MAC Belfast – July/August 2013: L. Gotz, M. Cotter, K. Burke

Lothar Goetz, Double-Take, 2013, Photo Jordan Hutchings

Reminiscent of  the geometric abstraction of Josef  Albers (1888-1976) and El Lissitzky(1890-1947) the  Double-Take painting  hopes to evoke an immersive narrative that is both stable and changing depending on view point s of the moving viewer.

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Standing above the stairs , before descending into the Sunken gallery, affords an overview  of  the three painted walls  appearing like a stage, a scene, of which the eye is an audience. As a whole, it works  like a vast  advertisement  sharply designed for impact . It is not an image, rather a call for attention. It is as dramatic as a baroque fresco by Giovanni  Lanfranco.(1582-1647)  Giovanni Pietro Bellori(1615-1696) wrote about it: “…this painting has been rightly likened to a full choir…no particular voice is distinguished”.

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Walking  around diminishes the perception of a subtly horizontal  line  that divides the walls into upper and lower levels, as in the Sistine chapel. The decorative character  of geometric  shapes, cancels any hierarchy between the layers  and  their placement. The energies of the hues are tamed to be equivalent , whether they are above, below or at the viewer’s eye level.DSC_3836The only intimacy is offered at a near view, when the eye is  searching for marks of the hand that placed the hues on the surface. It may be a hand of a helper, though. The spontaneous force of different hues to define their own positions in the virtual depth  of the wall  is neutralised. The walking and viewing intermittently from different distances  offers a number of competing near views as well as a  summarising continuity as the  coloured stripes  hurry to overlap corners while  competing with the right angled symmetry of the gallery. An illusion, not too fleeting, makes real difference for optical perception. The skill to drag the precise hard edge over larger distances is impressive, however, more impressive is the ability of the painter to keep the tonality of each hue exactly the same all over each stripe while sentencing any possible marks of a  brush or a roller to  be seen at close examination only. ( I have found only  very few). By the virtue of his technique,  Goetz increases the impersonal on the account of the expressive, without robbing the hues of their sensual beauty. The choice of stretched deformed lozenges feels playful even if disciplined by remarkable strictness. Goetz puts machine aesthetics in harness with sensuality of tonality.DSC_3893
The Double-Take raises a question how  artists address a given gallery space or any other particular interior. In his case I am aware that it is an element in development of his art. Goetz responds to an actual space by tailoring the composition to it.

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Upper Gallery, view from the left from the entrance. Photo Jordan Hutchings

Cotter and Burke also address each exhibition space, however their art is not made to fit a particular one.  They display  work made in another space, be it domestic or not. In collaboration with the curator they seek some optimal relationship between the space and the objects they created.

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Upper Gallery installation. Photo Jordan Hutchings

That relationship is not an element in development of their art, rather it is about placement of their art in different visual/architectural contexts.

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Upper Gallery, view towards the entrance. Photo Jordan Hutchings

Placing the work  in  a particular relationship to the length, height and width of the room aims to satisfy the visitor’s viewing points  capable of recovering the meaning of the object. In addition the objects assert their own need for space, compromising that process.

In one particular charming case, a window became a companion for two metal characters leaning against the walls.

Karl Burke and window

Those two bent metal sticks  Karl Burke brought in, by the virtue of the placement,  became a calligraphic sign for  biomorphic  beings  just about to wake up and join our enquiring gaze.

In the age of a split second attention spans standing in front  of or walking around a work of art  seems to thrill only those who love art, old and new.

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Maud Cotter, Once More with feelings, 2013, mild steel, thread, plastic, paint. Photo Jordan Hutchings

Cotter welcomed the slight movement of the plastic, comparing it to an interaction of air outside it and inside the folded sheet. By itself it has not moved, only with some interaction from a visitor.

Many curators label the contemplative being with a work of art a passive experience, and demand a shift away from it to an interactive, participatory experience.  I differ. The silent communion with a visual thinking embodied in  a work of art is far from  a passive experience.  In our noisy, verbose, culture I cherish any offer of silence and visual thought, as I do cherish the stillness and musical thought of  Ludovico Einaudi (b 1955.) His La Linea Scura ( the dark line)  from La Onde(1996)  and  Burke’s dark  metal grid have in common the confidence in their medium.

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Karl Burke, Taking a Line, 2012, mild steel, paint Photo Jordan Hutchings

Hugh Mulholland, the senior curator at MAC,  forged his profile as a  curator over the years as an uncompromising guardian of high standards.
The exhibition title in the Tall and Upper Galleries of the MAC  The Air they capture is different is neither descriptive nor explanatory.  The gallery’s handout claims that both Karl Burke and Maud Cotter  present a newly commissioned work dealing “with the notion of  absent space and architectural volume”. Absent space?  It is a physical impossibility in our universe . There are sayings like : contested space, there is no space for this  or that, etc. meaning  empty space. Epidural space is absent from the brain  -it  is not an absent space, only  a particular set of connections is not there.. Moreover, Karl Burke  subscribes  willingly to the scientific model  of our universe “ my practice is primarily concerned with perception of space and time”
(www.leitrimsculpturecentre.ie/programme/residencies/2010/res_karl_burke.html))
His Taking the Line made of eight units in steel long eight foot. was  shown at  a residency exhibition at the Leitrim  Centre in a  different configuration in 2011. Machine made bars tied together  by softer ties that assist the construction’s  stability simply look like a grid, like a set of stuck up  frames of the same dimensions.  On the first look, the minimalist frames were not giving away any aesthetic delights. The intention to enforce the frames  with ability to evoke  the viewers mind pictures  would depend on the willingness of the audience not on the intention of the artist.  It appeared as the strongest possibility to fail.  As if thinking about the consequence Burke presents an elegant configuration of confidently machine made outlines capable of standing on their own.
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Karl Burke, Consequence of Sequence, 2013, mild steel. Photo Jordan Hitchings

I respond to minimalism  for its economy of means and elegant propositions. To some extent I was able to play with the black frames  the endless game of virtual images, effortlessly.  But then I  have considerable experience  with the heroic era of minimalism and  even now  feel happy to listen to Lodovico Einaudi whose ability to turn monotony into sensually rich layers of meaning is not easily surpassed, over and over again.   Burke is a musician, maybe these black frames owe more to their stillness  and rhythm  than to the space they inscribe.

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Installation view, K Burke on the left, M Cotter on the right. Photo Jordan Hutchings

 As a drawing in space the metal shapes suggest the boundaries for what is imaginable to fit inside them. The eye easily connects the similar length diagonally opposite as well as the hierarchy between the pairs sizes. One is an upside down mirror image of the other, a relationship both playful and threatening. Simplicity as a dominant aesthetic value and moral drive to reveal the true qualities of materials connects Burke’s minimalism with Cotter’s delight in revealing slowly and then instantly how her invented constructions transformed their source.As if having an insider’s knowledge of Burke’s exhibit, Maud Cotter called her exhibits  A Solution is in the room.

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M Cotter, A Solution is in the Room/Four, 2013, mild steel, card, paint. Photo Jordan Hutchings

Made of steel  and in a larger scale it overpowered the quality which attracted me  to her work years ago:  the extraordinary craft skill  to transform a cardboard into  ‘woven’  objects, spheres, sieves, containers, globes etc. The intricate pattern obtained by cutting the cardboard into ribbons  and  then assembling them into unrelated forms is reminiscent of weaving and of making willow baskets. Her objects are lovingly made – K Burke title one of his works  Poetics of Space (reminds me of G Bachelard) … Cotter could call her objects Poetics of Forms…

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M. Cotter, Measure(left) and Litter Bin(right, 2012, mild steel, card ,primer, paint. Photo Jordan Hutchings

The respect for hand made objects born out of understanding the selected material and of focused imagination  echoes  William Morris, his appreciation of so called ‘lesser arts’.

M Cotter, Litter Bin, detail

Cotter applies an opposite strategy, avoiding the objects to be useful, being made from once useful material. An important shift  from Morris to Kant.. Cotter adapts it through miming known objects while abandoning their usefulness for reverie.

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M Cotter, A Solution is in the room/One, 2012, mild steel, card, paint (on the left)A Solution is in the room/Three 2012, (on the right). Photo Jordan Hutchings

Her sculptures ( especially the one that looks like oversized sieve) are poised to cross over from this world into that of fairy tales.

Even when they  display traditional conditions: volume, mass, balance, and  a sort of pedestal they  point  away from tradition to the status of imagination in our mind.  Cotter –  like Heidegger  in Being and Time – proposes the awareness of possible truth, not absolute truth. She turns me as a viewer, into a sentient being by making me free to make my own choices. Possibly, in tandem with Virginia Woolf’s proposal that an ideal reader  is guided by an instinct to create some kind of a whole.

Both artists took part in  “artist talk” . The proliferation of this category as if it were a separate category from lectures, seminars, discussions, slide shows, and  somewhat above  them all,  is flooded with problems. Many artists  do not talk well, and if they do form  comprehensible sentences these would be about their intention and themselves, and often unpalatably defensive. They make viewers to stand for an hour  or so listening to their opinions,  to words instead of  joining them in a direct visual experience of their art .The need to “talk” about one’s work betrays some weakness of that art’s visual force. The instrumental educational role of  art  has its job to do   but it  should not  be allowed to kill off  any spontaneous aesthetic experience.
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