Alan Butler, Vera Klute, Barbara Knezevic, James Merrigan and Sheila Rennick
Royal Hibernian Academy
7th September – 23rd October 2011
Review by Darren Caffrey
“FUTURES 11 is the third in the present series of FUTURES, a sequence of exhibitions that endeavours to document and contextualise the work of a selection of artists around who exists a growing critical and curatorial consensus. The FUTURES 11, selected by Patrick T. Murphy, Director and Ruth Carroll, Curator, are Alan Butler, Vera Klute, Barbara Knezevic, James Merrigan and Sheila Rennick.”
Family and familiarity, evoked through dull lifeless colours, exemplify the reality of the mechanism. Served to us behind a frame of blinking eyelids, the machine flicks repetitively. In a world of static objects, what Vera Klute gives us is equally comfortable and disturbing, but the relationship is minimal and so the best we can guess is that the life goes on beneath the surface. The eyes themselves give nothing away, instead they are forced by a switch to follow an endless sequence wherein blinking might in fact cause one to miss the trick altogether.
Vera Klute, Franz Klute, Beate Klute, 2011, oil on paper, motor, sting
Using photography, video and pencil-drawing, CPR alludes to accident but never really arrives at that degree of freedom. This level of control is matched by the craftsmanship of the work, tidily presented to us as a bundle of interrelated, but framed, and as such, distinct pieces. Two plastic tubes feed down from the high ceiling, appearing to fill what is a gorgeous animation of a heart-like pepper pumping from right to left. Next to this, a light-bulb flashes on/off according, it would seem, to the very literal and once again mechanical leg-work of two pieces of cardboard, pivoted so as to connect leg to foot, each step made upon a raised platform. Jumbled up in the passage between all of this cause and effect is a series of works which echo the meat / machine metaphor. Central to this is a notably more subtle and delicate work, in which a tangle of grey wool in the form of a photographic print has been bedded into her own hand-drawn anatomical reproduction. Shaded lines reveal a pelvic floor with a certain gentility, softness and femininity that reflects the lines of her other works on show.
Vera Klute, Es hat sich schonmal einer tot geruhrt 2011, plaster, motor, string
Vera Klute, Public Pool, 2011, pencil and ink on paper
In Public Pool, fine line drawings appear suspended at the top of long rolls of paper, much of which is left untouched. It is perhaps in the buoyancy of these figures that the symbolic motif of depth is most apparent; heads somewhere out of sight maybe representing the depth of life as somewhere between breathless and vital. Nonetheless there is a resolute austerity to the hands which hold on to spoons limp-wristedly digging at nothing in the work Es hat sich schonmal einer tot geruhrt which apparently translates as‘the people have stirred themselves to death’.
James Merrigan, Detail: (exterior), night-knight, 2011
Entering into the space commandeered by the ‘landing’ of Merrigan’s night-knight there is something interesting about the obviously cheap and tacky reflective exterior. Perhaps this is reduced by the emanation of noises and voices, but no less the curiosity remains. Standing beside one of the more successful video works which comes as part and parcel of the whole installation, you cannot help but feel excited. Through a mix of seamless editing and clever use of text, itself only effective as an evocation rather than necessarily a communication of the poetic, he has managed to make an extremely watchable five second piece. Perhaps not as impressive as it sounds but well worth seeing, if only for his neat execution.
James Merrigan, Detail: night-knight, 2011, video / audio installation
Watching this video, you can also hear the phrase ‘night-knight’ as it loops from behind the silver packaging in which this installation has effectively been wrapped. Something’s going on, and inside, references indeed to night and knights, flight and a few small surprises including the odd advertisement, ultimately spray out in a somewhat confused cacophony of structure and distraction. At the centre of this temporary built circular structure at least two distinctly digitised voices can be heard discussing the word ‘décollage’, an apparently etymological curio, relating either to philosophy or airplanes. In any event, much of the work within the space only serves to distract and confuse, not in a way that offers additional realities but instead there is a sense of insubstantial intervention and perhaps simply over-thinking.
James Merrigan, night-knight, 2011, video / audio installation
Very certainly there is an over-stimulation without there ever being quite enough to satisfy. Blue fairy lights and shards of broken plastic, bound using silver electrical tape, are accompanied by a nearby video and sound work relaying a piston or some form of fuel injection or something vaguely similar; it matters not as the effect is one which ends up only conveying distance and a lack of visual cohesiveness. This is not to say that the overall tone of the various works is somehow mismatched, in fact the ‘madeness’ of the whole thing is a universal and again somewhat human sized welcome, resulting in what might be often regarded as a DIY aesthetic, as though somehow simply putting up a shelf was never enough. Crowning the installation, there stands a big wheel which is both tactile and indeed a welcome opportunity to revive the realm of unknown possibility. As the wheel spins with a giddy grace, supposedly the question is when will you die and it would seem at least that some of us are immortal or perhaps we are merely being ignored.
Sheila Rennick, Thump Thump, 2011, acrylic on paper
Continuing on with the theme of art and fantasy, Sheila Rennick exposes a girlish attitude throughout her work. Represented exclusively by paintings, and surprisingly the only painter included in this year’s FUTURES selection, there is perhaps a lot that might be expected of these works. Curious, interesting and playful, three framed works on paper show a kissing couple; a crying boxer mid swing; and spiderman with a gun respectively. Conceptually there is perhaps no essential cross-over, but emotionality and the substance of paint in all its multiform, multicolour, and indeed many layered expressions, does liken her overall representation to a kind of modern day heroic adventurer. This journey takes her past dogs with sausages who appear to be making the best of their fidelity, and love in the form of a joke-filled, and at times violent, contradiction of spirit and despair.
Sheila Rennick, Wedding Gifts, 2011, oil on canvas
Overall, the paintings do not work as images however, and presumably she just loves paint. Using it as a construction tool, her application is relief and tonal, bright, textured and loose; no less it is restrained by her attention to the subject matter, ranging like an archway from death and aggression to sex and commitment. Rennick is doing work other painters like to avoid yet the picture does not say so much as the passion and for this we must be disappointed but intrigued by what else may come out of her play.
Sheila Rennick, The Wedding One, 2011, oil on canvas
Conversely, the work of Barbara Knezevic is all form, the image only a result of the object. These sculptural works stem apparently from quasi-cosmological crafts pertaining to the psychological experience of matter itself. A brown leather ball, which looks as though it has been taken from the feet of Pelé, hangs skewered by a downward pointed rod which in turn hangs weighted from the ceiling above. When I arrived it was in motion and I can only imagine that its life is found in this very action. The rules of art, ridiculous as they may be, are often blurred by human intervention. Sometimes this might result in the perceived destruction of work and other times it is the very lifeblood which the work needs to breathe. In this instance the swinging pendulum effect generates a beautiful, but quiet momentum wherein the power is implied but the impact is both real and felt.
Barbara Knezevic, Thought and its equivalents, 2011, vintage medicine ball, bronze, steel wire
Other materials employed by Knezevic include an orange power cable beginning at a socket as its point of energy, extending over to form an intricate and laborious weave before finally resulting to power a light bulb. Through her eyes, animal skin spread out on the gallery floor suggests a re-animation of the life it once held, and sticks bunched together stand upright, seemingly identifying nothing more than the symmetries employed. This is sculpture and so the colour of More Than the Sum of its Parts is a condition of its substance. Crayon cast in the form of a 50cm cube, this work sits within the landscape of her other works shown and indeed makes no concessions for being so out of place. It is not big enough to detract from the other works in this atypical constellation but the fact that it exists without fanfare allows one to be drawn in by its seemingly in-built geometric, art-inspired solution. A dark coloured cube, its dynamic is informed only by its waxy surface and the few imperfections brought about by its implied casting.
Barbara Knezevic,(near) Self-supporting objects, 2011, broomhandles, pallet bands (plus other works)
As an overall collection there is not always the room for free association and the energy of discovery is in turn less for some works than others. So too, the works effectiveness can be lost in what is a potentially intriguing playground for the astrophysicist to finally build his nerve and just talk to the girl like she is another human being from the same planet.
Alan Butler, (near) An Open Letter from Westboro Baptists Servants of God to Anonymous Coward Crybaby Hackers, 2011, ink and pencil on paper (far) Gaze of the…, 2008, altered Hannah Montana poster, bitumen
Alan Butler’s installation work, a rainbow inspired, visually energetic contribution proved itself, perhaps appropriately enough, difficult to photograph. Its chimerical properties were due in large part to the reflective lustre of oily substance coupled with even more oily subjects. The pun is both intended and suited, as apart from a spinning poster and a drum kit that has been altered superficially by the addition of stick-on pepperoni pizza decals, not much was present; and yet the installation as a whole felt at least as involving and full as the created world of night-knight. This may be down to the artists use of video, where instead he might have showed simply what he can do with the free image, here the videos actually seem to offer this freedom to us in a very objective and understandable way.
Alan Butler, Still: Some Kind of Agitprop Monster, 2010, HD Video
By manipulating ready-made footage and sourced video clippings we are shown how the trick is done and it is done with exceptionally good timing. In one piece, the promotional advertisement for Sex in the City 2 is corrupted irreparably by the arrival of the likes of a hauntingly iconic Abu Ghraib prisoner, arms out, feet hovering above a bed. The warped presentation which this manifests is echoed by the struggle between two distinct entities. Consumerism or extremism? What the sides are seems not to matter, so much as that there are various lengths to which either might go in the interests of overcoming the threat of the other. Too, he shows how the result of this ‘agro’ may simply be humorous, a point well observed in the representation of a correspondence between a group of delusional artists and a group of deluded baptists. The winner is absolutely art but in a way that has only come about thanks to the abstraction of these letters into predominantly radiant lines of colour and colour alone, the text reduced to a task below that of looking objectively for a definite and ultimate meaning. What we don’t get is well disguised and for the most part this is a credit but there is no less a vapid sense, something which is ostensibly missing from the experience.
Alan Butler, (near) Pizza Drumkit OMG, 2011, drumkit, adhesive vinyl. (far) Better Living Through Crypto-Fascism, 2011, perspex, adhesive vinyl, strobe lights
A Better Living Through Crypto - Fascism, or so reads the huge light behind the drum kit and it is a proposal which says a lot about something but also nothing. Of course there is a dichotomy regarding the issue of gender and the issue of force. Physically men are in general more aggressively powerful and control is the weapon of this power, nonetheless the female is represented here as both a subject of man’s laws and structures but also and perhaps more interestingly as teeny pop starlet Hannah Montana, who with a microphone in hand, dons the full attire of a female citizen of the most orthodox Islamic regions. It is not stated which authority Butler believes to infringe more on personal freedoms but taste is definitely on trial. On a more serious note we are being asked key questions as regards why girls of one culture are dripped into the mould of woman far before their time, while another contemporary culture simultaneously withholds womanhood as a means to subscribe to its perceived power as attributed via the enablement of a subjective will.
The product of this dominant ideology is perhaps either consumerism as fascism or Islam as terrorism but no doubt the loser is everybody, irrespective of gender, religion or aspiration. The many levels of this work help to create a sense of truth that overcomes much of the objective availability of the clichéd, standardised position of current political dialogue. In all, the rephrased logos of capitalist machines like Bank of England and weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin took from the sheer enjoyment only to the extent that it was a reminder that the language of our culture is that of the logo-centric, image-based derivative. What the advantages to this approach are, against say a more fluid and active generation of the future is perhaps not yet known but that’s the FUTURES for you. Maybe instead of cherishing images to the point that they serve as motivation for either god or love or country, we might come to a place of making where the image is lost forever to its next incarnation.
Next year new ways will no doubt unfold. This exhibition as outlined in the press release seeks to be current and so it could be easy to slip into topical reflections about debt and repossession, emigration and restriction. In all due respect, the issues raised were more generally human concerns of love and birth, discovery and even a nod to destiny, so it must be considered that the FUTURES’ artists are bright enough not to trade it all in for an easy life.