Aisling O’Beirn at Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, 2016

Curated by J. Baker . the exhibition  titled another day in futile battle against the 2nd law  of thermodynamics   included, maps, diagrams, installation, and video, all presented with meticulous care. Selection of gallery exposition  and O’Beirn’s introduction  is accessible on as the latest of many  of the delightfully rich inventory of her art practice.

She wields the uncanny mastery over chaos, without completely taming it, holding its energy present.  Found objects willingly forget their identity  and -with some tacit humour – co-operate with O’Beirn’s  will to transform base metal into gold, or the other way round.

As a characteristic of alchemy the transformation of found objects by O’Beirn is  reminiscent of Arte Povera, namely Gilberto Zorio.

“The various media used within his oeuvre include lead, copper, steel, clay, concrete, Tesla coils, compressors, strobe lights, lamps and incandescent objects, which are activated through processes including reaction, solidification, evaporation, oxidisation, fragmentation and precipitation. These are presented not as scientific occurrences, but are rather elevated to be considered on a more ethereal, universal level, foregrounding their primordial or even esoteric qualities that relate to the nature of existence, the cosmos and evolution. (

O’Beirn filled the first gallery with translation of scientific data about distances of stars  in the constellation of  Great Bear, the second with video projections.

I remember, hearing  it as a child  curious about the future, the adults expressing their fatalism thus: well only stars know…

O’Beirn juxtaposed the peak of each shower  with a memorable event,e.g  Lenin’s  appearance at Petersburg at the start of the October revolution.  I read it both as “predicted”, i.e. determined and as coincidence, a chance parallel.  O’Beirn allows both.

By insisting on the same pattern of juxtaposition of facts  O’Beirn fabricates the ennui born by the disinterested repeat. This makes the theoretical law  into a concrete,  experience, accessible to senses.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics States that whenever energy is transformed from one form to another form, entropy increases and energy decreases.

The installation of Ursa Major in the large gallery has been rooted in O’Beirn’s delicate interview of an astronomer, the whole is presented as  a video record:

The didactic element manifests further in diagrams and a poster.


This is Arte Povera with a PhD.  O’Beirn respects science and knowledge and truth and reality of the socio-economical conditions for living artist, so similar to the group in Turin and 1967 when Germano Celant published  Arte Povera. A large part of her practice utilises the scholarship as a method to make visual art.  At times the success is as if free of that intention – confidently engaging  aesthetic categories, including  beauty.




Ursa Major, Miza and Alcor, chair base, splash protectors,flexible cable and chalk

Significant layer of the installation depends on the success of persuasion. In recall of Duchamp’s Fountain  a dish rack wants to be  the constellation of star that is hardly visible. O’Beirn, the alchemyst, gathered the star dust out of the thin air, serving them on a plate. Some irony of human condition wrestles in.  Palpably, the coexistence of domestic chores and science and art, is possible.





Knowledge and art  meet in imagination, its transformatory power  of one identity into another also depends on viewer’s attitude/expectations what art may be.  At first I felt  dictated to – and resisted it.  Deliberately, I focused on  the objects abject refusal to transform.  This was strong tenor of all parts of the installation from near views of each part.    After watching the video where out of camera range O’Beirn politely questions the expert, I went back to the main installation. Still the pedestrian translation of distances in the universe into scaled down sizes  of each star in the constellation was an irritant.

Only when I abandonned the idea  of  the installation being a model for Ursa Major could i delight in the witty combinatory poetics of  play – objects playing  – like musical instruments in an orchestra.  They followed to prescribed size and strength, while displacing that objective rule by subjective  joyful gifts of surprising willingness to abandon their original role. Plates  pretend to be like vinyl records of yesterdays.  The stands could hold the sheet music for members of an orchestra … and it all started to work as the music of the spheres.

The bitter-sweet dialogue between the married couple, Jessica and Lorenzo, at the beginning of the final act of The Merchant of Venice, includesdiscussion of  the stars, each in its separate “orb,” or sphere, each sphere contributing to the heavenly music that only the angels (cherubins) can here. Ordinary humans, clothed in their earthly, decaying bodies, cannot hear the music of the spheres:

Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

When classical writers speak of the harmony of ideal order and creation, they are not thinking of the terms just as a metaphor. O’Beirn  does not either.

Images courtesy the artist.


About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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