This still from the video Repositioned, 2013, is becoming iconic, appearing on a poster, and on the gallery Facebook page. It summarises in its tacit visual mode the stable structure of unstable meaning, when objects insist both on having an identity forged in the past and on becoming in front of your eyes whatever their structure and your imagination allow. “Animated by light and positioning, they exist here in a point of transformation” observed Dr Hilary Murray, the curator of this exhibition in RuaRed Arts Centre, Dublin, 2013.
It is the dynamics on which most conceptual art depends for its soul. O’Dwyer does not remove that dependency, just makes numerous complicated connections to abandoned functions presenting the visible as shackled to light. “Light here is an animated force” an early reviewer commented (” Hugh” on http://www.acw.ie/becoming-imperceptible).
On my first viewing I sensed humour at the moment of realisation of incongruity between the objects in front of the lens and their lens based image. As Immanuel Kant pointed out, it was “a sudden transformation”. The circle and the impossible shelf behind it animate their positions due to the light bleaching and tilting both the curve and the horizontals. Triggered by a question “what is this” I saw both describable ordinary small objects in front of the abstract background. As the abstraction seeps through the warmer tones, something changes: the distance between them and the lens increases and, suddenly, a model of a temple or a Stonehenge is preparing to jump through a loop. Poetic trope replaces the right angles and a circle. The transformation disappears as fast as it happens. The ephemeral being becoming imperceptible.
The interplay between actual (measurable) size and perceived size also lifts to an imagined scale the floor sculpture seen in the above image on the right.
The vertical forms appear, in the twilight, convincingly anthropomorphic, like Giacometti’s figures emaciated by anguish and loneliness. On closer look, they are robust, in some way commanding even the ground that is a mirror.
The mirror,of course, swallows them into an uncertain depth of the underground. All these objects are clearly of and in this world while simultaneously disappearing under their own feet. While I see the size of the sculpture, I willingly exchange it for uncertainty of the reflection. In a kind of echo of Ovidius Naso here, the metamorphosis of one being into another is completed by light hitting the polished surface of the mirror. O’Dwyer creates that situation in another work also with projected light, see below. The uncertainty of distance, size, even material, lifts objects out of banal existence.
The lens lingers on metal and its decay, on growth of tiny organisms huddled together. The video briefly introduces recognisable shapes animated by accidental similarity e.g. small white sheep on blue and green pipe. It reminds me of Simone Forti’s Illumination drawings, 1972, their capacity to become instantly transformatory and animated.
The black dot is clearly watching, the circle becomes a sphere, the sphere metamorphoses into a living organism. Fiona Larkin mentioned to me a performance at Project in Dublin, by Forti and Jeremiah Day . Open Form, performed on 25th March 2008. O’Dwyer shares with them the awareness of movement in sculpture or still body, indeed of stillness as open form. Forti says “we interweave the flickering, fluid vision of the world brought to us by the news media, the writings of pivotal thinkers ( my addition: O’Dwyer cites Deleuze and Quatari on the gallery handout) from the past, and our own personal experience. ” (www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/11/no-mistakes-simone-forti.html)
O’Dwyer offers another association to the performance artist/dancer, a used dance floor.
It resonates with delight of making simple shapes from useful inexpensive materials and found objects. The sculpture looks mundane, unremarkable even. Its transformatory energy explodes with the realisation of incongruity between the dance floor and a fence.
Alice in Wonderland takes over, and the scale changes – Lautreamont’s invention of the modern marvelous resonates. Then the object returns to its ordinary state.
Ever since I marvelled at stop-frame technique as part of the creative process for 2001 site specific installation with video inside the St George Market in Belfast, I became addicted.
O’Dwyer adopts the method in two brief views of the world, each from one vantage point. The concept connects to her earlier Vantage Point Series, 2010, accessible as series of stills on her website (www.mollyodwyer.com). In the current exhibition she is firmly behind the lens, identification with the position of a viewer.
I added the installation view for completeness only, these lens and time based works of art demand that a copy is identical with the original. The question of identity arises throughout this exhibition. An object is also its own image, it is a sculpture, it is an installation, it is a remnant of a performance, document of observation etc. The nomenclature becomes both free of terminological precision and a force of instability and uncertainty of perception. It is also playful.
The humorous similarity between the viewer’s shoes and a work of art does not shy away from the grotesque elevation of discarded objects into a work of art. Look – a lens can make them majestic.
The light does it too. And an angle.
I savoured with pleasure the response to this work in an essay Dr Hilary Murray wrote for the exhibition in 2013 at RuaRed Arts Centre, Dublin.
“…the setting is conversational; the lighting is yellowed and muted – more that of a house than a gallery. Furthemore the sculptures make use of parts that have played their own part in past intimacies, the lamp….has been caressed by hands…now hewn into a discrete situation, one that is informed but notably not telling.”
Note the ease of thinking of an assemblage of objects as sculptures. The careful balancing of the mass and volume of the found objects indeed satisfies the classical conditions for sculpture. However, the vital difference here is the role of the light as a creator of something which is not in that volume and mass – the shadow on the wall. For that reason Room with a view is a distant offspring of the Licht-maschine by Laszlo Moholy Nagy in 1922 -30. It moves an object onto and behind the surface of the wall, into the realm appropriate for Eurydice and not Orpheus, being and not being. Yet, throughout viewing I imagined inaudible music – perhaps the sound of silence?
Richard Gregory devoted a number of papers to two of the phenomena discussed so far, namely,the depth perception in Untitled and visual perception in general. (see http://www.richardgregory.org) The uncertainty of how deep the mirror image is, is a result of conflict between rules of optics and knowledge that the mirror is a flat ground holding the rusty screws upright and stable. O’Dwyer cherishes such a gift of nature, it fits the “becoming” in the overall name for the exhibition. Gregory points out that visual perceptions are regarded as similar to predictive hypotheses of science. Based on the knowledge from the past we see what we know we should see. However, visual art as it deals with sensory experiences and memories, re-positions the predicted outcome by aesthetic experience evoked by the visible in front of us.
It is thus not a surprise if the theme of re- positioning appears in the title of the large projection, the somewhat domineering exhibit.
The video exercises dignified superiority of economy of means. The 3 minutes and 15 seconds feels right, evoking a lingering wish for more.
It is not divided in any hierarchical way – similar motives appear in the role of parentheses of the un-pronounced centre. Repeat of a motive, in masterly modulation, is an orphic principle, after all.
1.Slow pan up reads the cracked metal with lettering, another flat metal joins from the right. Changing its speed the lens sweeps from left to right as if looking through a window of a plane or a fast train. Empty landscape shares with the eye just the contours and relief, secreting away all the particular details of intoxicated landscape.
2.Second comes a handmade wooden object, a floor, a table perhaps, marked by use. Is it the dance floor in Deterritorialized? The tactile sense joins the sight in celebration of craft skill of a joiner with predilection for classical geometry. The right angle is only slightly de-troned by parallels curves of some terrestrial comet.
3.Metal again. The theme of the landscape and tactile sensation settle on slow reading of a pipe, colourful decaying pipe, blue, red oxide, white, the white shape resembling a grazing sheep – a happy accident. That perception insists on living landscape re-positioning itself on an industrial product.
4.Wood again -this time it is easy to identify what the lens reads – it is that dance floor with fence and miniature wooden block. A detail appears, as an alien object – yet, it is a frontal view of a detail of the fence taken from above. It looks like an tombstone, altarpiece, a cross.
5.discarded tiles with burned concrete , rusty pipe and the cracked metal seen in the beginning, appear in slow motion one after the other as if parting with the viewer. The movement of the camera approximates waving hand – and the image goes down like sunset above the horizon.
The knowledge of the past makes for the comfortable freedom, of the kind prescribed by Leonardo da Vinci for training visual imagination. Look at clouds or marks on the wall and imagine what it may be, what it is becoming to be.
O’Dwyer made something near a laboratory condition for visual thinking, visual perception and aesthetic experience without scientific rigour. Instead, the intimacy of experience is the only guarantee that anything or all of it is happening. And while it is grounded in perception it is not perceivable by the other.
Refreshingly free, the exhibition celebrates the visual force.
Images courtesy Platform Arts, Belfast