Ten postgraduate students of the MFA at the University of Ulster presented interim exhibition in the both exhibition spaces of the CA gallery.
The image on this poster is a screen grab of a video by Jonny McEwen (b 1966).Nothing moves except for the white material in the top right hand corner under the name of the exhibition ( which does not appear on the screen). Having registered its tiny move, the eye scans for more, unsuccessfully. The feeling of having missed something while watching the moving detail keeps its hold. The image associates beauty with destruction, a concept favoured by some of the Romantics of 19th C. To frustrate that link, this image is nowhere near the romantic concept of the terrible beauty. Underlying the lens based simulacra is a generative computer code written in Processing 2 ( a version of Java) – according to the notes written by the artist for viewers like me. He explains that the video recording runs as a loop and the code generates random marks over it. The past is a stable, once useful and rationally assembled structure, now collapsed. The still standing walls call for empathy. The jumbled wires, pipes and blocks, flirt with the picturesque to avoid sentiment. The intervention of the code is hardly visible, yet, it can go on and on, as an imperceptible Fall…
The installation Forest ,2014 by John Robinson (b 1987) keeps lively links to landscape painting and to the scenography and cinema. What changes if it were called The Blue instead? The trees still will represent association with real trees in the world out there. However, the dynamics of the title will shift the primary association away from the representational and the narrative directly to a feeling so effortlessly installed by the blue hue/light.
This is the far corner of the installation in the low light, viewed from nearer the entrance below.
The blue hue expels the familiar, the blue light alludes to something beyond itself, i.e. virtual world. It is referred to as proteus effect that we conform to the unexpected, taking it as expected in the virtual world. Here, I am not aware so much of viewing the things displayed, instead I respond to the lighting as it is “swallowed” by the tree, a branch, a structure, a drawing on the wall. Forest is an environment that is not easily known or controlled. It has generated rich traditions and stories imbued both by fear and magic to overcome it. I felt presence of those two forces even in the white drawings on the wall, which held some knowledge, now not accessible. The wooden structure of a shelter with no roof, the haze making machine, painted fabric and branches all mischievously allow the blue spotlight to saturate the air, surfaces and boundaries. Indeed, the illusion so achieved is as convincing as if painted, except that one can walk into it, thus turning it into reality, not fully natural, not fully artificial. The tactile sensations of the dry branches increased the truthfulness of the invented place.
The intoxication with light paired to one dominant hue received a salutary manifestation also in the installation by Erin Hagan (b.1987).
The intricate “weave” rising partly from the floor up -allowing some of it to go its own way towards the wall – is lit just enough to register the structure and material. It is the weight of the fibre soaked in black paint that addressed me first. It is similar to the distraught rectangles of Eva Hesse holding on to the same intensity of privacy and – paradoxically, its fragility.
In addition the black hue closes off any possible narrative, that might insist on inescapable feeling that it holds interesting secret. Nevertheless, the light surprisingly revels in conjuring up a real other, the object’s shadow on the wall. A window- the view barred? A funerary plaque to be unveiled? The black hue, of course, pulls the installation to the darker layers of being, more into a night that death.
The fascination with shadows is shared in two more exhibits.
The common awkward plastic volumes by Cathy Droney (b 1987) are suspended above viewer’s head. They do not offer beauty or pleasure, they rhythm makes them into a shroud that seem to exist on the other side of the mythological Styx, while spilling over some detritus of life.
The motive of a garment invites connection to Sarah Lucas and Dorothy Cross, replacing their sharp definitions by uncertain visual knots of meaning. Almost as if inviting a paradox, the suspended installation teasingly evokes questions without promising that anything visible may assist answers. Art is not a mirror of the real, it is as real as the materials used, and limited by the arrangement. Unless there is a shadow. In a smaller of the two hanging sculptures, a source of light behind the wire swing sends ever so stingy volumes of an adolescent body, down on the floor as a shadow of the real. Convincingly. (not in this photograph,though)
Katrina Sheena Smyth (b.1985) exhibits a video connected to the performance she offered on the evening of the opening, and which I have not seen. The black and white video is projected on a tiny scale of a postcard, generating the care we automatically extend to small creatures. Indeed the scale matters how we construct a meaning, and even more so, a feeling.
Her second video ( above on the right) follows a tiny changes in an interior view of an anonymous dwelling. Clicking the recording button, she defines the speed of the change, and when it becomes visible. This situates her performance and the space for it among the twilight of concepts, when vague conceptual indecision makes way to decisions that tax attention and interest. The video proves that she is a conscientious editor aiming at some control of viewing how time passes away, ever so slowly.
At one point she interacted with an installation made by Rosanna McKenna (b.1989) called A place to sit. Fabrics, wood, metal, thread, strings and a plastic bag, ended in three distinct parts: a low wire sculpture(I associate it playfully with an ironing board under the stress) a wall hanging (quilting on line out to dry?)) and a kind of a tepee with soft seats (comforting care for the visitor ?)… This somewhat domestic ensemble issues multitude of distress signals, in the way its soft parts are thrown over the armatures wherever they may go, in the way the details are not decidedly finished. This is anthropocentric art in its sincere curiosity in the way materials and shapes, forms and absences evoke associations and memories.
[A detour: on the left of this photograph, just about visible, is a charming and elegant notebook on a shelf. In it small drawings appear on some pages as if sheltering in the centre of the page. An imaginative take on the medieval Books of Hours by Aoife Brady.]
Now back to McKenna’s tepee. This assemblage is open ended, the soft parts may be re-arranged. The hard elements are defined, the effort of getting there made visible by added extensions.
At the opposite end of the degree of definition of an object are the exhibits by Andrew Glenn and Elizabeth- Anne Curistan.
Wood, metal, nails and screws appear in the constructed object, that from one point of view looks like a box, but is not it.
From this view point it invites comparison with constructivism and minimalism of the 20th century- in particular, Rodchenko and Andre. However, this is denied by another point of view:
Disillusion with the unexpected is a part of Andrew Glenn’s (b.1981) art practice, as he favours an “unplanned encounter” not just of materials used, but also of the familiar with the surprising. The finished sculpture even does not aim for a clear finish, having strange symmetry of openings that lead nowhere. This object is not as distressed as its parts; it is confident and dreaming.
The idea of starting to be one thing and then becoming another forges the ground for the Metamorphosis by Elizabeth-Anne Curistan (b 1987).
Curistan offers an assemblage of parts she found and released from their original function. It matters then what happens next, that is the grounding of her art practice. Each part has to adapt to a new whole under the clear cut right angle dominance. All is fully defined and clearly visible, adhering at least to two of the values entertained by classicism: calm and clarity. Yes, only until the eye ventures in between and senses the interior. Dark and inaccessible, thus unknown and mystifying. So, the cold rational clarity is pulled apart by the imagined “volume” of absences.
Earlier, I noted the hidden drawings in a tiny book on a shelf. They were mostly of outdoor motifs. That book was installed closed. As if not available to browse. Yet, the artist is concerned with accessibility, aiming at an “immersive artwork”(see gallery handout) as a response to landscape.
It looks to me as an architectural urban model, or a child’s educational tool. The artist has no interest in either, it seems. Instead, she thinks of imagining rural setting. The question whether she feels similar attachment to the imagined purity of country life as, for example Camille Pissarro, insists on being answered. Her preference for machine aesthetics for the material and shapes used clearly points to the urban culture as somehow domineering. The impression of calm is not supported by clarity, in this case. Moreover, it feels dissipated by embracing different attitudes to land – in a rational escape from subjectivity. Unluckily, it takes away also any sensual beauty of nature.
Nature in its complex resistance to human aesthetic norms is a subject of life sized animals constructed from wire, wood, PVA, ModRoc and turf soil by Pamela Byrne (b 1990).
In the gallery notes, the artist points out her interest in
“…how we portray our fears, anxieties or apply human characteristics onto animal form when it is presented in a gallery space, as a metaphor for the human condition.”
I failed to perceive any of this. I noted admirable dexterity in her modelling of materials to hold on to the convincing approximation of animals while avoiding a smooth illusion. A decay was signaled by sprinkling the soil all over. The modelling contradicted it in both smaller animals, catching their bodies in action.
Many aspects of the exhibition as a whole made me distrustful of the verbal statements generously offered by the artists. A strong deviation of the visual from the verbally expressed interests worked in all cases.
The most modest of exhibits stay in my memory: a tiny painting by Andrew Glenn (a sheer poetry) and an over-sized bumble bee made from wires by Pamela Byrne. Joy of transformatory power.
Slavka Sverakova, 29 January 2014 –