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Fiona Marron: Last and First Men, The Joinery, 19th-30th October, 2011

09.01.2012 (10:05 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Although I know better, this exhibition has inspired in me a fanciful vision of Fiona Marron, circumnavigating Ireland in a little boat; TV and radio receiver pointed at the land, recording news reports and magazine shows. From these she chooses disparate items to weave together uncomfortable narratives, featuring the gross excesses of unfettered capitalism and greed. Every once in a while, she comes ashore, video camera on a tripod, held, resting on her shoulder. Silently, en plein air, she commits to disc, calm, moving images, which evocatively bear testament to her research.

Fig.1_LaFM_Rear Proj eFiona Marron: Last and First Men, HD rear projected video (installation view), 2011; Image courtesy the artist.

The first time I saw Fiona Marron’s work, There was Truth in What They Said, I was confused. Good confused. I wasn’t sure the abandoned trading floor, revealed in a robotically smooth pan was computer generated or real. Several people I spoke to about it afterwards had the same quandary; fervent disagreements had broken out. It’s a question that is poised to become a key one in the future, as the digital world challenges our perceptions of reality. Within this work, I felt it was a triumphant matching of aesthetic form to context. The set was a closed financial exchange building interior, presented Ozymandias-like from its former power. Absence, abandonment, emptiness as well as varieties of silence feature heavily in Marron’s work. In Plenty of furniture, we see an elevated view of a warehouse, or industrial workshop perhaps? True to its titled promise, there are many tables, chairs etc piled up on view as well as a lone character, barely discernible. Marron often favoured mute silence in her videos, but there is audio here, just: Cagean rustlings seeming to anticipate an event we’ll never know. Sound is used suggestively in another previous work, Fend, which shows two fencers sparring in an empty space that looks as though it should house an open-plan office. Its most interesting moments are when the action forces its way out of the frame, temporarily leaving an adjudicator, dead centre, the lone figure on screen, his hands stoically clasped behind his back, as the foils clatter furiously against one another. In Caveat Emptor, Marron makes a (silent) turn, playing a solicitor representing the sellers of a salubrious property in an affluent Dublin suburb. A lengthy – though statedly abridged – list of legal preconditions is reeled off by the presiding auctioneer, who despite being a professional talker, stumbles over the gobbledygook legalese. More recently, in Construct #1.4 for Construct #1, at Monster Truck Gallery, her video loop of a falling tree was beautifully displayed as part of a successful marriage of sculpture and audio visual.

So to Last and First Men, the second installment of a five-part exhibition sequence Selected Stories in The Joinery, Dublin. The show was a snapshot of juggled ideas, interrelated, but frozen in time, leaving the viewer unsure of source or destination. The exhibition is populated by extraordinary characters, who pushed their names upon the world by the scope of their ambition, and greed. Marron’s main areas of interest abound here, high finance, the mechanics of trade, property and the question of verisimilitude. Entrance to the show was through the Joinery’s garage doors, which had been augmented with clear plastic strip curtains, such as are found across industrial loading bays, hinting at the exhibition’s econocentric concerns. In this room, the first part of the show’s title work consisted of a rear-projected video, shot by Marron in HD, seemed to serve as oblique visual touchstones to the exhibition. Here were ships, boats and their cargo holds; goalposts; hillside cave entrances; floodlights; a justice building; stadia and a lone living object: a horse grazing in front of a viaduct. These mostly panned images are displayed on a high screen, hung from the ceiling. The effect is enhanced uncomfortably by the projectors beam shining directly at you through the material and a subtle rumble piped into the space. In the next room, the viewer was surrounded by Bias Index, which comprises two walls covered with A4 screen-grabs of a 1960, televised debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. The first of these four on-screen head-to-heads was a famous game changer for political electioneering, when it became apparent that the analysis of body language could be intrinsic to voters’ stances on candidates. So influential and divisive were these debates that most candidates refused to take part for another fourteen years.

Fig.2_Bias Index eFiona Marron: Bias Index, inkjet print wall installation, 2011; Image courtesy the artist.

The work First and Last Men is continued here, in multiple, overlapping media. One could take a wireless headphone for a walk to (re)contextualise the visual elements. The audio contained snatches of archive news footage about ‘rogue trader’ Nick Leeson and Irish businessman Kevin McHugh. McHugh, who passed away from CJD in 2006, was responsible for Atlantic Dawn, the largest and most controversial fishing trawler in the world. Initially, McHugh was denied fishing rights for the vessel, until the then Fianna Fáil government stepped in to wrangle a deal for him, causing the European Commission to begin two court actions against Ireland. A private deal with the Mauritanian government allowed the ship fishing rights in their waters for nine months of the year, decimating the indigenous fishing industry. Marron puts the size of the Atlantic dawn in perspective by projecting an image of it over printed plans of Croke Park ‘and a half’ its oft-quoted match in terms of length. Leeson mostly speaks for himself, ruminating over his toppling of Barrings Bank and offering critical analysis of a finance industry seemingly unwilling to learn from its past failures. An LED ticker display on the wall, zoomed the figures (the precise significance of which, if any, were a mystery to me) 160,000,000 and 862,000,000 in red, past the viewer. A small TV (with headphones) on the floor replayed a BBC News report on the ‘mega-dairy’ of Cwrt Malle Farm in Wales where 1,800 cows are battery reared, prompting animal welfare concerns. In the rush to construct a slice of American-inspired agri-economic efficiency, the dairy’s sheds were built without planning permission.

Fig.3_LaFM_Atlantic Dawn eFiona Marron: Last and First Men, view of installation detail, 2011; Image courtesy the artist.

Keeping closely with the series’ fiction themed title, Father of the Futures connects the two loves of its subject, financier Leo Melamed: futures trading and science fiction. The flat-screen, wall-mounted video work comprises archive pictures, mainly of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where Melamed was chairman from 1969-91, and snippets of biographical data on Melamed by an uncredited voiceover. It begins not with an account of his groundbreaking work in introducing computerised futures trading to the derivatives market, but how his moonlighting as a sci-fi writer inspired him to drive his vision of financial trading forward. With reference to his novel, The Tenth Planet, he pondered: “..if I could create a master computer that could run five planets, why can’t we create one damn electronic system that could run orders?” References to his fiction – published and unpublished – crop up again during the five or so minute piece, as it gives a potted chronicling of his moves to unfetter trading from the ‘open outcry’ of the trading floor’s exchange pits to a fully electronic system, such as his: Globex. There are sinister connotations to the complex systems of the futures market, perhaps seeming to the uninitiated like pure vagary, but Melamed is ultimately painted here as a sort of lucid dreamer, seeing himself as a Quixotesque character of determination. Is Melamed real? We are never led to believe we are seeing him in the images flashing up, and a possible significance of the narrator/author’s anonymity crops up – that the absence of source information could cast a shadow of doubt over the apparent documentary.

Fig.5_Father of the Futures eFiona Marron: Fathers of the Future, archive digital image reel & audio, installation view, 2011; Image courtesy the artist.

The exhibition takes its name from Olaf Stappleton’s sprawling science fiction novel, charting aeons of humanity from the twentieth century on. Ostensively speculative fiction – its twentieth century ‘author’ is really the conduit for a history of man, telepathically transferred, by our furthest descendants – the eighteenth incarnation of humankind, two billion years in the future. Like the alien race in Melamed’s Tenth Planet, who find a Pioneer space probe* and set out in search of its origin, the exhibition (and title) also brought to mind Kim Deitch’s graphic novel, Shadowland, in which a character on an orbiting space station “watches scenes that were beamed telepathically from Earth…made over a period of ninety years and preserved on laser story chips”. If we were judged by an alien race on the basis of news reports speeding out through space from this planet, we might fare poorly, but one’s evil is another’s evolutionary necessity. Back on Earth, Last and First Men presented itself as an absorbing collection of interrelated stories, of individuals forging changes to society, decorated with Marron’s distinctive visual discourse.


Davey Moor is a curator, photographer and arts manager, based in Dublin. www.daveymoor.com


* Sent from Earth, complete with it’s return address calling card in the form of a plaque (with biological and astronomical information).

This review was first published on Paper’s Dublin Edition 1 in November 2011.


Suzanne van der Lingen: Ark, The Joinery, 18 – 23 May, 2011.

12.06.2011 (11:58 am) – Filed under: Reviews ::

On my second visit to Suzanne van der Lingen’s exhibition Ark at the Joinery, Harold Camping, a Californian evangelical radio-prophet, predicted that the world would cease to be as we have come to know it. Come 6 pm on Saturday 21st of May 2011, Jesus Christ, he predicted, would gather the faithful to his bosom and embark on a five month project of misery for those left behind: The Rapture. And so I kept my eye studiously on my watch, all the time hoping that I wouldn’t be ‘raptured’ so I could spend some time at the Joinery. With cynicism like this, it looked unlikely anyway.

SVSuzanne van der Lingen: Untitled (La Nostalgie des Origines), 2011, stereoscopic print; image courtesy the artist.

And yet it seemed oddly fitting that my visit occurred within these last few hours, or rather, not. In the exhibition, Van der Lingen explores the thorny concept of truth, more specifically any kind of objective, literal truth. A palimpsest of stories – personal and archival, absurd and historical – structure the work and give it layers of meaning, which neither solidify nor elucidate ‘truth,’ but rather deny and obfuscate any approximation of it. The search for literal truth – and here I cannot but think of Camping’s skewed and elementary interpretation of the bible – is, as she suggests, doomed from the outset.

The work comprises a series of manipulated prints, derived from the artist’s grandmother’s personal photographs; a book ‘Ark,’ which resembled a visual and textual bibliography of the surrounding works; a text based wall piece documenting a conversation between her grandmother and an archivist, and a claustrophobic video piece in the gallery’s adjoining space. In their totality, the works enact an intelligent and subtle interrogation of the notion of truth as some higher, literal concept. The truth she presents us with is fragmented, not static within historical or personal ephemera, but always remade subjectively or through the demands of context. The truth is predicated on how we approach it, and consequently on how it is reformulated. Additionally, the past she represents does not become more truthful or self-evident by virtue of the fact that it is past; if anything it becomes only more inchoate with the sedimentary accumulation of time.

Suzanne van der Lingen, Ark, book, 2011; image courtesy the artist.Suzanne van der Lingen, Ark, book, 2011; image courtesy the artist.

The large prints, in particular, demonstrate Van der Lingen’s singular approach. Selected from her grandmother’s personal childhood photographs, they were initially stereoscopic prints with the capacity for three-dimensional apprehension; two photos, indistinct by themselves, merge and enable understanding, in the process giving the illusion of depth, and indeed presence. Here they are separated, enlarged, and fused together once again, only now they do not fit. This skewed fusion demonstrates the image as composite, palimpsest: estranged from their original context they become unreadable and empty of presence. Something emotive subsists in them, however – perhaps some kind of Barthesian purity of punctum – and the eye tremors on looking as though in memory of their ‘stereoscopic potential’[i] i.e. their now irretrievable presence. Furthermore, the images take on a series of references which bear no relevance to their initial context, that of the artist’s grandmother. To me one strongly resembled a particular work by Manet; another recalled the composition of Gauguin. In any case their supposedly inherent truth becomes flooded and distorted by a multitude of other unrelated reference points. As Craig Owens says of allegory[ii]: “one text is read through another, however fragmentary, intermittent, or chaotic their relationship might be.”[iii] As a direct descendent of these images, the artist is still unable to pin them down and uncover their truth; the presence or truth once contained therein has been nullified through her act, which elucidates the movement of time, the alteration of context and perhaps most poignantly, the unreliability of memory. As with the viewer, her attempts are fundamentally ill fated. Rather than be overcome by the poignant of this state, however, Van der Lingen finds a kind of Herzogian-‘ecstatic truth’ in its movement. Engaging with the past in a ‘work-like’[iv] manner, she dialogically interacts with a potential that negates a desire for ownership or truth.


Suzanne van der Lingen: <i>ARK</i>, video projection, archival and found footage, 2011; image courtesy the artist.Suzanne van der Lingen: ARK, video projection, archival and found footage, 2011; image courtesy the artist.

The video piece goes further in illustrating this dialogical approach to the past. Here the artist moves away somewhat from a purely personal engagement with material, though it acts forcefully as a thread linking the entire exhibition. Archival naval footage, textual quotations and an interview with a man who believes to have found Noah’s Ark, all allude back to the prospect of a search for meaning or truth. The artist’s grandmother lost her father at sea, and certainly this underlies these more impersonal sources. Her failure to find out what had befallen him is echoed in the artist’s failure to pin down meaning, where she can find no traction. This in turn is echoed in the ludicrousness of attempting to locate the object of a biblical parable. The search, in a sense, undermines the higher concept of that which we are searching for i.e. truth. As Svetlana Boym says with regard to nostalgia, ‘only false memories can be totally recalled[v]’. Truth, in all its shifting, erratic transcendence, cannot be approximated by an engagement with literalness. However, mirroring a contemporary belief in genetic determinism, this approach is followed all too often. As in the case of the search for the Ark, or indeed the eschatological non-event, the attempt to attach literal meaning to both cases actually negates the prospect of either as such. Searching for either belies a lack of belief or faith; stifling them through literalness only suggests that allegory demands too much from us, it must be contained.

Suzanne van der Lingen: Ark, installation shot, 2011; image courtesy the artist.Suzanne van der Lingen: Ark, installation shot, stereoscopic prints, 2011; image courtesy the artist.

To describe Van der Lingen’s work as allegory situates it in a distinctly temporal locale; more specifically, within a temporality that is neither linear nor comprehensible, but chaotic and dispersed. The matter she unearths and explores, be they personal or objectively allusive, all share one common trait: they cannot be situated comprehensively within time or space. As such – flipping Boym’s assertion on its head – they cannot be totally recalled by virtue of the fact that they are true. Truth here does not bear any relation to transparency or literalness; with ‘true’ is denoted something that remains elusive and yet tantalisingly close, the family photo which remains unknowable even though we are familiar with those whom it depicts. Truth is truth because it is irreducibly unknowable, therefore demanding the presence of belief or faith. Van der Lingen’s work accepts this: the search for semantic truth is ultimately doomed, but this searching paradoxically remains more important in the cultivation of belief than actual sighting of it.


Rebecca O’Dwyer is writer based in Dublin.

__________

[i] Suzanne Van der Lingen in conversation with Tadhgh O’ Sullivan at the Joinery, 19th of May 2011.

[ii] Allegory might be an interesting way of looking at Van der Lingen’s work also, especially alongside Craig Owens’ insistence of its specifically temporal nature. This is induced by his use of the word ‘palimpsest,’ which describes a scroll typically written on over and over so that multiple layers of text remain visible under the most recent inscription. Meaning, in allegory, thus has a distinctly temporal dimension.

[iii] Craig Owens The Allegorical Impulse (1980) October, vol. 12 (Spring 1980) pg. 69

[iv] Dominic La Capra in Jennifer Roberts Mirror Travels: Robert Smithson and History (2004) New Haven & London: Yale University Press pg. 5

[v] Svetlana Boym The Future of Nostalgia (2001) New York: Basic Books pg. 54

Neil Carroll: Working Backwards, The Joinery, 18-26 February, 2011.

22.03.2011 (10:44 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

Neil Carroll: Working Backwards, installation shot, 2011; photo Miranda Driscoll.Neil Carroll: Working Backwards, installation shot, The Joinery, 2011; photo Miranda Driscoll.

Neil Carroll’s exhibition Working Backwards makes direct references to the world of building and architecture. Architecture is functional and tends to be planned and pre-designed. Carroll’s work experiments with traditional materials and uses them in a more organic way to explore creative expression and concerns. In his constructions, he reverts to the most basic and primitive of building materials using, for example, elements such as the grouped hexagonal tiles similar to foundation structures for bridges. His architectural organism develops and expands, moulding into the space and adapting.

It comes as a surprise to know that Carroll is a painting graduate. Inside, the visitor is immediately faced with what looks like the perimeter of a building site: floor to ceiling timber frames, a bare panel, clamps and cords firmly obstruct the path forward. Rather than serving as a deterrent, however, the objective becomes to step around. From the other side, the panel is painted and unfolds into a multi-layered construction that serves to draw us back further into the room. Bare fluorescent lights, placed at the foot of both constructions in the first room, project raw, unfiltered light. These light the pieces, but also give a sense of depth and weight, emphasising the physicality of the constructions and the tensions that hold them in place.

Neil Carroll: Working Backwards, installation shot, the Joinery, 2011; photo Miranda Driscoll.Neil Carroll: Working Backwards, installation shot, the Joinery, 2011; photo Miranda Driscoll.

Carroll’s solid constructions are a meticulous work of labour and there is a fluidity in the progression of the show. Beginning with the cord that stretches between the door frame and the first construction, continuing on with the timber beam that leads us from the first construction to the second at the back of the main gallery, where two more panels are painted.  One panel is painted in pinks, greys and blacks with geometric patterns, the other in a more muted palette with linear designs. The work resembles a network of suggested lines to follow, possible entries to breach, and objects to circumnavigate. Choosing to cut through the improvised tunnel is not for those wary of confined spaces and necessitates squeezing between timber frames and painted panels, being turned sharply to the right before popping out at the other end. Sitting on the ground to the left are some small, white hive-like huts made of plaster – a reference to primitive building and a return to basics. Rightly assimilated, however, to a ‘multi-directional map,’ there is no one, fixed path to follow; the visitor chooses how to traverse the terrain and whether, for example, to walk through or around.

Not content with the traditional method of displaying paintings, Carroll brings them into the viewer’s immediate floor space, thus collapsing the divide between viewer and artwork. Painting is no longer viewed on a wall, but something that can be circled as a three-dimensional object and viewed from an alternative perspective.

Progressing from the main gallery into the back room, this sense of compartmentalised space suddenly gives way to a higher ceiling. A large, painted canvas is stretched across the side wall depicting an industrial-style workhouse scene with figures hunched over mid-task. The open sides of the workhouse building and a gaping hole in the floor reinforce the illusion of spatial regression. A precisely engineered metal object sits on the floor. It is small and symmetrical.

Neil Carroll: Working Backwards, installation shot, the Joinery, 2011; photo Miranda Driscoll.Neil Carroll: Working Backwards, installation shot, the Joinery, 2011; photo Miranda Driscoll.

At the back of the room, a human shaped object wrapped in black plastic and duct tape, stands upright within a timber frame. An opaque, plastic sheet is stretched across the back of the frame. An additional enigmatic feature of this intriguing piece – who or what lies beneath? Lit from behind with a construction light, the figure mirrors the anonymity of the workers in the canvas. Rather than functioning as independent objects, the large canvas and two sculptural pieces collaborate and speak to one another.

As a point of interest, the frame supporting the figure is constructed from the stretcher that previously supported the painting hung on the wall. Again, Carroll’s concern with disassembling and reassembling traditional architecture is reflected in this recycling of materials where the functional becomes part of the aesthetic and the decorative.

As a venue, the Joinery proves particularly fitting for the show; the asymmetrically divided space, with one room higher than the other, allows the work as a whole to become a form of site installation that would possibly not fit so neatly into another space.

Guillaume Beauron sound performance, The Joinery, 2011; photo Miranda Driscoll. Sound performance by Guillaume Beauron at the Joinery, 2011; photo Miranda Driscoll.

During the course of this exhibition, sound artist and composer Guillaume Beauron was invited to compose a one-off sound piece in response to the work. Using a variety of devices and instruments, Beauron created a physical link between his composition and Carroll’s installation by hooking up the small welded object to his sound system and using it as an instrument. As the sound echoed around Carroll’s constructions and the gallery space, visitors were invited to move around, experiencing the work in a new light, and understanding the music as a direct response to the installation. A variety of sounds featured, including the murmur of voices, the sound of water and the drumming of and pinging of various objects to hand. This sound response filtered through and filled the space. This conversation between the artists seemed particularly pertinent to an installation where the manipulation and alteration of space is key.

Working backwards is an invitation to consider potential manipulation and containment of space, resulting in the ability to create a new spatial experience while adopting simple and unpolished materials.

Roisin Russell lives and works in Dublin.

Barbara Knezevic: Breath and other shorts, The Joinery, 2-11 June, 2010.

26.07.2010 (4:32 pm) – Filed under: Reviews ::

temporary-equilibriumBarbara Knezevic: Temporary Equilibrium, helium, latex weather balloons, elastic bands, cotton string, brass eyelets, dimensions variable, 2010; image courtesy the artist.

In 1969, Samuel Beckett’s short play Breath made its debut in Kenneth Tynan’s bawdy revue Oh! Calcutta!. Infuriated by this staging, which ignored a typically specific set of stage instructions, Beckett withdrew the work and the play became a shadowy chapter in his back catalogue. This incident forms the crux of Barbara Knezevic’s recent exhibition at the Joinery, Breath and Other Shorts, in which a framed programme of Oh! Calcutta! is set beside an old  library copy of Breath and a red-bound book, entitled Beckett: an exercise in omission. This latter piece contains Knezevic’s account of Breath’s ill-fated debut. Inside, the text is facsimiled hundreds of times, each page a copy of the one before until its image fades and becomes skewed. A metaphor for the changes that occur when a work is re-staged, this piece establishes a thread for the rest of an exhibition which abounds with duplicates.

A case in point is A testament to bravery which consists of a stone set face-to-face with a duplicate fashioned from wax. A one-sided mirror, which reflects only the wax model, separates the two. With only the duplicate then being duplicated, the stone is rendered a self-contained entity by contrast. Hefty and squat, one is led to ponder the Herculean (if not Sisyphean) effort required to heave the stone into the gallery. In the adjoining space, a length of pine, sharpened at either end, balances precariously on a small bronze rest. The symmetrical form and exacting equilibrium of Forewarned is Forearmed echoes the doubling of the first work, as does the delicate tension of Temporary Equilibrium in the final room where two large balloons are tethered to the floor.

a-testament-to-braveryBarbara Knezevic: A testament to bravery, stone, microcrystalline wax, mirror, dimensions variable, 2010; image courtesy the artist.

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