A response to :A Modern Panarion: Glimpses of Occultism in Dublin
19th June to 7th September 2014
By Terence Erraught
One of the things I’m trying to do while writing about shows on this site, is not to read the accompanying texts immediately. The aim of this being to obtain a true personal response to the show.
Whilst at the exhibition, I was left rather perplexed by an electronic device positioned high up on a wall, that looked very functional in purpose. There was no evidence of it doing anything……. I gave in and read that it emitted a frequency at 97FM. I asked an invigilator about this but she very politely suggested I go ask the curator if there was a way I could listen to it. I went to the front desk and asked was there a device that visitors can use, but do not think he understood that it transmitted, and was explaining it was just an MP3 player. I was told to refer to the text….. I had my android phone with me but no headphones, so could not test out/listen to the transmission. This in essence, rendered this artwork pointless (or so I thought). After reading the text for the show, when discussing this work, apparently “… Even a visitor to this exhibition who does not tune into Phelan’s supplied frequency to hear the sound piece experiences the work, albeit unkowingly: the physical properties of the waves are present, and travelling through the gallery space at all times.” I’d imagine any atheist would just hear trees falling……..
This exhibition highlighted the reliance that contemporary exhibitions seem to have on the accompanying text. This then becomes as indented into the exhibition as the work itself. I observed from the other attendees who entered the exhibition, that most only glanced at the cover page of the rather large document ( 5 pages of A4 text). Perhaps this is an example of the current “curator” and his/her role. Very often the curator becomes a creator rather then allowing the artists the space to be creators and conductive thought makers . There was a collection of “artifacts” (in this case books) as part of the exhibition. I actually wondered about elements of this being more suited to a history exhibition. This instantly made me question how such an exhibition made it into a public institution. It was obvious that the curator was of an academic background with historical interests, and knew the workings of institutions here in Ireland. Instead of selecting work and allowing these pieces to hold an umbrella over human (being) connections, an associated theme was holding the umbrella, that the works now stood under.
On entering Part 1, the viewer was hit by the wallpaper. A digitally printed piece that no doubt migraine sufferers would prefer to evade. This attacked basic notions of optical illusions, the modern era of the pixel and brought out workings of modern day billboard printing. This was in fact the lunar cycle when examined closer. In making these comments, I did not find it irritating, and felt it rather sat well in the space after some time. It was however difficult to not view the design as a backdrop for the other works which hung over it. As with some of the smaller pencil drawings, this pattern created a sense of movement.
The coloured pencil works were that of contemporary impatience. The imaculately well framed, crisp paper had all the signs of meaning over matter (the text correlates the drawings to that of William Blake, who’s work was excellently drawn). I felt that they were not particularly masterful in the use of the materials, and were more concerned with the concepts. If ever there was a visitor who proclaimed “I could have done that !!!”, then over the coming weeks this will no doubt be heard. The majority of the drawings were childlike in ability. All that separated these works from infantility, was the mature framing and care taken in terms of how pristene the page was around the image (no grubby finger marks to be seen anywhere !!!).
I (initially) really enjoyed that there was no intrusion on the work (no titles / artist details / text inside the gallery). This allowed the visitor to examine the work on their own terms, knowing that a rather hefty booklet sat outside if they desired to learn more. The most intriguing, but at the time seemingly purpose-less perpex box that sat out of place high up plugged into an electric timmer bemused and confused. Its height gave it a status of functional sanctuary, hanging on the wall about seven feet up or there abouts. It contained electronic equipment taped together using black duct tape and a little red LED eye gazed out……. This piece was aesthetically constructed with a functional purpose. This was very contrasting to the other two dimensional works which also hung in the space. Some of the drawings appeared to deal with plays of dimensions and movement. Flat against very three dimensional images, others created a sense of movement within themselves, contrasted against a very seated form. Others resurrected associations with biological drawings, demonstrating neurons connecting, MRI scans, engine-like valves connected to brain like organisms and solid structures bending around immoveable shapes.The images sat conventionally strange, housed within the frames on such a busy and indeed trippy backdrop. These drawings looked very different in skill level/interest to the murals displayed in the photographs (Part 2).
Visitors quickly slid in and out, leaving but one solitary lady engaging with the work. I conversed with her in a bid to procure some information on how others are engaging with the show. She openly stated how, she liked “…. to stand back and see it, and get on it.” This seemed like a logical way to try and breach this show. Maybe my investigating each individual work as such was incorrect. This was some sort of tame animal, that probably wore a monicle and a waistcoat, and was supposed to be ridden rather then watched. In saying this I would have to borrow the animal’s monicle, as each drawing was rather small in scale, and not the easiest to look at against the backdrop as a group experience.
Just outside Gallery 10 (Part 2), were encased books entitled “Isis unveiled” amongst others. Most were open on pages containing secret doctrines and insights into meeting arrangements at the Dublin headquarters for any interested theologists. Now, being someone who could not one hundred percent say what one was (a Theologist), and alluding to the title of the show (occultism), the books and photographs of old maintained murals on Dublin houses brought some clarity. Within Part 2 was a more “traditionally” linked body of work of what one can perceive as having ties with Theologsim. It was at this point that I was made aware of the level of my own personal confusion. Within this room, was some paintings/collages, a digital projector and a shrine. The digital projector displayed old film grain images of landscapes with a yellow filter. These seemed to have more lineage to the next room, that contained landscape paintings then to the work next to it. As part of the shrine was a stereo, which played a repetitive soundtrack ominous to that associated with the opening or closing credits of an edgy thriller. This created a sense of an immersing installation/room, but given the books and information outside, the ties were very strong to that of replicating and acknowledging, rather then creating or establishing unthreaded waters.
Using history and (research)information appears to be a growing trend in art institutions, as artworks. Should the history of art not be an interesting thing, but remain, ‘the history of art’ ?? Perhaps the location has a lot to do with it. As a municipal gallery, I can imagine the links of irishness / historical slant / modern art would be very appealing. I suppose the curators’ educational background of Art history and curating are highly evident here. As a visitor to exhibitions, I cannot evade the academic element that has crept in. As an “institutionalised” artist myself, I wonder about this. Students spend a lot of time having to tick the correct boxes when in the institutions. Does this continue here in Ireland, even after the teachers hand is let go….??
I got a bit irritated that the displayed books would be put on par with the newly created works, and was not surprised to see the usual suspects included in the show either. Perhaps, Padraic himself created a small cult, interested in persuing his ideas into a physical form. Who knows, maybe they are still meeting and are cracking out the colouring pencils, archives and feathers on a regular basis to this day………..
Curated by Padraic E Moore