It is an exhibition and several events that include: Friday Lunchtime Recitals (horn, cello, orchestra, harp), poetry reading on a Saturday, screenings a films on Tuesdays, lectures on Thursday and nine workshops offered by artists Sharon Kelly, Ursula Burke and Tonya McMullan. There is a booklet with times and venues. Hugh O’Donnell leads a series of “closed” workshops focused on collage in response to exhibits in the Sunken Gallery.
Covers and Counterfeits by Neil Gall
Covers in the name of this exhibition mean covers of The Studio cut and assembled as a collage. Haphazard and systematic are harnessed together to make it hard to discern what was there before the intervention. The cuts are occasionally visible, even when they are not there, due to clever use optical illusion. Together, a full wall of them, become a kind of oratory to instability of meaning, of visual thought. A positive one.
Viewed from the entrance of the Sunken Gallery Gall’s rectangle exhibits look like hard, dry, decorative cut outs – on the lowest scale from Henri Matisse.
From the near – a shock to the consciousness: it is all meticulously, carefully, attentively, patiently, painted under the command of optical illusion. Absolutism of a kind, trompe l’oeil so loved during the baroque period in Europe, however, appearing on and off since the 5th C BC.
A story of a contest between Parrhasius and Zeuxis centres on the “tricking the eye”. Zeuxis claimed his still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. That inspired Parrhasius to ask Zeuxis to judge one of his paintings behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study. Zeuxis attempted to pull back the curtains, he could not, they were painted.
Gall achieves trompe l’oeil both in painting, collage
Gall’s drawings are veritable partners for architects like Andrea Pozzo, who placed an illusion of a cupola on a flat ceiling.
Only – Gall does not break the background but the picture plane, making the sphere to protrude towards me even at close up. Precision… not robbed of beauty.
Below, yellow, one of nine tiny sculptures, four acrylic on cast resin, five acrylic on bronze. No other material is involved. An inescapable illusion governs optical perception completely.
Like his artistic predecessors, Gall postpones the recognition, allowing the mistake to take hold first and for as long as it takes for the eye to be near to the art object . Only then the swap may happen.
Tromp- l’oeil presents sight with a cognitive conundrum. This sense is dedicated to a role of “knowing at a distance” whether something is a food or poison, enemy or friend. Here, from a distance it tells that these are paper cut outs and the resin or bronze objects are bandaged with a textile or a plastic tape. A convincing lie – words Pablo Picasso used for whole art… yet at least once he used an optical illusion – at the top of a still life – from the dark spot a nail sticks forward. ( 1912, Violin and Grapes, oil on canvas 61 c 50.8 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Like Parrhasius – Neill Gall tricks the eye effortlessly. But – it is not related to a fragmented mind as understood in the other two installations at MAC. The Sunken Gallery sinks its links with the rest of the Fragmented Mind display. It is convincingly art, made by artist, it is not governed by either of the two categories making appearance in the Tall and Upper galleries.
Gall’s command of his chosen way to make art offers precision, lighthearted play, pleasure, as well as a serious question about the power of our perception, an unease, without actual discomfort.
The Tall gallery has three offerings: a friendly participatory workshop for visitors,
listening to sounds that some may find disturbing( I did )
and a display of mostly two-dimensional visual objects in the larger parts of the gallery.
Anchored in the Musgrave Kinley Art Collection the display is supported by notes on each of the participants: Paul Duhem, Dwight Mackintosh, Richard Nie, Oswald Tschirtner, Shafique Uddin, James Price, Madeleine Lommel, Raphael Lonne, Farouq Molloy and Johann Garber (image below)
It all appears as “normal” drawings or paintings after Modernism removed the barrier between academic art and dreams, between clear order and all its opposites. The selection from the collection are defined not how the objects look but who made them, i.e. Sainte-Beuve’s conviction that the life of the maker is central to the outcome.
On the back wall of the Tall Gallery hangs a set of overflowing black Letter Paintings (2017) by Lindsay Seers who is also the author of the only exhibit in the largest space on fourth Floor.
Every Thought There Ever Was is a simultaneous tri-partite audio- visual projection of miscellanious mimetic and abstract images, including distorted faces. The sound was not clear enough for me to follow. The projection is split between three circular elements, each doing their own thing, the central is stationary, the other two move. Hardly elegant they introduce some – perhaps – deliberate clumsiness. A reflection on how we view mental health?
My generation grew up with the excellent art like Laterna Magica and increasingly splendid science programs on TV – making my aesthetic judgement of this installation hugely problematic. Naked facts interlaced with imagined world became passages in a disconnected chain of possible meaning, given the abrupt cut from one scene to another.
Every thought that ever was?
The Fragmented Mind project is capable of overcoming that conundrum as several exhibits in the Tall Gallery indicate. Whereas Seers’s moving picture is time based, has a beginning and an end, thus calls for a structure. I can return to a detail in a drawing or painting freely, not so to a detail of the video.
Rational hubris (as in its title) and haphazard accentuation of observed or generated facts fails to deliver more that a rough sketch. The large imposing clumsy “robots” add subversive feeling of inadequacy of power even when – as a contradiction, in few animated sequences – they lit up and appear humorous, like toys.
It sums up as a spectacle injuring any just about to be born empathy . It raises a question how to dismantle elitist visual discussion that is inherently divisive. How to transform the visual fragments into a critique and invitation at the same time. I felt that Seers is committed to the subject while trusting the selected means for their aura of being amenable to a peer reviewed system. The spectacle fails to overcome its entertaining element when dealing with a “grave public issue” – a phenomenon J Derrida renamed as “hostipitality”. Living in a fragile state is more enervating than any form of narrative, any normative thought ( e.g. art versus outsider art) born by it.
This art made me think (once more) of Levi-Strauss ( in La pensee sauvage, 1962) ” …the final goal of the human science is not to constitute man, but to dissolve him”. (I replaced “science”with ” art” in my silent musing.)
Spectacles have a bad habit of weaponizing instincts.
Images courtesy MAC Belfast, accessed online or otherwise credited.
Charles Augustin Sainte- Beuve (1804 – 1869) :
He wished, as he said, to understand fully those about whom he wrote, to live alongside them, and to allow them to explain themselves to present-day readers. To this end, he conceived the practice of providing in his essays extensive data on an author’s character, family background, physical appearance, education, religion, love affairs and friendships, and so on. Though now a standard method of historical criticism, this practice led to allegations that Sainte-Beuve was providing merely biographical explanations of literary phenomena. (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Augustin-Sainte-Beuve_