The Fragmented Mind, MAC, Belfast, 4 May -29 July 2018

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.


L-R: Portal, ; Ventriloquism; Crafty, all oil on canvas, 2016


Gall achieves trompe l’oeil both in painting, collage



and sculpture


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.


Form Interest drawing, 2017 ,pencil on paper, 98 x 74 cm


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.


Unable to separate their own identities, 2008

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.

William Michael Harnett, Still life with a violin, 19th C


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.

not an installation at MAC. Accessed on

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. (



About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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