Curated by Eoin Dara the exhibition takes its name from a marketing slogan for a gated residential development Santa Elena City in the Philippines: What is real, what is honest, what is true …this is authenticity.
After that it has nothing to do with Philippines, and all to do with authenticity, its absence, and playing with it.
One of the exhibits is an essay Self-building and upkeep by Adrian Duncan, artist, writer, structural engineer, who holds an MA in Art. Taking a catalogue of bungalow designs published by Jack Fitzsimmons in 1971, Duncan proposes that “these one-off, self-built houses were also expressions of a type of Modernity….a strange, inchoate, hybrid modernism.” Some of that strangeness is born by the paradox between an almost sacred “Irish” western regions and the “inauthentic” modern bungalows”. A paradox that dies, if your neighbours do the same, the presumed “in-authenticity” becomes “…normalised, restrictive, and silent to the point of being unspeakable, then irrelevant, then slowly forgotten.” (p 2) Inadvertently, it is a reminder of the aesthetic thought of the 1930s. The classic Modernism entertained the idea that every norm is immediately shadowed by an anti-norm ( J Mukarovsky). The absence of authenticity is shadowed by something authentic. It must include Aoife MacNamara’s idea that those alienated forms were “symbols of defiance”. Duncan equates the new authenticity with two features of dwellings:” the act of building one’s house and the public self-expression bound up in the general upkeep of one’s home and domain.”
As I write, I see through a window, over two meadows, a small bungalow. It was built in the last century by a cobbler who played a violin and published a book of poems. It was an one-off dwelling, with no running water and electricity, two room on each side of the entrance, no foundation. A shelter, not much advanced on the prehistoric stone houses on the Dingle peninsula, they keep rain out even today. They were also self-built, normalised, and slowly forgotten (replaced) – once.
My neighbour’s bungalow, resonated with grounding the authenticity of a dwelling in a conviction that ” to live in a private house is in every way a higher form of life”. (Herman Muthesius, Das Englische Haus, 1904 -1905). Some forms repeat, the curator of this exhibition lives in a type of housing Muthesius praised when he saw the housing for factory workers in Port Sunlight.
Given the considerable differences between conditions in which people live, the “every way” obtains different meanings, nevertheless, in principle, it holds true for the financial elite as well as for a marginalised cobbler. However, as Zygmunt Bauman argues, people, mainly young people, are today being cast in a condition of luminal drift without knowing when it will stop, if ever. The effort to merely survive becomes a way of life. That is the real alienation, which dominates the indeterminate, bleak and insecure future. It is not anymore “how one chooses to shelter, dwell and dream”.
The visual exhibits do address the outrageous toxic pleasure of pathological individualism and distorted notions of freedom.
Jun Yang ( 1975, Quingtian, China) studied visual art and media work in Vienna and Amsterdam, and lives and works in Vienna, Tokyo and Taipei.
Paris Syndrome, 2007/2008 relates to his later work through its ambiguous visualisation of social spaces that are unable to provide “a higher form of life”.
The couple’s appearance and movements cast them as robots, manikins, perfectly groomed, appropriately correct, completely reluctant to imagine what unemployed, disposable persons are experiencing – yet. they carry/emanate that bleak engulfing precarity.
Yang zooms on the inability to think as a root of outrageous ignorance. Before my consciousness registered it, he infected my viewing with colours and forms that screamed “false”. Not authentic – it convincingly looks like a film set! However, both the buildings and the two young people exist. In the gap between the authentic and not authentic, between the expected and delivered, – the viewer deposits own experience. Yang made a silent cradle for that.
Martin Boyle (b, 1982) adds visual trickery to his critique of “front room aesthetics”. Remember, front rooms proudly kept away from children, ready to impress visitors?
Martin Boyle went further. He made a trap for the eye – I walked into it, briefly. Cherishing it later, when I realised that the trunk of the palm is not about to break, and that the banister is not painted. The titles deliberately depart from the real towards the made up, a tactic that appears in his art quite often, not sheltering art from humour given the role to undermine received meaning.
Or more recently in an exhibition at the Ulster Museum, Belfast.
The power architecture of the Piazza Grande is subverted by the sky that looks like moonlight/sunlight reflecting in the sea; the image condemned to battle/play with high lights and shadows, as if under the studio lighting.
It matters how the exhibits occupy the space. Singly – from different points of view. That isolation provides for private encounters that engender intimate togetherness between the image and the viewing. Touch of exclusive whispering, with in-your-face question: is it authentic?
In the mid distance, the curator erected a wall with Boyle’s visual play on one side and, on the dorso, the moving images of Jun Yang, the essay in opposite corner to the wall carrying the other two Boyle’s images. A net designed to direct your attention, but not to everything, perhaps.
On the floor, left from a previous exhibition, a drawing of straight lines submitted its geometry as a silent witness to another display, to another work of art. I applaud the visual sensitivity of the curator, he embraced the unintended visual information as a part of the calm whole, effortlessly. Well, at least that how it works for me. Beautifully. This exhibition is about visual intelligence, after all.
Images courtesy the artists and Jordan Hutchings.