Lorraine Burrell at GTG, Belfast, May 2016

THESE DAYS ARE PERSISTENT AND CHANGEABLE is a title of an exhibition of art by Lorraine Burrell and Martin Boyle,  at the Golden Thread Gallery from 28.04 – 11.06 2016.

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Installation view – L. Burrell

What days are not that? Yours? Mine?  Whatever answer is elicited, it will be either  incomplete, or  misleading, or provocative.   This does not imply that the art exhibited  in this exhibition is either or all. It only indicates the  light approach to contemporary art as something akin Schiller’s “kingdom of freedom”. It is -whatever you make of it.

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It tolerates opposition  while employing a visual subterfuge. For example: the sculptures carry destroyed images like poster torn from the billboard, positing the object between art and waste. The lens based image is compressed between performance/modelling  and printing, graduating the aura of original via two steps of alienation from the eye and and from the maker (inkjet print is as neutral as any printed page and dead until you read it.

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Scrunch, 2016, vinyl billboard,wire, veneer pins, dimensions variable


Burrells exhibition consists of five two-dimensional inkjet prints, two drawings, one low relief and three three-dimensional sculptures.  They share her chosen subject – female body – more or less.

Her representational style ranges from hyper-realism

Deflated, vinyl billboard and bungee cord, size_ variable, 2016

Deflated, vinyl billboard and bungee cord, size_ variable, 2016

to abstraction,

Scrawl, drinking straws and veneer pins, size_ variable, 2016

Scrawl, drinking straws and veneer pins, size_ variable, 2016

from documenting

Eat The Image, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016

Eat The Image, 2016, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm

to imagining.

Ghost, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016

Ghost, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016



Burrell’s concept of art reminds me of Marisol Escobar, who recently passed away.  Burrell’s Deflated  velds together observed and not observable  while using pliable material. Marisol combined right angle and hard materials with observed portraits and appropriated materials.  Both share the confidence in the force of fragmented view and in power of addition/ assemblage.  Any part of Marisol’s group of female figures is not possible, yet believable, as in a dream.


Similarly strangled consciousness hangs on the recognisable detail of eyes in Burrells Deflated  drowning under the floor of the gallery  not unlike a ship  hitting   an iceberg.

Gallery view

Yet – the terror of such a demise is not there – the object assures me that it will not disappear.  That paradox has a cutting edge – it demands visual thinking  to become more like Dante’s alta fantasia. A sprawling narrative mixed with photo- realism just this side of a nightmare.

The five inkjet prints (all 2016, 67 x 92 cm)  share a kind of assault on decorum of normal behaviour.

Casual Sex, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016

Casual Sex, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016

In a landscape format, in a shallow space defined in art history as not comforting (think of Deposition by Rogier van der Weyden), the female body is wounded, disabled and deformed by the act of casual sex. Yet it is not a morality tale. It is a tale of transformation, cause of which is not visually  defined. Reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos distopian Lobster it presents a world in which a person may be turned into something else.  This image is aggressively literal mismatch of cruelty and humour – deliberate mix of realism and “fantasia”.  It is not a sprawling narrative,  tender conglomeration of emotions fits  its impact better.  She brings to public life intimacy in an absurd constellation of fragmented real.  She ties the new constellation with reality while removing it from the real world. Not once does she balk.  I am left not to understand the rules of its “real” of its “world” – however, I cannot shake off induced curiosity.  With a straight face -as if – Burrell delivers absurd constellations, their surreal absurdity sticking with me.  And no – it is not trying to be popular.

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The above  wall mounted  variant of Scrunch  holds  a portrait as if unearthed in some other Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Free of all responsibility for my perception Burrell peregrinates conceptual art already aware what of it had gone extinct.

A bizzar loner, each of her objects carries authority of earthly reality of being. Believable, they are visualised emotions, some born out between need and want.  Like gluttony.

Consume, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016

Consume, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016

Where Arcimboldo used vegetable- Burrel prefers consumer goods.

Persona, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016

Persona, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016



Arcimboldo-Rudolf-II, Vertumnus, http://www.smithsonianmag.com .

Cyclops, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016

Cyclops, inkjet print, 67cm x 92cm, 2016


We see her experiencing -not knowing what exactly – like experiencing something when making performance art. The meaning reminiscent of a butterfly moves from one source to another: fear, pity, hesitation, remorse, curiosity, bewilderment?  She allows conceptual art to turn visual, even retinal.

“None of these artworks are really for passive contemplation,” said Andrew Wilson, curator of British contemporary art and archives at Tate, who put together the current  show of conceptual art. “They’re not pleasant arrangements of shapes and colors on a canvas. They are provocations, some of them: provocations to actually thinking what art might be.”

Burrell is decisive- by binding the freedom of arrangement with visual aesthetics of both mimesis and catharsis.  Another conceptual artist Ryan Gander insists:

“It’s about learning,discovery, investigation, turning over rocks and seeing what’s under them.”Conceptual art emerged in the United States, Europe and Latin America in the 1960s. “The idea itself, even if it is not made visual, is as much of a work of art as any finished product,” the early conceptualist Sol Le Witt wrote in a 1967 essay.  

This exhibition has  a root in each conceptual art, performance art, lens based art, abstraction  achieving departure from exclusiveness of any of them.

Burrell  makes   thinking, feeling, making  visible,  at the stage when each (or all together)  seeks escape to timelessness.

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Open work ? Belfast (March/April 2016)

Three concurrent exhibitions invite that question. Marie Hanlon at Fendersky, Desire Line at Golden Thread Gallery and In-Stream at the two galleries, Ulster University and QSS.

Fenderesky Gallery and cafe is a new place with a four decades of  history  forged by a kind of classical dealer/philosopher/ artist  who does not foreground curatorship  staying admirably sensitive and  careful about display of each image or sculpture.

Desire Line and In-Stream are curator led. Quite often, curators require “socially engaged art “to literally articulate responses and messages of change. In both exhibitions a cloud of implied instructions  is supposed to activate probable behaviour. More on this later.

Marie Hanlon avoids the dangers of a “cause” by working on intrinsic connections between observed and imagined, allowing instinct rather than conscious reasoning  to guide her.  In her own words:
” But lack of a conscious plan does not mean that our work is random or arbitrary, improvisation always has its rules, even if they are not a priori  rules. When we are totally faithful to our own individuality, we are actually following very intricate design. This kind of freedom is the opposite of “just anything”.” (see Marie Hanlon & Rhona Clarke, DIC TAT, publ Rubicon Gallery Dublin, p1: essay by Rowan Sexton)


Marie Hanlon : Finding Equilibrium installation,Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast 2016

Drawing BA_XI Gouache & pencil on paper 30 x 42 cms 2011

The two unfinished triangles in a  chance like meeting  open the picture plane to the space outside the frame. One of the consequences of that decision is a compulsory illusion of depth where there is none, trapping thus  the viewer’s range of responses in elegantly reduced visual clues. As it reminds me of unfinished poem, it also strongly evokes the refrain of a song being repeated in a whisper.  The link to music is not as arbitrary as it may appear, Hanlon made drawings while listening to a metronome. Rowan Sexton (op cit) has proposed

The locus of meaning in the metronome suite of drawings comes from connotative dimension, so that rhythm is the all encompassing, primary source of activity

Drawing BA _XX Pencil on paper 30 x 42 cms 2011

This drawing appears in DIC TAT  book as  Drop Down,  29.7 x 42, 2012.  A simple error ? If it were a  deliberate change it would forge a refutal of  the aura of authorship  as in Umberto Eco’s assertion: “People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged” .  However, that I failed to find  in Hanlon’s repertoire of intentions.   Her drawings correspond to  her  resonance with whatever her senses  register. She creates  correspondences  in the sense defined by Charles Baudelaire, here  in Richard Wilbur’ translation:

Nature is a temple whose living colonnades
Breathe forth a mystic speech in fitful sighs;
Man wanders among the symbols in those glades
Where all things watch him with familiar eyes.

Like dwindling echoes gathered far away
Into a deep and thronging unison
Huge as the night or as the light of day,
All scents and sounds and colors meet as one.

Perfumes there are as sweet as the oboe’s sound,
Green as the prairies, fresh as a child’s caress,
—And there are others, rich, corrupt, profound

And an infinite pervasiveness,
Like myrrh, or musk, or amber, that excite
The ecstasies of sense, the soul’s delight.

Yet – her drawings  do not  symbolise a structure – they  achieve immersion in a structure she makes visible. Her “living colonnades”  appear as  a mystery of synchronic co-existence of hearing and drawing to “excite ecstasies of senses” (with apology to Baudelaire)

It was a classical visual art exhibition  gently caressing the viewer’s capacity for the value Italo Calvino selected for saving for this millennium – visual thinking.


Making visible is a central concern of the exhibition  DESIRE LINE at the Golden Thread Gallery (25 February – 16 April, 2016).  The intention seems the same as in Henlon’s exhibition, but it is not.  The rooms were dark,  the spot lit  quotes in gold hue from Italo Calvino’s  Invisible Cities  helped to perceive a black massive black form  running across the space as if supported by the air  near your hands.    The words were more visible than the objects: suspended walnut, compass points, reference to the North Star .  The curators defined them  as the tools to help  visitors to navigate the “desire line”  as if of their own choice: ” this exhibition invites the audience, or participant, to imagine their own urban space, without any parameters” ( see the gallery handout).  If in doubt that this exhibition has a cause the curators -PLACE – make it clear: “… in this exhibition we present a series  of ‘objects’ or clues that form a framework  and give you tools  to position yourself physically, without setting a literal narrative.. This space has no pre-supposed history and every future one could imagine.” This cloud of words  aims at behavioural experiment on your powers of imagination to generate probable but different image of a city, space, place, time, temperature, noise, fumes, colours etc.   Commonalities born by knowing the gallery space and Belfast are in a category of deficit for that imaginatory city.  That wobbly independence of imagination from experience is given a patina of significance.  If you fail – it is your fault for not doing as you are told.  Although they claim not prescribing  what  should result from a visit.

Well – if I am given a framework and tools – those will limit my imagination, moreover, I am conscious that this is the gallery space I know, I know some its history. No instruction can erase that.

The curators continue:

“We have constructed a sculptural interruption in the gallery. Not prescriptively  but referencing a route across Belfast, this sculpture is basis for you, the participant, to create any urban space,actual or fictitious, imagined or imaginable. Within the environment  of the suspended spot lit sculpture, and with certain tools – altitude, compass points  and references to the north star – to help you to orientate yourself …”

There is a planned obsolescence of the whole installation for those who do not resonate with the tools on offer.  That includes me.

Calvino’s  words  “serve as a reminder  to suspend your everyday perception of reality…and create  for yourself fantastical urban spaces” the curators write.

On reading his book I succeeded to imagine spaces  different from any city I have known. Walking through the Desire Line  installation  did not end with such a success.  The installation expected  me to use its meagre tools to evoke my fantasies about urban spaces… impossible without a lot of memories,  miles of walks in various cities and play.   This, in principle, includes conceptual art, even as paired  down as this one, so why I so easily resist its call?  What cognitive bias governs my rejection?  Others may tell me  – one conscious thought governs my aesthetic judgement –  that what Calvino defends as visibility, visual thinking.   Another salient point of my resistance may be my conviction that art is the kingdom of freedom without instructions how to get there, and visual art  in particular. I value its mute poetry.


University of Ulster  Gallery hosted one part  of In-Stream exhibition (March 7 – April 2,2016) , the other found its home at QSS Gallery in Bedford Street. Photographs courtesy Jordan Hutchings.


Joan Stacks,Everything will be in one colour, 2016

At the opening the two musicians, Anthony Kelly (on the left) and David Stalling (on the right)  gave an improvised concert/ sound performance.



Above  David Stalling’s head  is visible  an abstraction by Kevin Miller, which  at one point could have been a monotype.


Kevin Miller, All okay 1, 2016, acrylic on acrylic sheet, 37 x 26 cm

Seeing from near its surface  evokes memories of gestural abstraction, Tapies,  when not limited to black hue, De Kooning  – and some others from the CoBrA group, and also Action Painting as understood in 1952 by Harold Rosenberg.  Action Painting has been also referred to as “gestural abstraction” – and this painting shares a number of characteristics with American paintings of that period. The dynamic application of  spontaneous directness is denied boundless spread as in colour field. Kevin Miller’s instinct is quasi sculptural,  like  Hans Arps’s low reliefs or Henri Matisse’s cut-outs.  The paint is not dribbled or splashed like in a Pollock. It is smeared  in layers  that keep distance form one another. Look how the blue arches above the brown! I would not be surprised if it suddenly crawled to the corner on top right.  It si almost Klein’s blue, just a shade cooler. The commitment to the presence of three primary colours still tolerates and accommodates the whimsical smaller  passages, each holding its own voice. Quite an achievement that it hold all together.

Anthony Kelly  embraces apollonian principle of measured sophistication of dualism and small gentle shifts on the picture plane  – reminiscent of M Rothko  grey- in- grey – I saw once in a private collection.


Anthony Kelly, Flutter:Echo, 2013, Enamel paint on Mdf, Timber, each 65 x 65 x 22cm


Kelly invented the trembling wave  to connect small interfering white and warmer grey  in a kind of dialogue with the hard edged right angled wood that  overshot its destination – frame.


Hard edge had its hey day also in the second half of the 20th C.  here it is smeared over with liquid paint  and splashes as if to remind the geometry of its subsidiary role.  The grey outline is refrained by the grey frame – like in a duo of operatic voices – keeping each they own rhythm and score. And as any Mozart’s duo, equally successfully.

Juxtaposition of  real and imagined  receives tender care from  the drawing hand –  but the words insist on some absence  of care – or even malfunctioning. That is visualised by the density of the black – impenetrable.  Julie  Lovett prefers her Incidents in series and in a hand held format.  Initiating a possibility that a stretched hand may cover each incident – instills an illusion of control.  The visual force of the absence of light inside the animated  black shape  refutes that, leaving the fearful state of mind to cope, yet – it does not reach  the really frightening level.


Julie Lovett, Incident 1, 2015


The curator(s) of In-Stream zoomed on the idea of disrupting  the viewing of the selected art by dividing the “display” into two different galleries, thus allowing either the memory of one appearing as comparison with the other – or a complete disregard for any continuity.

In the handout for the audience  there is a strange idea: “The temporal disruption between Studio -Gallery – City – Gallery  is not necessarily bound to or determined by circular closure of both exhibitions spaces”…. yes- that is not only obvious abut also completely in the power of any viewer,  who – fro example-  can walk out after seeing one exhibit only.

The interference of  the concept that happening together but in two venues alters substantially  visual aesthetic experience is not that powerful. Aesthetic experience does not feed that much on comparison – rather it depends on the power of the visual thinking – both on the part of the artist and the viewer.   The concept that two  groups of paintings (incl prints and mixed media)  will alter their essential values by being apart only enters the consciousness on reading the words  of the essay or the handout- which  can happen long after the visitor saw the visual artefacts.  In that sense it is irrelevant.

The curators disagree, grounding their conviction in the power of  differences  between the  two sites and  their social and cultural contexts.  None of the work is site specific ( Joan Stack’s installation will tolerate another site) – so the dependence of my perception of the art  on indoors or outdoors  stimuli when walking from one gallery to the other – of both sites is as much or as little  as in another case, where the distance is not given this spectacular power, e.g. numerous mini exhibitions in the Venice Biennale.

There is one case where the “distance” between members of the same series of prints, paintings or sculptures ,  comes into the fore.  How critical that division is can be established only when the series is meant to be  viewed as one work of art, when they all must be seen together by the virtue of their  inter- relationships. I’ll illustrate that  on the images  by Majella Clancy, below.

For the In-Stream  handout, Geraldine Boyle wrote a magnificent passage on sensual rewards of diligent observation by  curious mind triggered by reading up about Urban Flora of Belfast.   Her claim that ” The gap in between viewing is important – it confirms and creates spaces for new ways of seeing, tangential and associative thinking”   is not specific to geographical distance of two groups of works of art. In particular, because  a viewer may decide to visit the second gallery days later or not at all.   It is  also not possible to deny to her/him  the capacity for associations and  imaginative leaps between sensual experiences in different places and at different times, experience utterly  independent of the distance between the two venues.

There is a set of  12 related works – four  are exhibited at the University of Ulster Gallery  and eight at QSS.  Majella Clancy’s  art is a superior example of that creative force, autonomous visual presence wherever it is displayed.


All four at UU and the eight at QSS  share material: oil, paper, digital print, tape, pencil on board;   size: 19 x 24 cm; and date: 2016.  Admissible to treat them as a  set –  as a series.  From the left: Overview; Land II; Mass; and Untitled II.



Image_04In general, Clancy claims that  her collages  explore social, cultural and geographical space. Her use of identifier is fairly established – a fragment of text and of  lens based image of something seen.  The two – although important – are not allowed to dictate to the other elements.  The letter is difficult to read – it is there as a sign for all possible letters, the fragment of the photographic print speaks through its tonality of the absence of anything threatening, but is itself  pushed down under the lighter field divided into triangular net . Echoing each other the two parallel spaces, one empty governed by abstract geometry, , the other richly full with fragments of the real world. Careless debris is scrupulously clean and of regular shapes. The image strives at calm after some damaging fracture of the previous whole.

At the QSS -the installation consists of eight  images.


This is : View   (displayed left top above)



This is the one that manages to use the inner space differently  – there is continuity with added depth, which introduces different layers for the elements. Some are nearer the picture plane also by the virtue of the hue, the red somewhat crude cut out shape  that looks like broken of a frame.  Others shy away into a distance – both small irregular rectangles, as if not wanting to show off the collection of whitish sheets and coloured sticks.  Like pencils ready to write onto the empty pages.  The circle offers multiple meanings: it is a photograph of a tree or bush – its lowered acuteness allows it to be read like a distant star or moon.  At least until the eye gives that up and sticks with the branches of the tree. That, in turn introduces time, which is also suggested by the circle morphing into a clock face with pink hour hand…  There is a warning: what looks like a right angle accuracy – is a result of a  wobbly shake of the scissors or brush – softly denying the rule  for the sake of trembling individuality of each shape.  Just  compare it to El Lissitzky – when he needs to tell the story! Majella Clancy tells about her experience, understanding of found relics, while staying true to the feeling of intoxicating awe  of the first impact. That’s what she gives to me  – sincere incompleteness of knowing- paradoxically – that whatever it is, it matters.

Clancy gave this the ominous title: Platform



I owe you my take on the  curator’s  platform   – as formulated in the handout to In-Stream – that is an attempt to treat exhibition as a work of art – which became recently a fashionable way to battle through regulations of the funding  and enabling  freedom to select exhibits on their intrinsic not their instrumental value.  As such it is relevant as enabling idea for the outer layers of the business.  It is not relevant to the intrinsic value of each work of art for each individual viewer.

I end my communication by Clancy’s  distinctively freewheeling Message – which hides a  cheeky smile  in a yellow.



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Difficult art (April 2016)

The MAC, Belfast

Helen O’Leary has included the following as a part of the genesis of The Shelf Life of Facts (2016, MAC Belfast):

“I ended up in Paris and found myself walking to the Museum of War a lot, and I’d look at all the flawed armour… I’d look at the armour with cannonballs through the heart and they seemed to have real power for me … started thinking about … armour with … holes [in it] and I wanted painting to come out, be like a phoenix out of shreds… So I started thinking about a painting that would be a history painting, that wouldn’t just be memoir… I wanted it to be about the world as I knew it through kind of a haptic sense. And I started thinking about making paintings as big as Kiefer, I wanted paintings bigger than Kiefer. But I’d do them bit by bit; I’d do them in a very intimate way. I wanted that you could piece together a language out of false starts or out of small moments.”( accessed on http://painters-table.com/blog/helen-oleary-shelf-life-facts#.Vx4pDVQrJaU)

It is a coincidence that weeks before I read the quoted transcript I have been toying with Kiefer’s “Art is difficult,” …. “It’s not entertainment. There are only a few people who can say something about art – it’s very restricted. When I see a new artist I give myself a lot of time to reflect and decide whether it’s art or not. Buying art is not understanding art.”…”Art has something which destroys its own cells,”  (accessed on http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/dec/08/anselm-kiefer-art-white-cube)

The statistics keep showing the gap between contemporary art and audiences. The funding bodies blame the art and the art managers for not doing enough to attract large part of the population. They labour under an illusion that their attitude is the right one – ignore the elite and support only the art that the masses approve of. This has determined cultural policy of the Soviet Union and its satellites. Then came Mao with his idea to let flower every flower… Not only it confused the political regulators, it also respected the different preferences, a reality recognised by current research. The conclusion is not that the socio-political context determines the range of aesthetic experience. Instead, it claims one-to-one mapping – i.e. I like what is like me. That verb is a significant cover for a complex connectivity between me and the world, inclusive of art. Art then cannot possibly reduce itself to one aesthetic preference – taste – without slipping out of it. The wonderful consequence of this limitation is an open field of art to anything an artist may love to do, dare to do, risk to do. Installation art is particularly successful in irritating established canons. At the same time it is also irritatingly near establishing its own death by not finding its specific energy and visual force. Some early installations are beautiful even in fading memory.

As a part of Venice Biennale 2003, two Swiss artists, Gerda Steiner and Joerg Lenzlinger, installed “Falling Garden” inside the San Stae church, inspired by the “need to feed the reindeer” of St Eustache legend to allow the miracle happen. http://steinerlenzlinger.ch/eye_giardinocalante.html


Its attachment to the verbal story about the saint did not matter. Its autonomous visual poetry did. Lying there with no shoes on looking up into the gentle colourful multitude felt good – a genuine case of Kalos Kagathos.

Both O’Leary and Kiefer focus on the autonomy of art. He observes that a renewal is due to art’s self-destructive force, she conceives of harnessing of contrasts (large scale / intimate, history / not memoir, painting / haptic sense) like armour with holes, as a force that lets art rise like a phoenix out of shreds.

Installation detail, Helen O'Leary: The Shelf Life of Facts at Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC), Belfast

I have not thought of her constructs on the wall as shreds – but now, I cannot escape the authority of that word. Earlier, I enjoyed the play of my imagination replacing the parts that found a home by dovetailing another by some of those strewn on the horizontal surfaces. What if the parts the artist joined into one long or short togetherness decided to change place with those on the tables, waiting without knowing it, without any will to take the place of another. The way the verticals are threading different size, colour and shape, under the strict rule of an exact fit between two neighbours, introduce the feeling of instability at the core of the construct. Consequently the verticals need alien support, or freedom to bend like a tall grass in the wind.

Installation detail, Helen O'Leary: The Shelf Life of Facts at Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC), Belfast

Seeing all the rest as superfluous, not needed, inspired a rebellion of curiosity: would the future sequences be equivalent to those already realised? The scarcity of sensual dionysian joy obtained from the redundant colourful remnants easily diminished the cool constructive logic of what keeps what together. Consequently, the principle, known from poetry, and famously formulated by George Elliot – the open endedness of a poem – allowed one comparison: with Anthony Caro, Early One Morning. 1962

Sir Anthony Caro ‘Early One Morning’, 1962 © The estate of Anthony Caro/Barford Sculptures Ltd


The display caption in Tate Britain sets out observation that are shareable with the display at MAC

‘Early One Morning’ is a major example of the kind of sculpture – light, airy and open-form – which Caro had begun to develop by 1962. In this work, Caro’s arrangement of planes and lines along a horizontal axis gave greater freedom in creating different rhythms and configurations. The work has no fixed visual identity and no single focus of interest. Rather, it unfolds and expands into the spectator’s space, its appearance changing with the viewpoint. The individual elements are unified by the bright red colour and Caro sees the way they cohere, making a sculptural whole, as being like the relationship of notes within a piece of music.”

O’Leary also arranged lines imbued with a rhythm and overlapping configurations, that would change as I move along the display. Absence of single focus is not absolute, it appears and disappears from fragment to fragment, unfolding and expanding with my field of vision. The appearance changes with viewpoint. Yet, the colour although on the brink of not being there at all – calls in all the bits vertical, bent or lying there in incomprehensible multitude, to cohere now, to become whole now.

The comparison of Caro’s sculptural whole to the relationship of notes within a piece of music is particularly apt for the installation by Niamh K McCann.

2nd yearBAMcCann16IMG_20160424_015504

The old chair seat, stone, candles – as if a deep chord, well down the left part of the piano keys holds, possibly destined for the left hand holding it, while the right hand manages the rapid staccato of repeated note interspersed by several long runs its length until it runs out off the page…



2nd year BA McCann16IMG_20160424_020014

Materials easily associate with sounds, glass, china. stone, plastic….wood


coconut shells, stones

2ndyear BA McCann16IMG_20160424_014551

Art Povera, found art, found objects, rejected objects, recovered from the destruction of the Orpheus building, an Art Deco jewel of 1932, place where for decades undergraduate artists learn about art making and themselves – precisely about the autonomy that can’t speak its name.

The combination of a strict right angle order over the memories of nature, architecture, domestic use and Fine Art studios – however each sphere is different – under the sensitive calm rhythm cohere into the stasis of the destroyed past. McCann effortlessly matches earth colours with manmade into the chorus of remembrance.

She gave it a name:

Name: Absurdity (2016)
Statement: “Arranging, Placing, Pandering, Gathering Allowing, Objects and Spaces, Materials and Places in between”
Size: 2m by 3.5m Height variable.

Images courtesy N K McCann.


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Peter FitzGerald, 2016, http://connemara.website

These photographs are deliberately rotated 90°.

We see into landscapes. We are less inclined to see the visual structure of what is before us. But we can make things strange in order to see differently – through rotation, for example. Then we see the landscape the way a painter has to see it: shapes that will emerge out of the bare canvas when given tone or colour.

Connemara is a place of stunning forms. If you give these photos a few moments, long enough to let your initial resistance dissipate, you see the forms.

– Peter FitzGerald, 2016

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Your visual thinking  is asked to abandon the viewing angle nourished by the evolution  of need to observe the landscape for food and danger. In addition, visual art has strong preference for the the eye/head to be in 90 degrees to the horizontal when painting or photographing a landscape.  There are intriguing departures though.  Until 15th C, when the Danube School broke the cannon by Aristotelian trust in observation, landscape representation derived for its role in the story.

In Giotto or Duccio  – the role of detail signifies the illusion of being there, and witnessing.  He paints the crown of a tree as if he was not only inside it, but also climbing up to each leaf/fruit, all represented from the same near distance.

Manipulation of believable distance is one of the optical tools to achieve foregrounding  of otherness.

Giotto Di Bondone: Joseph’s Dream, Scrovegni Chapel, Arena, Padua

Frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua (Scrovegni Chapel), Joseph's dream scene - Giotto Di Bondone - www.giottodibondone.org

The discrepancy between size of the figures and the building and trees ,  and between distances, is not to approximate perspectival distortion, but to assign significance.  As a trusted toll it is found in Egyptian  and Byzantine art.

Sicily 12thC artsfeat0904

This is a detail of the mosaic depicting the martyrdom of Saints  Castus and Cassius  in the cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, 12th C  every part is seen for the same  near distance. Of specific interest in relation to FitzGerald’s photographs of Connemara is the irrelevance of rational space.

That in itself has been mined by Modernism of the 20th C in many ways, including a rational insertion of geometry into lens based view of the landscape, by Jan Dibbet.

dibbets with a technical drawing

FitzGerald  trusts simplicity:  just turning the image 90 degrees looks like a mistake waiting to be corrected,  my head instinctively bends to get the “right” view.  Only if I scroll without lingering from an image to an image  the habitual expectation makes way to perception of the strange unease forged by competition of the known with  unexpected. That denial of the norm  appears as  necessary.  Victor Shklovsky and Bertold Brecht  have some thought on this. FitzGerald emailed me that making-strange – Verfremdung  is one conscious part of his intention.

My art historical example illustrates that it has roots in the need to make something believable – but not as a document. The biblical stories were to be made visually believable, so the optics  aimed at a convincing scene.  Dibbet is  concerned also with representing the whole from observable parts, this time ruled by geometry – not biblical stories.  His introduced otherness (mostly also right angle) reaches towards the sublime while holding back before it tips over into the strange.

FitzGerald’s strange landscapes go deeper, behind the belief,  below the  rational and optical.  They depend on their power to induce the vertigo like experience  moving from unpleasant upheaval to calm acceptance of another world, otherness being just this simple strangeness of a small, 90 degrees, turn of viewing angle.  My instinct is, that FitzGerald’s images activate the amygdala, my early warning system.  Especially when I compare them to  the mosaics at Monreale – the house is not upright – but does not induce the strangeness  of the intensity and persuasion these images of Connemara do.

Right angle is such a tame creature – yet, here  it is endowed with animalistic force.  Or – the force we know so little of – and which astronomy accepts as a part of the universe.  FitzGerald manages to present an approximation of how the familiar  tips so easily out of anthropocentric system.


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Colin Darke at Suki Tea 2015 Art prize at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 25th February -26th March 2016


The Snow-White Rose of Paradise (2015, 170 x 230 cm)  is made with partly empty toothpaste tubes with pennies and magnets attached. A part of the content has been squeezed out before the assembly of the relief assemblage, with almost surgical care. Used -yet pristine outside. That betrays an intention carefully planned and executed, a high degree of artist’s control. More than 50 % of each toothpaste tube  is visible thus fitting  the definition of a High Relief in sculpture.  This is subverted by the plane, in this case the wall, being  only slightly lower that the toothpastes making it  fit another definition, that  of a Low Relief, a sort of bas-relief.

The slippage, skidding,  of categories and meanings,   play also with details: the manufacturer’s name: Arm and Hammer – easily skids into Sickle and Hammer/Hammer and Sickle,  a  symbol of worker/peasant alliance,   of salvation/paradise  ubiquitous during  the 20th C across the globe.  The added ice axe  nonchalantly  evokes that arm  is needed to secure a position on a slippery surface – the insecure paradise.

Stuck on pennies do not  offer any  assurance of the  Snow-White Rose  as a path reaching the paradise: of small exchange value  they still manifest control by money.  All is held by magnets –  power of nature that people learned to manipulate.  William Morris’s expectation that in 2102 humans will not use nature for ends exterior to it comes to mind almost with a touch of sarcasm. Ever receding horizons….

The spiral is carefully balanced, its prettiness cherished,  determined not to tell  what is it that is being repeated. It could be cries for …liberty, democracy, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, rule of law – where are they ?  Too anthropocentric?  What if it is just an application of science’s claim that nature prefers symmetry? Modernists accepted that idea. This is

Karl Gerstner, Color Spiral Icon x65b, 2008. Acrylic on aluminum, diameter 41 in. (104 cm). Collection of Esther Grether, Basel, Switzerland.


“Gerstner’s work is in the tradition of Swiss Concrete Art, which was founded in Zurich in the 1930s and ’40s by Max Bill, Camille Graeser, Richard Paul Lohse and Verena Loewensberg. Zurich was a place where physicists and mathematicians, including Einstein, Andreas Speiser and Hermann Weyl, gathered to give a unified description of the forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. They used the mathematics of group theory to describe symmetry, which is the property of remaining unchanged when certain operations are carried out.” (Lynn Gamwell accessed on https://aeon.co/opinions/how-physics-and-maths-helped-create-modernist-painting?…)

Gerstner’s abstraction  does not cross from art  to socio-political issues facing mankind.  Darke’s use of “lesser” objects and evocative title – embedded the Snow-White Rose of Paradise  in the dense belief that the current work of art is merely  life itself moving  moving toward the betterment of mankind  – and failing. Its beauty liberates the familiar (toothpaste) into a metaphoric net woven by recalling  K Marx, V I Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg as well as the Snow-White waiting to be woken  up.  No secure answer to a question whether the spiral is  ascending or descending…  Fermi paradox.  Or – is it born by our own inadequacies – leaving the universe out of it?

The spiral is not a serene retreat, nor arcadian reverie.  It provokes stern watchfulness  as it lives in the future of the Karl Marx’s past intelligence.  I admit this thought is connected to Darke’s  previous work on Das Kapital.  (see www.colindarke.co.uk)

Should I recall here Seneca’s belief that the world is doomed  for cyclical destructions due to natural forces? He foresaw waters salt and fresh to overwhelm the land.  Will an injured hill enact revenge?

The ice axe seems pointing to a (past?) future ice age replacing the current global warming.  In theory – both were identified by the science as possible  “final solution”.

The spiral of manufacture and use of goods has a latent force to turn – reminiscent of  Karl Marx’s ” locomotive of history”. The relaxed ice axe  waits, as if, to be grabbed “for the emergency break” of Walter Benjamin.

The spiral’s freedom/ambiguity  becomes visible in comparison to concentric circles.

Peter Monaghan Aurum-II-lg

Peter Monaghan, Aurum II, 1200 cm

The spiral promises to go on, grow bigger… it is inviolable by additions – sharing its relaxed boundaries with the classical view of the ocean –  which bounded the known world, the inhabited Earth, oikoumene, with yawning voids  around it.

The spiral is a conscious field –  reaching on  the possible thresholds, evoking structure visible at present and remembered from previous encounters. Such synaptically mediated  interactions forge an instant assembly  as well as a winner-takes-all competition.  Your conscious field  may stabilise an aesthetic experience very different from mine, a difference that is not only welcome but also defining how we each are.

The Snow-White Rose of Paradise may be ironic – it is also sincerely beautiful.

Images accessed on Facebook…

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Bbeyond at Ulster Museum, Belfast, 12th March 2016

BbUMMarch2016 -steps with 210623493_245677579107459_2549394357839147229_o


They called it INTER-BEING, durational performances.

Here, on the steps, ascending, Dorothea Serror carries a silver head box, and,  Linda Montano holds a  silver bucket  before descending and getting out of the building, to light a fire of sorts.

BbMarch2016Sinead and Monatana1934235_245677585774125_2571231839268017988_n

BbUMMarch2016 Montana12823286_245677512440799_6333660892473826850_o Here she sits as another visitor, before or after she interacts with others.

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Silently at times.

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She is both ordinary and not so ordinary – melting  into a visitor who does not look at the museum installations  anymore, as if  tired of the multitude of art.  The slight gesture  of both hands issues   an authority  sign for difference and control.  She is not a consumer, she is a producer by the virtue of that difference.  Keeping performance art only a hair thickness away from ordinary behaviour,  of expected  being, demands other skills.  I regret to have missed  those phases of her work on Saturday.

Alastair MacLennan grounded his art in the rhythm as slow as he could bear, while distancing from that monotony by introduction and manipulation of objects. Walking barefoot, his boot was free to become a container , a vase – no vase ,  for a fragile white rose.



Deliberate distancing from the poetic nature introduces incongruence,  established as a strategy in  visual art a century ago by the Dadaists and Surrealists.  Thankfully, every time, it brings the fresh touch to a recalled similarity. This is a vital nonsense, it intensifies dislocation of the walking man from purposeful walk in a museum.

MacLennan sometimes introduces a clown as his alter ego, as if wishing not to look like a shaman figure.  Here he has a black lense over as if over a wounded   eye – allowing that the viewer sees through the pretense and  simultaneously, inviting the viewer’s choice how to interpret that detail.

BbUMMarch2016 AlMac en face

I addition to the objects he holds here, MacLennan included a bronze legs of a bird in a splendid isolation of any context. Yet, it becomes entangled in the rest by the virtue of being there.

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The multicolour ribbons do not appear often in his work – he preferring the heavy largo to dancing allegro any time.  Even here, the lightness of the colours is disabled by binding them to a dead, dry, lifeless branch.


If he meant the colours to work as symbols, I am glad that when I watched him, he failed to succeed.  They evoked an association of maypole – like a passing breath, quickly gone.



Looking down towards small mezzanine – shaped like a box  that lost its lid – Sandra Johnston  sits at a glass top table.

BbUMMarch2016 View down at Sandra

This is the second sitting down performance I witness.  Both elaborate a paradox between destruction and making.

BbUMMarch2016 Sandra cutting1935827_245677669107450_3695981711079901402_n

In this case, a cap is dismembered and left on the floor in utter  isolation.


Crockery is being deprived of its decoration by coarse sandpaper biting into the colours until they are no more.

BbUMMarch2016 Sandra's table

Broken of a hawthorn, overwintering  branches are condemned to sleep forever now in a thorny arabesque of absent, but visually implied,  if not torture, then tension.  The monotony of erasing the pattern from the china’s surface – while on purpose –  does not maintain a convincing sense of relevancy.  Unless, to revive A Loos’s dictum that ornament is a crime – is the central raison d’etre of this performance. I doubt it, but do not rule it out. Nevertheless,  its tender indifference to  dominant impact, comes out as its strength – free thought.

BbUMMarch2016 Sandra's table 2


Dorothea Seror  hangs clothes  and shoes on ropes.

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To get it there, she makes a nest of them first on the floor of the foyer, and then puts them on, one by one, to take them up stairs.

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Up there she takes the item off, ties the rope to it, and sends it down as far as the rope goes.

She uses a lift.



She climbs the stairs, never taking off that silver box worn over her head.

What such a freewheeling performance offers? Does it have to offer anything? The idea that art  has to “do” something beyond being art , keeps popping up again and again in all its irrelevance. This performance is easily converted into a comment on consumerism –  but I resist that – allowing myself freewheeling perceptions of colours, shapes, details, the artist’s youthful energy and obedience to some simple plan, and letting my imagination just touch and go.

Dominic Thorpe  complicates my  playing with what I see by drowning his performance in semi- darkness.  Impaired, my eyes give rein to tactile and sound perceptions.  It works. I hear the table creaking in response to Thorpe’s steps  – he moves around his own axis.


His hands produce a  sound  too – screeching metal on stone in his palm.  He emailed me later, saying that he sharpened a spoon destined to dig.





Should I feel empathy with the table?   My memory of  earlier Thorpe’s performance wrestled for attention. Repetitive labour, repetitive life, repetitive being. As if  a  visual translation of the myth of Sysiphos  from classical Greece into  contemporary Belfast  was worth having.  Maybe, I missed the moment, Albert Camus described, as the moment of happiness.  It was a durational performance, all were.

What if the protagonist is prepared to die rather than lie? Camus dealt with that in the Etranger, recently translated as The Outsider.  All these performances were “outsiders”, “strange” to  various degree and intensity.  One, the next one,   stayed committed to the cutouts of history.

Brian Connolly  disabled his eyes by attaching cardboard tubes that hold a role of toilet paper,  in front of each lense of his glasses, destiny of impaired vision.


Yet, the disciplined hand cut  confidently straight lines from a set of images.  Some connected to the museum installation  of The Troubles.  Watching the display was the time necessary to unwind the toilet paper from the role, to free the tube, to make it functional for the main part of the performance.


The pathway was left as and where the paper fell.  As if freeing the tube was done just by the way and as if  watching the video was the important action.   The main part of the performance, the subsequent part, proved this meaning erroneous. The shift from what is true or not continues throughout this work.  The cut outs forge the kind of oasis, walls around empty space, incapable of any answer to any question.


The move from the serious museum display to the  construction of paper  thin walls  as enclosures around empty spaces, no entrances or exits, no roofs for protection  – kafkaesque  habitat, void of life.  Void of  a chance to move on.

The play with disabled  vision is pertinent –  think of Breughel’s painting on that theme – it brings irony inside a take on history that undermines the received view.

The event was organised under the title Inter-being.  Not a helpful choice.


Images courtesy of Jordan Hitchings.


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Chris Wilson, Dwelling Place, The Oriel Gallery, Antrim Castle Gardens, 28 January – 5th March 2016

Wilson Chris untitled 1985029

Untitled, 1985, Map and conte on panel

Belfast street map, standardised small houses (he made those as metal objects/ sculptures earlier) black abstraction – those are three stable characteristics of Wilson’s early work. The transformatory power of what is legible and what is erased forges a metamorphosis: the houses became church furniture, the street map evokes patterned stone floor leading the main altar (not visible) , the vaults turn into a steep roof of a pointed spire. But first there is the black void in the centre, easily understood simile for the troubled society. Turning the visual thought – although the black conte used is the same, imposing similarities on all the voids, its spatial messages are not uniform. On both sides of the white outline – my eye reads some black as receding, some as pushing forward in front of the organic, uneven middle which contains the street map. The shapes in the middle are not geometric, right angled, instead they are voluminous like a human heart during an open heart surgery, or lungs on an x-ray image. A life moment between two beats, losing its identity to a grotesque black diagram cutting into the narrow part of the spire. Both in and out – that space is deprived of its orientation. In contrast to the lower part composed in the one point perspective, the top prefers to turn into a question. The image becomes visually unsettling and busy – oscillating between meanings, each equally insecure, but still fleetingly commanding attention. Religion divides and religion offers support – it is a tool how to control many by the few, successfully promising eternity, but failing to cope with the earth bounded conflicts. The obedient rows of houses determine the forbidding access both into the homes and exits into the streets. they are no doors or windows. The houses adopt the street map as their walls and gables both insisting to be real part of the city, and a small model becoming an empty toy. In all, the image fragments itself into oscillating visual substories, whose tenor is abandoned world, empty streets, broken faith.

Silent world. Yet, the contrasts of light and dark, of closed forms hiding space, introduces a pulse – as if recovering from a nightmare.


Chris Wilson , break-in-the-clouds-2012-58-5-x-58-5-cm

Chris Wilson , Break in the clouds, 2012,58-5-x-58-5-cm


I first saw Wilson’s new type of work at the Mullan Gallery some time after his residency at Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland during the summer 2002. The majority of paintings since then shares the subject and style. The small “closed”, blind houses, fairly inaccessible, or accessible to some chosen people only, speak of enclosure, this time in rural landscape. The symbolic role of the spire in the earlier work – turns the sharp angled black shapes into cracks, as if in the frozen ground, issuing strong uncertainty. In situ, the eye reads little details, like the edges reminiscent of torn paper, a motive sometimes strengthened by folding a corner forward…

Wilson Chris carrach II (c)

Carach II, 2015

or by juxtaposition of recognisable sheets of paper or cloth…

Wilson Chris Some Day You

Some day you will be one of those who lived long ago, 2009


The paintings register time directly when Wilson modulates the greys in seemingly endless shades with undeniable conviction of certainty.

Night Drawn Darkness

Night drawn darkness, 20a4


The viewer is persuaded to read abstraction as having defined power of description and spatial co-ordinates. It is not an endless universe – it is this landscape around you – even when you see those are thin sheets of matter light as a golden leaf – easily pierced, thus vulnerable. The careful brushwork paints respect for the landscape whether observed or imagined. And, yes, there are dreamy elements lodged between the shades of grey. This small acrylic was not exhibited at this time.


Chris Wilson, Winter, Acrylic on canvas, 18x18cm

Winter, Acrylic on canvas, 18x18cm

Wilson Chris Displacement II

Displacement II, 2016

This one was there. Easily, the eye engages with the characteristics of Wilson’s post- newfoundland style. Here, perhaps more robustly and openly presented. It offers numerous simple yet poetic passages, for the eye to cherish and the mind to enrich itself with – like a set of sonnets.


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GUEST – at the Arts and Disability Forum gallery, Belfast, January 5 , 2016 –

Chris Ledger, CEO of the ADF in Belfast invited Hugh Mulholland, the senior curator at Metropolitan Art Centre,  to curate a small exhibition  titled GUEST, of art   “…produced via these grants – over many years and in all art forms….The exhibition coincides with the opening of the second round of applications for IDA grants(IDA = individual disabled/deaf artists) that have been managed by ADF on behalf of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. ” ( quoted from the gallery handout – it does not give a closing date)

Mulholland  selected  nine  artists, displaying animation, sculpture, video, photography, performance(as a  video) and painting.

I appreciated his measured approach to the available space and natural light. Each work had enough of a distance from another, and stayed crisply visible even during the cloudy day.  Although the scale of the exhibits differed, not ever breaking a kind of synoptic relationships, Mulholland achieved  a co- operative variety.

Sinead Peru


A small video represented a performance in Peru by Sinead O’Donnell. She received an IDA grant last year using it -at the time of  this exhibition-  for a residency in the Far East.  Mulholland chose her earlier work, a  part of the Caution project, O’Donnell curated  for the Cultural Olympiad  in 2012.  The Above the cloud was filmed in Markawasi in the Andes Mountains in Peru.  The video is accessible on this link.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-DJZE1Jc8s

Peru appears also in the work of Shiro Masuyama, in his video trilogy of Sustainable Life. Mulholland selected the part filmed in Mongolia, 2015,  Making a saddle for the Bactrian camel I sheared using its own wool. 

Shiro-MasuyamaJPG Both  artists share commitment to  values offered yet often undervalued in a modern life. O’Donnell takes off her clothes to make contact between her skin and rock, air and sunlight, virtually becoming the  border line  between the surface of the Earth and the air before it reaches the rest of  the universe.  Watching it made me think of childhood  innocent celebrations of the  possible that only is in the imagination.

Masuyama’s take on the possible is more pragmatic. Stressed by the event at Fukushima nuclear  power station he searches for know how that may re-boot a civilisation after a catastrophe. His encounters with knitters in Sligo,  weavers in Peru and Mongolia – profile particular skills that support life. in a sustainable way. The video is a straightforward, slightly edited, honest  narrative of his personal experience and celebration of those indigenous people.  The video is possibly too long for visitors to watch in full – 45 mins.  It also minimises its appearance as art.

The question whether a document is art, and when, is not solvable in general. Some documents are, some are not. Masuyama deliberately keeps his work on the borderline, which becomes apparent when  its neighbouring  exhibit  decidedly follows the Modernist canon.  Like both exhibits by Stuart Calvin


Calvin, Receiver, 2014

Stuart Calvin, Receiver, 2014

and another

Calvin, Near Death tumblr_mpmnucQMfo1qb1g58o1_500

Stuart Calvin NDE,2012

Calvin NDE 2012GT_NDE02_2000

This view  is not from the ADF installation where it was displayed off the wall.  It still communicates the connectivity with both  Late Modernism and spirituality in art. This artist has a strength to  admit the existential insecurity  in a kind of minimalism that economises with means, without reducing the evoked depth of feeling.

Emotion, belief and  sustainable living appeared as a subject in Anne Quail‘s performances and video installations. Based on the narratives about folklore remedies  she rehearses what she is told with a kind of sympathetic distance and silence that seduce you to co-operate, putting your sceptical judgement aside for a moment.


Anne Quail, Direct Inconstancy, 2009, video still

The way she presents the inherited belief keeps ambiguity and not knowing what truth is embraced in and by  the generous “listening ” ( with subtitles) to the narrators who act as a conduit between past and presence.  Quail has a quaint style of relaxing rules of the ordinary to let some  magic to become acceptable. Until you, as a viewer,  break that uneven collaboration.

Real – what is real  – is not just a question that troubles cognitive philosophy, physics, and psychology – art too has a strong stake in that.  And painting, perhaps, has the most glorious history of winning most arguments.   The curator chose a painting from the Iceland Series by Maurice Orr.


Staying with my theme of the insecure truth and our uncertainty – I note the role of light and darkness as a pointer to one of the oldest embodiment of the problem in Plato’s Myth of the Cave.   Orr holds the power of light to hold the shape without defining whether it is a wave or a rock surface snowed over.    Darkness then is the impenetrable space appearing dangerously powerfully near or  far -as if giving up any promise of clarity.

Under the Cover of Darkness  is  the theme of photographs by Fergus Jordan.


Accomplished compositions allow the narrative, descriptive details to be swallowed by the darkness -without any protest. The light then gilds the visible  when and where it wishes – to frustrate a story telling. It is like apparition flirting with dreams.

Julie McGowan calls her exhibit  Darkland.  Title accidentally connecting  it with the previous two subjects stands in deliberate conflict with the fragile temporary state of being. Like soap bubbles, these bubbles have limited life time, but in a still  they frieze as if for ever.  This art is delightful for being both hard nosed research and child  play. Blowing bubbles  – safe to guess that everyone tried that at least once?  Taking something that commonplace is a risk, which McGowan confidently replaces with manipulation of the behaviour of the bubbles using the lens  to register the changes.  All her work i managed to see in situ is simply intriguing and never mechanical or dull. She holds on to the poetics of vision and play, without falling into romantic dreaming.  Rather – I registered almost scientific thoroughness.   Julie McGowan12715738_10153870066774840_8397402693326584735_n


They were two more artists in this exhibition. Alas,  I do not have images of their work: Fionnuala Doran (Grow) and Shannon Sickels (Re-assembled, Slightly Askew) .

Chris Ledger concluded:

“We intend to make this guest curation approach a regular theme – with visual arts but also with other types of work.”



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GROUPSHOW, Golden Thread Gallery Belfast, January 14 – February 13, 2016

I start with Anselm Kiefer here, because I experienced  it too:

“”Art is difficult,” says the 66-year-old firmly. “It’s not entertainment. There are only a few people who can say something about art – it’s very restricted. When I see a new artist I give myself a lot of time to reflect and decide whether it’s art or not. Buying art is not understanding art.”




CD played of the record player and some plants – exhibits and members of system of forms in this exhibtion

I extend that to new curators  like Philip McCrilly  who installed 17 works of art in the Project Space of the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast.  On the left of this installation view, next to the plant in the pot is  Sharon Murphy’s Portfolio, 2014  complete with white gloves for turning the pages.  The plant “domesticates” an object whose inner hierarchy places it into cabinets, museums, and esoteric collections.

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On the shelf on the far wall are two objects by Stuart Calvin, bottle of Kombucha tea, sharp angled construction by Michael Sheppard, and Paul Moore’s  acrylic painting on i Phone.

On the right, on the floor, is Martin McCrilly’s record player providing a sound of CAN, Ege Bamyasi, 1972.

The second installation view  looks in the opposite direction towards the back wall. The record player is now on your left. The first shelves house  – from the top left – John Rainey‘s 3D printed objects of  museum pieces Putti and Goat –  Phases 1-4  2014) – next to an animated film  Interlude 2014 (duration 3’22”).  The grey somnabulent  heap is Unresolved,2015, by Erin Hagan.  Just about visible are few parts of the sculpture by  Sinead McKeever.    The second shelves house – from the top-  sculptures by Christopher  Campbell,  a ten minutes film (2012)  and a plastic model (2015)by Michael Sheppards  and a sculpture by Sinead McKeever.

20160120 Golden Thread Group Show 005

This display  of 16 works of art  (plus one not visible on either shot by Bronagh McGuiness)  is utterly utilitarian, even if Erin Hagan  introduces Unsolved,2015, acrylic,PVA –  it is the greyish matter with an opening at the top,

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half denuded pyramid, half a sea creature catching some oxygen –

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on the shelf beneath the monitor.  Keeping private its identity, the form resists one meaning, in some long distance whisper to the wooden shelf opposite,  to the IPhone  positioned near the window. Paul Moore  placed abstract blobs in vivacious hues on it and called it  Plastic Data (2016), acrylic on IPhone.


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Object could have easily swapped placement and this freedom from any particular  order  breaks down any  stable attempt for hierarchy of value or aesthetic experience.   Nine  artists thus co-operated, or were made to accept,  the curator’s will.  Phillip McCrilly  aims to  question the legitimacy of the group show format as a ground for “productive exchange”(see the gallery handout).

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Michael Sheppard, Every Dream Home a Heartache, 2915, Plastic Model, perspex

McCrilly,  eager to promote a group show as an alternative mode of  representation  makes it compete  with a display of art by a single artist’s oeuvre  in addition  to other modes of representation like discussions, interviews, writing, documentation, video and TV programs.   

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Michael Sheppard, Every Dream Home a Heartache II, 2015, Plastic model, perspex

Sheppard works like JS Bach – variation of a theme – the materials repeat like melody in a fugue.  The shared materials however end up with two different styles of making something visible – abstract and descriptive.  hence – there is an exchange already “inside” one artist’s way of making things visible.

It appears that the curator   is more, not exclusively,  concerned with the possible “exchange” of different  kinds:   when a private artist’s intention  manifested in an object meets another and results in  a sublimation of intrinsic value into an instrumental one. I am aware of a loss  that also influences the second kind of exchange – when every work is at the same time on its own  to safeguard its own aesthetic impact aginst the influence of a neighbouring object. . At times, McCrilly makes it compete  directly with natural forms, plants or vegetables. 20160120 Golden Thread Group Show 001

By the way – the shadows on the wall  work as a visual supplement imbued with visual poetics. But back to the Groupshow aim. Is there anything to be gain by rough confrontation amongst works of art of  similar  “style”?  Are the exhibits sharing a style?

I borrow for a moment Meyer Schapiro’s definition of style:

“Style is, above all, a system of forms with a quality and meaningful expression through which the personality of the artist and the overall outlook of a group are visible. It is also a vehicle of expression within the group, communicating and fixing certain values of religious, social, and moral life through the emotional suggestiveness of forms.”


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In the middle: Kambucha brewed by Lorna Milligan with a second ferment by Philip McCrilly (2015) , Left and right – bowls by Stuart Calvin, I Gave You All I Had, 2015, plaster and paint

Emotional suggestiveness of forms is charged with  communicating values  grounded in life.  The curator’s decision to juxtapose art with living forms is a promising strategy for success, which is immediately undermine by the art not made to his order.   Regardless what art was available for the selection  no  work of art can be directed so precisely to all different viewers. This, in turn, makes Schapiro’s definition dependent on slippages from one subjective  view to another.  The question is whether his first part of definition fares better, that style is a shared way to make something visible. Surprisingly, the machine   made bottle and hand made plaster bowls share the curved outlines  willingness to fit your palm.  The machine aesthetics  does not dwarf the irregularities in the handmade bowls, opposite, it is working together, like a duo, given different melodies but on the same sheet of music. Calvin‘s respect for the will of the material and modelling hand does not diminish each bowl’s confidence to abandon the utilitarian function and  become an aesthetic autonomous object  – just to looks at, or perhaps handle it carefully.  The one on the left even flirts with tromp l’oeil!

Schapiro also offers an fluid exchanges between art and nature as between result and material used.

“Nature and abstract forms are both materials for art, and the choice of one or the other flows from historically changing interests.”

( accessed on  http://www.theartstory.org/critic-schapiro-meyer.htm)

Near enough to McCrilly’s  productive exchange? If the system of forms  is shared – what else may be that productive exchange?  Or does it work only if the group has not shared system of forms?

Historically, groups of artists came together to  share work on large  medieval commissions, or confront and improve upon some hostile attitudes to their art during the conflict between academia and early Modernism.  There were many groups  of artists during the European art of the first half of the 29th C  rooted in the need for psychological and social support for a particular art practice.   However, this groups show does not face those needs, as it gently develops already established art practices.

Will any salient point emerge from a brief survey of the historical “groups” of active artists?  Marginaliak043804

Take illuminated manuscripts as shared by a group in a monastery. They had a fixed content, available tools, accommodation and food, and enough time to make art perceived as a duty.

The marginalia were the play area  for freedom to escape the rigid ideology. Until the  Limbourg brothers, Paul, Hermann and Jean painted the calender for the Duc Jean de Berry with images of earthly life.ann and Jean. They came from Nijmegen in what is now the Netherlands but were generally referred to as Germans. Very little is known about them; they are believed to have been born in the late 1370s or 1380s and were born into an artistic family, their father being a wood sculptor and their uncle being an artist working variously for the French Queen and for the Duc de Bourgogne.


Page from Tres Riches ...1412 -1416

Janvier from Tres Riches Heures, 142- 1416 – Exchange of New Year Gifts


They came from Nijmegen in what is now the Netherlands but were generally referred to as Germans. Very little is known about them; they are believed to have been born in the late 1370s or 1380s and were born into an artistic family, their father being a wood sculptor and their uncle being an artist working variously for the French Queen and for the Duc de Bourgogne.

Tres Riches heures HuntGarden-of-France



Medieval  sculptors/ stonemasons  worked in groups travelling from a cathedral to a cathedral,  painters journeyed from a workshop to a workshop, from a commission to a commission.  They were organised in guilds – with St Luke the patron saint who is often represented as a painter.

Lukas schildert Madonna_volledig800

Rogier van der Weyden

With the rise of academies, salons arbitrarily accepted or rejected a work of art – hanging all from the ground to the ceiling in clusters utterly divorced from any regard for what each work of art could cope with.

As a revolt against the dominant power of salons and academies, artists searched for spaces – not just galleries – to exhibit esp after the authorities refused Manet’s paintings. A little later the  Impressionists held their  first exhibition in April 1874 at the studio of the photographer Nadar.

The 20th C  added a powerful private art dealers  to the mix. While they made some artists  famous and well off – they  could not do that for all living artists. Moreover, the younger generation was often displaced by artist from the distant past. Art dealers both in Belfast and Dublin have a  continuous history of supporting living artists.  As an example I shall introduce here Jamshid Fenderesky who started at the cellar of a terrace house on Malone Road  with the sad assessment that people of Belfast do not like art.

Until 26th February 2016  Fenderesky  hosts   AIRMAIL – an exhibition of small works on paper by 23 artists curated by Richard Gorman.  It is a full of beautiful stubbornly individual slivers of beauty, sometimes sounding a brutal alarm of strong hues juggling their own building power with restrains of the format. I admit the huge variety of art suits me as a visitor – it is not just an aesthetic diet controlled by ideology, it is indeed Schiller’s Kingdom of Freedom  engaged in domestic setting.  It is neither white cube nor a factory hangar – you need to switch on ceiling light as you may do at home.

The AIRMAIL and GROUPSHOW are both curated by an artist.  While Gorman simply delights in exquisite watercolors by  Roisin Lewis  and importance of the “immaterial ” in paintings, pastels and prints, McCrilly offers greater openness to  less  usual materials and  the insecure discoveries.  If Groman’s selection is like a  gloria choral, McCrilly leaves the art in the  cold light of the day to wait for a sympathetic eye. And there are rewards.

SibeadMcKPart2photo (2)

Sinead McKeever, MFG:140116, Part 2, 2016,dibond, clay nail varnish

Sinead Part 1 cage viewphoto (2)

Sinead McKeever, MFG:140116, Part 1, dibond, clay and nail varnish (2016)

The curator added a piece of purple vegetable – incongruous, and not too  impacting on/  nor interfering with, the aesthetics of McKeever’s elegant wave with an animated eye.

As if looking over the shoulder at  siblings in the trade, like  Alberto Cavalieri  Pipeline, 2014.

Alberto Cavalieri, Pipeline 2014


In turn, Pipeline reminds me of  “personages” by David Smith even if these three are angular.  It is the immersion of one unfinished form in an embrace of another that suggest the complete sculpture that I find shared by the two concepts of sculpture in metal. How far they both are from the history of the traditional bronzes…

David Smith 3


If McKeever offering caresses the eye by drawing in the air, an idea that revives and is  emotionally  different from  David Smith’s take on that,  she is still equally faithful to the material that allows her to make immaterial visible.  Both the wave and the spiral resonate with living forms in our associations.

Sinead McKGroup Her  bold bending  harmonises the machine aesthetics of the strip  and hand made voids ascribed by it.

No contemporary exhibition is ever without a video. here we have two:  Traditional Route (2012)  by Michael Sheppard is ten minutes with sound of a 16mm film transferred to DVD.

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The second is an animated film by John Rainey Interlude 2014, 3min 22 seconds,  sharing the subject of putti and goat with his 3D printed objects based on models in a museum.

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These small objects are denied the the communication Calvin’s bowls were effortlessly using  because of the way they were at eye level and near the viewer. The grey shelves and high up placement mitigate against a delight of recognising what is made visible –  it is as if both the artist and the curator colluded  in creating a disadvantage for what may be visible.

An opposite is given to visual loud figurines by  Christopher Campbell.

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Chris CampbellGroupshow16



Chris CampbellGroupshow1612644802_1300386229986780_1006176194862940869_n


Simulacrumming all over my face and teets, 2016, resin, polymer, acrylic paint 

are faithful followers of Campbells art practice  developed over the decade or so.   On a miniscule scale, they handle themselves well even in two – dimensional  view on a screen.

By chance, I came across a current exhibition of Chris Johanson


Chris Johanson umblr_mtg608R9vG1srr4uro1_1280  By chance, I came across a current exhibition of Chris Johanson ( see http://www.braskart.com) 

I am not sure whether Campbell saw Johanson’s paintings, but let me assume that he did not, for a simple reason that his own style developed  over years  and stayed resolutely  off two-dimensional images.  The two artist shared similar forms, similar emotional detachment that easily slips into its opposite, and simplicity charged to treat complex cultural contexts.

The resonance between the two  is not then a result of productive exchange described by McCrilly – it is more akin a mysterious way of imagination not fully conscious.


Images courtesy GTG

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SHE DEVIL in BELFAST, Golden Thread Gallery, 17/12/2015 – 6/2/2016

I have not heard of the Italian architect who created the SHE DEVIL project. On her website (www.studiostefaniamiscetti.com) she offers impressive list of artists who responded to her invitation. It reads:

Studio Stefania Miscetti has been engaged for several years in revitalizing the contemporary national scene by inviting artists to exhibit and realize site specific works in public and private spaces, not only in Rome. Thanks to these projects, many international artists linked to the experiences of the ’60s and ’70s avant-garde movements have exhibited their works in Rome.
Artists such as Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, Alfredo Jaar, Ben Vautier, ORLAN, Wolf Vostell, Maria Lai, Nancy Spero, Leon Golub, Hermann Nitsch, Bizhan Bassiri, Valie EXPORT, Michal Rovner, Michele Oka Doner, Gianni Piacentino, Doris Bloom, William Kentridge, Victoria Vesna, Spencer Tunick and others have been involved in several initiatives by creating original projects of intervention.


The above is separate from SHE DEVIL conceived in Rome in 2006 and now having its reprise in Belfast’s Golden Thread Gallery (17th December 2015 – 6th February 2016)
GTG director, Peter Richards,  wrote the following:
It is basically a programme of video screenings of women’s work that each year involves a number of curatorial voices. Each curator selects a video and then, together with the others, builds a unique filmic discourse on gender identity for each edition.

SHE DEVIL in Belfast will contribute to the wider international discourse with a special edition curated by a group of Irish and Northern Irish curators, selected by Peter Richards.
It is comprised of two distinct programmes: the first featuring invited curators’ selections; and the second featuring works selected from the previous seven instalments.

The first programme originates from a dialogue exploring female representations in Ireland. The programme includes selections by invited curators: Jackie Barker; Sara Greavu; Angela Halliday; Sarah McAvera; Marguerite O’Molloy and Susan Jane Picken with works by artists: Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz; Vivienne Dick; Frances Hegarty; Isabel Nolan; Sinéad O’Donnell and Daphne Wright.

Click here to read the invited curators introductions to the works SHE_DEVIL_in_Belfast_Curators_Introduction

The second programme, selected by Peter Richards from the previous seven instalments of SHE DEVIL, presents a range of international voices from which to further explore a discourse concerning gender identity. The programme features selections by previous curators: Antonia Alampi; Orsola Mileti; Manuela Pacella; Cristiana Perrella; Lydia Pribisova and Elena Giulia Rossi with works by artists: Kelly Dobson; Kate Gilmore; Malak Helmy; Klara Lidén; Jumana Manna and Sille Storihle; Tamara Moyzes; Luana Perilli; Ma Qiusha; Larissa Sansour; Jeanne Susplugas; Rona Yefman and Tanja Schlander.

The accompanying programme notes include the information about the projects previous editions in Bucharest, Rome, and Terni, and a mission statement, I quote:
The presentation of this programme of works offers multiple entry points into a far reaching critical discourse, concerned with the representations of women’s worlds as depicted by women.
The above differs from the formulation offered by Miscetti in 2006 in two significant salient point:
She Devil is a confrontation field on feminine or better around the female side of perceiving and reacting to facts, to event, to feelings, to history
(accessed on issuu.com/manuellapacella/doc/brochure_editions_1-2-3)

In rehearsing early 1960s feminism, Miscetti assumes “female perception and response” to be gender specific. This is not supported by the current neurology – e.g. amygdala works in all brains with not gender based, but individual determined differences. The Belfast edition avoids that feminist cognitive bias by discriminating against male artists: it aims at representation of women worlds by women artists thus narrowing its scope.

2.Miscetti perceives She Devil project as a “confrontation field”. Belfast edition aims to offer multiple entry points into a far reaching critical discourse. That offers an escape from responsibility to define reasons for “woman’s world” by absence of commitment to define “entry points” and the expected horizon of the discourse. An oceanic aim like this is not easily grasped, even if it echoes the openness of a work of art.


The programme is shown in two one hour projections, installed in two dark rooms. Some permanent light would have been helpful to find the bench to sit on, and read or take notes.
One programme is made up of videos from previous editions of She Devil, showing work made between 2003 -2012, selection by Peter Richards:

Kelly Dobson’s Blendie plays with the woman twinning with a blender – both by controlling it and being controlled by it, both on the kitchen worktop. Tiny laughter freezes at the banal artificiality of it.
Rona Yefman and Tanja Schlander fell under the belief that a political motive will save the comical hubris.

Yefman’s video shows her collaborator, the artist Tanja Schlander, dressed up as a contemporary version of the character invented in the 1940s by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. With her bare hands, Schlander repeatedly attempts to dislodge the concrete wall that separates the West Bank from Israel. In doing so, she conjures the “power of life” by mining the traits of the fictional Pippi, that is, her non conventional femininity, physical strength, and indignation at injustice. (quoted from http://www.columbia.edu/cu/wallach/exhibitions/Common-Love/images-Yefman.html ) The video is on Pippi Longstocking – The Strongest Girl in the World at Abu Dis,2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vuyw73lu_uQ

Tamara Moyzes approaches racism – Miss Roma (2007) banned from various events and premises presumable obtains access by becoming a successful blond. The video presents funny pseudo- solution and not-so-funny and unacceptable exclusion of men.

Higher Horse (2008) is accessible on https://vimeo.com/99040803 . Kate Gilmore harvests an incessant physical energy and the growing terror of guessed- at end. Its “resolution” is suggested and removed. I like the rhythm of this work – not a false note in it. Or perhaps, one or two: polystyrene instead of a stone, and the hammer so near her toes yet does not harm her. This video indeed offers multiple entries and rich connectivity by visual means in service of a want to describe men as agents of destruction. That cognitive bias is subverted by the men being careful not to harm the woman on a pedestal. In that – it became a critique of biased feminism, of that confrontational field….

“Records from the Excited State” (2010-present), a chaptered work, is an ongoing study of “the rhythms of the site of leisure” along Egypt’s coastline, by Malak Helmy – occupying not so much the She Devil ideology as her own intoxication with the story of the world as she founds it. Her perceptions are not specifically gender rooted – the four men in chairs appear mindless not because a woman holds the lens…

For Your Eyes (https://vimeo.com/36025514) by Jeanne Susplugas is a hermetically wedded to the song sang by Ramuntscho Matta It refrain Nobody cares, nobody cares appears flexibly in relation to food, homelessness, to existence really: it finishes with: whatever I see, whatever I feel, nobody cares, nobody cares – and that includes the art.
Susplugas has a power to mimic manga without losing the link to us in the western Europe. The smooth cuts between artificial sweetness and satire of gruesome acts celebrate her virtuoso flow of the story while disconnecting each from the next. That brings in mystery, which I leave hidden.

Video is particularly willing to take on story telling – however, it is refreshing when artists abandon the easy path and explore a power of visual fragment.
The longest story in this selection of videos is The Goodness Regime (2013) by Jumana Manna and Sille Storihle, 21 minutes. It is a well done “panorama” of Norway’s attitude to intifada and the conflict between Palestine and Israel – or at least some parts of both. It feels “documentary” with intrusive but welcome lightness of jokes breaking up the flow. As art – it is not exceptionally good in opening connectivity over and above the received simplifications.
Where Nation Estate (2012) resonates with the cinema verite, there it aims at some dignity , unluckily, Larissa Sansour drowns it too often in sudden switches of a place or a person. Enjoyable severity of tone adds both authenticity and poetics – but cannot relieve the tedium of slowness(9 minutes)


The second room presents six videos made between 1994 and 2014, each selected by a different curator working either in Northern Ireland or Dublin.
Vivienne Dick employed numerous persons bearing her surname to produce 28 minutes of A Skinny Little Man Attacked Daddy (1994)
“A look at my family and the place where I grew up. So much of what is ‘me’ comes from attitudes, expectations, fears, habits and beliefs that I inherited from my parents (and they in turn from theirs). This video is about separation from the family. My work is to try to know myself – the only way to change inherited patterns.” Vivienne Dick, 1994
Susan Picken who selected this work wrote:
It is a film of contrasts: between the gentle Donegal countryside and the rough textures of the city; between the nostalgia of the past and the reality of the present; between the joy of being with one’s own flesh and blood and the sadness of inevitable mortality; between individual and family.

Indeed it is not just about women, or a woman’s gender identity. It is made by a female artist without servitude to feminist ideology.

This observation may sometimes clash with the artist’s view of herself or her stated intention. Nevertheless, it is the art that prevails, not the subjective will to power. Nakedly it challenges the performers in Scream of the Sea (2011, 3 mins 9 secs)) even when a powerful voice of the singer Darya Kader overwhelms one’s perception by the magic of the other culture with deep roots in the past time. The two performing women, Sinead O’Donnell and Poshya Kakil, introduce the fragility in a shape of a pane of glass carried between the two of them. “We requested a stop to violence against women in Iraq in red lipstick on glass in Arabic, English and Kurdish language” explains O’Donnell afterwards. The group of soldiers watching on the side works both like a threat and a stunned audience. It stays open-ended.
That openendedness is shared, no, celebrated, by another video: Daphne Wright’s I know what it is like (2012) in which believable changes places with autistic. The curator Marguerite O’Molloy reminisces: The artist says that her works often combine “a cool standoff and very intimate address”, which is the case in this work I know what it’s like. An elderly woman adopts a near motionless pose and, unblinking, delivers a series of intimate statements directly to camera. Daphne Wright has an ongoing interest in Phonics, and what the voice can carry by only guttural sounds, and describes the movement of the mouth as a very sculptural act where sounds are shaped. Speaking about the tongue, the artist Carol Rama says “it’s always the same, it never ages”. In this film, the sounds that usher forth from an ageing body evoke a strange hinterland between past and present, forgetting and remembering.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz produce a 10 minutes long film Opaque in 2014. Selected by Sara Greavu for stated reason:
Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz have worked together since 2007, engaging in what they call ‘queer archaeology’: they seek to recode, reclaim and reanimate documents of the past – excavating them, overlaying and embodying them…queering them. They return to the same collaborators again and again – often writers, choreographers, artists, and musicians in their own right – creating the sense of an ongoing conversation through their body of work. The radical potential of queer goes beyond the critique of normative, binary constructions of gender and sexual identity. It provides a dynamic response to complex, shifting and interlocking processes and systems of categorization and hierarchy, offering the possibility of a transgressive, revolutionary, anti-assimilationist politics of desire

It is a relief to know that they may re-visit this material if they indeed continue that ongoing conversation, questioning, perhaps, the role of multitude in a predictable narrative.

“The artists quote Antke Engel: There is not simply “the enemy”, and it is not always “over there.” Rather, the enemy might be a lover, a friend; it might dwell in the heart, and resist being pinned down to the position of perpetrator – or victim; and named war, or capitalism, or patriarchy. One might like to fight it over there, while enjoying its profits right here.” ( Sara Greavu on ww.goldenthreadgallery.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/SHE_DEVIL_in_Belfast_Curators_Introduction.pdf)

Frances Hegarty favours reducing the quantity by some simply devised rule and obtains a rock solid base line from which to attack the ubiquitous demand for life stories, CVs, documents of identity. Her Auto Portrait #2 (1999, 4 mins) has been selected by a curator supreme from DAS, Angela Halliday. I share Halliday’s delight at Hegarty’s sheer technical mastery. I quote:
Hegarty’s use of the strobe lighting within the video renders the video image somewhat indistinct in that we are prevented from fully reading the visual image, from perceiving the object; the female figure. Hence, we cannot master the image and objectify the female body. From a feminist point-of-view, a haptic image calls for mutuality between image and viewer and certainly appeals to any attempt to avoid objectification of the female body. The work’s cyclic nature contravenes the conventional linear narrative structure of mainstream cinema, whilst the artist’s position as protagonist, subject and creator revises the position of woman as object of, but not subject of many cinematic narratives. The cyclic narrative structure and the female subjectivity imperative in this work are both reasons for my selecting it, as I am interested in the use of a cyclic structure being a potential strategy for producing alternative video narratives in which the female subject can be constructed.
(accessed on http://www.goldenthreadgallery.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/SHE_DEVIL_in_Belfast_Curators_Introduction.pdf)

Hegarty succeeds in sending the pretence of biography into the universe of fragments and throws away the key. Her life story is not accessible. Only its limping derivatives, even if they successfully work as visual compositions with sound.

Isobel Nolan is my star of this selection – it is her early work – Slogoneering 1-4, (2001, 4 minutes)

Sarah McAvera selected and described it thus:
The video shows a young woman writing statements about herself onto her t-shirt, before removing the outer one to start again on the tshirt underneath. “I wish I had one great passion” she proclaims in a line that, like the work as a whole, could be taken as a heart-felt search for self or a tongue-in-cheek parody of the slogan t-shirt wearing. “When I think of the future I feel sick” speaks too closely to the general human malaise of fear to feel like humour, while “Fuck rich Capitalists” is either some sound advice to choose one’s Capitalist wisely (only the rich ones) or a term of abuse. As the work moves on, T-shirts are not just removed, but the “slogans” are scribbled out and new ones written, filling t-shirts with one attempt after another at self-proclamation until we get to “It’s trivial”, and finally “I’m sick of perky slogans”.

There is not one element redundant or crying to be replaced. Nolan’s sincerity is still refreshing as is her courage to do just what is necessary and do it with the energy of youth. The freshness of the work survived several viewings, over the years, intact. That does not happen too often with contemporary art either.

The clarity present throughout Nolan’s performance startles me in the context of Hanif Kureishi hero in The Last Word stating: …”nothing confuses like clarity…the best stories are open ones, those you don’t quite understand.”



To sum up:
The female artists have not limited themselves to the stated aims of both the She Devil and its Belfast edition. I applaud them for the virtuosity with which they preferred to be true to some inner need. And they did not rival any God of the universe in his wish to make worlds. Rather – they preferred to be bringers-in of reality, from their own experience in being artists mastering the lens based media. I cherish all the successful instances where the artists champion free thought and its power to wreck fatuous utopias. Excluding male artists view of the subject is a loss.


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Shiro Masuyama, Self-Sufficient Life, Millennium Court Art Centre, Portadown October 2015



  1. Foregrounding


Three still photographs and a video of each of three of his more recent projects illustrate the artist’s commitment to ideas that are both activating changes in the art system, and reflecting deeply felt concerns about the developed world where he lives. Continue reading

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Angela Hackett – 2015

My visit to her studio  on Saturday 12th September resulted in her invitation  to respond to her two paintings, Tropical Ravine and Studio Interior.

Tropical Ravine

Tropical Ravine, 2015, 852 x 640 cm

On my PC screen the tactile messages of air temperature are absent, forever broadcasting how the experience is locked in hues and tones.  The paintings rejects simple classification – it is a landscape if I let my eye to fix on  blues, it is a still life when I focus on the yellow and greens.  I recall that Cezanne surprised me once by keeping the same temperature all over his landscape, an unfinished landscape at that. It hung in the last room of the monumental exhibition at Grand Palais, up on the wall as if not wishing to be registered.  Display matters, and maybe the curator deliberately treated it as a note, as a preparation for something big which stayed in the never ending future.  Instead- I read it as finished, in spite of large areas of white canvas with fleeting drawings of trunks and branches  just about commanding an elegant asymmetry.  It had a “personality” – the South of France, its warm air, lush uninhabited meadows and woods in between rivers.  It had  “a character” by staying silent , by silently standing in front of the canvas. It was a live painting of living trees.

I sense that Tropical Ravine aims at a character and at capturing life.  I also sense the asymmetry between the  top and the lower part of the composition.  Another asymmetry is born out  of sudden appearance of dark heavy hues in the all over high key palette. That and the painter’s contrasting the geometry of manmade forms with the abundance of inventive nature forges a discord that mirrors the gap between the intention and the insecurity of the creative process.

The painting is a memory of Hackett’s aesthetic experience when face to face with the  nature kept captivated for its own good.  Imprisoned freedom. Her painting transfers to me the contradictory response – one of dionysian intoxication of yellows and greens and the other of colder blues pointing to the apollonian principle. The painting thus is a drama between intention and necessity, both in the  real world and on the canvas. And it works even when you turn it 90 degrees….

The sensual riches – like music- overwhelm any verbal approximation.  Ut pictura poesis – if only.

studio Interior

Studio Interior, 2015, 495 x 640 cm

The high key governs the painting of the Studio Interior – again in a sincere nod to modernism. Sugary sweet – it would be in danger of losing any gravitas, had it not been for the tables and windows. And – the visual  rhythm. The verticals not only build the depth  they also lead the eye to make groups of movement of short with long, the angled with en face flat.  The horizontals are allowed to work like a worktop to catch something  with the window to look through and out of the busy space- not dissimilar to that in the right hand side  wing of the Merode Altarpiece. St Joseph is making a mousetrap, a visual metaphor for the immaculate conception to cheat the devil.  The chaotic diagonal marks are full of promise and energy kept under the radar, as it were.  The palette knife and the jar, tubes of paint are static as if they were the target of that energy. The table is either split or next to another piece of furniture, I am not sure. That insecurity is intentional – and vibrant when viewed in the paintings full size. The size adds to the meaning – in this case, numerous small juxtapositions of brush strokes vanish when on the PC screen, so much smaller. The  whispered groups of rectangles, on the table, under the table, in front of the table, behind the table underpin the live chaos so appropriate for the brushes and palette.  Yet – keeping in the key. Like Bach’s fugue.

I use the word chaos – where the artist might prefer ambiguity. Both belong to the family of  thoughts connected to universe, to the uncertainty we daily live with but do not think of it at all times. It is a gift of painting – to free us from the more dark thoughts by inventing interesting modes of  making a world, that is like the one we know – and is – different. The valuable part of that paradox is that it is capable of celebrating both  imagination and observation.

Images courtesy Angela Hackett


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Jordan Hutchings, Body of Work, GTG, Belfast, 4-25 June 2015

Curated by the artist Mary Morgan, the exhibition  as a whole induced  an aesthetic experience by the chosen rhythmical display.  I read a wall like  a sheet music – imagined intonating it in a- minor after repeating five times the same note first.  Lodovico Einaudi  – could have composed it.



At the end of the public space – a derivation from iconostas. Five images, five fingers on one hand, five senses, five continents… a chance like similarities. Continue reading

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Untitled -related to

The distinction between intentional object and natural object could appear as a reference to a specific act as constitutive of its mode of being, i.e. intentional object is man made.

altamira-painting-1credit Ramessos

Paleolithic painting, Altamira

However, artist’s intention is not like a decision,  it is akin  to a multitude of possibilities  operating at the same time, not in any order, rather chaotically.    As I write, I read  in a current email an interesting parallel to it. Continue reading

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paintfor.me and a cauliflower

My aim in What Do Pictures Want? is thus not to project personhood onto pictures, but to engage with what I call “the lives and loves” of images. (W.J.T Mitchell)

That both  “projection of personhood” and “engagement with the image””  may co-exist is illustrated by a paradigmatic shift  introduced below.

A  memory of medieval jobing painters and sculptors  travelling throughout Europe

Veit Stwosz, ( 1477 – 1533) born in Germany worked in Krakow, Poland

or the Dutch still life painters of 17th C,

Still Life with Fruit, Glassware, and a Wan–li Bowl, 1659 Willem Kalf (Dutch, 1619–1693) Oil on canvas; 23 x 20 in. (58.4 x 50.8 cm) Maria DeWitt Jesup Fund, 1953 (53.111)


would  appear irrelevant for contemporary painting. Except that it is not.   Continue reading

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Catherine Keenan, Seeing Stripes, Belfast Print Workshop, April 2 – May 2 2015


ck-exhibition-1 inst viewShe spent one month working on a series of screenprints as an artist in residence at BPW.

Continue reading

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HELEN G BLAKE at Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast, 16 April – 16 May 2015

At the time of writing, this exhibition  of fourteen small paintings has not  been  documented on her website (www.helengblake.com). Their sizes around  A 4 or a one fifth bigger forge a call for privacy, not unlike  covers  or title pages of closed books or files.  The visual hypnotically attracts silence and contemplative attitude  – not an overt discussion or  a sharp analytic critique. Continue reading

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RONNIE HUGHES, Supernumerary at Fenderesky, Belfast February 2015


Installation at Fenderesky Gallery No 31 North Street. From L-R: Tongued;Facet;Glitch;Test Pettern; Narcissus; Warp.



This is a new space for  art exhibitions in Belfast.  The highly regarded gallery owner, art dealer, curator, writer, publisher and philosopher,  Jamshid Mirfenderesky  found his fifth abode reminiscent  of the one he had at the Upper  Crescent decades ago. It   is less of the proverbial white box as it is an ordinary living space on  the first floor.  A sort of piano nobile. Continue reading

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A year has passed between the first an the last of Hutchings’s images.  Although they protect their individual identity they are peacefully similar, in that they trap light into a kind of trinity: light is the subject, medium and image.  Moreover, while Earth bound, they trap rays coming we do not know from where.  It is little like astronomy  without its scientific interpretation,  like philosophy proposing continuity between the thought and being.

The images are certain in that they exist, and uncertain in that they do not tell what they are images of. Could be it some  air  settling its imprint  in that split of the second when the lens is absent?  Trapping the cosmic rays, however, endows the outcome  with a pleasant, even playful, mystery.  Continue reading

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Seamus O’Rourke: Dark Inventory at Pallas Projects, Dublin, November 2014

A handout states:

S e a m u s O ’ R o u r k e
Dark Inventory
12/11/14 – 22/11/14

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the burning
of ‘Entartete Kunst’ or painting and drawings
termed ‘Degenerate Art’ by the Nazis in 1939.
It is estimated that 1004 paintings and 3,825
works on paper were completely destroyed
during March 1939. O’Rourke examines the
empty spaces left behind after thousands of
these artworks were confiscated from public
galleries and museums throughout Germany
and which were subsequently burned in Berlin
by the Reich. In this ongoing ‘Dark Inventory’
series the artist engages with politicizing the
space between what is visible and what is
absent. He emphasises this critical moment in
the history of Modernism in Europe with a
corresponding reductive process on paper.
These drawings investigate ideas concerning
censorship and loss, examining art as a form of
commemoration with a dual critical strand.
O’Rourke tests how art is both recognised and
invalidated in society and acts as a form of
commentary or dissent in a controlling society
and how constant scrutiny is necessary to
protect freedom of speech. Continue reading

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24 at the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, December 2014


The Project Space is a small space on the left of the entrance inside the Golden Thread Gallery.


It is irreverently free of “having-to-do” anything , and equally it is free to do anything.  I think the paradox  is a deliberate kind of flexibility that cannot be easily defined for the main gallery spaces.

Sarah McAvera’s curating  strength includes her playful, yet rigorous, focus  how she handles that open-endedness. This time she selected 24 exhibitors –  to forge a temporary assembly of  diverse concepts and looks, while holding on to some tacit agreement   that they will not fight, compete or struggle.  The objects were displayed  in a spirit of communal seasonal peace, as it were.  All carry competent signature of their origin – leaving the sudden ruptures in personal style elsewhere – for some other occasion, if at all.


The oldest, here on the right, Framed Burning Bush(1994) by Colin McGookin  luxuriates in a frenzy of tactile sensation  in a very dark world, from which nothing escapes,  as if governed by Cerberus.

Lisa Malone  shows her blue-purple  Skylark  from edition of 9 (2008) –  a toy character mounted on a metal box with a handle to turn,  a semi- automaton.  The automata have a cherished history:  the classical Greek culture  gave them a range of purposes: tools, toys, religious idols, or prototypes for demonstrating basic scientific principles.  According to a legend, king  Solomon used his wisdom to design a throne with mechanical animals which hailed him as king when he ascended it. One notable examples of automata include Archytas‘s dove, mentioned by Aulus Gellius –  a nearest  ancient analogy to Malone’s Skylark, on the right of the image below.




The association with automata is  one case of remembrance of older cultures, older art. There is more.

Reminiscent of 20th C mobiles, suspended  near the windows, the cascade of yellow  shapes – almost Euclid’s forms- hangs in the air with enough gaps to let the street view reflections to join them. I cherish this kind of site specific aesthetic experience.


Charlotte Bosanquet’s Balanced Construction 1, 2014 (Wood, rope, papier-mâché. Paint, varnish, 1 x 1 metre)


When I asked  the gallery for images to accompany my text I did not expect some of the beautiful gifts that the interfering lens gave me.

In the above image with reflections of the opposite building and the opposite inside wall it looks like  large scale  installation hanging in the air. The yellow shapes reject perfection preferring the robust aesthetics of chance impacting on order.

When the lens transfers  attention to its shadow on the wall, it  mutates into  a smaller pattern favouring aesthetics not so distant from  mobiles by  Alexander Calder .

Alexander Calder, Cone d’ebene, 1933, wood,wire,rod,paint, courtesy of Calder Foundation, NY



(In the  foreground  Whisperer Series, 2014, glazed and saggar fired stoneware by Deirdre Hawthorne)

On comparison,  its shadow and the hanging installation do not “tell” the same thing. One is poetic…


…the other  tells how is it made.

That deliberate sincerity has been Bosanquet’s characteristic for a while now –  e.g. the road marking on her living room carpet, which she later hang at the Catalyst as if it were a historical tapestry. In a sense it was a successful,  if opposing  the original code, analogy.

In front of  the Balanced Construction  hangs – on a  cantilevered wooden pole, a copy of a print of a torso of a bodybuilder by Brian J. Morrison: Breaking Point  2014, UV Inkjet print on pin rod and pine block.  In  reality it is small, I guess between A2 and A3 perhaps. The lens assumes a powerful optical illusion  – and it is another enjoyable visual lie. Although the installation is contemporaneous to the exhibition, it includes image similar ( possibly identical) to earlier Morrison’s work. That particular possibility allows a question when an appropriation is more virtuoso than what is appropriated.  It is the association of the floppy UV print with the skin of Marsyas, that assumes some superiority.. If Morrison’s print is Marsyas, what or who is  Athena in all her vanity?  The art world, perhaps?


Brian J Morrison, Breaking Point, 2014, UV Inkjet print on rod and pine block


For a century or so, the skill of making art object was removed from the centre of the  aesthetic experience of  visual art. Replaced by a concept as a holder of value.The  art object became unsure of itself, even anxious. Mimetic skills were admitted as of  no value.

In Sarah McAvera’s temporary assembly, skills are cherished, craft is valued, idea’s are fused with sensuality on  silver objects,  perfect digital prints,  lovingly made stoneware,  superb drawing,  trompe’l’oeil watercolour,  sensitive paper collage,  magic etchings, oil painting, acrylic painting, and  precision of an  archival inkjet.



From left: Geoff Molyneux framed digital prints with stone, 2014; LisaMalone Skylark; Duncan Ross Chou-Fleur, 2014


The cauliflower is painted directly on the wall,  Ross offers to paint it in the size of your choice  on your own wall.




This is  a significant departure from the concept of the artist as inherited from Modernism. It re-boots an older idea of artist as a journeyman together with the authenticity of the hand made art.

A different hand made art manifests its power in Leo Devlin’s  Fortyfying No 6. It shows, as equally important, all the individual  parts and  the  resulting torrent of shiny surfaces.



It is a re-assembled installation from a performance containing silver and other silvery home bound objects. The lens fails to transmit the richness of the relationships,  e.g. the insecurity of a large bowl in a forced encounter with an arrogant fork.   Numerous small sub-stories, invite  your memories, associations,  to join effortlessly. This installation is a giver.

In the middle on the back wall: Hazel Neill, Breath, 2014, Light jet print, 60 x 80 cm

So are small magic black ink drawings by Stuart Calvin, etchings by Mick Cullen and light jet print  by Hazel Neill  – all confident in different degree to embody abstraction.



On the shelf in a cardboard box a tablet plays  a tango, while the lens reads shadows   thrown by  static toy sculptures of animals. An illusion that they dance to the rhythm is a content forming, planned, reward.

WordPress does not let me to attach as a file,  the 2 minutes 34 seconds video of a small installation on four levels that vaguely associates with a Nativity narrative.  At the top under a pitched roof, three lambs look directly into the lens, on the lower level a bull and a goose “dance”. The other two are filled with animal figures, domestic and wild alike.

This link is from Ciara Finnegan’s web site:

Reminiscent of a dollhouse by Alexander Calder,Finnegan’s  Grubber is more impact, harmonious, mysterious.

Alexander Calder, Dollhouse, c 1945, courtesy Calder Foundation, NY


Ciara Finnegan’s assembly is infused with children’s sense for miracles. I shall include her statement below, to supplement the only image I have.

Ciara Finnegan, Grubber: El Tercer Piso, 2014, video, 2minutes 34 seconds


Finnegan emailed me the following:

El Tercer Piso is the second part of a series of work that takes place in an old Dutch Kanaalhuis-style dollhouse that I call “Grubber”. (After the name of a tall, narrow sweet-shop in a Roald Dahl tale).

The relationship between the animals and the functions of the living space are deliberately obscure – Grubber hints at zoo, detention centre, house of ill-repute, but no single label seems to quite fit. The residents’ tales are insinuated rather than explicitly told. No one speaks (or snorts or squawks, for that matter!), rather music accents some of the tones and moods.

For the sequence, El Tercer Piso, (The Third Floor) I was particularly interested in attempting to animate the shadow rather than moving the figures themselves – to play with a very deliberate contrast between the static animals and the their dynamic “inner lives”. I love the power of tango: there is such a latent sense of violence in the dance – a terrible desire, a physical threat, something massive contained within a compact unit (in this case, the dance) that takes huge effort to contain and restrain – and, such is life in Grubber, I think…

The tango music I used in ETP is called Por Una Cabeza, written by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera. It has a considerable record of use in film, featuring prominently in Scent of a Woman (1992) and Schindler’s List (1993) among others. (The sequence of still-shots that fade in and out of one another (at 01:27min) is a very deliberate reference to the passage of still images underscored by Por Una Cabeza in Schindler’s List).

I liked the idea of presenting the video on a tablet in a neutral cardboard box because I felt it both respected the both the spirit of the show and the nature of the subject (a plain shoe-box sized cardboard box re-creates a sense of one floor in the Grubber and I liked the idea of it having been opened, like a door in an advent calendar).


The  TWENTY FOUR will be easily remembered as a visual  gift from an advent time.

Images courtesy the Golden Thread Gallery and Ciara Finnegan.








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BEN CRAIG, All or Nothing, Platform Arts, Belfast, 6 -26 November, 2014

There were three artists taking part in the exhibition curated by the Platform Arts: Ben Craig, Lucas Dillon and Paul Quast.  The following is not a review of the exhibition, rather a brief meditation on some of the ideas raised by Ben Craig’s  objects.

You live and learn, 2014, drop-leaf table, wood, cardboard, bubble wrap, cling film, emergency blankets and paint, 180 x 110 x 305 cm approx.


This installation view points to a multitude of materials and functions, mostly of objects with practical use, i.e. table, chairs, microwave oven… Craig let them huddle in groups with shared habit, it was not enough to counter the feeling of chaotic display. Until, that is, the objects useful for life receded when my attention focused on an useless object, the one lit up  in the centre of the view.  Even without seeing the lovingly made details, the assemblage insisted on punching a hole in the chaos, dominating it, challenging it by right – angled order. That in turn became crowned by voluminous weight reminiscent of an asteroid. It is landing on all the small rectangles which  hold the construction sturdy and upright.

You live and learn (plinth)

You live and learn(plinth) detail



Craig labeled this shot “a plinth”  suggesting that the mass  above it  is the dominant part of the exhibit, like sculpture on a plinth. Evoking early 20th C effort to liberate sculpture from plinths and pedestal, it directly disputes Brancusi’s conviction.  To some degree it undermines its own – the plinth is punctured with numerous absences of matter.

So – in brief, the right angled, carefully balanced order of flat parts, lovingly placed, supports the weight of  somewhat  amorphous mass.  Its volume balances as if on the  slim point of contact.  Its weight is an optical  illusion. Emergency blankets and paint do not weigh much.  This dual aesthetics of geometry and of its complete absence creates uncomfortable tension and incongruous humour. Letting the eye to caress the stains of paint, the exact distances between the nails, the joy of tactile surfaces – minimizes the discomfort and in turn, shifts the voluminous blob into the sphere of carnevals/ theatre.  Even the look of the plinth provides a comforting link to early  20th C  constructivism and De Stijl, thus familiarising the new by paying respect to the old.

Similarly, the seemingly heavy top  object appears as an overweight, oversized abstraction, a gestural spill that became three-dimensional nod to abstract expressionism.

The internal fascination  with learning from other art continues in  exquisitely melodic  Twirly.

Twirly (1)

Twirly, 2014, PVC piping, energy saving light bulb, iron spring and aluminium, 100 x 70 x 60 cm approx



Found objects are allowed their own previous identity, however, they share the new whole effortlessly and gracefully. Thinking of Orphism? Frantisek Kupka comes to mind.




Craig’s third object announces the source of learning in its title:

Arp (1)

Arp, 2014, aluminium, coloured card and foam board, 60 x 60 x 70 cm approx.



Arp (2)

However, the discipline of high modernism gives way to informal play, chance allowing the fragments to land where ever. A smile at the chaos, a part of Craig’s creative space, space for work.

Studio view

Studio view, 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable


Objects arrive and descend, some by chance, some by careful placement, stimulating thoughts about their independence from the contexts they left behind, holding on to the associated memory of their practical function. A sort of variant on the concept of Tracy Emin’s  My Bed, 1998 – they carry imprints of living whose particulars they hide.  The whole  cannot be reduced to enumeration of all its parts, nor to the associations with other similar installations. The interesting layer in this is both the respect to the visibility of each object and severe denial to give out content of each part. The meaning is  carried – as it were, in the air above them all – it is my space for work. And even that may not be true – the installation will cease exist when the exhibition ends.

Again, it is the internal fascination of possible being, possible truth, slipping into opposites or just hiding away silently.

Craig anchors his work both in the mundane and in the elite of grand masters of older art.  In this he revives the honesty of the medieval journeyman, like Albrecht Durer, who traveled to Italy  to learn about painting a naked body from Giovanni Bellini.

You Live and Learn….

Images from the exhibition courtesy Ben Craig.


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PETER RICHARDS: Intuitive Actions, Common Attributes and Isolated Incidents, 13 September – 25 October, 2014, Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown





Gallery TWO

is a common display of islands of meaning in a space, flat images on a shelve or directly on the wall, 3D on a pedestal or  trolley. Each is given approaching and leaving viewing space with strong emphasis on the condition of viewing. Continue reading

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NEIL CARROLL, The Year of Disillusionment, University Art Gallery, University of Ulster, Belfast, 19th September – 11th October, 2014




“The slicing of a large- scale painting into several stand-alone pieces, the dismembering and pulling apart, suggest an act of undoing. An attempt to invalidate or challenge its current form, to free it from formal constraints and any implied historical references.” This is one of the suggestions how to approach the exhibition in the hugely informative  essay by Marysia Wieckiewicz-Carroll, fairly informed by Deleuze,Rajchman and Eisenmann. Continue reading

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Angelo Garoglio: Come Elegia, Galleria Don Chisciotte, Torino, 2014

It is about Garoglio’s obsession with sculpture by Medardo Rosso ( 1858-1928), this time mostly with

The Jewish Boy, 1892, image courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art


Bambino al sole_Gesso Patinato_ 1891-1892

Bambino al Sole, 1891 -1892

Garoglio worked with variants of both the above from a private collection in Milan.


Please, browse,  the book: Come_Elegia for Garoglio’s photographs related to the two above.(https://slavkasverakova.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/come_elegia.pdf )



In his essay  Lumen and Lux  Pino Mantovani  points to Rosso’s collection of originals,  copies, copies of copies, and his ” original copies”, i.e. variations of his own sculpture as a sympathetic expansion of limited iconography, which zoomed on feeling and dramatic component in modelling, as justification of Garoglio’s devotion to Rosso’s sculptures since 2008.

And, moreover, it was right Medardo Rosso who had interpreted the understanding of art both as a compromise and as a compromising relaunch. His curious collections mixing originals and copies, copies of copies and “original copies” are proof of this; repetition through variations of his own works, which are never reproduced mechanically but always undergo critically active interpretation and bear an even aggressive personal mark; the use of photography for orienting, putting into relation, and stimulating sculpturally processed shapes…(page 8

Mantovani writes valiantly about differences between the subject and the lens base Garoglio’ prints. Where Rosso prefers white and black, Garoglio goes for hot earth hues, where the touch of fingers models fluently continuous whole, Garoglio zooms on  details.

” Angelo stresses the mysterious essence of the image “exaggerating” the impact of light on the uneven surfaces, focusing on the lumen, “the energy radiated on the bodies reflecting it ”(Gino Gorza), to achieve a “thingness” that is kind of absolute, noun-like in all respects, and therefore “unnatural””(page 11)


Mantovani offers similarities and differences as both binding  and dividing the art of Garoglio from that of Rosso, focusing on the intensity of repeat and light.

The second essay by Enzo Restagno, Medardo Rosso and serial art, includes a kind of definition of  concept of art, developed from  Rosso’s  statement concerning the force of a source:

“”I like drinking water while it is flowing from the source. When I see it in a bottle it has already lost all its fresh appeal”. It will be right the multiplicity of moments experienced by a single subject that will turn Medardo Rosso into what we could now call a “serial” artist. He repeatedly goes back to his models, slightly altering them, and uses unusual materials to add flxibility to the process. He then pours a coat of wax onto the plaster fiures, which makes them seem close, yet lost in a metaphysic distance. Thy are before us, wrapped in amber light that enhances some details while blurring others, like a patina built up by time to keep the image beyond our grasp.”(page 17)

At the end Restagno thinks of Rosso’s art as a ” call for creativity” offering a conclusion that

the implicit suggestions of Rosso’s lesson have been brilliantly identified by Garoglio, probably by relying on an elective affinity involving matter contemplation and manipulation. Each of his shots is the outcome of long time spent passionately observing the items , and every single one succeeds in finding the points from which a new vibrating wave will originate.


Both writers seek justification for Garoglio’s interpretation as art.  Not surprisingly, artists often visually interpreted other artist’s work, perhaps the most notorious example is Picasso’s intense  multitude of paintings of Velasquez’s Las Meninas.

Picasso meninas

Garoglio does not map Rosso’s sculpture into another sculpture, instead he invents numerous angles of viewing using a lens to record the results, as the diagram below illustrates.  Consequently, the art of seeing, looking,  and viewing  in time and space  is his call for creativity, to paraphrase Rosso.


Garoglio Rosso and drawing



Photographers do not shy away from the conflict between documenting what is seen and  the singular, internal and contemplative experience of looking at a work of art. The  subject is then the way aesthetic -and perhaps poetic- means operate on the uncertainty which of the interpretations is better than the others. Wittgenstein’s pessimism notwithstanding( i.e. “interpretations hang in the air) our fate is not to know how shared our knowledge/feeling may be. Poetic experience is an interaction with barely knowing of the delicate perception often burned away by the “torch” of conscious attention. Unless you can view things  like  Garoglio or the Finnish photographer  Puranen:

Garoglio -Puranen

Jorma Puranen(b. 1951)


Unexplored views conserve their dark energy and preserve the rich unknown when the light deliberately abandons the whole:

Garoglio brown

Garoglio interpreting Rosso.

The dark part remains under everyone threshold of attention until the lit up part primes the  viewer to accept what must be rationally expected.  Priming as a cognitive concept allows us to fill in that which we do not perceive. However, this high level of reasoning affects our engagement with the visible, as in Andrew Steele’s Red Moon here.

garoglio Andrew  Steele Red Moon....


Garoglio is involved in lens mediated interpretations. They happen in time and unfold a contest between every shot. Each subsequent view corrects and disqualifies the other contenders. Yet, we can hold several meanings in mind simultaneously when viewing a work of art. Garoglio plays the lens with its certainty what is lit up and visible, against our ambiguous and uncertain judgements.

garoglio DiBond

The  above contrast raises attention and emergent consciousness, the eye notices something odd. Looking at Garoglio’s photographs is not a smooth process. They offer a respite from the constraints of daily logic – that art can do that is a miraculous experience.

Subtle effects working below the threshold of perception are crucial to the experience of  art.  It is only possible when we are oblivious to the logical conflicts in tolerating irresolution, when we are not aware of our proficiency to accommodate the conflicting feelings. It brings me to a 16th C concept sprezattura  –  ability to make difficult things look effortless.








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Gary Shaw: Ocular, at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, September 4 – 25, 2014

Gary Shaw at gtg_small



Pristine, precise, poignant, poetic – they tell of human consciousness meticulously coding imaginative power of colour.Which one, where, how much, at what angle  – those are Continue reading

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still: Acclimatisation


A photograph  of the artist who as a qualified  swimmer  obeys the rules overseen by official bodies, The Channel Swims and Piloting Federation or Channel Swimming Association. That hierarchy  is somewhat undermined by her  determined stare  signalling her being in control. That  is a salient point of the whole enterprise.  On one hand she learns the rules and skills to achieve a prescribed goal in the process which has a clear beginning and end.  On the other, she swaps that for an installation in an art gallery, no clear end, nor guaranteed achievement. Continue reading

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Ian Wieczorek at Marginalia, QSS Gallery Belfast, 4th September – 3rd october 2014

Ian Wieczorek, Double, 50 x 60cm, oil on canvas,2011, Photo Jordan Hutchings

Like a hunter gatherer, Wieczorek searches for images on the internet. The screen with someone else’s image is his inspiration and a source for a choice.  More than that – the final painting above is an exact replica of the image on the screen.  Quite a few knots to Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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Peter Liversidge: Doppelganger at MAC Belfast, 8 August -19 October, 2014


Peter Liversidge, Glove carved in Carrara marble, Photo Peter Foolen

First exhibited by Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh  from  1st August till  21st September 2013  the  facsimiles  of  ten Max Klinger’s  etchings from 1881,  and Liversidge’ s large scale prints of them  were complemented by an imagined room, constructed in the belief, that Max Klinger could have worked in.  There is a clue in that addition – something  imagined could match something real.   After all, the second etching repeats that clue: a man, unnoticed by anybody but the viewer,  picks up a glove possibly dropped by the woman skating away. Continue reading

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Graham Gingles at MAC, Belfast, 2014

Graham Gingles  at MAC,  August, Belfast, 2014

Graham Gingles whole

As Fukuyama put it: in the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. A phase of contemporary art has also been characterized not so long ago as a reformatting of time into a perpetual present. The art that circles itself at the tail end of history looking back on defunct ideologies, archiving and polishing them for …what exactly? Continue reading

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This is not reviewing an exhibition.  I have been grounded for a while by life away from art,  and this essay is not a palimpsest, it has no force to change anything and to show evidence of that change.  It is a meditation on two images of each of two artworks.(In that sense, if the perception can be trusted to hold the memory of one while watching the other, those not- quite-identical twin views are palimpsest of compositions). Continue reading

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Molly O’Dwyer, Becoming Imperceptible, Platform Arts, Belfast, 3-23 July 2014

Molly O'Dwyer Repositioned, video still


This still from the video Repositioned, 2013, is becoming iconic, appearing on a poster, and  on the gallery Facebook page.   It summarises in its tacit visual mode the stable structure of unstable meaning,  when objects insist both on having an identity forged in the past and on becoming  in front of your eyes whatever their structure and your imagination allow.  “Animated by light and positioning, they exist here in a point of transformation” observed Dr Hilary Murray, the curator of this exhibition  in RuaRed Arts Centre, Dublin, 2013. Continue reading

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John Robinson, Installation, June 2014, University of Ulster, Belfast

Photo Paul Marshall


The following short statement  is John Robinson introduction to the two installations for the MFA final exhibition.

Transfigure originates from the subtle changes of light that occur at Dawn and Dusk, in which visual awareness is heightened and a there is a sense of transformation. This work explores the qualities of both natural and artificial light in an attempt to locate itself between contemporary Light Art and the genres of Plein Air and Abstract Painting.

Photo Paul Marshall


Recent work has moved from an exploration of landscape painting to the use of materials that mimic physical phenomenon; lights, smoke, water and found objects. The resulting room sized installations suggest a sense of place, atmosphere and memory that play upon historical-cultural associations with landscape. I am interested in the immersive potential of colour and light to create an experience that James Turrell described as, ‘’seeing yourself see’’

He wrote the above text to accompany two rooms, dark room with artificial light behind the plastic sheet and daylight  room with a large plastic sheet enveloping a simple wooden frame.

Consequently the light, natural or artificial,  forms the tenor of both installations, that subtly negotiate the visual force of painted surface, modeled plastic material and construction in space, while not privileging painting, sculpture or architecture. It is similar to a chamber music trio, each instrument earnestly holding its sound with effortless regard for the other two.

The red and blue tint result from oil paint rubbed onto the plastic, thinly, like a smoke. Placed with joyful freedom the painterly element both evokes and denies abstract paintings, it obeys no composition in a frame,  it prefers  to descend into the appearance of accidental stain (the blue on the right).

Photo Paul Marshall


Attention seeking folds hold a secret link to landscape as they evoke peaks and  valleys, and to the power of detail to narrate.

Photo Ryan Moffett


Photo Ryan Moffett


The transformatory “modelling” of the plastic plays with its transparency, opacity and translucency  to the point of negating each in turn, almost.

The furious inventiveness reminds me of medieval woodcarving, for example the magnificent Veit Stoss in the basilica of Virgin Mary in Cracow.

Veit Stoss Krakow



Here the illusion of soft cloth exquisitely replaces the truth of the material.  Stoss also favours exaggerating optical correctness. Unnatural angles plow the surface in a high relief with exuberance of high skill and confidence.  Every part of the surface is held in tension between what it is made off and what it appears as.

veit stoss

The artificial control of the visualised material into the visible material is akin an Italian opera score for coloratura soprano (say Rossini), meandering around the key detail.


Veit Stoss, Vigin and Child with Pomegranate, engraving,n.d.

Stoss works the cloth into a mass of a ground that both holds the figure upright  and seems to be moving away in both direction.

Photo Paul Marshall

Similar. Yet, Robinson did not consciously applied that link.

Why do I do that?  For two reasons: to distill the visual force of a detail as worked out by some notable artist (I could have used 16th C Gruenewald, or so called Beautiful Madonnas  that appeared  just before and after 1400)  and to advance the notion of transparency of the aesthetic function.  A  visual idea may contain various meanings,  and is capable of adapting to different styles. It facilitates visible relationship between art of different periods.

Photo Ryan Moffett

Identifying a link to medieval sculpture is a locus for Robinson installation becoming a sculpture with volume, mass, balance and surface. The realm of surface wiggles out of that locus harvesting the light’s  play with translucency and tonality, and shadows.  That in turn is the locus where the installation is a painting. Both sculpture and painting are akin whispers about desire to hold and contain the light – when the light is all dominant and free of obligation.

Photo by Ryan Moffett

Or is it something more imaginative?  The light holds the real in recognition of the real space, distances, scale…the rest pulsates between tactile and visual  with an authority guaranteed by the imagination alone.  It offers a hypnotic gentle pleasure of narrative being born in my mind. It is akin Turrell’s “seeing yourself see”, quoted by Robinson in his statement above.

The narrative visual detail became significant also in paintings of Pre-Raphaelites. A long sentence from the Tate Modern catalogue (2012)  is self-explanatory:

The emphasis on complex and unresolved narrative, on social commentary, on aspects of gender, sexuality and desire, and on race, empire and travel; the dialogue with photography and mechanical image-making; the questioning of conventional values, accepted concepts and canons of beauty; the relationship of current art-making to the art of the past; and issues of appropriation and synthesis: all these are preoccupations in the art and culture of our own turbulent times that were vividly explored by the Pre-Raphaelites, the Victorian avant-garde, at the moment of the inception of modern society.

Stoss, Turrell, Pre-Raphaelites, Robinson – all prompt durational viewing, rewarding pauses and probes of how a slow perception alters a meaning.  In that sense art is both observable object and environment for it. I think of it as of spiritual value  floating through the obstacles of sensuality and logic.

Master of Krumlovska Madonna, end of 14th C



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Jennifer Trouton, Ties that Bind, 2013

Jennifer ties that bind whatremains-11-295x360


This oil on linen  differs  by its size 158 x 188 cm, from the rest of Trouton’s oeuvre I have seen. Most are  small scale still lives, 14.5 x 14.5 cm, arranged in large grids. Its width is significant for another reason. The wallpaper looks simultaneously painted and pasted on. That it is painted, has been confirmed by my sight and by the painter. Another confirmation comes for comparing the width of the painting, 158cm, to the  width of 52 cm of each roll of Sanderson Stag Hunt traditional Toile de Jouy. It would need  three rolls to cover the ground of the painting, i.e. two visible joining lines – there are not there. Moreover, there are departures from  the pattern repeat.

Knowledge alters the value of the aesthetic experience which occurs in the framework of precision delivered by a lens or a print, and precision arrived at by hand. I have not in mind reduction of conditions defined by Pierre Bourdieu as habitus.  Instead, I perceive the significance of the painter’s skill  to achieve an illusion as a specific power of painting, when an idea, metaphor and reality condense in a single object.

The most wonderful example of this is the right wing of the Merode Altarpiece.  Meyer Schapiro found a theological meaning in a mousetrap on a window sill behind St Joseph in his carpenter’s role. Coined by St Augustine, mentioned three times in his writing, the Christ’s sacrifice is a mousetrap for the devil  Muscipula Diaboli  (The Art Bouletin, Vol.27,No3, Sept 1945:182-187)


Another object, in the central panel offers another case of such condensation of meaning. The extinguished candle is in the exact centre of the composition that represent the Annunciation.

Robert Campin (1380-1444), Merode Altarpice, Annunciation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The folds on Mary’s garment form rays of a star, the lily stand for purity, and significantly, the extinguished candle stands for the change of being, the divine light gives way to the human presence (God became man -there is a little baby carrying a cross above Gabriel’s wings).

The insertion of time – before and after – by a metaphor of extinguished candle tlight appears in Trouton’s painting  as a sign of the past. The candles are placed in candlesticks previously owned by her grand mother. Both exhibit long use, the layers of spent wax build up their volume. The person who worked in candle light with the luxuriously pretty fabrics and threads departed. The candles signal a loss. They also hold a promise of holding something precious in memory.

Trouton often revives old used materials and objects. Most of those domestic objects are painted in small scale and displayed in large grids.

jennifer grid at Hioghlanes gallery drogheda 201410336643_10201904406719437_1302173412767338319_n


The large painting  shares with the small ones the subject matter and the idea of verisimilitude as the appropriate mode to make domesticity visible.It raises a question how has Trouton  rescued the still life painting from the charge of  aesthetic and political conservatism.

Jennifer14.5 x 14.5.

Both the subject and the aesthetics of  painting ordinary objects have a history the range of which can both undermine  a possible “originality” and defend the strength of reviving Plinian view of painting.

The cosy consensus of relativists, modernists and political artists nails its colours to  “the new” as a move forward forever, regardless of  the losses.   The hegemony of lens base, performance, and  installation art appears to some as justified for the surprising innovations those practices inspire. Very rarely any of those practices achieve the “mute poetry”( Holding Time by Bbeyond and M. Arsem is one of the successes) and the handmade fascinating feasts of imagination  free from gravity, from availability of complex tools and power supply. Only painting can.  For a viewer painting is the most patient of arts – waiting for your next viewing, after you so hurriedly left.

Trouton revives the idea of still life as a view at/fragment of  ordinary domestic life that has been replaced by modern conditions. Not  for her the  exquisite possessions, silver and glass, and sumptuous feasts of food and fruit –  by the Dutch and Flemish Golden Age.  Nor is she focusing on sentiment that regrets the demise of some idyllic past. Her idea of the ordinary connects with sensual beauty of materials and with respect for work, sewing by hand.

White and red fabrics were arranged over a kitchen table, candles extinguished in the candlesticks inherited from her grandmother, balls of string, linen and woolen threads, make reference for traditional materials for weaving and knitting. The ideas of memory and respect   do not have just one look, colour scheme and shape.  Trouton verisimilitude matters.

Ernst Cassirer defended   a departure from the absolutism of modernist demands of “originality” when he freed idea from ownership and connected it to an active force:

What we want to know is not the particular idea as such, but the importance it possesses, and the strength with which it is dealing with the whole structure (see Some remarks on the question of the originality of the Renaissance in Journal of the History of Ideas, IV,1943:51)

importance – strength – structure… all slippery words expected to deliver knowledge. I am not comfortable with Barthes’s reduction of viewing a work of art  to a “wash” of cultural codes.  His is an intellectual formulation as practical instrument for arranging sensory flow in a convenient manner.  In its centre is causality,  whereas   the art of painting is not  intrinsically causal, permeated by deterministic laws. Paint is a non -redundant part of painting, but not sufficient for the whole of even one particular painting.

Verisimilitude is, and has been, a difference making criterion.   In Pliny the competing Zeuxis (grapes fool the birds) and Parrhasius (curtain fools Zeuxis) attach value to deceiving the senses. Denis Diderot writing on Salon  1763 shifts Plinian view towards cognition: Chardin  c’est toujours la nature et la verite.

jennifer chardin SP


Whereas Norman Bryson laments that  ” a perfect essential copy  of the world makes artistic style possible only if the painting deviates from observed nature or object.”  Do you know of a painting which does not deviate from observed world?

Diderot in his cry Oh, Chardin! The colours crushed on your palette are not white, red, black pigments; they are the very substance of the objects, grasped the ineffable but true in art. Diderot  singled out the  collusion of object observed with its painted version as an important idea with a strength to achieve truth.


The Skate ( 1725 -26, Musee du Louvre, Paris, image above) earned Chardin access to the Academie – after centuries of rejecting still life as the too  low a genre to qualify. So, what is it that influenced the taste, the value judgement of Chardin’s peers?




E. Gombrich saw an unobtrusive mastery of tonality in Chardin’s quiet glimpses of ordinary life. The objects are painted as objects of desire without deceiving the eye. They emerge from the space, picked out by light coming from the left.  The nuances  on metal, glass, fruit, table, are  captured with admirable accuracy and unforced harmony.  Perception is not simple processing of stimuli, it is influenced by a prior knowledge.  In a letter to a client Chardin argues that he needs to work very slowly : two paintings a year. Truth is thus a kind of un-truth that derives from natural qualities of the observed over a time when subtle changes do occur.  The correspondence is then by necessity incomplete, yet convincing.

The shift from  habitus  ( viz Pierre Bourdieu)  to cognitive values (truth) parallels   a revival of Aristotle’s view that all knowledge originates in senses. For example Pico della Mirandola, in Oration of Dignity of man (1486),  constructs a reason: ” The Infinite (God) can be known only if it descends from its secret heights and thus makes up the world of common human awareness”. (http:plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2012/entries/pico-della-mirandola)

The idea of conformity between concept and precept,  between existence and its mental representation may morph into conformity between the believed and its mental representation. The medieval art offers plentiful variants.  The biblical stories were willing conspirators with painting, when it became  more  in demand  after tapestries priced themselves out of the market.

The significance of  Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition lies in two changes both facilitated by painting.  The shallow space is framed with carved top corners as expected in sculpted altarpieces.

Weyden Deposition Prado

The imperfect, obscure and uncertain truth of the Deposition by Rogier van der Weyden (1435, copyright 2014, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid) is grounded in observation of real living people.  The figures do not imitate sculptures, the painter celebrates the freedom only the paint offers, for example in luxurious overlaps of Mary Magdalene garment, in patterns over the coat of Nicodemus and in the unsustainable riches of the blue cascade of Mary’s dress. The expressive function of drapery is reminiscent of Merode Altarpiece, Rogier is said to be Campin’s helper on that triptych.

Sensuous softness connects timelessness with  intense feeling of loss, an idea somewhat similar to the loss of culture cherished by the previous generation.   There is a philosophical support for Rogier’s  choices.  He comes from Tournai, where over a century earlier, a cannon of Tournai, later archbishop of Tournai, the rebellious Henry of Ghent  argued that veritas of the res (truth of the thing) is its ontological conformity to its eternal model.  The art is particularly suitable means through which people are brought in contact with interesting human affairs. (borrowed from Ortega y Gasset, The Dehumanization of Art, 1956:9) . Rogier’s  figures are not engaged in a joyful expectation of salvation, they experience the premature death of one of them. The feeling shared is made visible by mirroring poses of Mary Magdalene and St John, and by the parallel between the  bodies of Christ and falling Mary.

The delicate negotiation of truth with the painted object in a virtual shallow  space places sight as a dominant sense.  What turns these paintings into masterpieces and trans historical truth? Why does something happen rather than nothing?

The Ties that Bind develops the Chardin’s idea of domestic objects in asymmetrical composition blended with  Rogier’s down to earth mental presentation of believed narrative into asseveration of power of painting to tell the truth while defending  oneiric value.

Trouton’s  painting emanates charisma  without being dependent on a known story or association grounded in previous knowledge. The painting takes risks.  Its frame does not contain it, instead  it limits what is visible.  Not what is there in the real space.  Part pro toto is an entry for incompleteness as a trope of representation, a trope of metonymy. It has consequences: it increases intimacy of the delicate negotiation between a stable knowledge of what is seen and instability of what meaning is made visible. It changes the framework of the image. It is thus both a fragment of domestic life, and a memorial  celebrating the previous generation.  The painting’s  transformatory power is immersed in materiality, faithful to the collusion of the object and its image . It implies close engagement of the painter with the subject. Trouton often selects subjects connected to her family or objects found in other people homes with commitment to fidelity to the found object, to an  unforced harmony of composition, while capturing true nuances with admirable accuracy.The above admits family resemblance across Trouton art practice as autochtonic.

How does a work of art come to be considered great?

The intuitive answer is that some works of art are just great: of intrinsically superior quality. The paintings that win prime spots in galleries, get taught in classes and reproduced in books are the ones that have proved their artistic value over time. If you can’t see they’re superior, that’s your problem. It’s an intimidatingly neat explanation. But some social scientists have been asking awkward questions of it, raising the possibility that artistic canons are little more than fossilised historical accidents.  (Quote from  INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2014)


I have seen the  Ties that Bind unfinished. The amount of effort needed to get the folds in the red cloth right  were a palpable evidence of the challenge the object set for the painter. Trouton has not flinched. Moreover, she recycles objects that won her recognition as stimulus and a source of difficulty. The image below is an earlier use of the motive.

Jennifer SHIFT white cloth

Comparing the pull of the different composition  opens up the difference in purpose,  a different sense of purpose.  It is not the convincing imitation, nor any instability  of optical experience. Instead, the painter submits to a delicate negotiation of how much pattern is enough, how much details is enough, how much approximation is too little. All paints  in that painting issue a call to the visual and tactile senses to engage.

Her art” sensitively acknowledges the scientific truth that neural signals are related less to a stimulus per se than to its congruence with internal goals and predictions, calculated on the basis of previous input to the system.” ( borrowed from an ongoing research by  Karsten Rauss at University of Tubingen).

In her still lives, Trouton assimilates  into her composition technical skills and formal values of  lens based and installation art by painting,  which  choice  clearly challenges the  “progressive”view that painting is over.


Image of Ties that Bind courtesy of the artist

Merode Altarpiece – courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, accessed online

Deposition – courtesy Prado, Madrid accessed online

Chardin, courtesy Louvre, Paris, accessed online


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Susan Connolly, Something about Some Things to do With Paint

Curated by Hugh Mulholland at MAC, Belfast, 9May – 22 June 2014

Susan Connolly at MAC

Great art and mediocrity can get confused, even by experts. But that’s why we need to see, and read, as much as we can. The more we’re exposed to the good and the bad, the better we are at telling the difference – that’s the considered conclusion of the researchers  in the field.  The above image presents one of the three remarkable  paintings Susan Connolly included in her current exhibition at the MAC, photographed by Simon Mills.  The first impression is of a painting destroyed in an emotional outburst. However, it is a carefully constructed work. Continue reading

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The sound of Campbells work  behind the back wall saturated the whole gallery,  interfering with the viewing of works by  Moffett (on the wall) and Hughes(between the columns)

Hughes installation

Curated by Phillip McCrilly and supported by  Ben Crothers’s  substantial informative essay as a free handout to visitors,  the exhibition aims at presenting several manifestations of reflective thought on its subject. Continue reading

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Alice Clark, Dispersal, Market Place Theatre and Art Centre, Armagh, 28/03 – 26/04 2014

White Cube!  Calm and confidently pretty,  it tolerates exhibits on the severe condition of no nails or screws on the walls, or anywhere.

In the centre of the room the greenhouse housed a chair, writing desk and a box. Outside, a shelving with more boxes, with more brown envelopes.  The bench at the far wall equipped with two headphones was a listening point to stories previous visitors wrote and Clark recorded.

Alice Clark greenhouseDSC_0367


The row of ink and charcoal drawings of plants are clipped to a horizontal line on the wall.  More drawings were scanned  onto brown envelopes containing seeds and arranged  as a grid leaning against an opposite wall.


Alice Clark  grid

The three groups interact.

The audience are invited to bring seeds ( in my presence, a woman brought seeds shaped like red heart,  collected in Mexico), then sit in the greenhouse at the desk and write a story about the plant, how they nurtured the seeds, and the plant, and what it meant to them.

Clark made a flow from one group of objects to another  and to another a tool for  growth rooted in  free exchange and  shared belief in value of seeds. This idea is akin a social ceremony of the kind assumed to be at the birth of paleolithical cave paintings. It has been established that a surface damage on Altamira wall paintings is indication that paintings were touched or wounded – possibly in the belief that a successful future hunt will be secured.


altamira painting/credit Ramessos

Altamira Painting.


With those early works of art, Dispersal shares a belief that manipulating an artwork has a corresponding effect in the real world.

While gathering seeds and exchanging seeds for stories, both share with that ancient belief its indeterminacy, Clark’s concept is nevertheless more direct, and independent of magic. Unless, we accept that the seeds may or may not germinate as a function of extraneous power, of which we have only partial knowledge.

Search for knowledge, invention of classification and  botanical nomenclature make appearance in Clark’s use of scientific names. After that she departs from the tradition of  botanical illustration. Its oldest surviving example  is said to be the  Codex Vindobonensis,  a copy of Dioscorides, De Materia  Medica.

Codex vindobonensis

Such drawings or watercolours depended on observation and later on scientific knowledge to ascertain the form, colour and detail of each plant correctly.

Six handcoloured prints   taken fro Die Alpen - Pflanzen Deutschlands und der Schweiz H1121872005

An exhibit from Die Alpen Pflanzen Deutschlands und der Schweiz

Clark applies the criterion of correctness, but feels free to focus on some parts only.  The following comparison of her drawing of  vetch   with a photo image of the plant illustrates her decision what from the observed is allowed to settle on the page.


Alice Clark lusky

Alice Clark, Vetch, 2014, ink and charcoal, 420x300mm. Photo Jordan Hutchings




The delicate drawing of  vicia sativa  aligns more to an alien insect or a map that the lush bushy plant.  Clark’s reductive process operates economy of means that is trusted to remove the threat of imitation.  Her drawing  claims kinship with embroidery, the marvel of a thread connecting what was separate.  It enjoys also a fluency known from handwriting.

It is unfortunate that in this culture a medium should influence the value of art. William Morris made an attempt  to remedy that when he called so called lesser arts( i.e. hand craft, weaving, pottery etc)  life supporting.  This exhibition is  life supporting by focusing on seeds as promise of future harvest.

Phlomis cashmeriana

Alice Clark three on a line

Alice Clark, Phlomis, 2014 ink and charcoal, 420x 300mm, Photo Jordan Hutchings


Clark has seen,  in  the Belfast gallery PS Square (July 2010), the exhibition  Plant Drawings.  A stall with perennial flowers was transported to it from the St George Market.  Visitors were allowed to take one plant if they made a drawing of it first.  The collection of drawings was later taken back to the market.  The emphasis was on the non artist, on amateurs who loved flowers.

The Dispersal  also expected public commitment, the relationship between objects and generosity of spirit. Dealing with a subject that belongs to those “lesser arts” (growing plants) the artist has to protect both the art and what is outside art, when often art and life are at odds with each other.

Only rarely, she slipped from strict observation into intoxication of imagination.  I sensed her need to breath life into the head of agapanthus by weaving shapes over one another.

Alice Clark hlavice scribbles


This delicate drawing professes another departure from the botanical illustration with panache: no need for the multicoloured informative completeness.  Just one stronger black short line  under the flower head – enough to believe that it is a three-dimensional stem.

Whereas the thistle got the more traditional treatment.

Alice Clark, Thistle, 2014, ink and charcoal, 420 x 300 mm, photo Jordan Hutchings


Except – what are the marks above it?  Well – smudges. Less careful artist may leave them without considering their impact. Clark is meticulous in all she includes.  And seeing the non-defining marks on another of the sheets – I came to think of them as transformatory.

Alice Clark Fennel 2014

Alice Clark, Fennel, 2014, ink and charcoal, 420 x 300 mm Photo Jordan Hutchings


Like the Altamira paintings these drawings were touched with fingers that transformed the seen  into believable.  The marks are witnesses of that process, sincere witnesses.

Seeds are delicate, fly in the air, without knowing their final destination, they find it by chance.  Clark’s drawings have  similar ambition  and fate.


Alice Clark, Clematis, 2014, ink and charcoal, 420 x 300 mm ;Photo Jordan Hutchings




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this is authenticity, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 3-24 April 2014


Adrian Duncan, Self-building and upkeep, 2014, commissioned text available as a takeaway


Curated by Eoin Dara the exhibition takes its name from a marketing slogan for a gated residential development Santa Elena City  in the Philippines: What is real, what is honest, what is true …this is authenticity.

After that it has nothing to do with Philippines, and all to do with authenticity, its absence, and playing with it.

One of the exhibits is an essay Self-building and upkeep  by Adrian Duncan, artist, writer, structural engineer, who holds an MA in Art. Taking a catalogue of bungalow designs published by Jack Fitzsimmons in 1971, Duncan proposes that “these one-off, self-built houses were also expressions of a type of Modernity….a strange, inchoate, hybrid modernism.” Some of that strangeness is born by the paradox between an almost sacred  “Irish”  western regions and the “inauthentic” modern bungalows”.  A paradox that dies, if your neighbours do the same, the presumed “in-authenticity”  becomes “…normalised, restrictive, and silent to the point of being unspeakable, then irrelevant, then slowly forgotten.” (p 2)  Inadvertently, it is a reminder of the  aesthetic thought of the 1930s. The classic Modernism entertained the idea that every norm is immediately shadowed by an anti-norm ( J Mukarovsky).  The absence of authenticity is shadowed by something authentic. It must include Aoife MacNamara’s  idea that those alienated forms  were  “symbols of defiance”. Duncan equates the new authenticity with two features of dwellings:” the act of building one’s house and the public self-expression bound up in the general upkeep of one’s home and domain.”

As I write, I see through a window, over two meadows, a small bungalow. It was built in the last century by a cobbler who played a violin and published a book of poems. It was an one-off  dwelling, with no running water and electricity, two room on each side of the entrance, no foundation.  A shelter, not much advanced on the prehistoric stone houses on the Dingle peninsula, they keep rain out even today. They were also self-built, normalised, and slowly forgotten (replaced) – once.

My neighbour’s bungalow,  resonated with grounding the authenticity of a dwelling in a conviction that ” to live in a private house is in every way a higher form of life”. (Herman Muthesius, Das Englische Haus, 1904 -1905). Some forms  repeat, the curator of this exhibition lives in a type of housing  Muthesius praised when he saw the housing for factory workers in Port Sunlight.


Given the considerable differences between conditions in which people live, the “every way” obtains different meanings, nevertheless, in principle, it holds true for the financial elite as well as for a marginalised cobbler. However, as Zygmunt Bauman argues, people, mainly young people,  are today being cast in a condition of luminal drift without knowing when it will stop, if ever. The effort to merely survive becomes a way of life. That is the real alienation, which dominates the indeterminate, bleak and insecure future. It is not anymore “how one chooses to shelter, dwell and dream”.

The visual exhibits do address the outrageous toxic pleasure of pathological individualism and distorted notions of freedom.

Jun Yang ( 1975, Quingtian, China)  studied visual art and media work in Vienna and Amsterdam, and lives and works in Vienna, Tokyo and Taipei.

Jun Yang, Paris Syndrome, 2007/2008. Dv transfered to HD

Paris Syndrome, 2007/2008 relates to his later work through its ambiguous visualisation of social spaces that are unable to provide “a higher form of life”.

Jun Yang paris syndrome on balcony

The couple’s appearance and movements cast them as robots, manikins, perfectly groomed, appropriately correct, completely reluctant to imagine what unemployed, disposable persons are experiencing – yet. they carry/emanate  that bleak engulfing precarity.

Yang zooms on the inability to think as a  root of  outrageous ignorance. Before my consciousness registered it, he infected my viewing with colours and forms that screamed “false”. Not authentic – it convincingly looks like a film set! However, both the buildings and the two young people exist.  In the gap between the authentic and not authentic, between the expected and delivered,  – the viewer deposits own experience. Yang made a silent cradle for that.






Martin Boyle (b, 1982) adds visual trickery to his critique of “front room aesthetics”. Remember, front rooms proudly kept away from children, ready to impress visitors?

Martin Boyle, Sunrise (left), Padlock (right), both 2013, framed giclee print


Martin Boyle went further. He made a trap for the eye – I walked into it, briefly. Cherishing it later, when I realised that the trunk of the palm is not about to break, and that the banister is not painted.  The titles deliberately depart from the real towards the made up, a tactic that appears in his art quite often, not sheltering art from humour given the role to undermine received meaning.

Martin Boyle, Iceburg, 2010m plastic botles woven together with clear cable ties

Martin Boyle, Iceburg, 2010, plastic bottles woven together with clear cable ties

Or more recently in an exhibition at the Ulster Museum, Belfast.

Martin Boyle, The Worlds first all Diamond Ring, 2012

Martin Boyle, The World’s first all Diamond Ring, 2012/2013


The power architecture of the Piazza Grande is subverted by the sky that looks like moonlight/sunlight reflecting in the sea; the image condemned to battle/play with high lights and shadows, as if under the studio lighting.


Martin Boyle, Piazza Grande, 2013, pasted wall image


It matters how the exhibits occupy the space.  Singly – from different points of view. That isolation provides for private encounters that engender intimate togetherness between the image and the viewing. Touch of exclusive whispering, with in-your-face question: is it authentic?

this is authenticity, M Boyle, Piazza Grande (essay in the background)

In the mid distance, the curator erected a wall with Boyle’s visual play on one side and, on the dorso, the moving images of Jun Yang, the essay in opposite corner to the wall carrying the other two Boyle’s images.  A net designed to direct your attention, but not to everything, perhaps.

On the floor, left from a previous exhibition, a drawing of straight lines submitted its geometry as a silent witness to another display, to another work of art. I applaud the visual sensitivity of the curator, he embraced the unintended visual information  as a part of the calm whole, effortlessly. Well, at least that how it works for me. Beautifully. This exhibition is about visual intelligence, after all.

Images courtesy the artists and Jordan Hutchings.

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Sinead McKeever – visiting her studio March 2014

 Sinead McKeever (MFA, 2008, University of Ulster)  is based at Queen Street Studios, Belfast, in the new spaces at Bedford Street.  She described her art practice thus:

Sinead McKeever Threshold I&II

Threshold I&II, 2008,Dibond, spray paint, 3mmx80mmx2440mm


My practice is process lead; through experimentation and rigorous editing I explore the possibilities of found industrial and domestic materials. Ockhams’s Razor, the principle of parsimony (“ Plurality should not be posited without necessity”) informs my way of thinking. I integrate the Fluxus idea of the simple gesture as part of the process of creating. Minimalist sensibilities are reinterpreted and a more organic, ornamental response is incorporated.

Artworks are created in situ, psychological tensions are introduced to heighten the senses. By engaging directly with the physical space, both ocular and haptic vie for control. In an ongoing exploration of spatial occupation and application, layers of histories are at once revealed and concealed, these actions reinforce the delicacy and ephemeral nature of the work. The questioning of hierarchical systems of measuring and knowledge are filtered and constructed. Fragmented beginnings and endings are volunteered so that perception and interpretation are open ended. Diagrams, solutions, text and visual notes suggest possible communication that evolve and change. Concepts of educational processes are implied and types of knowledge are responded to in a quotidian manner. Revelation and concealment interrupt these interfaces. (Quoted from Artist’s statement)

When tested against her sculpture  three ideas appear dominant: economy of means, the delicate engagement with communicative layers,  and connection with older art (history layers). Continue reading

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Keith Connolly, Verbally Confirmed, Waterfront Hall, Belfast, January 10 -31, 2014

Keith Connolly Prima Materia

Keith Connolly, Prima Materia. exhibited at Belfast Exposed, March/April, 2012

Connolly is a classical modernist – and not just for the parallel  an eye may discern between his images and those of Herbert Bayer and Laszlo Moholy Nagy,  Bauhaus greats who inspired some of his decision.

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TACTILE at Catalyst Arts, Belfast, 2014. Helen MacMahon, Polychromatic Shadow Configuration Device, 2013.

Helen MacMahon, Polychromatic Shadow Configuration Device 2013, material: trestle, spotlights, coloured lighting gels, PVC tape, MDF. Photo by Jordan Hutchings includes two visitors interacting with the installation.

Mac Mahon lists her engagement with space and light as a dominant concept of her art practice (see http://www.helenmacmahon.com “Subject matter is simply space and light”) Before I write about her installation in some detail, I would like to introduce the other four works of art that  formed the TACTILE exhibition at Catalyst Arts from 7th until 14th March 2014.

 Clodagh Lavelle   offered   High Heart, 2012  – a circular installation  of soft sculptures, connected to ropes and pulleys, to enable people to change the shapes Continue reading

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Susan MacWilliam: Kathleen, 2014, video, 33 minutes

To view online: http://vimeo.com/susanmacwilliam/kathleen

An approximation of a video by still images and citation from the archival sources has its disadvantages. For example: loss of the rhythm at which each image stays on screen, the uncertainty that words and images are synchronous or not. The one advantage I cherish is that whoever reads this text has also a fragmented reminder of the video’s visual part.

The intentional fallacy notwithstanding, MacWilliam’s  i n t e n t i o n  was  a vague proposal  that the video subject/ content  “ will be some obscure or overlooked history”.  It also was a defined concept. When the Derry –Londonderry City of Culture Commission  was awarded to her she never heard about the writer Kathleen Coyle (1886 – 1952), who born in Londonderry  lived in Liverpool. London, Dublin, Antwerp, Paris and New York, and died in Philadelphia. Yet, the writer became the subject of this video.

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Angela Halliday, Topographies: Smithfield, Belfast, 2013


This archival image from 2011 presents the new Smithfield Market  replacing the one the perished in the fire during the so called Troubles.

Smithfield-Market-fire-1974050701SM1 (1)

The disappeared one is still cherished in  a charming web of stories, histories and tales, with a support of some old  photographs. Continue reading

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Cathy Henderson, Ebb and Flow. at the ADF Gallery, Belfast, 17 January – 7 March 2014

Cathy Henderson, West Kerry Winter Skyscape, 2012, oil on linen. The three smaller paintings have the shared title of Blasket Skyscape, 2012, oil on linen, and a consecutive numbers 1,2,3.

Cathy Henderson exhibited  twenty images  aiming “…to capture the transience of the coastal view: a sense of shifting skies, and the persistently fluctuating mood of weather.” (News Release January 2014). Continue reading

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MOMENTUM at Catalyst Arts Belfast, 24 – 31 January 2014

Ten postgraduate students of the MFA at the University of Ulster  presented interim exhibition  in the both exhibition spaces of the CA gallery.


The image on this poster is a screen grab of a video by Jonny McEwen (b 1966).Nothing moves except for the white material in the top right hand  corner under the name of the Continue reading

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Equilibrium? Royden Rabinowitch at the GTG Project room, 09/01/2014 – 25/01/2014

Equilibrium poster

The drawing  above carries the instruction for the sculpture that appears in this exhibition.

Organised in partnership with Politics Plus (www.politicsplus.com, launched on February 2oth, 2013) it aims at an elusive instrumental value of art while focusing on one work of art, Greased Cone, 1965 by Royden Rabinowitch (b 1943). Continue reading

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Michael Hanna, Behaviour Setting, Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, 7 December – 25 January 2014


Delightful generosity of spirit and academic erudition of Dr Declan Long, who wrote the catalogue essay, have not prepared me for the visual beauty of the animation of patterns in Gallery One, nor for the  immersive environment in Gallery Two. There,  in the dark blue darkness one screen starts at the beginning, its close neighbour at the end.

Michael Hanna 2 by Peter

Michael Hanna by Peter 1

Two consecutive images in Gallery One, photo Peter Richards. In front the silhouette of his son.

In an elegant overview of Michael Hanna art practice before the current exhibition,  Long’s thoughtful focus reflected on the historical and theoretical scaffolding of Hanna’s three previous exhibitions. Continue reading

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An afternoon at MAC, Saturday, 11 January, 2014.

MAC 2014 Hugh

At  three o’clock, in front of approximately fifty viewers, Hugh O’Donnell started his performance in front of the projected video. Its subject was the weeping face of a Dutch artist who disappeared, later, in 1975, attempting to cross the Atlantic in a small sailboat .  Bas Jan Ader acts to a camera that documents in black and white. We see his head  en face-  few times his right  hand  touching  and twisting his hair, smoothing his hair -what was supposed to be  visual equivalent of sadness. The video, made in 1971,  is named  I am too sad to tell you.  The verbal and the visual immediately enter a paradox framed by “I cannot tell you” and “I am telling you via a camera and projected images”.  The video loop kept repeating over and over, ad nauseum, throughout O’ Donnell’s performance. Apparently it was his choice.

Two strongly competing phenomena took over: O’Donnell’s body and gestures were difficult to see, mostly appearing as black cut out silhouettes. Some details, e.g. smearing something over his head, could be only guessed.  The contrast between not knowable parts and those schematized into  two dimensional shadow  pointed to the cognitive insecurity so fatally connected not with the video, but its subject and author.  The second phenomena born out of the constant projection  was much more wounding. It lead to complete loss of the belief that Ader has been  genuinely sad.  Instead, convincing  artificial pretense became fully foregrounded.  Ader’s acting came out as dilettantish.

MAC Hugh balancing Jordan largeDSC_1720

O’Donnell responded with a long phase of balancing barefoot on two lines on the floor,  and then, carrying a broken chair, dismantling it with decisive noise of the wood hitting the floor. This visceral element wiped out the intended impact of the video, replacing it with a realization that the image  is an  exercise in narcissistic love of Self.

The projection was also at the background of the dance performed by  Maeve McGreavy. Working within her own choreography to a sound a cello.Significantly, she used a light to map a path across the space in front of the video projection. It positively affected the visual force of her  body  dressed black, inside  a warm,  almost earth coloured light.

MAC 2014 dancer

Her dance became so foregrounded that the video lost its visual force and turned into a “wallpaper” you can easily ignore.

MAC Maeve mid point Jordan large

She was a superb interpreter of the concept of dance I know from  Pina Bausch and  Ballet Rambert. I do not have the professional vocabulary to describe the precision of her stops to a fluent movement, definition of angles, fluency of stretches, graceful placement of pointed foot, light touch when changing a rhythm with masterly precision… Some of the passages she repeated with such gravitas that they easily became iconic, for the removal of the personal. Yet, were this be a poem, I would call it personal.

The third performer, Sandra Johnston, wisely switched the video projection off, and moved the audience nearer to the space where she positioned her performance. While the two previous works of art replaced the presumed intimacy of the video with a field of energy of here and now, Johnston’s  performance focused back on the ways of making the intimate visible. She started with brutally fast repeated,  bending down  to draw on the floor. A piece of chalk in her left hand marked the floor again and again, ending as an organic tongue of white.  Several times, the energy of the sweep resulted in losing her balance.  Then she briefly touched the floor in a spiky  tick to straightened up – as if effortlessly.  The hard demand on the body is her hallmark. It surfaced not only in her licking some of the chalk mark off, but also in her contorting right hand as if out of its anatomical  setting.  I thought – stop now…  I felt a relief when she did.  Not such success with her putting a stone into her mouth.  Sitting on a  chair, she bend her head  far back, letting the stone  travel deep into her mouth. Her cheeks turned hollow, like on old faces, like in Munch’s Scream.

MAC SANDRA chair Jordan Large

As if there was not enough torture – she placed three glasses from which she drunk, in an elongated triangle. She placed her hands on the two in front  and lifted her body above the floor. Then she started to wiggle her feet to reach the third glass. Failed.

MAC  2014 Sandra

The whole work was a kind of remembrance of Henri  Bergson’s claim that we do not achieve achievable. Presented as a tragedy –  kind of tragedy we know from classical Greece, Antigona comes to mind- its ephemerality mirrored life.  Johnston has a store of information in her muscles and brain, to choose from how to make something visible using her body. And more often than not, she crosses the cautionary discomfort of pain barrier.  Her performance was not describing sadness, it was it. The artists’ trust that we shall view her work on its merit may quell our anxiety to know more, as we crave a narrative. This means that there should be a wider breadth of meaning, even beyond the one intended.

Art has not lost the force to preserve the unknown, and still validate our private  aesthetic experience.

Images: Jordan Hutchings

January, 15th, 2013.

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Shiro Masuyama, Borderline Project, 2013/2014

Shiro vitrina

This is not a museum vitrine – it is a kind a table top at the front window of a caravan which

Shiro interior front

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