Limerick City Gallery of Art Series 1 Exhibition text 008
‘Upending/Difference Engine: Accumulator III’
10 October – 23 December, 2013
‘Upending, an exhibition of enquiries’ presented new works by artists who participated to ‘Troubling Ireland’, a mobile think tank commissioned by Fire Station Artists’ Studios that took place in 2010-2011. Led by Danish curatorial collective Kuratorisk Aktion, the participants were invited to reflect on their practice from a socially engaged perspective. During the symposium ‘Art and Responsibility’ which took place on the 12th of November, the artists discussed the impact the think tank and the interaction with Tone Olaf Nielsen and Frederikke Hansen had on their work. Their Danish perspective as well as a specific methodology, such as the time frame and a change of location for each meeting, yielded challenging and exciting ways of thinking about Ireland, its troubles and the role of the artist. The works produced for ‘Upending’ reflect the variety of the approaches taken by each artist.
Kennedy Browne take ‘trouble’ quite literally in mapping out that whatever Ireland is suffering from chances are it produces the drug to cure it. Ireland is Good For You is an archival print of a map of Ireland indicating the sites of production of some of the most popular drugs on the market: Lipitor, Plavix, Enbrel, Remicade or Zyprexial curing anything from cardiovascular disease to schizophrenia. This flourishing industry overlaps with a more ambivalent contribution to trouble. The Special Relationship is a projection of photographs of US military planes at Shannon Airport. The sequence is timed by a voice over going through the 17 questions of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptom scale interview used for diagnostic. Many soldiers suffered from PTSD coming back from Irak, but Ireland’s relationship with the US and its tacit support for the war in Irak might have caused its own traumas.
Anthony Haughey displayed handmade crystal milk bottles sandblasted with texts. This were the produce of Haughey’s collaboration with a group of Waterford Crystal craftmen who lost their job when the factory re-localised its production in Slovenia – now machine made. The bottles are a reminder of how Waterford Crystal was once an integrated, if at times unexpected, part of everyday life in Waterford. For instance, when running in new cutting wheels the glasscutters of the Kilbarry factory would use discarded milk glass bottles. In turn these would find their way back to the creamery and be re-circulated with the distinctive star design cut in the base. The crystal bottles have also been sandblasted with sentences, such as ‘People are the Economy’. These emerged from the collaboration between the group of workers and the artist. This group have now set up a cooperative, Handmade Irish Glass, and are fighting for the Waterford Crystal’s trademark.
The circulation of direct testimonies was the aim of Augustine O’Donoghue’s Souvenir From Ireland. Traditional candy rock stick in various green, white and orange strips designs were wrapped up with a sheet of paper that would be inscribed with a short contribution by those that voiced dissent over the last ten years. The candies were displayed in the gallery in baskets and jars to be taken by visitors. This is part of the Social Archive project, which aims to document recent social movements in Ireland.
In her essay ‘Reflecting on Troubling Ireland: a cultural geographer’s perspective’, Bryonnie Reid recounts her involvement to the think tank and how it led her to confront her discomfort, as a Northern Ireland protestant, towards the notion of Irish post-colonialism. She questions claims of identity or ‘Irishness’ as a form of ‘regulatory fiction’. For The Disappeared she sets out a diagrammatic genealogy of colonialism through thoughts, impressions, historical texts and the ‘disappearance’ of her maternal grandfather. A series of pinhole photographs of the sites along Strangford lough’s shores he was searched for, are lined up across the scattered texts and drawings; forming perhaps a horizon line of absence.
Anna Macleod’s Lonraím Ní Loiscim: I Shine Not Burn is an installation of solar panels on which are projected archival footage of the Shannon hydroelectric scheme at Ardnacrusha from the ESB archives. The projectors are powered by solar panels and a wind turbine set up on the roof of the gallery. The Shannon scheme was a bold ambitious project to undertake for the young Irish republic in 1925, costing as much as a fifth of the national budget then. The plant was to electrify the country in a self-sufficient manner. Macleod contrast this optimism and self-confidence with today’s timorous and often contradictory energetic policies. It is true that it is not only that politician’s capacity for vision has changed, the Irish public has also grown wary of big technological feats since then.
Ghost Empire & Cyprus, Susan Thompson’s video takes us around Cyprus: from stunning landscape to roundabouts. Gay and lesbian activists recounts their experiences and difficulties to be homosexual in the country. Cyprus is one of many territories that still criminalise homosexuality using British colonial laws dating from 1889. The film shot partly in black and white with filters that gives a softer, grainier quality to the HD, suggests a place that has changed little since these laws were established.
The artworks presented for Upending makes connections between the well and the less well known, the past and the present to tease possible narratives for the future. However, as one of the aims of the think tank was to develop new methodologies, the exhibition came across as disappointingly conventional. The impression may have been compounded by the more experimental format used for Difference Engine: Accumulator III on the first floor of the Gallery.
Difference Engine is a model of autonomous curation by artists Gillian Lawler, Wendy Judge, Jessica Foley and Mark Cullen that started in 2009. They produce a series of evolving exhibitions where they ‘manifest’ their work together, to each other, and in response to invited collaborators. For ‘Accumulator’, the catalyst was Gordon Cheung’s portrait of Charles Babbage, Babbage and the latter’s observation that “Jamming is a form of error detection”. The artists take the two possible meanings of ‘jamming’, saturation and free style improvisation, as a form of exhibition.
In the last scene of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, Justine builds with her nephew a ‘magic cave’ as a shelter from the oncoming Armageddon. The ‘cave’ is a tepee-type assemblage of sticks, not unlike the large structure made of fluorescent tubes in the Herbert Gallery 1. For Justified Ancients exaggerated Sublimity, Cullen combines an icon of modern architecture with a primitive structure to conjure a magic space. The reflection of the fluorescent light in the glass protection of the small scale drawings and watercolours of Lawler’s series Untitled I, II and III, draws them into its circle. In turn, the delicate drawings hovers between geometry and architecture, abstraction and possible function.
In the Herbert Gallery 2 there are works by Judge, Foley and Cullen, which feed off and possibly disrupt each other through their very distinction. Foley’s Super 8 film Wallpaper In formation projected on the back of a small screen, takes on the story of a Russian woman who became a genius from having her bedroom’s wall covered with pages from a math book. Only in the film the attempt at covering a room with algebraic figures do not go according to plan, with the paper constantly slipping and folding. Mathematical figures gives a comforting sense of control, there are no threatening contingencies – even irrationality is controlled somehow with its own numeric domain. Thus the attempt, however vain, to control the one room in sheltering it from the world’s chaos with mathematic symbols has powerful resonances. This train of thoughts leads the eye perhaps astray on Judge’s play with scale in Travel Sized View with Early Warning Radar Facility. The ad hoc installation of foam, wood, concrete, plasticene, and tripod stand come together when we focus on the concentrated lighted area designated by the reverse binoculars position. Just there looking through the reverse lens we have a trompe-l’oeil of a radar facility sited in a mountainous landscape; just there the chaos aligns to make sense. The works in the room share similar concentrated dimensions, with Cullen’s light box Toward Super Connection mirroring Foley’s screen, and its circumscribed drawing echoing Judge’s spot lights.
The Carnegie gallery is a combination of works by Judge, Cullen and Lawler with Cheung’s Four Rider (Red) setting the tone. Cheung’s is a somewhat hypnotic video animation projected on a screen in the middle of the gallery: a slowed-down loop of a cowboy riding a bull over a composite background of waves, rolling clouds and mountain peaks in acid saturated colours; on the audio, static noise and guitar accords from The Door’s The End. The slow motion movement and the guitar give an apocalyptic atmosphere to the room. The Door’s sound is picked up by the humming sound of an electric fan’s pals while its projected shadow beats the empty skies over a sink hole in Cullen and Lawler’s No Easy Bird Flight Remains. Lawler’s surrealist architectural extrapolations over smoky devastated areas take on an ominous presence. Judge’s scattered Meteorite Field adds to the end-of-the-world’s impression.
In the text accompanying the exhibition, the artists refer to Felix Guattari’s understanding of subjectivity. In his clinical and philosophical work, Felix Guattari has constantly challenged an individualistic model of subjectivity, exploring its production through collective, machinic or animal combinations. Difference Engine’s evolving exhibition series offers an intriguing model of combination of differences that produce new arrangements and new subjects every time it is produced.
Michaële Cutaya 2014
Difference Engine: Accumulator II at the Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Wales.
23 February – 23 March 2013
Review by Ciara Healy
The collective nature of ‘Difference Engine’ bridges the gap between artist and curator, and in doing so it shows multiplicity rather than hierarchy. During its journey from the Wexford Arts Centre on the East coast of Ireland to Oriel Myrddin on the West coast of Wales, themes such as convergence, states of being, duality and time were nurtured through conversation, into new manifestations.Dualities are apparent in the titles of the works as much as in the works themselves. ‘Viewing Spectacles’ (2012), for example, by Wendy Judge, is a plasticine Grand Canyonesque landscape on wheels. When viewed through a pair of binoculars, (or spectacles), the spectacle of the landscape is revealed as real, yet it simultaneously remains a fabrication.‘Travel sized view of Early Warning Radar Facility’ (2013) is made in a similar way, but this time the eerie hyper-reality of its fabrication is playfully amplified using green and red gel lights. When the work is viewed through the goggles provided, a disturbing double 3D dystopia is revealed. Surveying these malleable places from a fixed point sets the parameters of where our gaze should be, a method of viewing that has been comparably exercised by the tourist industry for many years.This challenge to fixed perspectives is also apparent in Mark Cullen’s ‘Infinite Preserve’ (2012) and ‘Carpet’ (2013), two works concerned with the way in which Eastern mathematical configurations are currently emerging in Western physics. Using aluminium insulation foil – the type worn by American astronauts in the 1960s, Cullen has carefully drawn a series of ancient Islamic patterns with permanent felt tip pen.Another visual metaphor for the dissolution of binary opposites can be seen in ‘Mandala’ (2013) – a large sheet of plastic tarpaulin, which hangs at an angle in the gallery. The sheet divides the space, but simultaneously allows light through the circle of holes which have been cut into its centre. These holes are analogous to the gaps in the landscapes of our minds, gaps that allow knowledge from different times and perspectives to overlap.Myth and fact converge in Jessica Foley’s ’The wallpaper in_formation,’ (2012) a film installation based on the story of a Russian woman, whose childhood bedroom was decorated with algebra from old maths books. Absorbing this wallpaper into her subconscious, she became, so the story goes, a genius. Foley’s Super 8 film is projected on to the back wall of the gallery, flanked on either side by two iron towers. In the film a woman is desperately caught up in the act of trying to install a series of mathematical notes on her child’s wall. Her efforts however, are fated futile, as the soggy paper crumples and folds. This point of frustration is suspended in perpetuity and serves as a subtle but sophisticated observation of our on-going struggle to come to terms with the alienating world in which we now live. The anxiety in Judge and Foley’s work, far from being introspective catharsis, is a healthy response to a barbaric circumstance. Our contemporary obsession with the pursuit of happiness desensitises us to the fact that social stress, like rigorous exercise, can be adaptive, conditioning and possibly, transcendental.Transcendence of another kind is seen in Gillian Lawlor’s paintings, where terrible destruction gives rise to beauty. ‘Centralia I’ (2012) is based on an abandoned mining town in Pennsylvania, where coal deposits deep underground caught fire. Lawlor has transformed this destruction into spacious flat planes with spiralling columns of ochre-red smoke. Futuristic virtual structures hint at possible solutions in the form of floating or elevated buildings, but disappearing horizons create a sense of unease. The abandoned Centralia in underlying ways resembles the ghost housing estates of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Lawlor’s paintings map out the sinking, sloping architecture of dispossession; their temporary beauty belies the hostile reality of permanent loss.
Since the fall of communism, a slow nostalgic revival in early modernist ideals has been taking place in Western visual culture. Writer Jane Rendell argues that these socialist ideals are continuously presented in the West as failures because they do not facilitate economic growth. Difference Engine’s interest in abandoned moments in modernist history is important because it disrupts the idea of this failure. In the rush to find new and better utopias, much was discarded in early modernist thinking before it had a chance to be fully developed. Perhaps this show is a platform for some of those ideas to become what they never had the chance to be in the early part of the 20th century.
However, while it may seem progressive, like it did to the early avant-garde modernists, to bypass hierarchies, this counter-point can also go full circle. Elif Shafak warns of the dangers of “communities of the like-minded” and their resultant tendency to alienate others. So while ‘Difference Engine’ might exist in the context of an art world which has become commercialised to the extent that meaningful content is often incidental, it might be appropriate to remember that in the latter half of ‘The Birds’ by Aristophanes, Euelpidies is absent.
In our digital age the demise of ritual means we have lost touch with the authentic human experience because we have fewer threshold points in which to ‘become.’ Because ritual became associated with authority, we have developed, since the Enlightenment, a secular and now technological way of being. Canadian theorist Ron Grimes stresses the importance of creativity in ritual in the Western world today. ‘Jamming Is A Form of Error Detection’ contains myth, echoes of ancient rituals and, in Judge’s case, gentle humour, to question the spectacle of perception and the supposed respectability of science, so that rites of being can be ritualised in new and creative ways.
If artists aren’t given the opportunity to do this, technology will do it for us. And who wants a technological ritual to support us into or out of this world
The Sunday Times, review of Difference Engine, Manifestation 5 at SOMA
By Cristin Leach, November 2011.
This evolving touring art project features the Irish artists Mark Cullen, Wendy Judge, Gillian Lawler and Jessica Foley as well as the British-born Chinese artist Gordon Cheung. Lawler’s futuristic- looking, quasi-architectural paintings play off Judge’s hand-moulded mountain peaks, the best of which, Reliable Wonders, appears to levitate. Cullen’s fluorescent strip-lighting tepee (entitled Justified Ancient) firmly anchors the exhibition in sci-fi territory, but Foley’s inquisitive approach borrows more from the conventions of the school science experiment, including the found-object construction Electromagnet.
Cheung’s War video, with its bronco-riding cowboy in a psychedelic landscape, leaks the mesmerizing sound of the Door’s The End, while the largest of Lawler’s paintings, Urban Mountain 3, pictured left – in which one of her trademark chequered structures projects from a charred landscape – is among the shows highlights. Although dark, Difference Engine hums with a pleasingly pervasive atmosphere of possibility.
Cristin Leach Hughes 2011.