Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Whole Picture

The Whole Picture

A Case For a Centrally Planned Arts Infrastructure

By Frank Brannigan

Ireland’s Celtic Tiger brought a wave of prosperity and the anarchic logic of the free-market spilled over into the arts. An ‘up, up and away’ attitude seemed to supplant sensible planning. Much infrastructure improved, but it was haphazardly hit-and-miss and opportunities were missed. This has largely to do with how Ireland is organised and governed.

The head of cultural development with Temple Bar Cultural Trust Gráinne Millar raises this very point. Millar argues that a massive reorganisation of the arts bureaucracy must take place. Ireland must develop new and unique modes of administration particular to Irish needs1. She goes on to call for a review of existing State bodies and their remits. We would go much further.

The self-directed Arts Council operates under the umbrella of the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism. Culture Ireland, IMMA and the Crawford Art Gallery Cork share a similar relationship to the Department. The Arts Council provides financial support to organisations, individuals and localities; it leads consultations, policy papers and audits on the arts; it “promote[s] and develop[s] the arts, often in partnership with others.”2 Yes, it has considerable influence, but fundamentally it gives us the heads up and controls by the purse strings. This is not central planning. It is not a political body, it is a funding and advisory one.

Currently local authorities are responsible for the planning and development of the arts. Yet, the counties of Ireland date back 700 years. It is derivative of a feudal and colonial means of jurisdiction and organisation. Today, some counties are subdivided and city councils are effectively equal to counties. This totals 34 separate authorities. Unfortunately, there are many shortcomings to this micro-level planning as a county is only as good as its Arts Office. Some counties have developed dynamic public arts programmes, others not; some have built state-of-the-art municipal galleries, others re-use old buildings. More, with contemporary suburban sprawl, county borders are crossed on a daily basis. If medieval lines divide Ireland regardless of ongoing population shifts3 does it make any sense for a county v. county ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ approach?

Co. Clare is suffering from a lack of integration into a regionally or nationally coordinated central plan. Ennis, has Glór, a theatre that has allocated some wall space in an upstairs corridor for a ‘gallery’ (something to lean on during intermission we suppose.) The current renovations of the DeValera Library Gallery, will be an improvement on its previously abysmal state. The Burren College of Art Gallery is perfect for contemporary art, but is remote and it is fully controlled by a private college. The Ennistymon Courthouse Gallery, the best public venue in the region is neither here nor there geographically. Four galleries vying for funding, but with Clare’s proximity to Limerick and Galway, what resources should be committed to an arts centre, if any?

Galway, ‘The City of Culture’, lacks essential arts infrastructure, this is especially acute in the visual arts. The Galway Art Centre is inadequate as a visual arts exhibition space, even under a best-case redevelopment scenario. 126 Gallery is a small space for experimentation. The Galway Arts Festival and Tulca continue to annually let vacant commercial spaces. Public and heritage sites, like the Fisheries Tower, remain unused or unsafe. In contrast, Sligo, Carlow, Cork, Meath, Donegal, South Dublin, etc. have new municipal visual arts centres. Where is the municipal purpose-built/renovated visual arts centre for the 'City of Culture'?

The ultimate failure for ‘joined-up thinking’ lies with IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art). The building itself is not a modern art museum, it is the Heritage Site: Irish Museum of Modern Art, Kilmainham Hospital. It is known that the physical limitations and protected status of the site prevent IMMA from functioning as a proper museum4. The result: IMMA is bypassed by many of the best shows traveling Europe. Remarkably, it is not capable of preventing work in its collection from being “damaged because of substandard storage conditions”5. As new and inspiring visual arts venues sprouted around the country, it is hands-down, the biggest missed opportunity of the Celtic Tiger that an iconic, purpose-built facility to house IMMA was not constructed. The painful irony is that there remains unused land on site to do it. Shouldn’t the nation’s contemporary art museum be a priority?

Theorist Terry Eagleton characterised Ireland as “a country with a first-world economy and a third-world political system.”6 If Ireland has become a single globalised economy, a culturally post-modern nation, isn’t it time to scrap a pre-modern system of cultural planning, governance and delivery? Wouldn’t it be better to have a unified, centralised body instead of a fractured system of varying quality? We are not proposing a crude and hasty amalgamation of existing structures. Rather, for a new forward-thinking and democratically elected central body, that would be aware of regional contexts and serve as a hub of pooled knowledge and experience. Ireland's arts must loose the county council system and develop a central planning body for the development of its visual arts. Yes, we must find uniquely Irish solutions for uniquely Irish problems, but the first step is to look beyond the existent endemic provincialism towards the whole picture of a single Ireland; to politically re-organise the visual arts from a national perspective.

[1] “Why we need a ministry of joined-up thinking”, March 8, 2010, Irish Times
[2] pg. 6, “Partnership for the Arts Arts Council Goals 2006-2010”, December 2005, The Arts Council
[3] “Regional Population Projections 2011-2026”, December 4, 2008, Central Statistics Office.
[4] “For art's sake”, Saturday, August 2, 2008, Irish Times
[5] “Museum's modern art treasures damaged due to poor storage”, August 8, 2008, Irish Times
[6] “Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger by Fintan O'Toole”, 28 November 2009, The Guardian.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Images from EV+A 2010

Open/Invited EV+A 2010: Matters

Curated by Elizabeth Hatz

13th March – 23rd May 2010

Suggestive Biscuits, Sandy Kennedy

Pan-National Flag (detail), Patricia Reed

Christopher Roland Mahon

Untitled Scenes from a Journey, Simon English

Bottles & Fans, Sai Hua Kuan

Communication, Myles Shelly

Untitled, Hans Josephsohn

Grow Finish Unit (near Elkhart, Kansas), John Gerrard

Mass Equals Energy, the Exact Weight of the Artist's Body in Flour, Ben Mullen

Hopeless Land, Liu Wei

Kirsty Kilbane

David Theobald

David Theobald

Every Nothing, Fiona Reilly

The Beauty of Pain, Shin Egashira

John Pickering

Night in the Science Zone, Caoimhe Kilfeather

Eva Hild

Untitled, Jacob Maendel

Tia Schmidt

Interrogation of Limerick Wastelands, Aoife Desmond

All photos courtesy Jim Ricks

Monday, March 8, 2010

Aideen Barry

The Morphology of the Other

Aideen Barry

The Butler Gallery

16th January - 28th February

View of entrance

Spray Grenades, Sculpture, Aluminium and brass object, 2009

Installation view of the salon hang of pen and ink drawings

Installation detail

Installation detail

Installation detail

Installation shot of The Weapons of Mass Consumption, Aluminium and brass, 2009

Minefield, Sculpture installation, aluminium, brass, steel, 2009

Detail of Minefield, Sculpture installation, aluminium, brass, steel, 2009

All photos courtesy the artist.

Review of Video Killed The Radio Star

Video Killed The Radio Star

The Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

January 15 – February 27, 2010

By Helen MaCormack

Breda Lynch ‘The End' animation still, courtesy 126 Gallery.

A paradigm shift may be personal, cultural or global and may engender fear as long-standing established norms evaporate. History is littered with such significant changes in science, religion, technology, art and politics. The 126 Gallery based in Galway presented its membership with the challenge of responding to this theme and as a result 14 artists were selected for the exhibition at the RHA Gallery in Dublin.

Within the history of entertainment Vaudeville theatres were once a popular social activity until the allure and invention of the talking picture. To accommodate this new demand the theatres placed silver screens where stage scenery once stood, the curtains still opened and closed maintaining the theatrical formality. When film moved from cinema to home viewing, VHS became the standard, consumers traded a shared experience for personal ownership. Breda Lynch‘s short animated film entitled 'The End' depicts the closing titles of a movie and the simple but well exacted pencil drawings of interference and glitches that were once the bug bear of many video makers has become the central focus. Accompanied by a soundtrack performed by violinist, Marja Tuhkanen the artist has deliberately remixed the music ‘This is the end …’ by The Doors to obscure its familiarity. The removal of memory and the dark degradation of the images reflects upon a fragile moment when a recorded image, a recollection could be lost through the deterioration of VHS . Inevitably the desire to technologically eradicate anomalies in favour of perfect, crisp, pristine pictures led to the demise of VHS but what we fail to appreciate is that mistakes can be just as important and necessary as the pursuit of a flawless image. Overlooking Lynch’s animation, Dominic Thorpe’s charcoal drawing repeatedly exclaims the phrase ‘I Will Forget’ in angry black marks obsessively overlaid on top of one another. The act of repetition usually helps to reinforce memory but here it is contradictorily obscure, its original intention becoming a visual oxymoron.

A trend, political movement, fashion style or religion can only survive and prosper through the collective memory and actions of its followers. Angela Darby references the Christian belief of the ‘Virgin Birth’ in the aptly titled ‘God Has No Favourites’. The small Giclée prints beckon us into the cult of the pagan goddess Artemis of Ephesus. Here the artist controversially insinuates that Christianity plagiarised and assimilated traits of this goddess to suit their deification of Mary the mother of Jesus. Are Darby’s intentions inflammatory for reasons of sensationalism or perhaps the artist wishes to understand and expel the falsehood of the ‘Virgin’ fairy tale?

Angela Darby ‘God Has No Favourites’ Giclee print detail, courtesy of the artist.

When one icon falls a substitute takes its place absorbing the past to validate its presence, assuring its position in history. The digital photograph by David Finn ‘Mannequin in alcove’ has an arresting quality to it; the alcove’s walls are puckered with what could be mistaken as bullet hole pock marks the battles scars from a revolutionary uprising or struggle . Surprisingly the location of the photograph is the grounds of the late eighteenth century manor house of Ardfry in Co. Galway. A damaged and soiled white headless mannequin stands in the alcove parodying the self-importance once associated with a religious statue of significance. The mannequin is the perfect consumer idol a frozen female icon, society’s deification to materialism. The Scottish based artist, Cathy Wilkes’ use of shop dummies in her installations draws similar connotations to Finn’s piece.

David Finn 'Mannequin in alcove' digital photograph, courtesy of the artist.

‘'Coco pop Skull' by Padraig Robinson laughs in the face of art as expensive commodity possibly taunting the likes of Hirst and Koons who have traded their art souls for the trappings of celebrity. Fiona Chambers skilfully combines traditional crafts with randomly sourced images from the Web to create cross-stitch designs packaged with coloured thread. Applying chance to the systematic binary code that underlies all digital technologies the artist raises interesting questions. Through Google, the superior virtual version of reference books such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, we have instant access to billions of bytes of data; it’s up to us to stitch together the information available, into meaningful knowledge instead of being entangled in a web of casual associations.

Fiona Chambers ‘smallest_bodybuilder.jpg’ embroidery kit, Courtesy 126 Gallery

At the gallery’s entrance Kathryn Macguire’s text piece quotes the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus (c.500B.C) of Ephesus. His statement 'the only constant is change' is laser cut from vinyl acrylic mirror a material commonly used in advertising and shop displays. The mirrored surface of the static words paradoxically ensures the reflected ‘content’ alters each time the viewer shifts their gaze or the public move around the gallery. An order rises to exact a change only to be toppled by another. James Merrigan’s ‘'The Devil of the Little Place' plays on American social insecurities, with a back projection of the Whitehouse viewed through what appears to be a sniper’s telescopic lens. On a rickety wooden slatted bed a small video monitor plays footage of finger nails being painted black. Once regarded as an act of rebellion the colour coded statement has been assimilated into mainstream culture along with tattoos and piercings. The video sound track lists American presidents’ names, though in a reference to ‘back-masking’ the words are played backwards. During the eighties and nineties ‘back masking’ became an obsession with right wing American evangelists. They claimed that playing rock-music backwards revealed hidden Satanic messages which subliminally corrupted the listener. With 'A Shanty We can Believe In’ Jim Ricks also chooses to comment on American society. Constructed in the corner of the gallery stands a make-shift shelter decked with Obama presidential election placards. When two social classes form, one an aspiration of the other, they remain caught in a symbiotic clinch. It seems to question what real difference the president elect will make to the underprivileged where his predecessors have failed.

Jim Ricks 'A Shanty We can Believe in' mixed media, courtesy 126 Gallery.

The works mentioned above, and including Kevin Mooney’s small cityscapes along with Paul Murnahan’s ‘Somehow You Knew This Was Coming’, avoided obvious clichés and had a connective quality to them. Mooney physically slices into his futuristic urban landscapes disrupting the illusion of a dream-like Utopia and in the process places the viewer back in the ‘now’.

Kevin Mooney 'Future III' oil on canvas, courtesy 126 Gallery.

Many of the works capture the liminal stage in the ‘ritual of change’; the end of one thing is paradoxically the beginning of something new. ‘Video killed the Radio Star’ is simultaneously retrospective and visionary, a reflection of the past and contemplation on the future. The speed of advancement in technology has transformed our approach to communication opening new futures in which to assess the past. It is a testament to the curators that the diverse elements of this exhibition stand together so cohesively, though they are aided by the quality of responses garnered from the artists.

Helen MaCormack is an art historian based in Edinburgh.