Everybody Should Get Stones at Friendly IMMA
By Sam Turnam
On a recent Saturday morning, after coffee and a newspaper, a couple of occasional art viewers decided they didn’t want to go back to their very small studio apartment in Portobello and chose, instead, to take a stroll through the city in the rain.
One thing led to another and they eventually found themselves at the gates to the former Royal Hospital Kilmainham, which these days houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). The building according to IMMA’s website is “the finest 17th-century building in Ireland.” It is pretty nice, if you like that kind of thing.
They explored the hedges and gravel paths of the formal gardens around IMMA, enjoying the sculptures and the fountain. They stopped into one gallery and then, tired from all the walking, decided to visit only one more before heading home — preferably via public transport of some sort, if their Leap card balances allowed.
They found a crowded gallery entrance and shuffled in behind the other visitors to read the sign introducing the exhibit. It was “a major exhibition of the work of the internationally renowned Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980) . . . an innovator of interactive and experiential artworks whose work has influenced many of the key contemporary artists,” the sign said.
This being an exhibition of experiential artworks, a friendly placard explained that there would be signs letting visitors know what they could touch and what they couldn’t. “Where you see this symbol [a hand], please touch the artwork,” it said. The visitors felt welcome.
The sign continued: “Please take photos of yourself or friends using these artworks and share them using the #IMMAHello hashtag.” The man pointed out how this contrasted sharply with the attitude of the docent at the Douglas Hyde Gallery on a recent visit, who had sternly warned him against photography.
Before viewing Oiticica’s own works, the visitors were invited to visit some introductory galleries. A plainly worded sign explained: “This space contains works by South American, international and Irish artists from the IMMA Collection. Their works have been selected to highlight and open a doorway into key aspects of Oiticica’s practice.”
When they walked into the first room, their entrance caused a clicketty-clacketty racket, which was a little disconcerting, since art galleries are often hushed spaces. Even when artists and curators perhaps do not intend it, the visitors often feel they should walk quietly and speak in whispers. But this exhibit made the walking quietly part impossible: the floor was covered in cherry-sized and nectarine-sized stones.
Aside from the stones on the floor, and a series of signs on the wall, there was nothing else in the room. The gallery’s natural spell of formality was broken by the noise, and the visitors danced across the floor from sign to sign, reading them in no particular order, although they were numbered, and were clearly meant to be read in sequence.
The intention was clear, though, no matter what order the visitors read the sign in. The idea was to pick the perfect rock. The signs offered different criteria, ranging from simple to silly to philosophical. The woman picked a triangular stone off the floor and announced that it was very “II-ey”, so the man clattered around the room until he found a sign that said, “A stone may be selected because it is most like: 27. AA a skull, 28. BB a rose . . . 35. II a groin.”
Another sign suggested that the visitors, “Select a stone because it is most apt: . . . for demonstrating the fundamentals of the Sisyphus myth, for killing two birds with . . . for punishing a woman found in adultery, for placing in the mouth to remedy speech defects, as the visual punchline for a tasteless joke . . .” The man and the woman laughed a lot and made a lot of noise.
On the way out, the visitors stop to read about the rocky beach they’d been playing on. By Noel Sheridan, it was called “Everybody Should Get Stones.” The sign quoted Sheridan as saying that he’d done the opposite of the dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp, “who had elected certain everyday objects to stand as art, what had happened for me was the reverse of that, an object had elected me — a readymade artist — as agent, to elicit its aesthetic.”
So the rocks selected Sheridan; Sheridan had not selected the rocks, it seems. (The sign mentioned that the museum acquired “Everybody Should Get Stones” in 2006, raising the question of how much IMMA paid for those clever rocks who selected Sheridan as their agent.) The fact that Sheridan was apparently a little crazy or stoned or one of those people that thinks nonsense is profound did not detract from that room full of rocks, though.
The spectacle of a room in Ireland’s finest 17th-century building filled with a layer of white rocks was really quite beautiful in a way, and the game that Sheridan asked the visitors to play alluded to childhood days on beaches, while including funny jokes that ranged style from vulgar to witty. One of the functions of art should be to bring some beauty and light and fun into our lives. By this standard, “Everybody Should Get Stones” was a success.
The visitors were tired after making the long walk to IMMA and seeing two galleries within the museum, and never actually made it to see Oiticica’s own works, which they later regretted because IMMA’s website, which they investigated from home, said that they’d have been able to try on Oiticica’s “wearable ‘Parangolés’ and enjoy the fun of dressing up as a mobile sculpture,” which sounded like a treat. So they may return before the show closes on 5 October.