The Problem with Stability at Pallas Projects Pat Foster & Jen Berean: The Problem with Stability, installation view, image courtesy PCP.

Over the last few years, Dublin has undergone social and economic changes – from the booming economy of the late 90s to the current economic slump.  Many parts of the city are unrecognisable. Melbourne-based artists, Pat Foster and Jen Berean who have been working collaboratively since 2001, recently began a two-month residency at Fire Station Artists’ Studios, located near the IFSC/Docklands area in Dublin.  The residency was part of an ongoing exchange between Fire Station Studios and Gertrude Contemporary Art Space (GCAS) in Melbourne.

During this residency – through the study and research of the city – the artists addressed the language of architecture in Dublin. The Problem with Stability responds to and reflects on  the different ways the urban environment has changed here, and in turn asks more general questions as to the function of macro, city architecture and temporary structures, and their influence on  movement within built environments.

The first piece, Unwavering Support (for the first time, absolutely), is a large lambda print framed in black.  A gridded, square mesh cut from the steel barrier standing at the centre of the room, is placed on top of the print and partially covers two images.  The black-and-white image at the centre depicts an ordinary street scene; men in suits and construction workers patiently wait to cross the road. The other image is wild, loose.  A man, with his arms in the air, walks across hot coals. [1]  This image seems out of place – the contrast between the smooth, intersecting grid and the man walking across hot coals, distrupts the normal patterns of spatial organization and experience, and allows psychological insights of the built environment to surface.

Unwavering Support (for the last time, resolutely)Pat Foster & Jen Berean: Unwavering Support (for the last time, resolutely), 2010, image courtesy PCP.

At the centre of the gallery, Unwavering Support (for the last time, resolutely) is the section of barrier – one like those used to control crowds – with a square section removed and a  large sheet of safety glass resting against it.  They support each other and from this, the expected function of the materials is removed.  This balance forces the viewer to reframe the materials in the context of the gallery. The tension between the two materials in this arrangement suggests a balance that is unreliable, thus  rendering these sturdy and industrial materials fragile.

Opportunities and Constraints 1 and 2 are large sheets of paper folded into a square and placed on the wall. I want to unfold the paper – to see what it becomes. Two opposing forces seem to be at work: the constraints of the material imposed by the artists and the object’s potential to unfold. Again, such constraints refer back to the function of built environments and the fragile shapes that determine the way we move and live within this urban environment.

Problem with StabilityPat Foster & Jen Berean, Untitled, from the Problem with Stability series, safety glass and enamel, 2008, image held here.

Beside, Untitled (from the series The Problem with Stability) is a pane of safety glass, enamelled black at the back.  It is smashed; the splinters propogating outward from the centre in different directions like a broken store window.

Through the placing of these objects in this white cube, there is an exaggerated underlying sense of unease – this so-called ‘built-in’ anxiety. As a result, attempts to achieve order and control have an adverse effect. The Problem with Stability offers a bold, minimal approach to a relevant and current topic, and makes for a humble and cohesive show.

Niamh Dunphy lives and works in Dublin.

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[1] Pat Foster & Jen Berean, Responding to Dublin, Visual Artists’ News Sheet, March/April 2010, p. 15.