Catalyst Arts, Belfast, September – December 2012

When Karen Vaughan, Derval FitzGerald and Aine Nic Giolla Coda issued their Invitation to an open discussion on Monday 25th October 1992  the venue was described as Temporary Art Space, Temple Court, North Street (next door to Tourist Information), Belfast.  The issue? Lack or decline of exhibition spaces. They were looking for support to establish “…some sort of permanent space [is] desperately needed to host local, regional and international artists”.

The meeting failed them. Their idea lived on and transformed into the Catalyst  Arts soon afterwards in 1993. The voluntary “directors” did everything from cleaning to writing to searching for artists and financial support. Often, I saw them exhausted, often I saw them hilariously elated – for example, when they hosted the Italian and Mexican artists. Wonderful art, instant, and some lasting friendships.

At present, the Catalyst Arts have a ground floor venue, advantage for accessibility. The changing group of co- directors has been as agile and dedicated as their predecessors.

I focus here on four recent exhibitions only.

I was interested in the emerging artist using clay, Claire Muckian, Provisional Circumstances ( August 21-31), sited in a small side room.

Claire Muckian: Provisional Circumstances, installation view

Her  skillful understanding of texture and illusion is a powerful poetic tool that charms the senses  to persuade them that there is more than a quick perception of shape and colour, volume and tone.  Her intention is to connect to the Modernist commitment to do without a plinth, to the successful solutions offered by exquisite abstract sculptures of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). A hundred years later, it is not a battle to be commenced again, it is a comforting choice, though.  Her objects are at times below the sight level, encroaching on our ground, with somewhat mischievous friendliness.  Silence governs the darkened  almost sacred space,  caressing gentle surprises  for the roaming sight.    Is this vessel deep and empty or has it a solid dark shiny plate at the top?

Claire Muckian: Provisional Circumstances, installation view

I saw the  Necrospective ( 9-31 August, 2012)  for a wrong reason, it was next door to Muckian’ celebration of silence.   A travelling exhibition  started life in Birmingham, curated by Thomas Johnson, who penned the foreword to a substantial catalogue of essays dealing with ideas that may or may not be made visible in any of the exhibits.  Johnson states: “Necrospective is an attempt to look at human behaviour from a technological point of view…[ it] examines the relationship between Baudrillard’s notion that science and technology produce objects and experiences that embody the death drive and Freud’s notion that the death drive leads people to re-enact (act out) and repeat traumatic experiences.” Well if that’s what you still want to compare.

Catalyst Arts invitation cover

I wanted to see the former proposition made visible.  Some exhibits looked like a document(Alexis Milne), some like irreverent play (Takeshi Murata), some like memory of  Oldenburg’s soft sculptures(Craig Fischer), some like ordinary  photographs. The videos lured me to watch and listen, the interference of other lights and sounds were significant distraction. In a large room  there was enough space to install it all, but the  overlapping sounds presented a problem, an ad hoc Tower of Babylon.  All  sounds were simultaneously broadcasted into the same space. Not a rare trouble with such installations, there were some worse ones at IMMA a couple of years ago, frustrating my being with and  perception of  James Coleman’s video  installation for instance. Indeed, display may or may not assist the meaning of a work of art, but this needs to be considered when curating.

Sunshine & Precipitation, 9-21 September 2012,  was a result of  an exchange between Catalyst Arts and La Station in Nice. Visually, it was an exhibition similar to the typical French ware  I have seen  at Palais Tokyo  a year after a year.  The nine artists are from a group with a profile similar to Catalyst Arts, both caring for emerging artists.  At present they use a disused slaughterhouse as their exhibition space in Nice (see or via Facebook).

Highly impressive, just touching on Fischli/Weiss (see, is the video by Florian Pugnaire and David Raffini , Energy Sombre, 1912, on the subject of  existence and destruction of a tractor.Its robust, at some moments dark, sentiment made the film the star of the show.  The animation was superb. However, there was a tell-tell contrast that somewhat helped its victory.  A subtle painting Indian Summer, 2012, by Cedric Teisseire (1968) – gloriously autonomous, dangerously free from story telling, courageously whispering absolute truth of being through a void caressed by two soft boundaries. Both a winner and  a helper to others to win.

Another confident composition, which I do not have an image of, is  reminiscent of abstract stains by Morris Louis (1912-1962). Teisseire may have seen them, or not, it is not a case of following an intelligent abstraction of Louis. It is a case of re-occurring of the distance between the maker and the made.  An attitude that lies resolutely outside the matrix of another member of the group. Tatiana Wolska fuses recycling, re-occurring closely with her experience with shortages of all sorts, and with her method of responsiveness to what is around her: “I surround myself with all sorts of materials (coming from bins,streets, waste collection, etc), I look at them, dissect them and assemble anew… a form of the sculpture.”

Tatiana Wolska, Untitled,2012

I suppose, to avoid the clashes of sound, Alissa Kleist curated Fata Morgana  ,19 Oct – 9 Nov 2012,  in a  space divided  into a “cinema” and ” mute objects”. A splendid display enriched  carefully placed of exhibits with  autonomous “bubbles” subliminally  carved out  from the exhibition hall.

Fata Morgana, 2010, Martin Healy’s  white neon co-ordinates high up the wall were a key image for the name of the exhibition,  – related to the story of an explorer Robert Peary, who claimed to have glimpsed through the Arctic haze in 1906, a landmass, possibly the eighth continent. Positioning the cifers  high up on the wall allows both the chance of missing  or discovering it.

Stuart Calvin recycled glass display boxes into  Constant Bewilderment,2010,  and  added smoke machine and a timer to heighten the experience of  insecurity of perceptions. It peaked when there was a  slow  change from absence to presence, or a possible malfunction. In comparison to other works of art that use smoke, Calvin disciplined minimalism, comes across as strictly authoritarian. It controls what you may see.

In Mastering Bambi, 2010,  Persijn Broersen and Margit Lukacs  removed the characters,  animating digital photo stills of  nature into somewhat romantic vistas. Enjoyable mastery of the technique added to the visual  force. Remarkably, the subject of this skillful animation of still photographs, is celebration of sight, looking, seeing, imagining. believing.

A similar mood, a tone,  appeared in oil on canvas  The Wildness Pleases (Virtual Matterhorn) ,2011, by Tim Millen.  The catalogue text points out  that the painting elevates the viewer into a  mid air perspective to a “god-like perspective of the Alpine Matterhorn”… in the age of ecological uncertainty and satellite scrutiny. ” Well said. However, there is another, less trigonometric layer the painting inserts effortlessly into a willing perception – that of silence as sublime, that of an older style as one pointing to future.

In the” cinema” space, separated from the rest by a stud wall Kleist placed screening of “soy mi madre”, 2008,  by Phill Collins.  Typical work for this artist  cherishes the often exploited connections between a story, its socio-historical contexts, its popularity with audiences, and codes of a theatre. Once the connections are established, they are subjected to unceremonious subversion. Picking up a motif or two from Jean Genet’s play The Maids transposing it into a Mexican type of soap opera, Collins tears apart continuity of time, space, appearances, but not that of a character. A nod to Aristoteles and admission of Collins’s theatre background.

The curator safeguarded the careful complementary interaction between the exhibits in an elegant display. All exhibits centred on  insecure answers to the question what is real, while profusely affirming the unreal.

WE, 16 Nov – 07 Dec, 2012  presented six male artists from different generations. The curator  Ruaidhri Lennon selected lens based work that in some way touched upon self -hood, ranging from  appearance, to manipulation, to authorship, to appropriation, to a report.  While all applied strategies are known and well defined, the overall tenor was that of  trust in their validity, raising the question of how the artist’s a priori concepts may be a sufficient condition for their work of art and for an appeal to audience.

B J Morrison: Not without a mask, 2012, Digital C print

Morrison prefers collaboration of a special kind, with fabricated personae. Supported by two year investigation his observation of the way amateur wrestlers construct their alter ego feeds into an iconic image,  a construct of a construct.  The relationship of lens based representation and ascribed characteristics of the wrestlers  is still waiting to be resolved.

Concepts and contexts are slippery, not just because of their indeterminacy, but also of the powerlessness of a work of art  vis à vis a priori concepts a viewer activates while viewing.  At times there is a fertile crossing, imaginative collaboration, successful aesthetic encounter. Or not. Much of what is ultimately the  case, depends on the visual force of the work of art. A Artaud compared that force to a plague, we get it before we know of it. That is the most desirable possibility. Collaboration grounds also the work of Anthony Luvera developed around the homelessness, around being homeless. His involvement with people he photographs, or asks them to take photos of themselves raises the issue of authorship, of ethics, and also of the encroachment into the journalist photography. I just looked at a recent portrait of Ivan Trojan taken by a journalist photographer Jan Schejbal  and wished that his level of art appeared in this exhibition.

Anthony Luvera,Ruben Torosyan/Anthony Luvera, from Photographs and Assisted Selfportraits, 2002 – ongoing

Although impressive for the command of  technical skills,  for dedicated observation of individuality, strong allegiance to social studies,  and for selection of worthwhile subjects,  the exhibition was not only verging on boring, it conjured up a sense of creative poverty. I apprehended  not even one instance of  intoxicating invention or delightful transformation of something already known to me into something surprisingly seen differently, not so far away from the visual poiesis.

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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