Devlin titled this exhibition of drawings, sculpture and a video, TODAY I WROTE NOTHING.
It works like an answer to a curator who requires “socially engaged art to literally articulate responses, messages of change”. For Devlin, writing is an altar to an unknown god, an empty pedestal, he will do without. He goes for a “manifest image”, summary of parts of visual thinking as given by the visible object, but not reduced to it.
A statement that writing is of little or no relevance to a visual art, a soft attack on the ubiquitous of verbal elements or long texts in a small layer of contemporary Western art. I hasten to add – that illuminated manuscripts nurtured co-habitation of the verbal and visual on the same page thousands years ago for centuries. A cultural habit picked up by How to- manuals and other educational illustrated books since 16th C until the present. Devlin minimises the expectation that art must educate and to explain how it does it. The paradox lies between the unnecessary demand and the stoic acceptance that it is expected. I find it both humorous and critical.
On the far wall a row of circular bas reliefs forms a sculptural installation. Calm and dark. On closer examination these are not glass top boxes… Devlin told me he cut the bottom off silver teapots with the actual sediment untouched.
Cultural habit of polishing silver clean has been replaced by Devlin with craft skills. He cut, sanded, polished and engraved those little slivers of metal that act as a frame. The en face material holds its own history – silently, visually, without words. At times, Devlin drew inside the tiny vessels, treating the tea sediment as a ground. Treasured provocation of the viewer’s imagination sparingly thoughtfully placed inside the past use of the teapot. Multiple re-occurances (Nietzsche) jell into a velvety layer of a stilled life.
Still life generates imagery for the large drawing triptych, partly abstract, partly hyper-realistic. ( At first I thought the gloves were photographs digitally printed over the drawn ground)
The three motifs in each hold their meaning to themselves. The ground drawn directionally allows a belief of shallow depth embracing the incomprehensible see -through lighting objects and full illusion of a pair of gloves hanging in the air.
There is a hand inside one of them! Devlin’s humour again. The free faux cubist analysis of a lamp is a legitimate, if confusing ingredient. His command of both edge to edge abstraction and realistic trompe l’oeil impresses me.
I have known him as a performance artist of high international standard deft with mixes of various modernist takes on the autonomy of art.
Consequently – the videoed performance accessible on the monitor ( some 14 mins) revived my memories. Useless act. This is different. First of all he performs to a camera attached to a drone piloted by his partner, an artist herself. The intentional distancing of his authorship of an idea from how it is made into an art object, proposes a departure from modernist tradition of author’s aura – into an almost medieval anonymity. It wants to belong to the anonymous root of the “history” it wishes to document. Devlin’s trust in the machine for as long as the battery last, is not complete, as the drone is piloted by a person with rich visualising power.
Devlin snakes his body over a pavement with a single green plant stem in one of his hands, facing the ground. At times the camera reads it as climbing up. Devlin thinks of his wriggling his body over the ground , with insecure meaning of its history, as of a dialogue about surface, material and function. (Gallery handout)
The video is not evoking one’s openness – it turns too much inwards. However, it revives an older theory model of “engram”, the physically recorded memory of seeing and with what insights. Devlin’s. And as a secondary variant, mine, when I watched him seeing the ground as seen by the lens on the drone. Quite a few removes from the real pavement.
Images courtesy Leo Devlin.