Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lacuna in Parallax

Lacuna in Parallax
Lucy McKenna
The Source, Thurles
12 September - 25 October 2014

by Jim Ricks

The thing about symmetry is that the beholder is positioned at the centre of the image”1


A train journey south towards Limerick on an overcast day brought me to Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Rising out of a wholly typical Irish place (and its pubs, takeaways, banks, butchers, Norman tower house, slow moving river, etc.) was the completely unexpected, substantial zinc-clad trapezoid edifice of The Source. Minus the apparently unsustainable cafe, it appears to be a rare exception to the prevalently mediocre Tiger-era county art centres.

Behind a massive sliding door lies a blacked out gallery. The lighting takes immediate significance. The artist, Lucy McKenna, created an atmospheric installation by way of a pragmatic stellar microcosm; tiny luminous points hovering individually in front of, or over each of her works.


The exception to this is the large sculptural piece titled Bridge. Light emanates from within the descending cylinder of golden metallic beads, installed centre stage. Perhaps it is a nod to Hollywood science fiction, a Star Trek transporter or even a  stargate. 

A golden disc projected through space and time, individual atoms of light held together through glimmering strings, it becomes the metaphorical sun. McKenna's show becomes heliocentric. And while I'm sure this is actually a symbolic reference to metaphysics or the Einstein-Rosen-bridge, I can't help but think this piece is largely decorative.

Taking varied, yet related circular forms, are a number of kaleidoscopic stargazing photos, all formally Hadron Collider-like, if you will. Some are wall mounted discs. Other sculptural ones are positioned on the floor. Collectively this visual presentation points to an underlying fascination with symmetric patterns occurring in nature, physics. The human intervention, repetition of these celestial 'shards', creates a sense of order and pattern, and, in particular the curved-bottom grounded constructions, recall baskets and bead work. The interstellar strung together.

Another prominent piece is We Didn'tMove, an 8mm to video transfer, which is projected high on the gallery's long wall. The footage of trees and flowers is filmed at Montpelier Hill in Dublin, a site of apparent frequent UFO sightings. A mirror effect is applied, and a layered, echoey voice-over recounts a story of a nocturnal invader. Although my first reaction was to cringe at a tale of real human abuse, no doubt the product of a post-Murphy-Report Ireland, the repeating narrative is ultimately of alien visitations.

The strongest works in the show, and what I would guess are the most involved, were exceptionally detailed pencil drawings of the cosmos. Four of them in total, McKenna explains on her website that “two of the works, Herschel and Rosetta were a collaboration with astronomer Nick Howes, wherein I drew some of his photographs of distant man-made spacecraft.” No doubt pieced together from square source photos, both are strangely pyramidal in shape. Stars streak across, activating them as the shapes become objects with cartoon motion lines. With its jagged base, it recalls the shape of the Stealth Bomber, or, equally, Carl Andre's corner metal triangle installations.

The other two painstakingly crafted drawings have this same shape, only removed like a missing piece of a puzzle. These, in contrast, are static. They are NGC 346 and LH 95, drawn from photos of of gaseous nebula from 'neighbouring' galaxies recorded from light traveling hundreds of thousands of years. The sense of time is heightened with McKenna's own investment of time. The dark matter of graphite is capable of holding the viewer. [Insert gravity pun here.]

This same shape is repeated thrice in a triptych, this time photographs clearly digitally stitched together from Google Maps imagery. These earthward looking images are local, coming from a period of research in the immediate area before the exhibition. All feature ring forts within a patchwork of towns, agricultural enclosures, and differing exposures, colour balances. 

Two strands of work in Lacuna in Parallax become distinct. One is with the artists research in Thurles around early Middle Age structures and looking downward on them through satellite photography. The other deals with looking upward, outward to the skies above. Both are connected by considering the passage of time. Distant star's light takes thousands, millions of years to arrive to Earth, emanating before our worldly ruins were even begun and visible only to us today. And how little we know about either.

Hand folded origami paper individually belted to the wall serve as the accompanying gallery text, Notes on Perception, Reality and Ringforts, while functioning also as installation. The (slightly difficult to read) text expounds a number of the artist's teleological musings and citations ranging from string theory, 'fairy forts', symmetry, kaleidoscopes, perception, time... It is essential to the exhibition, adding value to the works via McKenna's research.

Within the generous trapezoid gallery of The Source, the shape of McKenna's show is well rounded. She explores a number of themes within, from the local to the intergalactic, presenting them with polish, and handling the space adeptly through this multidisciplinary installation. Unfortunately, I feel the earthbound works on their own explore previously trodden territory. And those kaleidoscopic, from 'out of this world', are somewhat... distant. Both become background to the series of drawings, so deftly executed and gorgeous, manifested through a rare moment of collaborative focus between artist and scientist. 

Without focus and background, and ground for that matter, humankind has little way of understanding our own place within the biggest subject matter ever: the scale of the known universe.

1 From Notes on Perception, Reality and Ringforts.

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