Cathy Droney: Frenzy, Platform, Belfast, May 2013
Katrín Inga Jónsdóttir Hjördísardóttir Hirt (Living Art Museum, Nýló) hand-made several hundred sculptures in the form of a victory cup, which she calls Gratitude Sculptures. In a letter to invited participants she wrote to individuals she defines as “every Icelandic contemporary artist” consisting of artists, writers and thinkers hoping to exchange one of the Gratitude Sculptures for each donated work, a part of an exhibition titled 6th Volume. This refers to the five volumes of Icelandic art history recently published by the National Gallery, where of the 5th volume came under considerable criticism for its attempt to deal with the contemporary period. Problems of who and what is given significance arose immediately. Her application of similarity and multitude recalls Anthony Gormley‘s series of Fields.
Under his direction, volunteers made for example, 40 000 small terracotta figurines for Field for the British Isles, 1996, exhibited at the Hayward Gallery, London. That method has been applied for all the Fields. Adrian Searle provided insightful characteristics of the ‘unknowable, unpredictable crowd, tightly packed, each similar, each unique…staring at the viewer, disappearing out of sight … devouring the viewer with their gaze…
…infused with a sober thought that there are more people alive now that have ever lived in the past.’ The differences between the Gratitude Sculptures and any Field include the different take on authorship and collaboration, instrumental value, the dates (seventeen years apart), and more significantly, different kind of imagined conditions. The Gratitude Sculpture, in the shape of victory cups, invites thinking about competition, market, value judgement, and the importance of the ignored Other when entering the contract of exchange. Yet the cups reject to appear precious, instead, they reach towards prehistoric and non western idiom, in a relaxed and confident link to the unknown beyond the earthly boundaries. Modeled from clay and fired, embodying two of the four elements ancient philosophy believed to make up the universe, Gormley’s figures are of this Earth. As soon as I have written it, the memory of their gaze insisted of their otherness, of them being alien. Field fills a large enclosed space to the brim, as if about to spill over into the viewer’s space, at the same time, stopping him or her to enter theirs. Although we are monstrously bigger, they keep us at bay investing in multitude and endlessness. Both propose that the cultural construct of Otherness is rooted in the stranger within, in the culture of self.
I found it once more in an installation by Cathy Droney – Frenzy – at Platform Gallery this month.
In her artist’s statement she articulates her focus on ‘the concept around self and identity, to explore ideas around multiple egos, to reflect the idea that we all inhabit various roles in our everyday lives.’ In an email to me (May, 2013) she describes the making of Frenzy as development from the large painting above as
‘a scene of three characters of an alter ego, all the one girl, falling, wrestling and dismorfing from the pressure of her multiple identities that are trying to break through.
‘ I made over 100 1”x1” play-doh that I then painted over with flesh coloured paint, placed on the floor as a distorted figure of three female figures.
‘The figures can be seen from every angle and the multitude of vaguely female-shaped figures have no facial features, which gives them a relentless aspect that almost borders on cult-like atmosphere. Almost but not quite, as the figures, despite their seeming uniformity, can display a range of emotions from erotic, falling apart, structure, following rules and vulnerable. On closer inspection you can pick out the various positions that the figures exhibit, and possible emotions that they represent.
‘The sight of all these lumpy female figures can be humorous, playful and rather unsettling. In short, a range of emotions that I continue to challenge and express instead of preferring to occupy a null space of very little emotion or trying too hard to create just two willfully clashing impressions. When stepping back from the piece and looking into the hung mirror high on the wall you can vaguely see a figurative shape but can’t quite work it, which stops the piece becoming too contrived.’
My first impression was of a holiday spot, overcrowded by sunbathers and bathers. Bathers were half immersed , an illusion achieved by horizontal cut miming the surface of water. Droney ascribes their space as limited and insufficient – carved out of thin air as a bird’s-view map, seen from a great distance above the earth.
That and the thin layers insisted in frightening fragility of the ground destined to bear the multitude of female bodies. Yes, the gender was defined beyond doubt. As was the age.
Although the thin limbs indicated fashionable doll like appearance, the flabby details introduced the lived through past. Yet, the installation is not a document, nor a whole, unique narrative. Indeed, zooming on individual figures, whispers of story telling asseverate. From the above, the multitude prevails as an assimilating force, sensitive to the viewer’s change of a viewing angle. The sameness opens up to tiny differences, surprising in their power to remonstrate with the perceived absence of otherness. And so the otherness appears as a silent warning that similarity does not erase uniqueness. Neither is in a complete control. Something that at first appears as an exotic vanity play ends up pointing out the stranger within. Droney avoids successfully the pitfalls of Freud’s psychoanalysis, inclining towards existentialism its wisdom of the function of slippages, the idea embodied in the reflection in a mirror that is incomplete, puzzling, autonomous, yet, limping behind the floor installation it is reflecting. It is not as much of a paradox, as of otherness when Self identifies with the sculpted elements. Moreover, it reverts to the appearance of a painting, a medium of its beginning.