Wild Cries of Ha-Ha
@ Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Chancery Lane, Dublin
8 January to 6 February
Review by Sam Tranum
Walking into the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, into Richard Proffitt’s incense-scented, mandala-centred installation ‘Wild Cries of Ha-Ha’, reminded me of entering one of those shops that sells batik, prayer flags, mini-buddhas, Tibetan singing bowls and the other paraphernalia of confused spiritual searchers fascinated with ‘the East’.
You know, the kids who wear dreadlocks, brightly-coloured flowing clothes and patchouli, meditate, practice yoga and go backpacking in India, where smartly dressed and coiffed Indians snicker at them behind their backs. Of course, it’s possible I’m doing these nice folks a disservice by calling them searchers; perhaps they’ve found something.
I spent four years at university in the kind of town that had a special little hostel called the Dharma Center, where these searchers/finders congregated to do their morning meditation and converse dreamily over their vegan meals. I spent another two years living in India.
Still, I have, to my shame, managed to remain almost entirely ignorant of both Hinduism and Buddhism — completely unenlightened. So Proffitt’s apparent references to these religions are almost entirely lost on me. But the introduction to his show, which was written by Michael Hill, offered some guidance.
The title of the show is the translated name of one of ‘the eight great charnel grounds described in Hindu and Buddhist spiritual texts’. Even after doing some reading on a wiki maintained by a college for Buddhist Studies, I am still unclear how, exactly, these charnel grounds fit into these two intertwined religions.
But parts of Proffitt’s installation are definitely evocative of a charnel ground of decomposing corpses. In the centre of the room is a mandala-like assemblage of driftwood, bones, skulls, candles, sage, sawdust and seaweed. This spills out pleasingly across the floor, refusing to stay confined to it’s boundaries. Its detritus links it with a complicated shrine, involving, if memory serves, lights and incense and speakers and a keyboard, among many other things.
On the walls surrounding these two well-matched installations were at least two other types of works, both of which were unpretentious and fun.
There was a fleet of small, framed primitive drawings or scratchings, whose literal titles give a pretty clear idea of their forms: ‘Moons’, ‘Leaves’, ‘Snake’, ‘Star’, ‘Cloud Face’. These were bits of squarish cardboard covered with crisp packets, silvery side out. This shiny surface, perhaps once coated with Tayto grease, had been painted black. The images had apparently been created by scratching thin lines of blackness off these ‘canvases’ to leave reflective lines. There was also a series of dreamcatcher-like sculptural collages, assembled from feathers, driftwood, a pigeon wing, seagrass, cassette tape, beads, snake vertebrae and wire.
Proffitt’s assemblage of junk and whimsy was, to me, more than the sum of its parts. Together, the tangle of bodies and rubbish and religion created an atmosphere, a feeling — and, at times, made me smile with its playfulness. I’d go back again, and I’d recommend that others go by and spend a few moments in this strange hybrid world that Proffitt has made.
My one complaint is that ‘Wild Cries of Ha-Ha’ seemed out of place in such a formal, barren gallery, with its stark white walls. It might have been better displayed inside a tumble-down shed of bleached wood and corrugated tin, at the back of a junk-strewn abandoned lot. Or around a sun-bleached double-wide trailer in the New Mexico desert, with Proffitt parked out front on a cheap lawn chair, welcoming visitors with cold beers.