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Exhibition Review – Ireland Roundup, Art Monthly, March 2018.

February 21, 2018

Ireland Roundup

Limerick City Gallery of Art • The Glucksman • Gallery of Photography

 

Bernadette Cotter’s exhibition, ‘Repair’, considers the cathartic yet burdensome processes of the handmade. Cotter’s eponymous mixed-media installation, specially created for LCGA, features a centrally suspended skeleton, whose body parts have been wrapped with thread, reminding us of the material’s capacity to stitch and mend, but also to unravel or gather into dense knots. Balls of red yarn hang from the ceiling, giving the cartoonish impression of luscious red cherries. However, this abundant orchard gradually concedes more macabre readings, with deep crimson veins suggesting disembowelment and bodily sacrifice. Such startling physicality and emotional candor permeate most of the exhibition, as does the artist’s monochromatic palette. In the ground floor galleries, the words faith, love, hope, love and life provide the internal components for a series of red ink and watercolour drawings. Created through the meticulous repetition of handwritten words, the mandala-like compositions channel the transcendental qualities of obsessive personal rituals. Another series of red ink drawings forms part of Still Life, 2008, in the North Gallery. Featuring variations on a red oval – perceived as a head, heart, womb, thumbprint, cell, or blood sample – each iteration displays fuzzy mutations. The 42 drawings accompany an installation of seven hand-embroidered black organza panels. Within this shrouded arrangement, scores of mattress needles hang ominously, wrapped in black yarn. As pendular devices, they may resemble pods, poised to burst into life, but collectively they channel a more nightmarish proposition, echoing the fluctuating horizontal line of an electrocardiograph or bullets lodged in a target, framing the installation as a memorial to some past atrocity, or harbinger of future suffering. In the South Gallery, a carpet of broken glass retains residual traces of a pathway. During a performance on the opening night, Cotter crushed a passage underfoot wearing heavy-duty boots and yellow overalls. Each shard is etched with poetic and existential fragments such as: “where we once lived”, “broken-hearted searching” and “thinking of aging on a summer day”. Twelve petite yet androgynous organza utility suits hang on either side of the space. Their ethereal presence creates a hauntology, enacted through themes of ancestry and selfhood, with the past and future bleeding into the present moment, allowing Cotter to grieve for the living, as well as the dead.

 

Probing geopolitical realities, ‘OUTPOSTS: Global borders and national boundaries’ at Cork’s Glucksman, chronicles artistic responses to border regions across the world. The exhibition is underpinned by a strong pedagogical remit – wall texts elucidate curatorial inquiries; zones of colour demark thematic groupings – demonstrating intimate knowledge of the space and its circulating audiences. Once the site of armed conflict, the spectre of the Irish border has persisted far beyond the Troubles. ‘OUTPOSTS’ features one of this era’s most iconic images, Willie Doherty’s Border Incident, 1994, depicting a burnt-out car, perceived as a remnant of some criminal or sectarian incident. Behind the purpose-built partition, a sculptural intervention by Katharina Cibulka bisects the space with a wooden barricade, fabricated in roof shingles sourced in the separatist Italian territory of South Tyrol. On the second floor, Doherty’s Loose Ends, 2016, examines urban and rural sites associated with the 1916 Easter Rising. Commissioned to coincide with the centenary, the photographic series seeks out vantagepoints over the landscape, while mapping residual traces of rebellion within the collective modern psyche. Amidst political speculations about the impacts of Brexit, the Irish border has been subject to revived scrutiny. ‘OUTPOSTS’ features a selection of posters from 2016’s ‘Remain’ campaign. Prompts to “vote for a future, not a past” now seem futile, as does the seemingly anachronistic erasure of ‘hard’ borders across mainland Europe, documented in Dara McGrath’s photographic series. Larissa Sansour’s heavyhearted film, Land Confiscation Order 06/24/T, 2007, conveys the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory by Israeli defence forces. A recurring dream about tanks entering her home incites a young woman to wrap the building with black fabric, in a fitting “memorial for our condition”. The border between Mexico and the United States provides another site of convergence for timely reflections on human mobility and migration. Javier Téllez’s One Flew Over the Void (Bala Perdida), 2005, features a beach carnival near the border between Tijuana and San Diego. The lively event culminates with a ‘human cannonball’ (clutching his passport) being fired into America – the first human projectile to fly over an international border. Responding to violent occurrences in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Teresa Margolles photographed the city’s transgender sex workers, while Brian Maguire painted portraits of young women, murdered during a wave of femicide. As a contemporary history painter with an intense awareness of political and social justice, Maguire uses archival approaches to record atrocities in the public memory. Retracing a journey made by Anglo-Irish travel writer, Rebecca West, in 1937, Dragana Jurišić engages with the history and culture of her native Yugoslavia, in her expansive photographic project, YU: The Lost Country, 2011-13. Amidst Jurišić’s documentation of the country’s social, architectural and post-military landscapes, her grappling with forgotten histories is hugely palpable.

Dragana Jurišić’s solo exhibition, ‘My Own Unknown’, is also currently showing in Dublin’s Gallery of Photography. The artist’s ontological perspective is broadly informed by her upbringing in the former Yugoslavia and the destruction of her home during the Croatian War of Independence. The dramatic erasure of the family’s entire photographic archive prompted the artist to embark on a lifelong search for her own history. Probing the complexities of the exilic condition, the exhibition presents five distinct bodies of work as a series of unfolding chapters. In the first space hangs an intriguing plaster cast of a female face – the death mask of an unknown woman who drowned in River Seine in the late nineteenth century. Reproductions of L’Inconnue de la Seine were sold across Europe, allowing the public to project their own interpretations onto this enigmatic beauty. Within Jurišić’s installation, fleeting bright circles recreate the dazzling effects of light on water. The mask resurfaces in 100 Muses – a Polaroid series depicting a hundred nude women, posing as Greek mythological muses, reminiscent of post-war conceptual artists like Ewa Partum, whose naked performances epitomised the Eastern Bloc’s feminist Avant Garde. Utilising multiple superimposed images, Jurišić’s Mnemosyne’s Daughters, conjures the tactile appeal of layered charcoal drawings. Across the main space is the visually seductive series, She Was So Beautiful, Like She Was Her Own Creator. Whether semi-fictional, or grounded in fact, this work investigates the life of Jurišić’s aunt, after her alleged disappearance in the 1950s and her unexplained death in Paris three decades later. In the digital era of perpetual surveillance, we are unaccustomed to scenarios in which no data exists to track a person’s movements. The artist’s fruitless search is documented in expansive imagery, while personal reflections are recorded in a notebook, something Jurišić refers to as her “river of evidence”. The exhibition is permeated with dualities, juxtaposing modern with historical, east with west. Surface textures are presented alongside views of shifting skies; urban monuments are interspersed with mist-veiled rural landscapes. Focusing both on the self and on the other, the artist documents the strangers she encounters, while also showing the impact of these environments on her own body. From Polaroids and family albums, to multiple exposures and negative prints, the exhibition also conveys Jurišić’s rigorous journey through the techniques and nourishing vocabularies of analogue photography – a largely outmoded and nostalgic medium that, in itself, is shrouded in mystery, with images only ever revealing themselves in darkness.

Joanne Laws is as arts writer and editor based in the west of Ireland.

 

Featured Image: Dragana Jurišić ‘My Own Unknown’, Gallery of Photography, Feb-March 2018

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