this:

Trust  the contradictions and see them all. Never annul one force to give supremacy to another. The contradiction itself is the reality in all its manifoldness. Man from his vantage point can see reality only in contradictions. And the more faithful he is to his perception of the contradiction, the more he is open to what there is for him to know.

For me – Rainer’ Pagel’s performance/installation/land art/  – ten days later –  focuses my perception on the play between two types of creativity – whimsical, perishable, temporary one – like a song of the bird, or the cry of one of the seagals at the site where Pagel worked , and the other, governed by the universe, aspiring to eternity.


Keike Twisselmann

She has followed up with the list of materials  used  in her performances on the 7th July – as part of the Cumulator 7. Descriptive, the text also includes connections, reflections, fragments of memories, own and inherited.  Her ephemeral performance emanates  personally meaningful thoughts left open ended. The following text I treat as a primary source.

Off-shore…setting up camp at low tide on top of a hillock of razor sharp black slades exposing themselves like a sleeping primeval creature’s back surrounded by the warm golden sand of part of that the bay which remains islanded when the flood rushes in……time…reoccurring and changing with the tides and stranded within the clothes and remains of loved-ones…

the old sea-worn suitcase once packed off to a journey to Singapore on the „Empire Pride“ by a family called Walshe…it must have returned to Ireland somehow, where I „found“ it for sale at a Dublin flea market hitch-hiking back to Belfast with it wrapped in a borrowed golden shawl…

„crying, I saw gold – but I could not drink!“ (Arthur Rimbaud)

the time battered suitcase containing objects of wisdom and desire:

1 – a black mohair jumper from my dead mother

2 – a pair of 1st World War British Army issue thick canvas leg protectors in olive green from my love Michael’s beloved dead grandfather, who had the same shape of legs as Michael and coincidentally as myself – they fit us all three like      a glove –  a coincidence of love or birth by another coincidence, my grandfather and Michael’s grandfather did not kill each other over the trenches of the Somme or the Ardennes, but both survived   to be able to have   families and eventually us grandchildren…

3 – a black window fly net

4 – a US army jacket from a teenage friend of Michael’s US cousin, which went to the Vietnam war with him…olive green

5 – a pair of binoculars (black)

6 – a 7-part hip flask set

7 – a white pair of Moroccan women’s underpants with red embroidery

8 – a white doctor’s coat

9 – a huge white bra

10 – a black swimming suit

11 – a light olive green scarf with leopard print camouflage

12 – sixty black refuse bags for medical disposable urine catheters used by my love   Michael

13 – a chocolate fudge cake in chocolate brown for Rainer Pagel’s birthday

14 – a decorative Indian sword used for weddings

15 – lengths of white muslin

16 – a black long-sleeved T-shirt

17 – a white short-sleeved T-shirt

18 – a long dress in nearly black with a printed grey cross down it’s length

19 – a roll of thick red ribbon left over from Michael’s fathers decorations

20 – a blue gift bag of ultramarine pigment from the same London art material shop, Ives Klein bought his Ultra Marine blue special pigment mix from years before I was born

21 – a pair of novelty socks, with penguin faces and single toes, pink, multi coloured dots and white


these objects were worn and used successively by me,or some used interactively with the other 6 performance artists, the rocks, the sand, the water pools, in short, the environment in image and sound during seven hours intuitive actions and inter-actions- being and the past memories of past lives…of others…ornamental details on a mental staircase into the dark. Lined by life’s gargoyles. Long forgotten. Sun-blessed and forgotten demons. Drowning in pure white of death – a light-spill from the other world through objects touched by the dying. Drowning in white light. Into life.


K Tw 14.07.2016


Like a bell tone with a central pitch seasoned by overtones  Twisselmann’s trust into loose approach to finish  leaves thought invisible and deliberately incomplete. Yet, visibility as a tool for her  thinking is prioritised.  A paradox?  Possibly – but also a hard nosed rational decision: what cannot be articulated, defined or fulfilled, can be still manipulated by appearance and movement of the performing body.

The faithfulness to the riches offered  by each segment retreating  before the next one  starts – without  exact duration and a formulated end, brings in association  with changes of seasons, with natural growth and decay changing places.

On occasion this state of a visual work of art is determined by  a force of the universe.


Gustav Klimt has died while working on this Posthumous portrait of Ria Munk III (detail), 1917 -18

Twisselmann’s take on ephemerality  has similar overtones.  She consistently violates expectation the viewer may entertain –  like Klimt, she makes us have a conscious experience of the  “making”, which is tasked to imprison  time and change and embody a promise which never manifests to our senses.  That’s perhaps, why she added to the email with the above a black and white  image of a winged soul.

It is a tenuous link – adorably capable of vanishing if you need to document it.  It is one of those you find, when you browse your old archive of images, and one of them says – hello again.

So as a farewell with this addendum here is one  visual coincidence:

Siobhan Mullan


put a bucket on her head as a warning to the power station on the far shore.  Another woman, centuries ago, wore a similar shape on her head on the way to eternity.


This is a (funerary?) copper sculpture from Mezopotamia, 3300 – 2000 BC, now  Morgan Library and Museum, NY.

The end of the Addendum to Cumulator 7





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Part 4:Cumulator 7, The Point, Groomsport, 7th July 2016: James King

James King

James King is the origin of the Cumulator series.

This time he emailed me the following text, to which I added Jordan Hutchings’s photography:

Cumulator 7     notes. July 7 th. 7.30pm – 2.30pm.

McCormick’s Point, Groomsport, Bangor, Co. Down.

This location is managed by The National Trust. 😱

Participants: Siobhan Mullen Wolf, Keike Twisslemann, Christoff Gillen, Brian Patterson, James King, Colm Clarke, Rainer Pagel.  Accompanist: Beatrice Didier, Brussels,12.00am- 7.00am.


The location was stunning.


Small grass and craggy rock islets enclosed a small bay like the perimeter of a lagoon. Wet muddy sand separated the islets from the shore, when the tide was out, as it was for our first five hours!

Then the sea came in with a rush.

crossing tide13585188_312237682451448_2262007691550025110_o


  • With pink pavement chalk drew lines upon the natural fissures of several large rocks, and also ornamented two of the rocks with found , “man-made”, rusted metal objects.


  • Placed on each rock one or two small toy cars.



  • Responded to bird noises and distant barking with woofs and tweets.


Rainer was sitting at a table, carefully painting seven stones in gold leaf.

  •   In slow motion ritually and ceremoniously carried , one at a time small cars towards him and placed the cars nearby on a patch of sand .
  • Found a few tiny flakes of gold leaf amongst the seaweed. Returned some to Rainer and held others to the air, letting them fly away in the sunlight.


  • Read aloud extracts from a poem by  Geoffrey Hill, written in stanzas of seven lines : “To Lucien Richard:On Suffering.” Repeating appropriate phrases. Eg. “The fine machinery of instinctual natures is well adjusted to the environment.”  “Perfect your chagrin- charged resignation, mute expressive glare:” “which of you is the angel? And which angel? I did not think there were angels.”

“The sea light was visionary, as it sometimes is to susceptible people.”

  • Approached Siobhan seated on rocks by a bucket of coal, which she had partially emptied. She was now using a potato peeler to methodically scrape individual lumps. She gave a small lump to the writer which he chalked white and returned. He gave her a small flake of gold leaf, which had fluttered from Rainer’s table.
  • Wearing the orange tarpaulin like a cloak, walked  in a wide circle on a large patch of sand surrounded by rocks, leaving a trail behind . Beginning at the perimeter , gradually moved inwards making slightly smaller circles .



  • Engaged with Keike ,she with blue pigment on hands, then hands to her face. She was dressed in a swimming costume with underwear on top, and short stockings on her legs. Told her a mysterious story in gibberish.


  •   Walked around the vast muddy stretch of sand between the islet and the shore, enveloped in the orange tarpaulin. Feet sunk above the ankles, making squelchy slurp sounds and leaving behind temporary foot holes. Sat on a rock and improvised abstract sounds with the recorder.


Laid out some cars on dry sand.

Played recorder to a rock upon which I had earlier chalked and ornamented with a toy car and and a found rusted metal square thing.


Crossed the torrent

Recited in gibberish and extracted words; wrote these on stones laid on the sand.

Thus.   “My lie vast she suss keep it the beast fish tan oh da ticket vast tomato”. Later having written them on the inside lid of a small suitcase (used for carrying the toy cars mentioned above), repeated the words in a variety of rhythmical arrangements accompanied by Colm banging two large nails together, and Brian on Cellotape base : we were like a skiffle group.

Numerous rearrangements of the words are possible. Eg

Vast fish tan/ ticket beast tomato/  oh-da lie my she suss/ keep it ticket tan/. Oh-da tomato vast /. The tan my lie /. Fish keep tomato ticket



I have listened to only short example of his gibberish – James came to me shook my hand and started – I asked whether he was afraid that some of his words may have a rude meaning in some other language – he responded by showing me the chalk and intoning his “gibberish”  so that I understood something like:” well Colm was able to write some down… “. On departing he pointed to the safer path for me  to walk  on, the layer of seaweed, safer in comparison with the treachery of the tide making mud turn into a sauce to drown my feet. All in his  gibberish –  fully understandable – because of the shared immediate observable contexts.   The hearing still sent signals to the brain – but the meaning was passed on to a gesture and movement and direction of the sight.


Certainly not minimalist art – not just conceptual either – reminiscent of medieval passion plays –  without shared script. Grounded in intrinsic motivation it offered the enjoyment of creating something out of what I perceived.  Whatever outcome. If so, then the outcome has not mattered – it was the creative process as an  emotionally interesting  choice of what  I made meaningful.  James King performed and did not look for the feedback, applause or  understanding.  Rather it was about play, playful openness, virtuoso control of the brain to avoid recognisable meaningful words, while presenting it as  a meaningful speech.

There were darker thoughts – associations with stories of people choosing to live on their own in the wilderness… hermits and Diogenes echoed quite  near.   King allowed the associations with a constant grit of  soft humour, pretence of assurance that  it  is not just a rehearsed Dada.  Rather, a virtuoso withdrawal to a dreamy level  layered by one man acting the whole play written for voice and orange trampoline – and a book, allowed to be held even upside down…

He commands a mastery of his craft in the full sight of the powerfully competing  nature.


Images courtesy Jordan Hutchings.

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Part 3: Cumulator 7, 7th July, 2016, The Point, Groomsport, NI, UK (Rainer Pagel)

Rainer Pagel

The following text in the Italic is verbatim Pagel’s text emailed to me after the performance, I placed Jordan Hutchings’s photographs  when they relate to his words.

My performance tried to make however small a comment on all the horrible mis- and disinformation our government saw fit to disburse or allow to be posited unchecked over the last few months.


My white coverall suit had a logo on my back, spelling  “Foreign=Sic!”, added to which I presumed to be from the  “Jobs Theft Unit”, written circularly around the misspelling of “forensic”; I also adapted the shape of the London Underground (!) signage for my logo.


The populist movement, sadly growing everywhere in Europe, is fascinated by  (pseudo-) forensics, especially those of a financial nature, as in forensic accounting: who spent how much on things considered luxuries or unnecessary public expenditure, such as orchestras, the Arts, and, of course, health and social service provision for the arch enemy of the populists: MIGRANTS!

There is currently a  useful support for Rainer Pagels’ focus on this subject – an exhibition in Paris – that an immigrant does not equal a parasite, the life and work of Picasso’s friend, the poet   Guillaume Apollinaire.

Born Wilhelm Apollinairs de Kostrowitzky in Rome in 1880, Apollinaire was the illegitimate grandson of a Polish nobleman in the service of the Pope. In France he came into writing, first in the south, where he spent his adolescence, and then in Paris, where the young poet spent the first decade of the 20th century struggling to support himself with a series of odd jobs, including as a bank teller, tabloid journalist…. accessed on


Rainer 2

Therefore my  word play with “foreign” and forensics; “sic!” one can read as the Latin “Sic!” or as the English word missing a “k” at the end; I had the Latin version in mind.


I am convinced that the migrant population in the UK, especially that from other EU countries, does contribute vastly more to the coffers of the UK than certain parties claim. (I myself have only ever needed UK state support for some six month in a 43 year long career in Northern Ireland, all the time having paid my taxes.)


My performance on 7/7/16 on Ballymccormick Point consisted of my finding a suitable place or a space for my actions at the start of the day. On what would later become an island (!), close to the other artists, I set up a folding table and chair, and placed on the table: a can of spray glue, a jar with dissolved shellac, a booklet of gold leaf, and two brushes.



Next, I scanned the ground and rocks around me.



The mainly black shale pieces made me notice that many of them were shaped like arrowheads and chevrons. I collected seven such stones and laid them out on a black piece of rubberised (non-slip) material to the left of the folding table on the ground. I also chose an almost perfectly round, 8th stone of approximately 15 cm diameter.

Rainer 2


Taking up the first of the collected stones, I applied the glue and gold leaf to it and placed it back on the black material. I continued to do this with the following stones, but after every second gilding, I applied a protective cover of shellac over the gilded stones. (Apart from Tony Hill, these days only a few local people know about shellac, its application and how to use it to create a proper French Polish. My maternal grandfather taught me the skill over many summer holidays in the 60s.)



Having gilded all eight stones, I searched for a flat area of slightly more than 7m diameter. A muddy stretch of sand behind my station suited.

Rainer 3

I placed the round gilded stone centrally and then measured 3.5m distance from it seven times, placing the gilded stones pointing outwards of the emerging circle. I roughly adjusted the distance on the perimeter of the circle between the seven gilded stones to be equal and left the circle to be submerged by the floods, perhaps to be rediscovered by passers-by on some other day. Gold, a natural element, fixed with shellac, made from the excretions of a small beetle, placed back in nature by an immigrant, to be marvelled over by the indigenous dog walkers with their dogs fouling the shore.


I then gilded seven empty limpet shells and placed them randomly in the streams close by.


My next action was to choose items, which would resemble Stone Age implements, such as axes and knives. Using a boomerang-shaped stone, I fashioned seven stone implements that could be used to cut, point, stab, mark, scrape, score and write. It would have been my intention to gild them, as the other objects and leave them in the rocks, however, the tide changed my plans, and the rest of my performance became concerned with the rescue (small “r” only) of my fellow artists and looking after their physical needs (food).

crossing tide13585188_312237682451448_2262007691550025110_o

Looking back, I am pleased with the outcome of seven artists (or 8, as we know now) spending seven hours on a day supposedly loaded with other references to the number 7. The tide surprised us all, and for me, made an interval (the food session) necessary.


My only criticism would be that the underlying idea of 1 in 1, 2 over 2, 3 over 3, etc did not have much more than the increasing numbers of artists and hours in common. I am not sure if James can spot a “red thread” of performance action throughout the year, once it finishes.


My dilemma throughout was to decide whether I was making a performance in parallel to six others, or if we were all constituent part of a greater whole. Apart from some interventions from Keike, my work happened in parallel to that of the others.


I also witnessed some of the other artists interacting with each other from time to time, much in the vane of  Bbeyond’s monthlies.

I only made my work a shared action, when I left the gilding part of my performance and focused on nourishing and feeding the group.

All in all a great day and a wonderful experience.


12 July 2016


Rainer’s verbal contribution is self – sufficient in relation to the actions he chose to make. It could exist as a “Do-It” scenario.   My seeing some of it makes for multiple and perhaps conflicting points of interest in the gravity of the emerging paradox as it reveals deep unrest and unconfessed torment.

The visual, esp. lettering, extended the action into the realm of socio-political context,  which will not escape people with classical grammar school education.   Not known how many of the men and women walking their dogs  in the same area where the seven artists performered would have noted it.  For me – the word play foreign /forensic/sic  burned into my attention on the first look.  The white overall expelled it out of its own surgically  neutral sameness on the red and black rays of the hues.

The  bon vivant hospitality (food) and handmade labouring with gold( painting it on stones)  were repeatedly  pierced by the words he wore.  In a clash that stayed  accessible to the sight and uncontrolled.  Not unlike the migration of people in Europe and into Europe.

The gilding of found natural forms, stones, opens another subtext: he refers to it by refuting the accusation that people not born here are a burden for those indigenous ones. Gold on stone is a paradox, both gifts of nature, parts of the universe, their equality disabled by people judging gold as highly desirable, and stones as too plentiful to have much  value. Yet – a house of stone is superior for living in –  to that  would be made of gold.  To get gold out of the ground people poison soil and water. To get stone – they cut, disfigure  and wound hills  and pollute the air. Both have to be uprooted from the place where nature deposited them, to make each to work inside our hierarchy of values.  And that’s the point – examine, analyse and change the current hierarchy of values to minimise harm.  Pagel joins both gold and stone into one – and leaves them near where he found them.  On the island, accessible only at the low tide. A simile for a “low-tide hierarchy of values”  – as in words of Schumacher “Small is beautiful” or Buckminster -Fuller’s insistence that design has to make sure that  people share resources….

Judging quality of people by their racial, social, national origin  and not by what they do, how they live and support lives of others, is a paradox.  How to solve it?  Refutation of the belief that one nationality is above another, one race is below another – should be accessible to most.  The ease – with which Pagel selects stones and shells – as equal, as similar, as capable of accepting the adornment by the precious gold without losing their original values. They carry the weight of gold -effortlessly.  A lesson for us? A classical theme.  My interest is thus anchored  in the reciprocal interplay between objects and thoughts –  person’s  and their right to be.  This is a traditional thought: Leonardo thinks of  the visual as rays that both penetrate the depth of what is seen and bounce back gazing out  from what is seen.

Tristan Tzara, in parallel fashion, claimed that the hope of Dada was to strike two contradictory elements together – to forge a previously unrelated similarity. Gold and stone stand as a metaphor for hierarchy between autochthonous and strange (etranger). A similar concern appears in a number of works of art after the WWI – e.g. Marino Marini suggests that we combine “disparate images”  and discover “hidden analogies”.

Pagel’ performance is sensitive to the possibility of re-occurance of  the forces that led to conflict.  His call is for whichever way people will improve communication and transformation away from inherited bias.

And no – he does not prescribe how to condense energy needed for that transformation. This  performance hails  common ancestors: some stones  picked up, looked like stone age axes, the brushing shellac over the gold in the way  medieval journeymen  learnt from one another, while listening to Troubadours and Minnesingers.  The gilded stones are left by this immigrant as a gift to others, as a lament for understanding.

Images Jordan Hutchings












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Part 2:CUMULATOR 7 on 7th July 2016 at The Point. Groomsport,NI, UK (Siobhan Mullen Wolfe)


Siobhan Mullen Wolfe