Colin Darke: Grotesque Mediocrity, Mac Belfast, 8 August – 19 October 2014

woodcut, illustration for Livre d’Art 1896

The spiral from the veritable belly of Monsieur  UBU flew over  118 years and over the distance from Paris to Belfast

Simon Mills Colin Darke toy wheelbarrow

courtesy of an artists’ artist Dr  Colin Darke.


Simon Mills, Colin Darke SP in blue


He whispers something between the bowl and a candle – a  talking head on a tablet, a digital puppet.

Apparently there are 142 manias of obsession, including graphomania.  Darke’s  writing over sets of objects, carefully follows Jarry’s choices  in the play Ubu Roi  of 1896,  and appropriates text of Karl Marx The eighteen Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) in  manic obedient handwriting  difficult to decipher.

Both  sound and text are subordinated to the visual. It may be interpreted both as distancing (B Brecht) or foregrounding (Shklovskij) without descending in to a paradox.

Simon Mills Colin Darke  overviewWriting for the exhibition guide, David Campbell offers some statistics :   Grotesque Mediocrity  … is made up 3038  individual artefacts arranged into groupings of 47 different types of objects…The installation begins with 99 white Carrara marble tiles stacked against the gallery wall and culminates in a collection of 666 apples.

Simon Mills Colin Darke apples detail


In between marble and apples there are 10 toilet brushes, plates, bowls, 35 green candles,  50 kazoos, 6 DocMarten boots, 1 pair of underpants, 1454 coins, machetes, toy, bricks,   scissors and  around the apples 20 colanders (they are there instead of Jarry’s sieves, it is easier to write on colanders)

Simon Mills Colin Darke coins machete

…  forming an amazingly elegant spiral, undisturbed by the disobedient umbrella.

Simon Mills Colin Darke overview 2

Displayed are common place objects each with a clearly defined job in practical life, including the expensive marble tiles. Some are exquisitely made, all seem to be good at their expected function.  Except Marx. His thoughts as critical as they may be are rendered impotent by secrecy of small handwriting, as if insisting that  to receive their wisdom, every and each reader must read them in an hour of devotion not unlike medieval Books of Hours. It touches on  the grotesque via an obsession, escaping any mediocrity.

Simon Mills Colin Darke beginning


The text’s transformatory power over use of things is undeniable, although it irritates by being not legible without a magnifying glass, or getting on your knees…  The lettering on fruit, boots or candles is there not as flowing text, more a decoration, a dust from thinking about difficult issues.

Colin  Darke may or may not be offering a choice: either follow or  innovatively develop Marx’s analysis of commodities.  His insistence on private consumption mobilises needs for sincerity and honesty, so shy of the public exchanges.

Simon Mills Colin Darke shoes umbrella coins


Darke appropriates  doubt as an aesthetic category. Grotesque Mediocrity  – the very words issue a  call to disentangle the relationship between art and nature, and art and society(economy, use). By multiplying each object – for ex Jarry allows just one toilet brush as a King Ubu’s grotesque sceptre- Darke needs ten of them of them to let the writing flow, the association with shelves in a supermarket brutalises the doubt away a little.

To cover any available surface with marks is a privilege of children, teenagers in love, stret artists and vandals.  As a separation from those habits Darke uses  new  objects, not yet used for their intended purpose.  Many may  return to their intended service, after  their sacrifices to art were cleansed off.  And, yes,  it may not happen. Michelangelo’s worry about the permanent conflict between material and spiritual in art  certainly appears contemporary.

The appearance of useful object and organic materials as art  is becoming popular, its most commercial peak reached by  Christo-esque parcel of flesh in Swiss mountains, the flesh sculpture by Andrea Hasler.



Darke’s distances his floor installation from the ostentation and imposition over nature, I am grateful to observe.

Simon Mills Colin Darke detail centreI may be smiling as I read the only text confident to be read and understood – a judgement on a  shattered dream – placed so near a personal comfort zone – interweaving hygiene, cooking, and nourishment, in a spiral pathway, neither  scissors nor the ready to shoot slings  can ever reach.

Grotesque – after all comes from a 16th C grotto – a manufactured  garden cave covered in decoration interweaving human, animal and plant forms.

Darke’s spiral interweaves the sign for revolving existence with signs of  failed ideas, and confident useful objects, as if in a illustration of Karl Popper’s Three Worlds.

The apples  in the centre of the image of being will decay first, in obedience to laws of nature. They are the first of the servants of this concept of art to die. Does  my cynical thought that apples  can be bought again justify  the other word in the exhibition title: mediocrity?

Simon Mills, Colin Darke Coins details

The doubt- as invitation to take risks grounded in sincerity of not knowing-  became an avantgarde tradition  soon after  Jarry wrote Ubu Roi, when picked up by the  Dadaists.

Images of the installation  courtesy of Simon Mills.




About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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