Friday, August 31, 2012

At the Still Point


At the Still Point: Irish Women Artists working in Film

Aideen Barry, Cecily Brennan, Anita Groener, Tracy Hanna, Jesse Jones, Niamh O’Malley, Aine Phillips & Vivienne Dick, Deborah Smith
Curated by Josephine Kelliher
Kilkenny Arts Festival
9 – 18 August 2012

Review by Darren Caffrey



And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you:
I will show you fear in a handful of dust i


The Predicament of Man (2010), Jesse Jones, 3minutes

Upon the excavations of a wasteland Jesse Jones piles even more. A single video work of roughly three minutes begins its frenzy like a zoetrope set on spin. Its machine powering up slowly but surely until whirr and then take off, rapidly firing forth a barrage of images which reveal a culture of man. Set down in a wasteland, the camera turns, chasing the day as were it a tail, while simultaneously recording a passage of time. Laid over this slow exchange of light and landscape is the piercing glow of the ‘image’, presented as documentary for both truth and fiction. Implicated equally as icons, Maggie Thatcher, Ms. World, Mr. Universe and Pope Benedict can all be glimpsed amongst the innumerable populace of Jones’ making. With a selective process that reveals much about the graphic nature of humour, as well as that of anguish, it is all the more impressive that she has orchestrated her depiction to a balance which is neither fussy nor messy. Indeed the catalogue uses the phrase ‘flash frames’ and why not, they are gone so quick that, just as with the use of flash cards, it is almost a memory which you hold rather than the everyday consideration of observation as relative to fact. As comprehensible as her method is, it is yet still open enough to the inopportune blinker who might, by missing the selection choice of Jones, fall headlong for the seduction of their own creative history. Given the work’s title, there appears perhaps cause to look at what narrative is informing the artist’s choices. But any thoughts of predicament seem heavy for what is the freedom of the spin. That is until you look up the word and realise how in terms of logic the meaning extends far beyond the ‘will he, won’t he’ and into the territory of cold, hard, light of day clarity and proclamation. The obsessive categorisation of events and culture, people and their experiences, black and white, good and bad are all thrown into a whipping flow of liquid dynamite imagery and dropped into the proverbial middle of nowhere somewhere in the outback; and thankfully all that comes to mind is the dance. For every killer there is always a tease, but if it happens to be that there is any such apocalyptic end, it won’t be her fault.

Island (2010), Niamh O’Malley, 8 minutes

So whose fault might it be? Well if Jones’ work is centered around wanting to show, then Niamh O’Malley is looking to show us that we want to see. Located in yet another blacked out room, Island projects a quietly soft light as it pensively scans what it reveals. Sleight of hand or a matter of artistic license, O’Malley’s tricks are the mark of subtle execution. Whether it is a fixed-point view swallowed up by the black of everything else, or it is simply the open water, what we want to see is not always what she shows us. At over eight minutes, this video looks to the horizon in a very different way to that of Jones’ and yet both artists have effectively added character to their respective place, ending up with a varied layering of time over space, but here is where O’Malley excels. No, this video is not entertaining for what it shows and so there is undoubtedly more that can be said for whatever is not. Although such interpretation of an artwork may sound ridiculous or typical, depending on your perspective, in this case technique underlines that the artist’s action is paramount to the event that is her own perspective. It is not only her who does not see what it is that she wants to. In some ways it is maybe even a craft which she employs, ensuring that what we don’t know, is at once arguable against the thing which we do see. It is this trail of movement and deceit which flattens the form that is the island, to the effect that if something so relatively small and yet so large can be covered blanket-like with the aid of a black screen positioned in front of the camera lens then what chance has the protagonist of any tale but to stand and see it as it stands. The hope is that any challenge to this isolated view may be better for the cause, in turn giving rise to a fuller picture of what is. With water surrounding the walls, churches and stone blocks, the artist serves to highlight most of all the need to carry and to take, and thus the story unfolds.

Tracy Hanna, Projection on paper

In the work of Tracy Hanna, a fading moon lights onto a broken stone where it stands propped against the back wall of a room known exclusively for its ‘monuments’. Church windows allow only the sheerest of light from outside and but for the open door aided by a festival feeling, this place would be darkness and little else. Indeed on first glance there isn’t much, just old stone shapes and misshapes, pieces missing from something or other, solid in their place. Amongst the neat arrangement of debris and artifacts there has been parted a channel. Across which spans a little wire support with the sole aim of hanging a surface onto which video work may be projected. The sight of water rushing over and under a solitary bridge does all that it can, but bridges are built with intention and here there seems only the very tip of such a thing. Elsewhere two projectors stand off the floor and suggest that the other artist showing in this space believes existence comes before expression. There appears no obvious narrative which need be followed; in any case, it would offer you no help as the projection is just that and nothing more. This work is not a video so much as an emulation of natural light. For the setting and for the scene to evolve naturally, a brick would need to be thrown through the tall grimy windows of the church hall and land somewhere close to the flickering moon, thereby showering glass onto the dusty stone floor and raining natural light throughout. Only this could bring added context to Deborah Smith’s truly affecting work of both charm and critique. Despite its simplicity, nothing of its existence is so simple as to be anything less than remarkable. As the projected light waxes and wanes, we are left only to marvel at what happens when on a winter’s morning there is no one at all to witness light as consequence but merely life in all its phases.



Daylight (2010), Deborah Smith, Detail: (lens of projector) 1 minute 21 seconds

Redress, a work by Vivienne Dick and Aine Phillips is situated in a little outhouse building of the National Heritage Council, itself located at the foot of a 9th century round tower. I guess what needs to be taken from this is that there is history. Known as The Bishops Robing Room, its past use is self-explanatory, but also sadly it has been made overtly relevant. A number of muslin banners hang from its rafters, onto which is projected a clever sequence of images which (it seems due to the fabric’s weave) allows for the possibility of two projectors at either end to create a quite ghostly effect. This too is aided by the gutted appearance of the space and the context. Perhaps this is where is should have stopped. Beyond this effect, the reading of the word ‘redress’ is both weighted and uninteresting; bad things happened in places just like this... maybe. Either way, for a week or so in August Aine Phillips’ strip-tease in and out of a heavy white linen garment could be seen. Mesmerising as it is, it is the materiality and not the subject matter which manages to sustain the undoubted pleasures of looking.

Redress (2010), Vivienne Dick & Aine Phillips, 6 minutes

A woman stands in a white space to the right of shot, she wears white. The image is clear. Suddenly a torrent of black engulfs her from head to toe and she is thrown helplessly to the floor. She stumbles back to her feet only to be knocked once more by the volume of liquid that comes her way. The video is just one shot and during the 2 minutes she is hit three times. At one point the woman on screen arises out of the mire much like a starlet from a B-Movie Horror, apparently knowing that very soon she will fall prey to the darkness waiting over her shoulder. This is a nice and light touch and coupled with the wateriness of the liquid it provides more than the shock and awe of the ominous black wave.

In these few instances Brennan permits us to see her work as not simply an identification represented solely by the actor’s struggle but equally we may observe the artist’s identification with the coming wave and whatever malevolent force that it represents. There appears in the catalogue some reference to the recurrence of depression and how it’s ‘a bitch’, but really this video work is for looking at, not into. It’s also big and, for the duration, all encompassing, thereby helping to present the actor’s fear as all the more real.

Unstrung (2007), Cecily Brennan, 2 minutes

Elsewhere, as if two suns had been drawn by the gods, life fizzes thanks to the stop-motion trickery of the hand being quicker than the eye. As with all animation it must have taken much graft to create the illusion of vibration and depth but certainly it worked. It’s not that this piece is notable because it was made with the hand rather than the result of recording actual life but it does help it to stand apart.

Similarly the music is well chosen and the narrative is kind to us, asking only that we enjoy; but having begun with two cell-like forms it is slightly disappointing to be so surprised when the journey reveals to us that we were on earth all along. This is perhaps the result of the work not anywhere stretching itself, with the effect that it does not show up any aspect as lesser than; equally of course it could be said that nothing stands out. It is enjoyable. The temptation is to say that something lacking definition is bad, but enough quirk has survived the process of making that all that might be said is whether it fills the boots of another Dutch born artist Jacco Olivier who showed something similar this time last year. It does but why should it? The curator Josephine Kelliher has sought to show women who work with film, and in its various guises she has remained true to that. The title of the visual arts thread of this year’s festival being taken from another work by T.S. Eliot (ii) reflects also a willingness to engage in something which is both seasonal and universal. But it seems puerile to not define by the interests or the intentions of the individual artists, but instead by the respective pieces which they carry, so to speak.

Somewhere Else (edit 2012), Anita Groener, 5 minutes

Aideen Barry’s work could be found in a long disused space known as the Victorian Tea House. It is about being at home and doing something worthwhile with that seemingly tragic fact. Consisting of countless shots, each one staggered so as to create the sense of a stop-motion animation, Barry’s approach is at once admirable and mundane. There are moments in Possession where her actions lead us to deranged and awful places but not nearly enough. When she uses the garage door to slice homemade bread, the question of where that might lead is overlooked, choosing instead to attend to her daily routine. Similarly, after browsing the pages of a glossy magazine, she opens the oven door and sticks her head inside. The idea presumably being that she has not measured up to the bronzed model. All in all this work reflects a troubled relationship with femininity, not as something distinct from the role of homemaker, but rather the artist here appears to see it as one and the same. Naturally there is a sweetness to its dark outlook, but that, along with the many cakes and buns, gets spat out in favour of the idea of control and its limiting effect. This work is dark, more so because it appears light-hearted and slightly foolish, rather than as a result of the depth that it might reach away from its sugared centre. If this character is meant to be the modern woman then the question has to be asked why she appears not to possess any sexual identity respective to the key relationship of herself and the false knowledge of security which she harbours. In terms of Barry’s own feelings as evidenced in her response to the glossy mag regarding the value of a responsible social message, is this illustration of a cartoon-like life really worth it?

Possession (2011), Aideen Barry, 6 minutes 30 seconds

Toward the end of Jones’ sequence there appears to be a reflection of the power of ‘woman’ as a force both alluring and dangerous. The rising mounds of earth which pan underneath tickle where else they might provoke, and it is not confrontation but comfort which appears to both soothe and inspire. Not to mention it is also a pretty funny turn away from the war and the savagery of consequence, as though we all (male and female) love our mother, are one with the earth and like a bit of what the other’s got whenever we can.





(Glimpses taken from the work of Jesse Jones detailing The Predicament of Man)

i T.S. Eliot, Wasteland, Part 1
ii T.S Eliot, Burnt Norton, Four Quartets

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