paper visual art journal

A polymorphous state at Galway Arts Centre, Galway, 11 March – 23 April, 2011.

14.07.2011 (4:09 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Two contrasting shows opened at Galway Arts Centre this spring, running concurrently until late April: Sandra Ann Vita Minchin’s solo exhibition of multi-media works on the first floor Are all the roses blue and the violence red?, alongside the Grúpat collective’s You/Protect on the ground floor. The Grúpat is represented by Freya Birren, Turf Boon, The Dowager Marchylove, The Parks Service, Flor Hartigan, and Jennifer Walshe.

Parks Service: 'You/Protect', Galway Arts Centre; image courtesy Jennifer Walshe.Parks Service: You/Protect, photograph, 2011; image courtesy Jennifer Walshe.

These two bodies of work show very different approaches to contemporary visual art practice. The Grúpat collective comprises a group of artists, musicians and designers who explore social concerns and meditations on art making in a variety of different art media. Their show is eclectic, displaying a plurality of visions and modes of presentation and display. Minchin has a singular approach, her concern is directed towards personal and political sufferings with aesthetically coherent visual language.

At face value, Minchin’s work addresses topical political issues in the Middle East. Her large-scale photographic prints (on hanging industrial plastic screens) feature various female protagonists, naked, but for decorated mask-like hoods hiding their faces. The strange hoods carry sweetheart and red-cross motifs, archetypal emblems of love and healing, belying the abjection of the women’s condition. The crosses and hearts are reminiscent of motifs often used in performance artist Franko B’s imagery, quoting the visceral language of blood as a prevalent contemporary art material. However, the stark figures are situated in dilapidated prison cells, standing together. These women’s bodies become erotic objects devoid of personhood, subjected to torture or abuse (from the implicit narrative we ascertain this horror), and we become voyeurs, complicit in their humiliation.

MinchinSandra Ann Vita Minchin: Are all the roses blue and the violence red?, installation shot; image courtesy the artist.

The statement accompanying the exhibition links a personal experience of bodily suffering to political execution or torture and asks us to address our own psychological and bodily fears through encounter with this work. Minchin brings us to witness these equivocal torments with poignant empathy and uneasy humour.

Bodily affliction is also alluded to in the Grúpat show downstairs. But where Minchin’s work calls into question the function of representation in the face of horror or torture, Grúpat’s polymorphous output is less about representations of social concerns and more about the attempt at representation. For example, one of the Grúpat artists, the concert pianist Flor Hartigan lost three fingers in an accident that consequently rearranged her musical practice dramatically.  She now creates sound art for others to perform along with visual scores. Her works are typical of the inter-disciplinary practices of most of the collective.

Jennifer Walshe is the central and curatorial figure in this group. As curator she operates as a conduit between Grúpat’s members, drawing together their various productions (including musical CD’s, books, videos, installations and drawings). The result is a heterogeneous, a dense exploration of the performance of curation itself. Walshe writes in the programme notes:

An artist can aspire to a certain sovereignty, which today implies that in addition to producing art, one also has to produce the conditions that enable such production, its channels of circulation.

As one of the collective, she presents the ghostly installation De Profundis ‘90 comprising a dark space with floating, phosphorescent love letters written in her youth between her and a teen boyfriend. They are authentic, attractive and moving.

Jennifer WalsheJennifer Walshe: De Profundis ‘90, installation shot, Galway Arts Centre; Image courtesy the artist.

The inter-disciplinary mixture of products created by this strange mix of artists is imaginative, self–mocking, and a little pretentious. The Dowager Marchylove, a cross-dressing performance artist who creates iconographic images of herself in mock historical costume, is described in an accompanying catalogue:

She is an emissary from the nineteenth century, in appearance a female dandy – a quaintrelle – in practice a musical flâneur, a bearded diva whose leisurely practice of walking and listening helps us understand the city.

There appears to be curatorial irony in Walshe’s self-consciously postmodern modes of appropriation and repeated contextualization of these artists’ works. Many of the works foreground the act of making art itself such as Flor Hartigan’s delicately tentative music score drawings and Turf Boon’s diagrammatic Community Choir drawing series.

Unlike most art collectives (Wochen Klausser or Irwin for example), Grúpat do not express a shared manifesto, the members are ‘nested’ and do not make public appearances except for Walshe.  The entire exhibition functions as a labyrinthine installation work, each element relating to the next in an ongoing conversation.

Dr Áine Phillips lives and works in Galway.

Guido van der Werve: Minor Pieces, The Model, Sligo, 16 April – 12 June, 2011.

01.05.2011 (1:12 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Guido van der Werve cannot be said to do things by halves; from standing on the North Pole for twenty-four hours and turning in the opposite direction to the earth’s rotation to running a marathon and laying flowers on Rachmaninov’s grave, van der Werve is famed for the power of his elegant films. Still in his thirties,  he has already amassed an impressive CV, showing his work in museums and galleries across the world.

Guido 1 Guido van der Werve - Nummer acht: Everything is going to be alright, still, 2007, 16mm film, 10 min, Image by Johanna Ketola; Image courtesy the artist.

A small group gathered to hear van der Werve speak before the opening of his exhibition at the Model, Sligo. A charming if diffident host, van der Werve talked us through his practice, from his earliest experiments to his latest films. Initially reluctant to become an artist, and follow the example set by his father and brother, van der Werve floated between various universities in his native Netherlands studying archaeology, industrial design, and even training in classical piano and composition at a conservatory. He began to grow interested in making performances but, too shy to perform in public, asked his friends to film him. Throughout his talk, van der Werve played clips from his earlier work, joking about his youthful appearance in Suicide 8945 till 8948 (2001) in which van der Werve stares blinkingly at the camera while appearing to shoot himself in the head repeatedly (with attendant sloppy splashes of gore).

As he grew acquainted with the contemporary art scene in Amsterdam, van der Werve soon realised that he felt more inspired by music and film and set about producing work that would have an equally rousing effect. One of the first films to bear the hallmarks of his mature work Nummer Twee: Just because I’m standing here, doesn’t mean I want to (2003) achieves this to stunning effect, and gloriously so. Dressed in black and standing on a banal suburban street [1], the artist faces the camera and slowly steps backward whereupon he is violently knocked over by a speeding car. There follows an extraordinary sequence where a van pulls up at the side of the road and a small troop of ballerinas emerge from the back (the balletic equivalent of clowns emerging from a miniature car). With the artist’s body slumped on the road behind them, these tutu-ed apparitions perform a graceful dance on the tarmac, accompanied by exquisite music that transforms this grim site of bodily violence into something strangely uplifting, magical and mysterious.

Guido van der Werve - Nummer twee:  Just because I’m standing here doesn’t mean I want to,  03’08”, 35mm, Papendrecht NL, 2003, Image by Ben Geraerts; Image courtesy the artist. Guido van der Werve – Nummer twee: Just because I’m standing here doesn’t mean I want to, 03’08”, 35mm, Papendrecht NL, 2003, Image by Ben Geraerts; Image courtesy the artist.

Similarly compelling is Nummer vier: I don’t want to get involved in this, I don’t want to be part of this, talk me out of it (2005). Opening poetically with the lines ‘I woke up early and watched the sun rise. I felt it came up just for me,’ the artist performs one of Chopin’s Nocturnes [2] on a piano which sits on a raft in a lake, the sky reflected in water to infinity. Romantic and melancholic, the music fits perfectly with the sight of the artist sitting serenely afloat in a verdant landscape. The tone switches from wistful to enthralling when, a few moments later, we see a boat floating down a river (in what looks like the same landscape as in the establishing shot). Mozart’s Requiem Mass grows louder as the boat approaches the camera until finally, its cargo – a full orchestra and choir – is revealed. For a thrilling, all too brief moment, we are immersed in their song before they drift on again, out of sight and out of sound. The subsequent stillness is dramatically interrupted by the artist  falling out of the sky and plunging into the river.

Later works grew more elaborate in scope, moving from quotidian north European landscapes to the Arctic wastes of the North Pole. Nummer acht: Everything is going to be alright, which features the artist walking in front of an enormous icebreaker, is devastatingly effective as a single image, though perhaps less compelling as a film. Similarly, while the performance at the centre of Nummer negen: The day I didn’t turn with the world, 24 hour performance at 90 deg latitude, 00 deg longitude, The geographic Northpole: the North axe of the earth (2008) is a grand and epic gesture, it seems less successful than the earlier works in all their emotional intricacy.

guido3 Guido van der Werve – Nummer vier: I don’t want to get involved in this, I don’t want to be part of this, talk me out of it, still, 11’49,” 35mm, Zandvoort, Siitama & Enschede, NL 2005, Image by Ben Geraerts; Image courtesy the artist.

For this exhibition at the Model, van der Werve is showing two films which, while longer than Twee and Vier, are similarly stirring. Nummer Zes: Steinway grand piano wake me up to go to sleep and all the colours of the rainbow (2006) follows van der Werve’s love affair with the Steinway piano and culminates in a glorious performance. More enigmatic, but equally captivating, is Nummer twaalf: Variations on a theme: The King’s Gambit accepted, the number of stars in the sky and why a piano can’t be tuned or waiting for an earthquake (2009) in which van der Werve traverses landscapes, pondering the nature of infinity via the chess move.

The influence of cinema is apparent in van der Werve’s sensitive pairing of evocative imagery and elegiac music, recreating its immediate emotional impact without recourse to dialogue or narrative. The artist works very much from the heart, describing his process as intuitive and his films as attempts to share ideas that are simple and direct. Though the films may sound peculiar – full of unexpected moments and seemingly no rational connection between the actions of their protagonists –  they are deeply moving, in the same way that it can be impossible to pinpoint exactly why a particular song hits us in the gut. Timeless and unforgettable, this is work that is unafraid to search for the grand, sweeping moment, to find meaning in mundane places, in everyday life and settings. If you have ever wished that your daily life had a soundtrack, then I recommend you get to Sligo before the exhibition closes and see van der Werve’s evocative mini-masterpieces for yourself.

Ciara Moloney is a writer based in Dublin.


[1] I learn later that this is the street van der Werve grew up on.

[2] No.1 in B flat minor, in case you were wondering.

Happenings and Nonevents: Declan Rooney, The Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, 12 June – 25 July 2010.

04.10.2010 (1:30 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

American painter and assemblagist Allan Kaprow first used the term ‘happening’ in his 1958 essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock” to describe a new form of art. The early ‘happenings’ disregarded the idea of the art object as something precious, and instead favoured the perishable and the random. Happenings became playful and dependent on audience interaction. The new art events incorporated bodily actions sounds, smells and texts – both spoken and written. Declan Rooney’s exhibition Happenings and Nonevents at first glance seems like a text book example of a Kaprow-influenced ‘happening’ with ‘the integration of all elements – environment, constructed sections, time, space, and people [...]’

Allan Kaprow- Fluids (1967) Allan Kaprow: Fluids, October 1967; image held here.

Performance one was the result of workshops with a group of local skaters – Urban Sports Kilkenny. This performance saw Rooney read excerpts from texts about the Beat Movement where he dons a pair of black sunglasses each time he reads the word ‘beat.’ As the skaters slide and stomp over the wooden jolly, the artist rests on the taller, podium-like wooden boxes, oblivious or ignoring the youths attention seeking tricks. The effort of this could be read as comment on style over substance. The reading of the texts also seems to mock the attempt to radicalise a group and explain the terminology associated with them.

The second performance was a four-hour durational performance. This happening was formed out of the workshops with the volunteer group. As Arthur Browne’s Fire Poem screams and drones in the background, Rooney meditates and then performs a series of hand gestures while standing in front of a red stand. Smell, sound, movement and handmade objects confront the viewer. A volunteer moves around Rooney hanging images of symbols, hand gestures and a space view of earth. On the back of the red stand hangs a photocopy with the words “another victory for hysteria.”

Declan Rooney: Happenings and Nonevents, Butler Gallery, 2010.Declan Rooney: Happenings and Nonevents – Performance Two, performance view, 2010, photo: Anna Bernston, image courtesy of the artist.

This room was complex in layout and contained a confusing mesh of symbols, sounds and voices. The unspecified nature of the ‘volunteers’ makes for a strong performance. Their presence is almost unfelt but also necessary. The quick turn-over of hand actions and hanging images form a more complex interaction with such recognisable hand gestures as the two–finger rocker salute. The artist visibly tires, and his bizarre gestural communication become his means of movement or escape from a physically uncomfortable stance.

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Dominic Thorpe | Hardy Langer : The Artist Will Be Present, Galway, May 2010.

21.07.2010 (7:51 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

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_Thorpe2Dominic 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_Thorpe1Dominic Thorpe: Redress State – Questions Imagined, performance, Galway 126 gallery, 2010; photograph: Jonathan Sammon.

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Oneiriography: The Green on Red Gallery, 3 June – 10 July, 2010.

12.07.2010 (11:35 am) – Filed under: Reviews ::

BloorSimon & Tom Bloor: Anonymous, Mapp of Lubberland (Research image), Engraving print, circa 1670, image courtesy the Green on Red.

The latest show at the Green on Red Gallery, curated by Chris Fite-Wassilak, concerns itself most emphatically with memory and the failure of the present to come to terms with things lost. Sparsely installed in the space is the work of Simon and Tom Bloor, Ruth Ewan and Michelle Deignan. Outside, we hear the monotonous drone of a sound piece by Ragnar Kjartansson, accompanied by documentary photographs, and some small-scale watercolours.

Simon and Tom Bloor’s work is most synonymous with the kind of temporal preoccupation that pervaded the exhibition. Resistance Through Rituals (2010) takes the form of large-scale black-and-white photographs pasted abruptly onto a backdrop of streaky white emulsion. Billboards came to mind, specifically those as they fade away and denigrate pathetically over time. Depicted in these images are children playing, but caught in such a way as to render them static, immobile. A certain athleticism is connoted, a kind of youthful vigor which finds satisfaction by and for its own means. However, the utopian ideal of childhood is quite literally stopped in its tracks with these children appearing poignantly powerless and trapped. In most cases, the images appeal to us; the children seem to be playing ‘up’ for us, showing off or performing. This places us in a position of responsibility; the echo of propaganda in these images undermines the utopian ideal of childhood. Resistance Through Rituals becomes a hazy construct. The ritual-as-resistance, recalling Georges Bataille, becomes a growingly problematic domain.

DeignanMichelle Deignan: Journey to an absolute vantage point (2009), two channel video, edition of 3, image courtesy the Green on Red.

The failure of the present to deal with the conditions of the past is also a concern of the work of Ruth Ewan. Probably most well known for her 2007 work Did You Kiss the Foot that Kicked You? which involved commissioning one hundred buskers to perform a 1960s protest song on the streets of London, Ewan grapples with the recent past and the reliability of its manifestation in a startlingly amnesiac present. The Brank: The Damnation of Memory (2010) takes the form of a silently projected slide show and a glass table within which are presented postcards – to see the front of them we must peer awkwardly under the table. What we are presented with is places – the Netherlands, Houston, Salem and Finland – sometimes directly connected with witchcraft, often simply providing a temporary setting for the West End musical Wicked. The slide show continues in this vein, casually interspersing pop-culture depictions of witches alongside family snaps and medieval prints capturing scenes of abject torture. The personal and the objective historical cross paths and come to undermine one other. Thus, we recognize once again the sanitized myth that the witch has become, and the ramifications of this on the actual lived reality of history.

Michelle Deignan’s intriguing video piece, Journey to an Absolute Vantage Point (2009), takes the form of two channels projected on either side of a large screen, bisecting the gallery space. Both channels compete for our ears, the sound of a specifically commissioned tango piece threatening to overshadow our perception of a female monologue recounting a particularly dramatic encounter between her and a male companion. Footage of the idyllic grounds of a castle in Berlin echoes her monologue as she recounts their conversation which happened to take place there. As harmony breaks down, so too the reciprocal relation between sound and image. No longer referential, the image breaks down, moves away and grows more abstract. In doing so, reliability breaks down also. The conversation, resembling a kind of highbrow rambling Tarantino fare, becomes preposterous – “you haven’t revealed anything – nothing!” The hysteria of the conversation situates itself completely at odds with the pastoral setting of the video, and in doing so throws its naturalness into question. As the female protagonist states at one stage: “Focus can be so personal, so random.” The video of the tango musicians reiterates this also; personal history is depicted as interpretation, and history more generally is filtered through a process of de-naturalization.

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