Artists often address political, social, historical or current issues in their work in order to respond to or influence our understanding of the world. Artists, like activists, may shape our own views in order to stimulate change.
During May 2010, two artists exemplified this approach in separate bodies of work. Both addressed the current issue of institutional abuse in Ireland. Dominic Thorpe’s show Redress State- Questions Imagined was shown in Galway’s 126 gallery, while Hardy Langer’s The Lost Boys was exhibited in Letterfrack, County Galway.
Dominic Thorpe: Redress State – Questions Imagined, performance, Galway 126 gallery, 2010, photograph: Jonathan Sammon.
Thorpe’s live Redress State – Questions Imagined, was devised as a long-running durational performance. The artist spent days and weeks in the 126 gallery developing the installation which confronted the infamous Redress Board that promised to provide a safe and healing environment for victims of abuse. In his artist statement, Thorpe pointedly writes that “the artist will be present.”
Walking into the gallery, an assistant informs the viewer about the Redress Board. Victims are required to sign a ‘gagging clause’ whereby they may not speak publicly about their experiences. The viewer is also informed that the work may be disturbing due to explicit content, and that a torch is provided for the darkened space.
Upon entering, the pitch dark room is heavily scented with the oily lanolin of sheep’s fleeces piled up; it is a visceral smell. Torch beams highlight middens of creamy wool mottled with black stains. These smears also cover the floor as hundreds of thick charcoal sticks have been crushed underfoot by artist and audience. Thorpe picks up a piece of charcoal and resumes writing large scrawls on the white walls of the gallery covered in layers of text. He imagines discomforting and invasive questions asked by the Redress board to victims. He writes the word ‘silence’ over and over, mouths an inaudible cry and strikes an unsounding bell while covering his head and body with sheep wool. The entire experience is immersive and unsettling.
Dominic Thorpe: Redress State – Questions Imagined, performance, Galway 126 gallery, 2010; photograph: Jonathan Sammon.