Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Knowledge of Things Familiar

A Knowledge of Things Familiar
David Beattie
Temple Bar Gallery
27 May – 30 June 2011
by Darren Caffrey
Do we know our own desires? The question of the object in art, now, as surely any time ever before, stands up and reasons with us that desire is more powerful, that desire rules all. It might be said that this is why sensation commands such a vital role in what makes us human: that life is the experience which binds us. We want it all, as the fetish of consumer culture underlines, and so it is natural to observe this desire in the world around us, not least in our art.

A Knowledge of Things Familiar, the show currently on in the Temple Bar Gallery, displays idea-based works by the artist David Beattie. By employing material in an effort to control the idea, the artist has perhaps allowed too much respect for the idea itself. In the exploration of thinking, which is a fundamentally isolated desire, often the result is a weakening of the role of instinct, thereby creating an effect of over-thinking. All which comes of this must surely be subject to a desire separate from its own function, which is simply to exist and to effect. It is lucky then that we are such sensationally desirous creatures.
The works on show appear to be entirely untitled. This allows a complete freedom to explore potential relationships. The order and coordinates of each piece have been marked upon a map. By designating space according to a perceived path, in the instance of this show at least, the concept has become shrouded in the unsaid. Unfortunately this does not result in the poetry which we seek, instead we are forced to observe the place where the poem was written.

It is clear that the works offer much by way of investigation, and the relationships of each piece appear as consistent to one another. It is as the title suggests: a knowledge of familiar things. The examples are many and their uses often exhibit a sense of joy at the simplicity of execution. Technicality is a device well used, and by employing lightness in places, the object as thing is positioned as neither good nor bad, a welcome discovery I found. The artist’s use of object and again choice is expressed as though formed of an increasingly definitive language, yet the parts are not always communicable as structure.


Roughly twelve steps will lead you from the main door, face to face with the first of the works on show. I say this because the show has been curated in such a manner that the most attractive route through the show is anti-clockwise, due largely to the placement of a dividing wall. The first work is peaked by an orange tip, perhaps added to help viewers locate the work before accidentally toppling the antenna which stands out from between the teeth of a cleverly positioned G-clamp, itself sitting in the centre of a type of air-bed pieced together from two bits of packaging foam.


Close by, an upturned box which might otherwise contain fruit is instead used to display a mike and a neon blue bulb. These items are bedded by a small carpet of yellow sponge that you might associate with sound equipment. The placement of these two devices appear to offer contradictory outlooks, or perhaps complimentary, it is unclear. This sense is confounded further as you follow the lead over to a speaker which faces upright, somewhat curiously wedged between the wall and a corrugated metal sheet. This sheet is effectively patterned by light which falls from above, onto the wall, some of which leaks down behind where the folds touch the wall upon which it leans. This results in a subtle repositioning of the light, dappling the foot of these metal sheets and producing no result any more revealing than it might suggest.


As you reach the centre of this show, some sounds may even be heard, although as they are inclined to stay below our range of hearing, the result is barely even subtle, producing only the strangely odd sense of searching for a point of origin. A speaker is naturally enough part of this work and on closer inspection the sounds which it emits might be defined better as movements. In this arena the artist is, it seems, providing a sonic boom all of his own, albeit through the use of an arrangement of devices similar to any which we might ourselves have at home. This speaker points its low-to-the-ground sound towards the face of an angled sheet of glass no less than 15mm thick, the tension between impenetrability and fragility is no more than that. This allows one to focus on the two concrete blocks, which have been placed so as to hold up the glass in a pinch which seeks to reinforce these tensions as somehow sensitive to our gaze. In truth the weight of these blocks has of course been well considered, maybe even dictating the size of the glass sheet itself. There is a reflection generated by the glass, resulting in a space which expands according to your position, much in the same way that a mirror might reflect the world outside of you.

According to the exhibition hand-out, the function of this glass is to in fact reflect or rather bounce the resonant waves of the sound sent out by the speaker previous. It is also noted that the frequency of 18hz commits the human eye to a kind of trance, performed above the will of those who hear it. Sadly my engagement was not so 'lost in the moment', instead I found myself looking into the mouth of the next and final work on show.

This work is a construction not too dissimilar to a smoking shelter, although a few degrees colder than even such a likeness might suggest. Nonetheless the sense of play which has been hinted at does lead you into this mouth, where it is obvious that it is the same way in as out. The fact that this enclosure is again constructed using metal might be said to echo the second piece which I discussed, but it might be a bit far to stretch it and say that they somehow speak to one another; maybe they no longer see eye to eye.

Science, religion and mathematics are cited as being the source material for this show and on the surface there is a demanding regime of links which permit our involvement. Certainly a welcome opportunity, it is however also true that these works could be said to speak for themselves, which raises the question whether the viewer is actually an active part of this show. Of course, as I have said there are interesting relationships up for exploration and the idea of communicable sculpture is, I would think, primary to the idea of sculpture as a tool whatsoever. It is not so definite as to what may be garnered from all of this multi-dimensional tourism; is it simply a matter of ‘I know, so I can’?

If by bending down to the floor in order to hear the speaker, you are inadvertently blocking the sound wave from travelling its set path, what then is the place of the viewer as relative to the artist? It feels as though the room to play and explore is rarely given over to the viewer, instead it is set up in such a way that tricks occupy not only the heart of the exhibition but also serve as the meat of the investigation; shadowing you, as you watch the fleas run and dance, all the while curious as to how they put together such a seemingly transparent show.

It is perhaps possible to reduce all of these problems to the realm of immaterial, after all, tricks are an entertaining aspect of our innate showmanship. Yet, the trick is something which straddles mechanics and mystery, effective at times when humour is employed by the trickster who seeks to fool you. Indeed humour may have bridged this gap somewhat more effectively; picture the comedic magician with the fez, Tommy Cooper, who positions himself both above and below the audience, thereby allowing control to appear secondary to expression.


Throughout A Knowledge of Things Familiar, all that is left is the materiality of what has brought it about. Whether that be in the case of a pair of concrete blocks which hold up a pane of glass positioned so as to receive incoming sounds; or indeed the artist’s asserted use of hard materials, it can only be thought that the suggestive qualities which operate below normal frequency may have offered an effective counter-point to the arena of object. It is then perhaps this very failing which shadows the works as a whole. The word ‘allude’ which means to mention indirectly or ‘play to’, is on the face of it, quite similar to another word, ‘elude’ which means to escape or avoid through cunning or skill. It could be said that therein lies the dilemma of this exhibition. Which of these approaches wins out comes down fundamentally to which is identified according to the specific desires of the artist himself.

Overall there is a sense of an artist less willing to give, that the work is its own device, to its own end. Having caught one or two of his other shows, you might be disappointed that the playful manner in which he often uses materials has been pushed out of the frame. What is left is the odd quirk, set into a stone wall seriousness, itself little more than a line dividing him from the work and the work from the viewer.
All photos courtesy of the artist, David Beattie, and photographer Lynda Phelan.


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