Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tulca 2009

Tulca 2009

Our need for consolation is impossible to satiate

Curated by Helen Carey

November 6 – 21, 2009

by Simon Fleming

Working my way through this year's video heavy Tulca I couldn't help but think what a strange theme for a festival. How was Tulca going to address this and why is it impossible to fill? And what did it have to do with this year's roster of artists? So, with that insatiable need for comforting in mind I began my tour.

On the Tulca website it informs us that this year's “…festival will put Galway on the map for those looking for a fresh approach to the way they experience art.” I'm not sure in what sense they meant, but I found the festival poorly mapped out and lacking in supporting literature. The pamphlet that accompanied the festival gave only a very brief artist background without specific descriptions of the work shown. This left the viewer at a disadvantage with a lot of the work. I am a strong advocate for the accessibility of art to the general public. Creating an environment that encourages people to interact with contemporary art practices is challenging, but necessary. Artists, curators and organisers need to balance uncompromising work with approachability, even if a point of entry for those without an art background is a tough trick to pull off. For this year's Tulca, it didn’t always work.

Galway Arts Centre

I began at the Galway Arts Centre where four works were being shown. The ground floor had work by Dennis McNulty and the team of Anne Cleary & Denis Connolly. Cleary & Connolly’s RVB is a multi-video installation that touches on a variety of circumstances that surround them while living in a Paris flat. I didn’t see any write ups on the video, but a description here describes the piece as follows:
“This narrative piece, [is] somewhere between home movie, documentary and experimental film... Using a series of loosely connected texts and images, RVB was filmed over three years. The events take place in our home on Boulevard Barbès in the north of Paris. RVB tells three true stories: R is a murder story, V is a nature story and B is a children’s story. Each story takes a couple as its subject: René and Claire, two local shopkeepers; Vera and Igor, two Japanese nightingales; and Bo and Lotti, our twin daughters.”
I re-watched parts of this work from their website (as my experience watching it in the Art Centre was disturbed by one of the staff choosing that moment to do a bit of hoovering… a bit distracting to say the least.) The secretive camera angles allowed the viewer a vague almost distracted glimpse of life at their home on Boulevard Barbes. The fly on the wall viewing reveals a piece that is visually attractive in its layout, and interesting in its narratives. Ultimately, the video was a little like watching a reality TV show or social documentary.

Dennis McNulty's wall mounted location/ translation was a very minimal work in the large front room comprised of photos with audio. The photographic work was presented in a narrow accordion-like display. Headphones hung to the side provide a voice-over of the artist explaining his process. Based on the scope of McNulty's other works and the available space I would have liked to have seen more.

On the 1st floor we find two more video pieces: Second Nature by Guy Ben-Ner and Metamorphosis by Clare Langan. I was enthralled by Langan's polished cinematic piece. Rich cyans, gothic dream-like visuals and a sparse industrial audio composition create a dark, almost post-apocalyptic world. Whether you read that world literally or from the point of view of the video’s lone seated character is up to the viewer. I always feel guilty with accrediting various video work with painterly compliments (Why assume one would want to be like the other?), but there are some beautiful moments here that have a wonderful painterly quality. As it turns out Langan does hand paint some of the filters used in Metamorphosis. This technique creates a rich and layered depth to Langan's empty winter-quiet landscapes.

Guy Ben-Ner's Second Nature was in another room to the rear. It is a single screen projection about the filming of a version of Aesop's fable The Fox and the Crow. Animal trainers, cast (Fox and Raven) and crew (artists as director + camera and sound crew) make up the characters in the original piece. It is punctuated by a reading of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot by the animal trainers.

St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church

“As the Artist in Residence will explore the roles of the ornamental and decorative in establishing the dominion of a spiritual space. Through the processes of drawing and research she will make a series of work reflecting upon the formation of spatial identity”
– Tulca 2009 programme
Unfortunately I failed to see how Kitty Rogers Relic...Artifact reflected the churches spatial identity. I found the installation unfocused and I couldn't see the relationship between the two video works and the drawings. I found the video (I couldn’t find a title for this work) quite interesting, but in a Discovery Channel kind of way. The drawings were lost in the church; randomly stuck to pillars it quickly became a game of hide and seek. I sat with it for a while trying to find those points of connectivity but became more interested in the church’s architecture and left after a short while.

Fairgreen Building

The Fairgreen building had a couple of great pieces on display. The building itself, located a bit off the beaten track is a large, stark and cold unfinished commercial unit. The first one I had a chance to look at was American Theatre by Maryam Jaffri. It is a slide show projection with a sound component. The audio is a recreation of a McCarthy era trial by the US Government House Committee on Un-American Activities. Visually interesting, the viewer gets a power point like arrangement of historical theatre imagery. However, the presentation itself was a little unimaginative and I didn’t understand the placement of the projection nor its relationship to the subject matter of the imagery.

I saw Ann-Sofi Sidén’s In Passing briefly at the opening and noted that I had to come back. I’m glad I did. Sidén's work requires the viewer to stay with it to the end. I'll explain… Upon walking into the darkened room one could be forgiven for thinking unrelated videos are being shown under the same roof. Two separate 2-screen projections operate kitty-cornered from each other, a pillar with monitors mounted in, occupies the centre. Sidén's video travels from one set of projections (dual screen, colour) to another (Dual screen, BW) very smartly. Transferring the central subject matter, a baby, from one video to another via the two monitors located on a pillar in the centre of the room (very clever). This piece does demand a bit of time investment from the viewer, but is well worth it. Although, I wish there had been some seating available. The sense of discovery once the viewer understands what is going on is wonderful, even though the narrative is an all too common real world experience of infant abandonment. The 1st of the two is a beautifully complex video that creates a sense of constant motion through a sliding montage of shorter clips. While the second is security camera footage located in a hospital. The first is organic, fleeting while the second is clinical and controlled.

A third piece displayed at Fairgreen, which seemed a little arbitrary, was a neon piece by Elaine Byrne titled Whistle. Her work was also on display at the University Hospital.

126, Artist-run gallery

126 presented a visual response to the Galway region by American artist Ken Fandell titled Between Me and Galway Bay. The central piece, a digitally stitched together photograph measuring 6 inches by 35 feet, dominates the length of the gallery. A blown up Google map shows North America and Ireland and the inability to provide directions to Galway Bay from the artist’s residence in Chicago. Good show over all, from the postcards of a temporary palm tree near Lake Michigan, to the looped video of a 180º digital spin of a currach from Man of Aran. An overall sense of play permeated Fandell's show while still addressing interesting issues of cultural appropriation and travel.

Nuns Island

I missed the Amanda Coogan performance titled Yellow but had hoped to catch the installation. Unfortunately the installation was only up till the 14th (Tulca runs from the 6th to the 22nd) and I was presented with locked doors at its location.

Live@8

The open submission aspect of this year’s Tulca was reduced to a call for participation in an evening of video screenings at Bar No. 8. Live@8 has for the lat year and a half been an interesting and entertaining place for video and, sometimes, live art. However it is not a good place for quieter or more intimate pieces. It is a bar, people are drinking, and conversations are being had. This one enjoyed a large crowd and exhibited a lot of artists (20, I think). Many were on monitors, but manoeuvring around the crowd proved difficult and I was unable to see most of them. A piece on a monitor, The Rite of Spring, Limerick 2007, by Katarina Mojžišová stood out. The projected works seemed to get better as the evening went on. There was a particularly strong bunch at the end that included Tom Flannagan, Austin Ivers, Stephan Gunning and Áine Philips. Music by Vivienne Dick at regular intervals was also a highlight.

Galway City Museum

The last work I got to see or hear actually was Andrew Dodds audio piece Adrift, at the Galway City Museum. It was located on the 1st floor at a point where one can look out onto Galway Bay. Appropriate, considering the work, which was based on the BBC's radio shipping forecast. Dodds removed everything from the broadcast except the word “Falling” this was then repeated at different pitches in a 16 minute loop.

So, in the end was I consoled or satiated? Over all… No.

A few pieces will stay with me. From Sidén and Langen's video work to Fandell's tongue in cheek take on commodification. Beautiful, intelligent engaging, but they didn't have the ability to carry the festival. I felt there was something missing overall and a couple questions must be asked. With such a small number of works exhibited overall why such a heavy video representation? Where were the emerging artists or open-submission artists? Why they were all at the Live@8 event I don’t know, but I can't help to think it was a last minute "Where do we put them?" scenario. What was the story with the story in the programme? It is pretty unusual for a visual arts curator to insert a short story in lieu of a curatorial statement. Especially one that concludes that refugees should act as guests and put the needs of their hosts before theirs. Is it a political statement?

One has to admire the work that goes into organising a festival of this size, but in the end I believe the continuity certainly could have been tighter, the video bias was too heavy, the accompanying literature a little too light and there could have been a bit more wine at the opening. Next year maybe.

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