Hugh O’Donnell presented Erratic Memory, a one hour performance as a discursive platform for a variety of conundrums signalled by the selection of objects, tools. In the company of a table, a hammer, a hand saw, a white fat packet, a vacuum cleaner, stacks of biscuits, a blue wall hanging and two cabbage heads, at least two superimposed qualities seeked attention of the viewers seated on parts of the perimeter of the small gallery, namely spontaneity and a will to structure. The structure consisted of writing and different levels of destructive efforts. Writing on the top of the table was given the power of introduction, undermined by limited viewing of what is written. I recognised – from the movement of the graphite- a repeat of some word ending with RK .
Once the top off the table had no more space to fill, and here the spontaneous squeezing in of words over small gaps allowed changing of direction, a word WORK was written in large letters on the blue wall hanging.
The quick almost frantic rhythm of writing, supported by the annoying sound of the switched on vacuum cleaner, with no other purpose, felt parallel to composing an allegro in a classical music sonata form, a perception confirmed by the next slow period.
The second “movement” utilised cabbages. A carefully peeled off leaf given to each viewer introduced silent questions and a wax like tactile sensation. Moreover, the calligraphy of leaf’s veins and tiny creases at the edges immediately engaged both the sight and touch. Intimate, personal viewing as if for a brief mediation, kept its own in competition with O’Donnell transforming the second cabbage head into a flower on the table, leaving just small centre untouched. From my point of view, I saw an old female face, like an illustration of a childhood fairy tale. The artist could not see that, standing at the opposite viewing point and getting ready to saw the plant into two.
The next part I failed to connect from the rest. O’Donnell placed each half to his ears, holding them as if listening. Having destroyed the vegetable, was he listening to a cry?The motive of waste reappeared in the last part twice.
Crashing the biscuits, levelling the layer over the writing hiding it.
The use of electricity to lift some crashed biscuits from a cross shaped path on the table top, after he crashed and smoothed numerous biscuits first.
I doubt than the paths needed to be made that way, it was an indulgent choice, modelled on consumer society.
Such mental handcuffs foregrounded the instrumental function of the performance. people overuse resources and act destructively because they can. I admit that my experiences with long term shortages make me oppose waste of food, including in art. O’Donnell has affinity with using food, spilling milk, squashing tomatoes and now throwing cabbage and crashed biscuits to the floor.At every stage, O’Donnell exhibited loving care for a detail- gently peeling the leafs off the cabbage, leveling the crushed biscuits to the edges of the table, covering the earlier writing. The coup de coeur – vaccum cleaning the top of the table. Cancelling both previous stages. He then opened the pack of white powder (plaster? flour? – flour!) with the hammer, took a handful and blew it over the top of the table, repeatedly.
Using his finger he wrote WORK, 13/4/13.
Work sits between labour and action in the scheme of vita activa proposed by Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition (1958). O’Donnell presented something similar: the relentlessness of repetitive need to obtain food to sustain life consumed by necessities alone. He allowed the “work” to appear whenever there was some stable product left once it ended: top table scribbled over, cabbages cut in half or distributed leaf by leaf, writing on the wall hanging. (Why was it blue and that size? Perhaps there was no choice). Most poignantly, the products were turned into dirt, waste, their usability to sustain life destructed. The mix of private realm – the shadowy household internalised life – and the public realm – art in a gallery with an audience- may point to what Arendt calls vita contemplativa. To the examination of our individual choices how a life should be lived. Nevertheless, I ended up thinking of shortcomings in human nature rather than in human condition. In that sense, I could think of this performance not so much as erratic memory as erratic behaviour.