paper visual art journal

Liam Crichton: ]|[, 26 April – 12 May, 2012, Satis House, Deramore Avenue, Belfast.

27.09.2012 (7:41 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Satis House sits unassumingly among the other red brick Edwardian houses on quiet Deramore Avenue in South Belfast. But inside, under the curatorial direction of founders Kim McAleese and Eoin Dara, the master bedroom has been transformed into a studio and exhibition space where emerging and established artists are encouraged to develop and show new work.

The house positions itself somewhere between an art gallery and a dwelling, where stark white walls hint at outlines of latticing, skirting boards, hidden radiators and mantle pieces. This in-between space, containing the traces of its own past, provides a suitable backdrop for Liam Crichton’s exhibition ]|[, where, according to the press release: “fictional histories of a simplistic and nostalgic past are presented alongside austere modernist forms.” What Crichton has presented here in this hidden gallery, however, is far from simplistic.

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Liam Crichton: Witch Dance (2012), mirror, course sea salt; Courtesy Satis House and the artist.

The show’s title, ]|[, a neologism, is unpronounceable, unexplainable, and inaccessible – a visual riddle. It has been affixed to the face of Satis House in the form of a large, white, back-lit sign, beckoning all of those who are aware of the house’s new status to come inside to discover its referent. ]|[ evokes the syntactic signs in thrillers and horror films that are repeated, coded, and contain hidden messages. Accustomed to this visual cinematic language as most of us are, a reading of the ]|[ sign inevitably becomes arcane and loaded with occult meaning.

Guided in the half-light by a trail of flower petals up the carpeted stairs, a chest-high angled mirrored column, surrounded by coarse rock salt, is the first thing visible when entering Satis House’s gallery space. The artist’s self-proclaimed liking of Stanley Kubrick’s films is echoed in this work, ostensibly, this piece is an allusion to the mysterious monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The contrast between the flat, silver surface and the tactile, rough mineral of Witch Dance perfectly summarises the convergence of material associated with the land, the earth, and the ‘rural’, ‘austere’, and ‘minimalist forms’ mentioned in the press release.

With Witch Dance Crichton references the story of a marshland witch-hunt, the salt symbolic of a cleansing agent to drive out the devil and purify. Its harsh angles and ambiguous size is not nostalgic and firmly roots it in the present, or perhaps even in a sci-fi future and gives it an almost threatening quality.  When photographed Witch Dance appears to be barely visible, halfway between our field of vision and another plane; a liminal object.

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Liam Crichton: Silent Servant (2012), decanter, spoon, flower petals, shelf; Courtesy Satis House and the artist.

On the left wall of the space, mounted above a rough wooden shelf bearing a liquid-filled crystal decanter, a small spoon and more flower petals, hangs a section of woody vine, curled into a spiral. It is a peculiar thing that alludes to the ritualistic objects perhaps used during occult or necromantic ceremonies.

Some of the items on the shelf that make this piece, Silent Servant, reference stories from Crichton’s youth: the vine originates from his mother’s back garden, where for years this jasmine tendril slowly curled its way around a washing line. It is/becomes both a nostalgic relic and a vessel for imagined allegories of a Beuysian nature. The crystal decanter with yellow liquid, which proves to be bleach on closer (olfactory) inspection, is an appropriate material for the Satis House exhibition space with its domestic connotations: a contemporary purifier. The aged silver spoon that lies next to it is reminiscent of nourishment and maternity and one feels that these objects referring to the rituals of feeding and cleaning could be interpreted as having been placed on a symbolic shrine to motherhood.

The physical properties of the materials used throughout this exhibition – salt, mirrors, bleach, wood, flower petals, and crystal – can be understood by touch, smell, and associated memories. To the viewer they are visually imbued with cultural and symbolic meaning and yet their exact significance at times feels coded or just out of reach, which fuels a yearning to unravel some of the work’s more obscure narratives.

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Liam Crichton: Untitled, photograph; Image courtesy Satis House and the artist.

Above the covered mantelpiece at the far end of the space hangs a portrait of a woman. Her face is old and yellowed, with deep-set eyes and a stern mouth. Like the other works featured in the show, this piece is ambiguous, for it functions at once as a painting and yet is not. Its surface is torn and displays large white gashes of paper, revealing that the ‘painting’ is a scan or photograph, a reproduction of something old in modern media. The warm colour of the (reproduced) oils and the hinted history of the image are offset by the neutrality of the space in which the portrait hangs.

The woman was Crichton’s great-great grandmother. When staying at his grandmother’s house in Scotland as a child he was scared of her gaze as her eyes followed him down the dark corridor at night. Crichton’s reproduction of this portrait as a cheap copy of the original (and precious) oil painting may be an attempt to assuage this haunting childhood memory while simultaneously acknowledging its symbolic potency.

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Liam Crichton: ]|[, installation view, 2012; Courtesy Satis House and the artist.

The work shown at Satis House tells of legends, myths and the type of storytelling rooted in ancient places, and is rich with autobiographic meaning linked to Crichton’s upbringing in Scotland. Crichton engages with his subjects and materials in a natural, instinctive, and confident way. What is on display in this space is a top layer hinting at hidden depths. The aftermath of this show, the feeling it leaves you with, can best be described as that feeling you get when you wake up after a heavy half-remembered dream or having finished a novel describing a world you truly believed in but cannot really enter.


Alissa Kleist is an artist, curator and writer currently living and working in Belfast. She is a co-director at Catalyst Arts, works in Belfast Exposed Photography Gallery and is a founding member of artist collective PRIME.

www.satis-house.com
www.crichton-ross.com

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Sterile Environment, Group show, Catalyst Arts, Belfast, 2 – 23 June, 2011.

26.08.2011 (2:07 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Sterile Environment, a recent group show that took place at Catalyst Arts, explores Belfast’s changing physiognomy and includes work by Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell, Andrew Dodds, Aideen Doran, Eoin McGinn, Michael Pinsky, Keith Winter, and Forum for Alternative Belfast.

On the outside wall of Catalyst Arts, Eoin McGinn’s stencil piece reads in black, capital letters: “Dreamed of Places.” Inside, McGinn’s Urbanisation (2011) is a detailed screenprint depicting the built environment from various angles and overlapping perspectives.  The drawings, based on Belfast architecture, resemble technical drawings, however, instead of neatly arranged plans they are disorderly – a chaotic representation contained within a sphere. Space and the objects within are not static, or clearly defined they are instead a representation of the the layers of structure and meaning that exist. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty says of the relationship between the individual and objects: ­­­­“The things of the world are not simply neutral objects which stand before us for our contemplation.  Each one of them symbolises or recalls a particular way of behaving, provoking in us reactions which are either favourable or unfavourable.”[i] McGinn’s work also brings forth questions of city planning – how the built or unbuilt environments will affect the future.  Just as the graffiti on the outside wall of Catalyst will soon disappear, so too will these dreamy, utopian ideals of yesterday that will never become manifest.

Eoin Mcginn: Urbanisation, 2010, screenprint; image courtesy the artist and Catalyst Arts.Eoin McGinn: Urbanisation, 2010, screenprint; image courtesy the artist and Catalyst Arts.

Beside McGinn’s piece is Andrew Dodds’s Within spitting distance (2011), a large black-and-white print hung on the wall.  The archival image (c. 1980) was photographed in Cornmarket, an area in Belfast that was a meeting point for so called counter-culture youths during the 1970s and 80s.  Punkish looking youths sit on wall dressed in tight jeans and boots.  Cornmarket has now been given an extensive makeover – known as Victoria Square, it is a gleaming shopping centre with a massive glass dome and over fifty retail stores that opened in 2008. As a result of this development, these former gathering places have been replaced by Top Shop, Miss Selfridge, and Boots. As Dodds’s piece points out, space and time temporal.  Such globalised models and places for development take no account of previously existing structures or cultural areas – either official or informal.  This candid photograph, enlarged and placed on a gallery wall takes on an unexpected significance.  It becomes active a second time as a reminder of the palimpsest of historical moments which have existed in a single place and have long since disappeared.

Aideen Doran’s video Homes for today and tomorrow (Belfast) is subtle and compelling. The video, projected on a timber construction that is held in place by two burlap sacks, shows archive footage of the now demolished Divis Flats complex in Belfast that were built in the Brutalist-style between 1968-1972. Footage taken from UTV shows close-ups of windows with coloured curtains, children playing, images of the Divis tower and apartment complex itself.  The garish and bright images seem almost futuristic, like clips from a sci-fi film from the 60s. The video piece seems to illustrate a shifting between the past and the future as the slow, rocking forward and back between images like a suspension in time.

Aideen Doran: Homes for today and tomorrow, installation view, video, timber; image courtesy Catalyst Arts.Aideen Doran: Homes for today and tomorrow, installation view, video, timber frame; image held here.

The 1956 exhibition This is tomorrow was a multidisciplinary collaboration of artists, architects, musicians, and graphic designers that took place at the Whitechapel Art Gallery London.  The exhibition revealed and reflected the underlying motivation and ethos of Brutalism – what architectural critic Reyner Banham’s metaphorical ‘garden shed’ view described as a place where the shed, the distant past, and the future merged.[ii] In this show, Richard Hamilton’s wonderfully titled Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing, clearly elucidated the Brutalist domestic image. Hamilton’s collage depicted a muscle man holding a giant lollipop with the word ‘POP’ across it.  It is this mix of pop art, architecture and consumerism that can be mapped onto the Divis apartment.

The Divis tower is a marker in Belfast’s history.  Instead of providing homes for the future, it was a temporary container for the old way the new ways of living, just as Doran’s film-object offers an extended space of representation but only for the duration of the exhibition. In effect, the idea of the home, a space that endures, is removed and instead this development seems to mark an unsuccessful solution to housing problems -  a degenerate and failed home of the future.

Keith Winter’s impressive and well constructed Balls2thewalls is a large floor-to-ceiling structure made of timber, glass, tarpaulin, and cardboard.  The timber frame is divided into two parts: the bottom half made of a glass window and sheets of plastic, while the top half is made of cardboard shaped into geometric patterns.  The glass reflection creates an illusionary extension of the gallery space while the shattered glass, seemingly broken by the small geometric object and folded triangular shapes made of cardboard on the ground,  seem to further illustrate the tenuous nature of these spaces and objects.  At the back of the structure, one can walk under the solid frame made of old timber.  Inside, the distinction between old and new is apparent.  From this angle, the cardboard shows markings of paint and tape on the surface. Two delicate lines of light trace this geometric surface and there is a smell of timber. Winter’s use of materials – cardboard, broken glass, plastic – undermines the strength and weight of the structure deeming it weak and temporary.

I recently read Bruno Schultz’s The Street of Crocodiles, a curious collection of stories that talks, broadly speaking, of memory and decay. In one particular story titled “Treatise on Tailor’s Dummies,” the narrator’s father describes old apartments as forgotten rooms as those which “close in on themselves, become overgrown with bricks, and, lost once and for all to our memory, forfeit their only claim to existence.”[iii] Overlooked for so long, these rooms merge with the structure and the walls, reduced only to lines and cracks. In Winter’s structure we are left with the artificial and tenuous nature of our surroundings. It does not offer a singular memory or history but instead reveals a correspondence or a synthesis between people and place, where all time merges in the contours of design and material.

Keith Winter: Balls2thewalls, installation shot, 2011; image courtesy the artist.Keith Winter: Balls2thewalls, timber, tarpaulin, glass, cardboard, installation shot, 2011; image courtesy the artist.

Beside Winter’s Balls2thewalls is Michael Pinsky’s video The endless high street, version 1: Pret-a-Manger (2011) which takes into account the high street as an embodiment of an homogenised society – a cliché of shops and restaurants; a safe and reliable place with no surprises.  In the video, Pret-a-Manger, a market-style fast food shop usually located on shopping streets across the UK, becomes a backdrop to city living with a soundtrack of passing traffic. The sign remains throughout the eleven minutes while the location continually changes. In a way, it is a moving picture that doesn’t go anywhere.

Forum for Alternative Belfast is a not-for-profit organisation which campaigns for a better and more equitable built environment. Sterile Belfast (2011) is a video of mapping studies, a visual comparison of the past and the present.  This slideshow of maps and facts demonstrates the unbuilding of Belfast over the last few decades.  In 1939 for example, there were 470,000 people living in Belfast. In 2010 there were only 270,000. Such a decline in population has led to city centre areas being decimated by road infrastructure, low density housing redevelopment and the proliferation of car parks. [iv]  As seen in Dodds’s archival image Within spitting distance, historical and cultural areas are disappearing, now home to shops and businesses.

Builder bowling offers a playful take on the disappearance of buildings in Belfast.  Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell’s interactive installation consists of hard hats, high-vis jackets and gloves, and a homemade bowling alley to be used by visitors to the gallery.  A tacky, badly constructed sign over the pins reads: Exciting Opportunities for Redevelopment.  The plaster-cast pins below are modeled on old buildings due for redevelopment around Belfast, and the accompanying how-to video explains the rules of the game.

Catalyst Arts lends itself well to the exhibition with high, industrial ceilings, exposed pipes and rough edges.  This place could well be a site for redevelopment. Sterile environment questions and draws attention to recent urban redevelopments that have significantly altered the physical nature of Belfast. Its history, concealed beneath layers of brick and concrete and timber, is like an architectural membrane that has been peeled away, healed and scarred over time.


Niamh Dunphy lives and works in Dublin.


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[i] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “The World of Perception,” Routledge, p.48.
[ii] Kenneth Frompton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History, Thames and Hudson, Fourth Edition, 2000, p 265.
[iii] Bruno Shultz, The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories, Penguin, 2008, p.38
[iv] Forum for Alternative Belfast website: www.forumbelfast.org

Angela Darby & Robert Peters: Saddam’s Babylon, Platform Arts, Belfast, 3 – 20 February, 2011.

29.05.2011 (4:39 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Babylon is associated with the anti-Christ and it is said to be the seat of power for the tyrant of the world. The Bible states that Babylon (present day Al Hillah which is 85 miles south of Baghdad), would be destroyed and never rebuilt, a Christian prophecy that Saddam Hussein found irresistible to prove wrong. He began the reconstruction of his new Babylon just three years into his presidency. For Saddam Hussein, his restoration program would seal his place in history as the restorer of the ancient city,  sending out a resounding visual message to the Christian West. His grandiose plans of resurrection involved building on top of the foundation stones of King Nebuchadnezzar’s Palace (c.600 B.C.) with bricks embossed with his own inscriptions.

Angela Darby & Robert Peters: "In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon. SDH” silk-screen, ink, card; images courtesy of the artists. Angela Darby & Robert Peters: In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon. SDH,” silk-screen, ink, card, installation shot; image courtesy of the artists.

Screenprinted onto the walls of Platform Arts Gallery, an artist-led space on Queen Street, Belfast, is the text from Saddam Hussein’s bricks: “In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon. SDH.” The artists have left the silkscreen, ink and squeegee used for stencilling the text on a pallet nearby, accompanied by a pile of card also printed with the same inscription. The low-tech quality of the assemblage suggests a quick and inexpensive method for the creation of multiples, which chimes well with the rumour that Saddam Hussein’s bricks were so cheaply manufactured that they were crumbling within a few years of production. His inscribed bricks have now become treasures for souvenir seekers.

Historians and archaeologists working in Iraq ridiculed Saddam Hussein’s Babylon project as ‘Disney for a Despot.’ He only succeeded in defacing invaluable archaeological sites and artefacts by trying to replace them with his own grandiose vision.

Angela Darby & Robert Peters: Babylon Theme Park, collage 2011; image courtesy the artists.Angela Darby & Robert Peters: Babylon theme park, digital print collage on paper, 2011; image courtesy the artists.

Angela Darby and Robert Peters, both Northern Irish artists, work in collaboration to the point that both artists work on any individual artwork together, that they share the processes of making. This development in their collaborative practice can also be seen in relation to an exhibition of their Barbican Gatehouse Project in Antrim in December 2009. Here, the artists’ concerns with the aesthetics of power were investigated in relation to the local Antrim town council’s handling of the Gatehouse and the local town crest, and in turn the access to these ‘public’ properties.

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Art Rebels 1996-2010, Catalyst Arts, Belfast, 21 May – 12 June, 2010.

16.07.2010 (1:46 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Dan Shipsides

Dan Shipsides: Two Years of Sunshine, mixed media, 2010, image courtesy Catalyst Arts.

Catalyst Arts was established in 1994 as an artist-run organisation inspired to some degree by Glasgow’s Transmission Gallery. The founders built a two-year transfer of power into the constitution so that the organisation’s vision, remit and output would constantly change with each new committee sworn in. This constitution was a bold move producing a list of past directors that is both long and distinguished. Many now play a central role in the wider arts infrastructure of Northern Ireland, whilst some have garnered recognition through major awards such as the Paul Hamlyn, Beck’s Futures and Turner Prize nominations.

The publicity for this visual review of the organisation identified an event from February 1996 as its point of departure, an historical story focusing on an annual members show, entitled Art Rebels. The concept : a shoe box size cardboard container was presented to Catalyst’s members to be filled decorated and appropriated by the receiver. Seventy-nine boxes were returned and exhibited anonymously.  The floorboards in the gallery were lifted up and the boxes were placed between the beams to be sealed off until 2010 when they would be unearthed and reopened.

I was intrigued to see what would be revealed in these time capsules. Would the artworks have relevance or would they be bound to their time like an embarrassing music collection. I was surprised then when I entered the busy launch that no boxes were to be seen. After viewing a substantial collection of non-box artworks around the gallery spaces, I observed that the Art Rebels boxes were stacked in a backspace, like the rear of a shoe shop. Catalyst archivist, Cherie Driver, had applied a museum vault approach by secluding the contents frustratingly just out of reach. I would much have preferred to see the boxes out on public display.

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Sinead Conlon: re: REM, AD HOC Gallery, Belfast, 7-23 January, 2010.

17.03.2010 (4:04 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Media station for the commercial Radio and TV Noordzee which operated from from August until December 1964.; image held here

In 1964, a Dutch private company, the Reclame Exploitatie Maatschappij (R.E.M.), erected an artificial island in the North Sea off Noordwijk. Built specifically for broadcasting, the platform structure was supported by legs which rested on the seabed and was situated just beyond the three-mile limit of Dutch territorial waters. The platform’s location initially allowed R.E.M. to escape the control of the Dutch state and to broadcast their pirate Radio and TV Noordzee. Unhindered by the authorities, Radio Noordzee began transmissions on July 29, 1964, followed by TV Noordzee on August 15, 1964. However, on December 3 1964, the Dutch parliament passed a statute (The North Sea Installations Law), which extended the jurisdiction of the Dutch authorities to installations constructed on any area of seabed that forms part of the continental shelf of The Netherlands. By extending their jurisdiction underwater, the Dutch authorities now had the power to close the station. On December 17, 1964, the station was sealed off and the transmitters shut down.

installation structureSinead Conlon: re:REM, installation structure, 2010, image courtesy the artist.

Sinead Conlon’s recent exhibition re:REM at AD HOC Gallery in Belfast aimed to re-contextualise the R.E.M. Island broadcasting platform. Just inside the gallery door, an ‘On The Air’ neon sign indicates that a live broadcast is being made from within. The presence of a microphone and transmitter confirm this as more than suggestion. Dominating the space is a large-scale timber structure immediately recognisable as a version of the R.E.M. platform. Like the original R.E.M. Island, Conlon’s platform is raised on legs. Entrance is via wooden staircases, placed at either end of the construction. The short climb inside the installation gives a sense of going ‘on board,’ a sensation heightened as each stair yields and creaks slightly underfoot. Within the timber walls, two short video works are installed on separate monitors. The first video is a segment from a Dutch documentary TV show. It provides factual information about R.E.M. Island such as the low cost of shares in the station, its huge popularity with the small investor and the Dutch government’s desire to protect established broadcasting stations from this ‘rampant capitalist venture.’ The second video contains images of the North Sea and the platform as seen from on the water and in the air. The videos work to provide historical context about the R.E.M platform whilst evoking the high seas atmosphere of the pirate’s realm.

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