Thursday, July 2, 2015

Dublin's largest professional visual artists studios forced to close after 18 years

Dublin's largest professional visual artists studios forced to close after 18 years

Press Release from Broadstone Studios, Dublin
1 July 2015

Broadstone Studios, currently the workplace of 34 professional visual artists, will close after 18 successful years, this coming Friday, July 3rd. During that time Broadstone has made an immeasurable contribution to the visual arts community. Its aspiration according to director Jacinta Lynch was simple: to provide affordable and suitable workspaces for visual artists. It has successfully done so providing exactly that to many of Ireland’s most dynamic, determined and important contemporary artists for nearly two decades. 

Amongst its tenants, one of Ireland’s most internationally significant and well known artists Gerard Byrne says: 

The news comes as a massive blow to the arts community, and raises substantial questions about the prospects for Dublin’s urban center as a creative space welcoming to working artists, and the arts in general.”

Despite resiliently navigating the boom and bust cycles of Dublin's property market for nearly two decades under the direction of Jacinta Lynch, the studios received abrupt notification that the lease on the Victorian building that they have occupied for nearly five years, has been refused further renewals. After costly legal proceedings and intense negotiation, tenants were offered five weeks to completely pack up and find alternative studios. The owners of the building, which is located on the corner of Harcourt Terrace and Adelaide Road have indicated they intend to sell the building, a protected structure, for re-development.

The closure of this vibrant, well-run and beloved organisation that was run on a shoestring budget, will affect artists at a wide variety of stages in their careers. Most immediately many are scrambling to find affordable, alternative spaces to finish exhibitions and complete commissions in the midst of unplanned disruption. The potential negative impact of this dislocation on the livelihoods of the ejected artists, let alone the many other artists who had come to assume Broadstone Studios would be a future base is unquantifiable. 

Given the current rental market and the dearth of infrastructural support for the provision of workspace for artists in all fields by local and central government, few artists can ever aspire to occupy a workspace long-term. The highly praised and popular Bacon studio of Dublin City’s Hugh Lane Gallery was occupied by Francis Bacon for decades, contrasting starkly the precarious realities of the Dublin property market for the city's artists today. In a city currently aspiring to win designation as European City of Culture 2020 by trumpeting its creative vibrancy, the loss of one of the most significant artists studios in the city, and the lack of infrastructural planning it exposes, doesn't help the impression Dublin City council is hoping to convey to Europe.

Broadstone and its artists remain proud of an eighteen-year history that has witnessed the production of countless important works, exhibitions, performances, and commissions in Ireland and internationally. Works made in Broadstone studios are in museum collections globally, and the studios leave a substantial legacy on contributions to the richness and variety of contemporary culture

The loss of Broadstone Studios has huge national significance, not only as a mainstay for Dublin-based artists, but for countless professionals in the arts who rely on it as a central, credible resource during their visits to Dublin.”
Annie Fletcher, Chief Curator, Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven.

Broadstone Studios began life in the Hendron Building Dublin in 1997 and relocated to Harcourt Terrace in 2010. It has provided workspace to over 204 artists in that time as well as production support and exhibition space to countless individuals and artist groups in Ireland.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Crisis of Criticism

Crisis of Criticism 
Paper Visual Art talk with Declan Long, Joanna Derkaczew, Jim Ricks, and Rebecca O'Dwyer
Originally presented on 3 June 2014

by Jim Ricks

Just over a year ago, the newly appointed editors of Paper Visual Art, Marysia Wieckiewicz–Carroll and Nathan O'Donnell, invited four arts writers to respond, present, and discuss the question: "What do you expect from art criticism?" The following is my talk, re-presented now as it continues to be an entirely unresolved issue in Irish Visual Arts.

The following is by no means all encompassing and is a bit schematic.  And don’t think I’ll answer the question “What do I expect from criticism?”  I’m not sure what my expectations are.   Perhaps they don’t exist.

As an artist and one that works in myriad of hybrid, meta ways, perhaps I offer a different position on critical writing. Perhaps Artist’s Writing describes my angle better than Arts Writing.  Therefore, I will take a fluid approach with different reference points.

I see criticism as an important and necessary tool in my and the Irish Art World’s development.  On the one hand, it is an extension of my art practice.  It is a valuable mode of exploration, and articulation.  Writing critically, sharpens the critical mind.  It is an exercise in unpicking the dense collection of signs that comprise most artworks.  An analysis, and a means of really looking, it is thus a conceptual ‘Way of Seeing’.

On the other hand, I do it because it needs to be done.

So maybe instead of my expectations, instead I will refer back to the original, somewhat hackneyed, working title of this talk ‘Crisis of Criticism’ or ‘Criticism in Crisis’.

I think firstly this is an ongoing struggle for many areas of criticism as they try to reinvent themselves, maintain credibility, stay current, and rescue their relevance.  And I can’t help but think this is a very introverted self diagnosis and a form of collective hypochondria within the Irish Art World.   I’m not sold on the relevance of the latter.

So, instead I will refer to something else overused, a persistent fallacy and rhetorical device.  That is, that the Chinese word for crisis is comprised of 2 characters which on there own mean danger and opportunity.  The reason why this is persistent is that, despite its linguistic inaccuracy, is that it touches on something we perceive to be true.  That there is 'opportunity' inherent in a crisis.  That a crisis is a fork in the road.

Therefore, in keeping with this, there is a reason we keep returning to this 'crisis of criticism': because we have not moved passed this fork; this point.  Or perhaps we keep making a wrong turn and end up where we started.  In fact, I think this crisis is really much bigger than Arts Writing.   It is a crisis of the Art World; of curation and art making.  And this, by extension, is merely a reflection of the crisis of humankind at present.   And it is a political crisis.

Although I’m not in principle opposed to these, I do not mean political in the sense of Bourgeois Democracy: voting, Barack Obama, policy and lawmaking.  Nor in the overt and direct sense associated with activism: campaigning, protesting, or working on a single issue. But I mean rather in the broader and original meaning of the word.  

Our word: Politics, is derived from polis in Greek.  Which meant city, but also importantly, a body of citizens and citizenship.  So what I am proposing is an art world, an art criticism of citizenship.  A focus on the community, how we engage with it, define it, shape it.

Criticisms of the impotence of ‘art about art’ should not be superficially directed at artworks dealing with past artworks. But rather with artists, writers, and institutions that engage only with established methodologies, forms, subjects, and audiences.   This is de facto elitism, and therefore irrelevance, and stagnation.

Another way of saying this is: If your primary entry point into art and your primary goal from art is more art then I think there is a problem.  Indeed, artist Thomas Hirschhorn has argued that one should “do art politically.”  The Freee collective, which includes David Beech, recently in a text-based art piece stated:

A properly political art must be twice political. 1. Political art must engage in the political struggles of the day... and 2. Political art must transform the social relations of art itself, to rid itself of elitism, its privileges, its hierarchies...”

Simon Shiekh when speaking on curation asserts “Another art world is possible (if we want it).”  I see this as easily applicable to and an essential starting point for arts writing. That is, we can make a difference.  That we can strive for a better art world here in Ireland.

But why and how is art writing not serving the citizenship, community here? (Forgive the generalizations.)   The structures and styles of art criticism are derivative of arts writing in the larger Art World cities (London, New York) which are, of course, tied to the profitability of the commercial sphere orbiting these cities.

In essence, in these cities, books, essays, catalogues serve as grandiose advertising copy.  Press releases inform the public and the critics.  These are all paid for by the galleries.  The point is to add value to work, to sell it.  Usually by dressing it in intellectualisms.  And as it is art, it doesn’t need to be and cannot be proven.  Philosophy lite, pseudo science, a vague connections to post-structural cultural theory adorn works that are often nothing more than esoteric design projects.

While this may be suitable for collectors, I’m sure it doesn’t make for more interesting, engaging or accessible work.

The market drives these needs.  Those outside the major currents of the market imitate those that are in it.  Ireland suffers from such mimicry.  But the inverse way of seeing this is that Ireland is situated in a fairly unique position as it does not have the same commercial ties to arts writing: We cannot sell our work and therefore we are free!

This freedom brings forward a number of opportunities. Opportunities to involve more people and build audiences. Opportunities to challenge the structures of the status quo as Shiekh and Beech suggested.

I’ll interrogate some of them here (and that’s not to say I have all the answers):
  • Why not candor? /say what you mean? There is no reason to be cruel, but seeing as Ireland is at a disadvantage, opportunity and selling wise, why not open up the debate?  If you can say it in casual conversation, why not write about it?  This is to me akin to the academic critique.

  • Why is print the final goal? Books, magazines are great for archiving, but digital is more fluid.  Digital, online allows for new connections, new interactions, new audiences, faster.  It is also far more cost effective.

  • Why is writing authoritative or the final word? Artists and curators should have the opportunity to reply and counterbalance a review.  Uncensored commenting should be encouraged.  Or published alongside.

  • Why not prioritise the discussion over the writer/writing? This means correcting your mistakes and engaging directly with your audience.  And perhaps not taking your writing so seriously and accepting criticism yourself.

  • Why not show your research? I think of this all the time with art as well.  It is so easy to cross source information online.  Images and video and gifs are readily available to demonstrate your points across disciplines.

  • Can you define your community? Are you only writing for other artists all the time?  Think about diversity of subjects and readership.

  • How can new audiences be developed? Through expanded subjects.  Through connections to the issues facing a broader citizenship.  By allowing a range of points of entry to the subject matter.  That doesn’t mean  vulgarising, but instead popularising your writing.

  • Why not more joined up thinking? Collaborate. Move beyond the individual egos and identities and engage directly with each other’s ideas.  Try experimental ways of writing, conversing.  Written debates.  Publish alternate points of view.

In other words we need to strive to connect to bigger ideas. To be braver, bolder.  To be more honest and to create new structures of discourse, debate, discussion... this is the way forward.

Baudelaire famously wrote in his Salon of 1846: 

“Criticism should be partial, passionate, and political, that is to say written from an exclusive point of view, but the point of view that opens the most horizons”. 

I think we have to agree.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Parallax View

The Parallax View
Alan Butler, curated by Niamh Brown

Ormston House, Limerick
12 December 2014 – 31 January 2015 

Review by Jim Ricks

As the end of Alan Butler's solo exhibition, The Parallax View, loomed, on impulse I bought a same-day return ticket from Dublin to Limerick. Up far earlier than usual to catch a 10 o'clock, and in a half sleep, half caffeinated delirium, I decided to perform. 

The performance took place on Twitter. I declared a very self-reflexive, so much meta, self-aware, double irony Live Tweeting of my v important trip that day. A few tweets in I declared the need for a hashtag. 


Curated by Niamh Brown, the show pairs Butler and the University of Limerick Art Collections (ULAC). Ormston House's press clearly describes the overall approach:

“In this exhibition, the artist interweaves pieces from the collections with new works that have been produced through the outsourcing of labour to individuals and apps online, at various stages of the creative process.”

From what I understand Brown constructed the plan and got both parties on board, then worked closely with Butler in the selection and production process. Srsly exciting stuff really. ULAC isn't something I previously knew anything about, although I'm not surprised at their existence. Butler's work is something I know a bit about. Old meets new, in actual fact.

From the installation, Internet Über Alles, 2012 at Rua Red.  Photo: Davey Moor.

But Alan Butler's work isn't something I'd find terribly easy to describe either. It is loud, colourful, borderline obnoxious, usually has some type of massive wall sticker installation, topical, current, often something is spinning, almost exclusively uses the internet to source information and often to produce results, is preoccupied with the cyber-political, and, I'd add, it is all done with a slightly jaded anarcho-comic bent to it all.

On Butler's website there is a single text which towards the end says this about his work:

작가의 작품들에서 인터넷이 가진 편재성은 그것이 개발국들에서 사는 우리의 삶 속에 편재함을 나타내고 있다. 인터넷 접속은 이제 전기나 흐르는 물처럼 산업과 일상 생활 모두에 필수적인 것으로 인식되고 있는데, 이에 대해 버틀러는 우리는 과연 실제로 우리가 생각하는 만큼 정보를 자유롭게 얻고 있는가를 묻고, 우리로 하여금 스스로 ‘그래서 이 많은 정보는 다 가져서 무얼 한단 말인가?’는 의문을 갖게 한다.

After several attempts to track down the English version (Butler suggested I enroll in evening Korean classes) Google told me Lane Booth [sic] of Temple Bar Gallery & Studios wrote the piece and that the above approximately means:

“With the ubiquity of the Internet in the work of the author shows that it also omnipresent in our lives living in developed countries are. The internet is now recognized as essential to both industry and daily life, like electricity or running water, so for Butler is actually asking whether we really free to use information gained as much as we think, makes us ourselves, so a lot of information You mean one gajyeoseo is doing? "is wondering.”

Aside from gajyeoseo, I get the gist. His work isn't about the internet, but an incidentally practical product of it.

The Parallax View is also the title of a 2006 Slavoj Žižek book. Žižek ambitiously tries to update dialectical materialism or at least lend it to contemporary politics theoretically. Both Butler and Žižek are referring to the effect that occurs when an object is viewed from different positions. Most commonly this term is used in photography, usually with a viewfinder camera at close range, to describe the gap between what the viewfinder sees and what the lens is capturing. Or with film/video, as the viewpoint moves from side to side, the objects in the distance appear to move more slowly than the objects close to the camera. 

There are other examples: in astronomy stars have different relationships to each other as the Earth moves in its orbit, but in general parallax is a difference in the apparent position of an object. It is this gap, this different perspective, that Butler is ultimately describing with his show. I think it can be further interpreted as a gap in time, highlighted through technology, with which the artist is playing.

Ormston House itself is an elegant showroom from another epoch. A central square column, a pier, rises to the lofty ceiling above. Mirrors adorn its sides. Large windows showcase the gallery off of one of central Limerick's main streets.

At the gallery entrance we are greeted by a desk and body behind it. A temporary wall has been built, partitioning the normally open and capacious space. It leads us through a short, narrow entrance passage. We know we are in an Alan Butler show because in this passage there is an inexplicably large wall mural sticker featuring piles of iPhone 4s. Only the backsides are revealed, perhaps hinting at the camera functionality of this ubiquitous device. A more traditionally sized digital print is hung on top (a Martin Parr remake it turns out). Much is happening in it, I am curious, so walk on into the main space.

He selected works from the ULAC I'm guessing for the anticipated political, visual, and, occasionally, personal potential in making his knock-offs. Thin banners drop from the ceiling. Historical paintings hang. Videos play. Sculptures spin. In the back corner, the curators curate next to a large space heater.

Pairing the dusty collection with new solutions available from sites like or by emailing a painting factory in China, Butler is making comparisons. A video collage based symbolically on a very Socialist Realism style painting, complete with glorified industry and presumable 'leaders' plays centrally. There is another video with tweets about Damien Hirst, a work he couldn't borrow. An Adobe Illustrator 'how to' YouTube video is placed aside its inspiration: a Hokusai print. Old Japanese Kimonos hang side-by-side 'all over' digitally printed t-shirts, rainbow covered in emojis. These clothing 'resemblances' are the biggest stretch in the show, and I don't think they work as artwork (although pretty damn cool just as t-shirts). 

A photo posted by Jim Ricks (@therealjimricks) on

The Siobhán Hapaska is one of the few contemporary pieces selected from ULAC. Its mixed materiality lends to interesting interpretations. The original has a stuffed bear(?) on the back of a clay reindeer, which bears a fuzzy puff-ball hat and a red nose. Butler 3D scanned it twice, once through a display case, and 3D printed it in a synthetic bronze plastic. He positions Hapaska's high on plinth some distance from the new versions. These spin, placed below eye level, and we are free to observe all sides easily. It is a study in distortion. Soft materials reconstructed as solids. Limitations in how the 3D scanner 'knew' the original are revealed in both takes.


But Butler's corner installation steals the show. Working from the same methodological premise, but with an encompassing exactitude. This piece TF;DG (Too Far; Didn't Go) summarises the entirety of the show's concept perfectly. Butler has installed one of his signature vinyl wall sticker pieces. Broad stripes of the Google colours of red, yellow, blue, and green ascend to the ceiling, the iconic Google Maps pin is placed in a rhythmic pattern forming a lurid wallpaper that wraps around the corner of the recessed gallery nook. 

Scattered across the Google field are a number of pairings, 13 to be exact or a total of 26 works. A painting of, almost exclusively, Dublin is paired with a watercolour, made in China, of a Google Maps screen grab of the same location. Taking landscape works of unknown historic or economic value and filtering them through Google's literal lens and then again through the hands and eyes of an anonymous factory worker (artisan?). The layers add up. The title has sarcastic bite (especially considering the fact that many of Butler's Dublin peers would have not made it to this Limerick exhibition). And it is an apt portrait of today, at least in the Developed/Post-Modern/First World: technology's screens provide a surrogate reality to the global privileged, and actual production of goods has moved to, and created a new reality for, the former/semi-colonial world.

The show is essentially an exploration of divergence through market exchange. And while through the constant comparisons and translations new contemporary 'accents' come through, it should be said, and just to be kinda critical, the selections of works in ULAC and the imitative responses Butler created seem repetitive and arbitrary at times.

The Parallax View was diverse and utilised heterogenous strategies for outsourcing and producing imitations from an interesting, under-resourced University collection. The overall visual style was immersive and invigorating. It was accessible in its use of popular references. The Parallax View conquers the unwieldy, glassy, and high ceiling-ed space of Ormston House. And significantly, it was fun, covering a range of mediums and solutions to the 'problem' Niamh Brown and Alan Butler set forth. 

The varied strategies to reproducing the collection knowingly yield flawed and foibled knock-offs, all filtered through the lens of Butler's outsourcing and political knowledge. It is cheap, crass, and cheeky, and I mean that in a good way. It is also the kind of idea that has legs and could go on forever, but I also hope it doesn't. 

Definitely not TF; and I Did Go. And I did very much enjoy my #triptoprallaxview.

Photos courtesy the artist and Ormston House unless otherwise indicated.

Friday, March 27, 2015

6IX Degrees

6IX Degrees
Curator, Naomi Sex / Artist, Alan-James Burns / Curator, Marysia Wieckiewicz-Carroll / Artist, Linda Quinlan / Curator, Sarah Pierce / Artists Jan Verwoert and Federica Bueti. Conceived and facilitated by Naomi Sex
Irish Museum of Modern Art
4pm – 7pm, 13 December 2014

Review by John Graham

I believe that the imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world”.

Paul ‘Poitier’, Six Degrees of Separation, John Guare

By 4pm the winter light was already leaving the courtyard separating the artists’ studios from the museum’s main building. Towards the courtyard’s darkest end, where the line of old coach-houses begins, Studios 3A and 3B leaked fluorescence into an expanding pool, brightening – as the natural light faded – around the entrance to the evening’s events. 

6ix Degrees borrowed its title from the theory that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else by a chain of no more than six acquaintances. Expounded by the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, it entered a wider consciousness with the appearance in 1990 of John Guare’s Broadway hit, Six Degrees of Separation.(1)  Though the theory has gained a wide appeal, the appeal for Sex (how else can I say that?) was not to apply its premise exactly, but to use it as a convenient launch pad for her project “...harnessing the connections and closeness in the Irish art world and beyond.(2)  The small-scale of the Irish art world means that degrees of separation rarely extend to six. That ‘beyond’ is significant, not only in the sense of including artists from outside of Ireland, but also in the indication that harnessing the closeness of local scenes need not limit artistic perspectives.

Art tends to have a central axis – the individual artist – around which it grows and develops. An interesting aspect of 6ix Degrees is that its originator did not adopt a central role but positioned herself at the beginning of a line projecting outwards in incremental and unpredictable shifts. The set-up was simple enough. Taking on the role of initial curator, Naomi Sex nominated the artist Alan James Burns, who nominated another curator, who would subsequently nominate another artist, and so on. This played out until there were three artists and three curators linked in a chain of nominations. While the outcomes of the process were naturally unpredictable, they would eventually come together under the auspices of Sex’s residency on IMMA’s ‘Artists Residency Programme’. 


This account begins with Jan Verwoert and Federica Bueti, the final nominees, and follows the line backwards, to Sarah Pierce who nominated them, to Linda Quinlan who nominated her, and so on, before arriving back at the beginning. There is a greater focus on the artists because I am responding to the available evidence. The backwards arrangement is based on the evidence too, as it begins where the iron staircase led me, turning left into Studio 3A, towards the evening’s first encounter. Echo Echo Narcissus Narcissus was an amalgam of objects and recorded voices recreating, or resuscitating perhaps, a previously live performance by Verwoert and Bueti at the 2014 Liverpool Biennial.(3)  Narcissus’s reflecting pool had become a blue stage. It seemed bereft. Meagre props – a metal stand, a loudspeaker covered with a silver lampshade – were completed with a spill of shiny granules, half-hearted confetti, reflecting a pair of feather-appended twigs twirling squeakily overhead.

Originally billed as, “An attempt at inducing mutual metamorphosis with the help of words, echoes, glitter, and a pool”, the living presence of Verwoert and Bueti had been substituted with their recorded voices emanating from the silver shade.(4)  This “speaking, reflecting object” may have ‘echoed’ their previous performance but the result was intriguing more than spellbinding, the artifice too deliberately prosaic for any suspension of disbelief.(5)  Perhaps the work’s function within 6ix Degrees was to reflect on a certain kind of mutual dependency. In her introductory text Naomi Sex writes about, “… activating the powerful social network existing in the art world”, and thus reminds us, if it were necessary, of how dependent – how reflecting of each other’s gaze – the inhabitants of the art world can be.(6)  The studio floor had a dusting of blue glitter, a metaphoric stardust gradually extended into a galaxy by the viewers’ shuffling feet.

Sarah Pierce had nominated Verwoert (who invited Bueti to join him) for 6ix Degrees. Pierce’s umbrella project ‘The Metropolitan Complex’ covers a wide-ranging practice that finds inventive ways of interrogating art without seeking to consign it to determined historical positions. Like Verwoert and Bueti’s ‘special edition’, her work includes reiterations of various kinds. In re-presenting objects and re-staging actions, recent works like Lost Illusions/Illusions perdues and Gag afford echoes and reflections a privileged place. Pierce identifies forms of gathering as a primary interest, and the renegotiation of, “ … gestures, actions and questions of community.”(7)  As a member of the evening’s community of viewers I made my way (trailing stardust) across the corridor to Studio 3B.

This second, larger space was two thirds empty, while a suspended sheet trailing onto the floor obscured the remainder. Behind this ornately printed fabric a floor-based monitor displayed a studio with a green screen. The seamless set-up of the green screen mirrored the set up of the printed fabric. On screen a female figure performed studied acrobatics, her scissoring legs dressed in the repeating patterns of a pineapple.

Ananas (2011), by Linda Quinlan, continued with an animated sequence that morphed the legs into a machine-like pinchers. Then a slow-moving close-up transformed one extended limb into the body of a snake, its patterned undulations finished off with a telltale rattle. All the while, and on the way to a final image of a municipal looking pond (another reflecting pool) the sounds of a tennis match played out, to and fro. The installation had the feel of a mini encampment, shielding a set of shamanistic images as optically vivid as they were semantically obscure. Quinlan has some previous with the ineffable, with the obscure. Writing about her Galway Arts Centre show, ‘Like Horses and Fog’, (2008) Joseph R. Woolin exhausts his phrase book of pauses and gaps, mentioning, “the irretrievably unknowable”, “aporias of knowledge” and “caesuras in narrative”, to establish a rationale of mystery for Quinlan’s curiously indefinable art.(8)

Coincidently, as a graduate of the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, Quinlan also has some ‘previous’ with Jan Verwoert (He teaches on the MA programme there). Speaking in Glasgow in 2010 Verwoert critised some older art practices for being too readily prescribed, for making what he calls “transparent entries into the history books”.(9)  He gives examples of alternative strategies characterised by indefinable gaps (“caesuras in narrative”, if you like), strategies where, as he puts it, “… there is something different in the moment of production that cannot be entirely mapped onto the moment of reception”.(10)  Quinlan’s beguiling, eccentric registrations, of form and content, images and sounds, might serve to illustrate his point.

While Quinlan had nominated Pierce, she was herself nominated by curator and writer Marysia Wieckiewicz-Carroll. Marysia and I fell into step on the way to the studios and experienced Quinlan’s second work together. An audio loop of an intermittent bird call, ‘E’ sounded unexpectedly from somewhere overhead. Marysia noticed me noticing it though I didn’t realise I’d noticed it at all. Perhaps discursive projects such as Sleepwalkers and (((O))) have honed this intuition. Wieckiewicz-Carroll was a co-curator on Sleepwalkers, an investigative art project (brainchild of Michael Dempsey at the Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane) that emphasized the value of shared enquires over singular outcomes. (11)  While Sleepwalkers was eventually manifested in a series of publications and exhibitions at the Hugh Lane Gallery, the discursive project – ‘(((O)))’ – resides primarily in the ether. A loose assembly of artists and activities overseen by Lee Welch (another Sleepwalker) and Teresa Gillespie, guests were invited to “ … affect and expand its resonance” through open-ended dialogue. (12)

(I am writing this the morning after hearing Peter Brotzmann play at the National Concert Hall. Brotzmann wields his saxophone like an assault weapon and his opinions can be pretty direct too. I’m reminded of a ‘Wire’ interview where he mused, “If you want your own space and your own time you have to fight. Nowadays they talk about dialogue or creating a space, but you know, that’s why it’s all so fucking boring”).(13)

Maybe dialogue can be overdone – and these days it receives a superficial impetus from the ubiquitous ‘share’ button – but when shared experience is inevitable why not talk about it? By 4.30 pm the room was full of people talking. By 4.30 pm people talking was the main event. Then, seemingly casually, the dialogue stopped and a more one-sided form of sharing began. Alan-James Burns’ scheduled but unannounced performance started with the artist saying how nervous he felt, and it took me a moment – I admit it – to realize his ‘nervousness’ was part of the act. This performance of nerves sat oddly with his actual nerves, creating an uncomfortable overlap, or to paraphrase Jan Verwoert, the moment of production was uncomfortably mapped onto the moment of reception. The simultaneity of these moments (peculiar to performance art) allowed an awkward but fascinating access to Burns’ slippery words and thoughts.

While the performance benefited from being alive in the moment, to effectively perform a stream of consciousness you either have to make it up on the spot or write, rehearse, and deliver the material so seamlessly that the audience is prepared to go with the flow without questioning it. Following a line of thought that was equally self-reflective and self-conscious, Burns’ prepared monologue ran along side my own interior one, a simultaneous questioning that wondered if he could up the ante by adding speculation about his audience (whoever they may be) to his narrative, charging the experience with something more nervy and complex. If Burns’ monologue was more off the cuff, or more self-assured, would it have been better? Maybe. Though his performance lacked polish his genuine awkwardness added a compelling and necessary tension.

Burns’ stand-up (performed on the edge of his seat) had the oxymoronic quality of a comedy routine without punch lines. A comedian provokes behaviour (laughter, hopefully) but Burns seems more interested in investigation and analysis than with cause and effect. This desire to uncover from within is also important in Naomi Sex’s practice. She has harnessed the monological structure too, but where Burns’ words present a tailored version of him, her scripted monologues employ actors to make her words more detached.(14)

The ‘about’ page on Sex’s website ‘performs’ this detachment by refusing to be subjective when outlining aspects of her own approach, “… you use the performative lecture as a formal device to reveal and articulate the informal, the veiled, the intangible, …” .(15)  Sex’s practice is concerned with examining the often hidden and sometimes rigidly hierarchical structures that support art practices. She attempts to do this from the inside, manipulating and uncovering methodologies through her own artistic interventions. Hers is not a knowing stance however; she is not trying to expose the workings of a system in order to debunk it. Instead, and projects like 6ix Degrees are stimulating evidence of this, she set things in motion with a deceptive insouciance, hoping to be surprised more than validated by the outcomes. 


By 7pm the evening’s moving parts were winding down. People leaving, speakers unplugged, monitors going dark in the dark. A festive cable led from the studios to the Flanker building next door.(16)  It had been raining, and the wet courtyard danced beneath the line of lights.

All images by Fiona Morgan.

  1. Karinthy’s story ‘Chains’ appeared in 1929.
  2. Emphasis added. 6ix Degrees original pdf invite.
  3. Though ‘artist’ in the context of 6ix Degrees Berlin based Jan Verwoert is primarily known as an art critic and educator. Federica Bueti is principally a critic and researcher.
  4. 6ix Degrees handout.
  5. Ibid
  6. - ‘Lost Illusions/Illusions perdues’
  7. Ibid
  8. Initiated and overseen by Michael Dempsey at the Hugh Lane, participants included the artists Clodagh Emoe, Jim Ricks, Sean Lynch, Linda Quinlan, Lee Welch and Gavin Murphy, and curators and writers Maysia Wieckiewicz-Carroll and Logan Sisley.
  10. A legendary exponent of European ‘Free Jazz’, Peter Brotzmann’s second album was called Machine Gun (1968). He played that night in the Kevin Barry room with Irish pianist Paul G Smyth. The quote is from The Wire magazine, November 2012, issue 345
  11. In 2013 her Synchronised Lecture Series featured simultaneous lectures performed by nine actors in nine educational institutions throughout Ireland.
  12. The Flanker building hosted the after-party.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Haiku Review: GOBO

Haiku Review: GOBO
by Ella de Burca
ArtBox, Dublin
6 February – 14 March 2015

Haiku review by Fujimoto Ryouji

Through windows unhinged
Stacked sculpture, on screen, blinded
Peru and Casement

Monday, February 23, 2015

Civil Occupation

Civil Occupation
Ibrahim Mahama
Ellis King Gallery, Dublin
5 December 2014 – 10 January 2015

Review by Georgia Corcoran

The art a city absorbs says a lot about its inhabitants. What the city nurtures from itself, but also what is invited in. As waves of trends of collectives and movements come and go, people can become jaded. Every now and then a show comes along that makes you review your art intake. 

The Ellis King Gallery has been open just under a year, so for anyone who hasn’t visited I will describe the gallery. It’s located on the outskirts of Dublin city, but is very much detour worthy; there has so far been an interesting selection of international artists shown. It is situated in a warehouse space on Donore Avenue, between Cork Street and the Grand Canal. The gallery entrance has double glass doors, a short corridor, sharp corner and then an open space with a high, pitched ceiling. Theres a pillar, it's not entirely square, but generally it is white and cube-like. 

At the opening of Civil Occupation I was expecting to walk in to Ellis King and find this chronic 'white cube'. Immediately my assumption was replaced by intrigue as I entered a transformative, all engulfing installation by artist, Ibrahim Mahama. I encountered what can only be described as a literal blanketing of the gallery space.

Only the trace of a gallery remained. The room was recast under stained, natural fabric; draped from the ceiling, cloaking the floor, pillars wrapped. Small tears revealed the wall beneath. The fabric was a repetition of raw hessian, or jute, sacks quilted together. The upended canopy, a patchwork of every imaginable earthy brown. Authentically 'second hand', and visibly worn, you have to ask 'where did they come from?’ 

In a previous incarnation in Ghana, these sacks were used to transport and sell cocoa, and then coal or maybe other wares. Mahama interrupted this pattern. Having them sewn together with sturdy threads by local, mainly female, workers. To amass enough jute sacks for a work as overtaking as this, Mahama traded new sacks for these old, worn ones in a direct exchange with market workers. They’re dirty from continuous use and many bear names and markings, telling of physical work, manual labour, ownership, and humble human use. In simply leaving the material as is, he is directly acknowledging the many previous labourers alongside the finished piece. 

The sacks are stained from their past lives. By perpetuating the lifespan of these utilitarian textiles, Mahama uses the fabric as a portal to shift perspectives.  And importantly, to move his audience to accept the existence of other situations. Aesthetically, Arte Povera is invoked. The woven hessian they started out as becomes a storied, archival document and the essence of this show.

Alongside the initials of previous owners, the sacks are significantly stamped ‘GHANA COCOA BOARD PRODUCE OF GHANA’ from their first function. Cocoa beans are not a native crop of Ghana. They were introduced in 1876 by Tetteh Quarshia, a Ghanaian agriculturist. An economically expedient choice, as the climate allows the crop to be harvested year round. The cocoa bean is Ghana’s main cash crop and the country is the second largest cocoa bean exporter in the world. Of course, in a classic hierarchal move the government has maintained tight control over cocoa production since 1979 (hence ‘PRODUCE OF’) and now runs a hybrid state/privatised system devoid of Fair Trade laws. Keep in mind that, incredibly, every stage of cocoa production is done by hand. The planting, irrigation, harvesting, fermenting and drying.

Although based in Ghana, Mahama seems to be travelling a lot with his work. He was in Dublin for his Ellis King opening and I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner after and actually wound up seated beside him. We talked about how this series is an extension of work drawn from his Masters research, and I got a behind the scenes tour of Civil Occupation via his phone. He showed me pictures of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, his college, draped in an earlier version of the piece. He showed me pictures of older, more traditionally sculptural work. 

He also showed me videos of the workers he hired to sew the sacks together. He told me how, by handing over control and allowing the workers to define the end appearance, the art retains its political energy. In this conceptual method of working, Mahama is left unburdened by any decorative baggage. Although, due to the work’s physical scale, it’s final realisation obviously yields an aesthetic statement. And aside from the the institutional subversion of this work taking over the gallery, I enjoyed that one singular piece was installed, rather than varous bits of art throughout. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an artist be given the opportunity in Ireland to have a show like this. That this art is being shown in a ‘young’ gallery is worth mentioning. 

Also aesthetically, the draping of this fabric is interesting. Drapery is a constant throughout Western art history. It is depicted as backdrop, discreet cover up, support; as clothing, adornment, a sign of wealth, a complimentary space filler. But here, in Civil Occupation, a shift in perspective happens. What has been kept in the background becomes the foreground, similar to how a spotlight is put on the labourer. I’m wary of having to discuss or relate African art in terms of Western art, but I personally enjoy this contrast. Like the sacks, there is another history of alternative reference points.

Before arriving I had seen his fabric pieces draped in public spaces such as markets, bridges, abandoned railways online and was curious to see how Mahama's work would be displayed inside a gallery. How would they physically inhabit the space? What sacrifices to the work would have to be made? How would the work hold up removed from its organic environment, where they reacted to social structures, rather than critiquing art world structures? On the one hand, this issue is avoided by the sheer scale. And on the other, this particular context allows it to be given the space for contemplative thought. In blitzing the gallery, Civil Occupation holds its own on first impression.

This is the kind of art that is bigger than the artist. It is political art. The wider themes approached are those of capital, commodities, labour, class. But specifically, Mahama is concerned with the layers of people who allow capitalism to happen. We can easily forget to be aware of the labourer, as often we do not see them, caught at the bottom of social structures. The way Mahama sees it, the process, and the labourers involved with the process, are the dialogue, and cannot be separated from the object.  It is the labourers who keep things in motion, allowing for development and transformations of raw materials, creating wealth for others. Civil Occupation is reminding us of their presence. Thus, he addresses social awareness, in this case a very localised example, but in a varied and adept way.

I genuinely liked this show and I’m very glad I saw it. Ibrahim Mahama’s integrity, process and strength of voice were gratifying. Civil Occupation struck me as a visually memorable and thoughtful show. I’m always going to be glad to see a gallery in Ireland show art that hasn’t been made by another overrepresented, middle-class caucasian person (yes, that is a dig), but that’s not always going to make me like the art. The point is that it’s important to see more, to step further away from the familiar and then further away from that when it too gets familiar.

Images courtesy of the Ellis King Gallery, video courtesy of the artist.