Graham Gingles at MAC, August, Belfast, 2014
As Fukuyama put it: in the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. A phase of contemporary art has also been characterized not so long ago as a reformatting of time into a perpetual present. The art that circles itself at the tail end of history looking back on defunct ideologies, archiving and polishing them for …what exactly?
Three partially concurrent exhibitions shared history as their subject: Graham Gingles chose WWI, Colin Darke focused on K Marx and A Jarry, Peter Liversidge worked with Max Klinger’s set of prints.
Choosing different narratives/events that occurred hundred years ago and more, evokes similar feeling of nostalgia enveloped in staggeringly different intentions and motivations.
During my visit I saw all three, one after the other, experiencing lingering aesthetics from the first to be not quite replaced by the second nor the third. An experience similar to a concert of music – three different compositions by three distinctly different composers. Good art tolerates another while holding its own. In this post I reflect on the one that was just closing.
Graham Gingles(b.1943) chose as the title of his sculptural installation a quote from published War Diaries of Robert McGookin. Commissioned by “14-18 Nov” it matched the memorial with the cutting despair of the personal experience: At times like these men were wishing they were all kinds of insects.
Initial inspiration came from the curator giving Gingles a copy of a metal box distributed to the UK soldiers at Christmas 1914, an act of solidarity initiated by Princess Mary at the time when the hope that the war will end soon was so near reality. Gingles has been making boxes for decades. Until now, his take on Cornell’s assemblages, hardly ever crossed over the reach of an arm when sitting at the table.
The sculptural assemblage grew in scale, to a theatrical prop capable of doing what theatre does – convincing the eye to suspend normal seeing and convince the senses that the object is a real ruin of something bigger.
That the construct is real has been driven into the consciousness by intimacy of viewing when walking in and out and around.
Intimacy so obtained flourished in tiny details, half hidden by other tiny details, in delicate carving, drawing, and in collage of dry plants or insect over glass (shattered).
Each detail added the charm of otherworldly universe – one so well remembered from childhood and Alice in Wonderland.
Some of it rapidly symbiosed with grave stories of graves, of people reduced to identical silhouettes in soldier’s uniforms, poignantly placed under a shelve with abandoned toys.
The figures of the saints wept their faces away over the century. Above and over these fragments of diminutive toy world, a large door lost the key and stays shut – when viewed from the other side the door is on its own, it leads nowhere. The ladders lead nowhere, the stairs do not open another space either.
Meaningfully, it bars any thoughts of crossing over a threshold of earthly life. Down, on the other side, like another gate to nowhere, a broken part of a funerary cast metal cross calmly opened the wounds of loss.
On the right at the back the dark object of a broken telegraph post with the wires wildly hanging in lost purpose stands as an incongruous memory of the act of war as a necessary cause of a memorial. Incongruous, illogical like a war itself.
I marvelled at the incongruity being able to evoke memory of weeping over a destruction. The dominant assemblage in white looked like a ruin of a cathedral or like an oversized Gothic reliquiary. The telegraph post with a beam across, wires hanging like crucified arms stood at the wall as if condemned to be shot . It resigned to its fate like the body of the man in Grunewald’s Crucifixion(1517, Colmar, Unter den Linden).
Life extinguished by inexplicable belief imprinted onto aesthetic experience almost extinguishing it in turn.
Images courtesy Hugh Mulholland, the curator
I shall write about the other two exhibitions in the next two posts.
12 Sept 2014