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Exhibition Review – John Gerrard, Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work, ArtReview, October 2020.

October 23, 2020

John Gerrard Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work

Galway International Arts Festival, Galway City

3 – 26 September

A large, futuristic cube structure was recently installed on Galway’s Claddagh Quay – the site of one of Ireland’s earliest fishing villages, later associated with eighteenth-century industrialists, who harnessed the River Corrib (still thundering through the city) to power dozens of flour mills. However, rather than an incongruous presence, the shimmering, seven-metre-tall, temporary pavilion feels strangely of this place. Designed by Irish artist John Gerrard to host his two new artworks – commissioned by Galway International Arts Festival for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture and presented consecutively in dual locations – three sides and the roof are clad in polished metal, seductively reflecting the surrounding landscape, while the front comprises a luminous, high-resolution LED screen. (A second work, Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work (2020),will be shown in October in a peat bog in Connemara, where the pavilion structure will be re-sited.)  Gerrard uses real-time computer graphics (developed by the commercial gaming industry) for poetic ends, in this instance employing 3D scanning technology to create a ‘virtual portrait’ of Claddagh’s middle pier, upon which the structure is situated.

Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work (2020) presents four mysterious folk figures who perform within this simulation, perpetually moving in circular configurations to echo the water wheels that once fed this city. Clad in straw suits, these anonymous characters recall the rural Irish Wren tradition, whose ancient dances and rituals have druidic origins. Their facelessness conjures a supernatural presence – an unsettling encounter further confounded by their giant stature, regal posture and hypnotic glide across the screen. The camera assumes a static position, while the land turns incrementally, achieving a 360-degree rotation of the site every hour. Sunrise was livestreamed from the pavilion on 22 September to mark the Autumn Equinox – a sacred day in the pagan calendar, associated with harvesting crops for winter. Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work, then, laments an agricultural era, prior to the advent of petroleum-based conventional farming, described by the artist during the online launch as a ‘hyper-violent machine’. Here, a more sustainable past is channelled without nostalgia and pitched against that which is reflected on the mirrored walls: our present reality.

Joanne Laws

[Featured Image: John Gerrard, Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work, 2020; photograph by Colm Hogan, courtesy of the artist and Galway 2020]

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