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Dublin Round Up, Art Monthly, Issue 384, March 2015

March 17, 2015

Dublin Round Up:

Paul Seawright ‘The List’, Kerlin Gallery (30 January – 21 March 2015)

Garrett Phelan ‘A Voodoo Free Phenomenon’, Project Arts Centre (30 January – 09 April 2015)

‘Pattern Exchange’, TBG&S (06 February – 28 March 2015)


Dublin Round-up
Project Arts Centre • Kerlin Gallery • TBG&S

Against the freshly painted black walls of Project Arts Centre’s exhibition space, Garrett Phelan’s current solo show ‘A VOODOO FREE PHENOMENON’ exudes a night-vision greenish glow, simulating the ambience of a dimly lit chamber. In the first of two newly commissioned films, Phelan recounts a winter solstice journey to New Grange – a 5,000-year-old Neolithic site in County Meath. Presented as a casual monologue, the artist recalls the moment when a ‘slightly underwhelming experience’ turned into an extraordinary one, as a pillar of orange light pierced the subterranean chamber at sunrise, illuminating the megalithic art inscribed on its walls. The second half of the film presents a dramatic, televisual pan through an assortment of golden objects reminiscent of ancient Celtic relics found in the National Museum. The symbols etched on their surfaces are revealed as electronic circuit diagrams, while outmoded microphones become visible, their tripod legs twinkling as vertical silver shafts. Elsewhere, two floor-based plinths function as black spot-lit stages for ‘ethereal assemblages’ comprising dual microphones joined by a tangle of cables. One of each pairing is shrouded in ‘undiscovered Celtic gold’, appearing as iridescent quasi-microphone covers, like glittering Midas toffee apples. As highlighted by curator Tessa Giblin in her eloquent accompanying text, microphones have featured prominently in Phelan’s practice, as aesthetic props, conceptual devices or as functioning tools for previous performance works and community radio projects. Notions of transmission, dissemination, amplification and distortion are important here, not least in their portrayals of the sonic capacity of broadcasting – originally an ecological term meaning ‘to scatter seed widely’ – as an abundant and democratising media, defined by language, listenership and community. Prompted by questions posed in Phelan’s second film, an animation comprising both hand-drawn and computer-generated iconography, the viewer considers whether it is possible to shed existing belief systems: can we ever be free from politics? Language? Mysticism? Invention? We consider Voodoo as a set of spiritual folk practices associated with imperialism, slavery and witchcraft, and, more recently, with ‘Voodoo Economics’, whose seeds were planted in the Thatcher-Reagan era. Does a voodoo-free space exist? If so, it seems almost unimaginable.
Perceived as a conscious endeavour to assuage the circulation of sensitive material in the public realm, Kerlin’s press release for Paul Seawright’s current solo exhibition ‘The List’ refers to a photographic series responding to the geographical ‘clusters of ex-offenders, in small rural North American towns’. While accurate, this statement camouflages the artist’s full inquiry, which is focused intently on mapping the residential habitation of convicted sex offenders. Seawright concedes that his chosen subject matter of the past three years has been something of a ‘conversation stopper’, though it is by no means a dramatic departure from his previous work. Acclaimed for his photographic depictions of contested, peripheral and marginal territories, including the ‘defensive architecture’ of the conflict in Northern Ireland, Seawright presents new works depicting apparently prosaic scenes of suburban neighbourhoods which are fraught with unspoken fears. Working from an online database of convicted sex offenders, Seawright visited the addresses detailed on this list under the guise of being an Irish academic studying American architecture, rendering this methodology an intrinsic part of the final photographs. Visual obstructions feature prominently in the form of dense briars, boarded windows, drawn curtains and concrete stairs that lead to nowhere. Birds are depicted both perching and flying, yet restrained within photographic frames behind multiple overlapping wire fences. Angel, 2014, portrays a holy statue with her back turned, while elsewhere a stray cat retreats into a barren cul-de-sac. In the gap between two houses, an undisclosed structure is concealed with white tarpaulin and trussed with random straps, like a badly wrapped present. Visual interest is conjured in these sparse images through the visceral textures of crumbling brickwork, puckered fly-screens, paneled garage doors and the wooden clapboard exteriors of unmistakably American houses. Contrast is achieved through the inclusion of black-and-white macro studies of withering plants, such as the thorny solitude of Rose, 2014, silver and luminous against an enveloping blackness. Commendably, these highly edited landscapes appear non-confrontational which, given the pretext, encourages the viewer to engage with them more closely.
Channeling Dublin’s industrial and marine heritage, the group exhibition ‘Pattern Exchange’, currently showing at TBG&S, probes the building’s evolution from a former shirt factory to a modern-day hub for the production and presentation of contemporary art. With Christopher Alexander’s 1977 architectural book A Pattern Language providing textual backdrop, guest curators Hollie Kearns and Rosie Lynch conjure links between labour, materiality and craft histories across the work of six selected artists. A concurrent programme of events, screenings and talks punctuate this ambitious exhibition with a series of wide-reaching public gestures. Conceived as a softening threshold between the gallery interior and its street-level public exterior, Studio Weave’s newly commissioned installation comprises a rig of hand-dyed rope strung from floor to ceiling and anchored in place with conical cement ballasts, reminiscent of the empty thread spools of industrial looms. Functional seating, crafted from simple materials, invites the viewer to linger with the artworks. Paul Bokslag uses the circinate shaft of the building’s atrium as a point of departure for his large-scale paper installation Resonance, 2015. The negative space left behind by an intricate arrangement of freehand cuts forms the visual vocabulary of the exhibition’s type-face, designed by Bokslag as a downloadable font which integrates into users’ existing word-processing software. Exemplifying durational and site-specific artistic research, Fiona McDonald presents a selection of compelling new artworks based on her continuing study of Dublin Bay’s Great South Wall. Mapping: Public Access, 2015, attentively charts public access to the wall from 1801 onwards, with an exquisitely restrained thin line. By 2030, projected rising tides and the privatisation which accompanies the expansion of both city and port will impinge so much on the line as to render it a mere dash. McDonald’s accompanying slideshow Walking the Wall, 2015, relays the omnipresent road-markings, instructional signage and metallic patchworks of shipping containers which denote ownership of the pier leading to Poolbeg Lighthouse – featuring in the slides as a chalky, communist-red pillar against a rare blue Irish sky. Maintaining this nautical theme, Sarah Lincoln’s moving-image work how things float, 2014, mourns the decline of indigenous fishing industries in County Waterford under EU regulations. Scenes of children playing on slivers of manmade harbour beaches are infused with community radio soundtracks. Seascape stills are subject to erosion, as if bleached by sun, or drowned out by pulsing electronic distortion. Further addressing the demise of vernacular knowledge, Gareth Kennedy worked with the community of a small rural village in County Kerry to handcraft locally significant objects from dismantled IKEA furniture. IKEA Butter Churn for Gneeveguilla, 2011, is the title given to both a refined museological display of the wooden artefacts produced – a butter churn and firkin – and the Super 8 film which documents this process, from the communal churning of butter during a public event to its processional journey towards a nearby peatland where it was ceremoniously buried, to be preserved as bog butter. Kennedy will facilitate a field trip to the archaeologically significant Bog of Allen later this month, where he will lead students and staff of University College Dublin’s Experimental Archaeology department in a performative action, furthering his interest into ‘critical anachronism’ with the burial of wooden objects. Sarah Browne elucidates historical precedence on ‘how surplus time is exploited in contemporary life’ with an accomplished pairing of artifacts. A curious leather pouch stuffed with horse-hair is revealed as a Shetland Island knitting belt, used to enable the wearer to carry out one-handed knitting, thus freeing the second hand to engage in other forms of concurrent labour. Meanwhile, a subdued but regular ticking is audible from the wall-mounted Zero Hour Contract, 2013 – a modified clock, whose workings have been obscured by black leatherette, held taut within its circular steel rim. Resembling a total solar eclipse, the pensive haloed disk summons both primeval rhythms and contemporary labour patterns to address the impossibility of ever ‘clocking off’. Viewed alongside the studio object, the shadowy portal actively functions as a black hole in the myth that pressurised multi-tasking is a modern-day, technological or urban phenomenon.

Joanne Laws is an arts writer based in the west of Ireland.


Paul Seawright 'Rose', 2014

Paul Seawright ‘Rose’, 2014

Gareth Kennedy 'IKEA Butterchurn for Gneeveguilla', 2011

Gareth Kennedy ‘IKEA Butterchurn for Gneeveguilla’, 2011

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