Limerick's EV+A 98, in its 22nd year,
showed the work of 150 artists and as such is Ireland's largest group exhibition.
Usually EV+A, in an attempt at 'objectivity' brings high profile curators,
such as Jan Hoet and Guy Tortosa, to Ireland from Europe. Referring to
this objectivity, the chairman, Hugh Murray writes of how "this very detachment
and lack of knowledge of the Irish art scene was also a weakness". With
these reasons in mind the EV+A committee decided that Paul O'Reilly, the
director of Limerick City Gallery, should curate it. One gets the sense
that O'Reilly on taking the position was reflexive in terms of his approach
to the power involved. Worth noting was a willingness to engage with people
and discuss why their work was not chosen for EV+A's Open Submission. This
has to be a first. It also shows an acknowledgement by O'Reilly of the
power inherent in judging people's work.
The work was dispersed over 20 different
centre-city sites and because of this EV+A resembled large European shows
which negotiate the discursive terrain of 'site' and location. However
this trajectory was not a priority but rather was arrived at by default.
In the catalogue we were told that "this is due to the unavailability of
Limerick City Gallery's Carnegie Building on Pery Square". Originally the
show was to be brought to Pery Square but this was not possible because
of building delays. The potential of 'off site' art practice collided with
conceptions of how art works function in traditional art spaces at EV+A
98, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not.
Discussing the works' pattern of
dispersal around the city, Paul O'Reilly writes that it is "...a pattern
that has no single dominant gallery presence". Unfortunately this was not
the case; the dominant gallery presence was in evidence and located at
City Hall. There are a number of reasons for this, the most obvious being
that it was the location for the official opening. The main space in City
Hall was used to present a large selection of 'hangable' work and followed
a traditional conception and allegiance to how gallery spaces function.
Perhaps it might have been more interesting to challenge viewers' expectations.
This is not to ignore the pragmatic difficulties of finding space for the
amount of work to be shown but rather to remark on the consequences of
some of those pragmatic decisions.
On the application form of EV+A
98 there was a very definite call for 'lens-based media' which was unusual
in an Irish context and yet by the end this emphasis was disregarded by
the final call of "...And everything else". It is difficult to understand
the reasoning behind this besides a need to be inclusive, although arguably
this desire for inclusiveness can collapse everything to a certain level,
creating a compromise in which no one is satisfied. This is also worth
negotiating in terms of Paul O'Reilly's catalogue notes in which he situates
the dangerous implications of "...contemporary culture's visual bias".
O'Reilly opens up a potentially engaging discussion on the prioritisation
of the visual in consumer culture although there is a sense in which this
potential remains confined within the catalogue rather than a discursive
dialogue that flows through the works.
Referring back to City Hall as the
'dominant gallery space' there was a sense in which the discursive potentials
available between the various art works were not explored. The inter-relationships
between works suggest discussion and dialogue, but this was often so disrupted
that the spatial gaps emerged as gulfs, almost as if the works were ignoring
each other. This was especially obvious in work that negotiated a specifically
gender based discourse. Eliz Lagerstrom's installation 'Pain is a State
of Mind' which references some womens' position towards sadomasochism,
employing a combination of objects, photographs and text such as "...She
wears her bruises with Pride. Like trophies, like tattoos. Hidden under
her clothes. Her secret. Her game". This was shown in a small annex off
the main room and although employing cliched materials such as rubber,
buckles, belts etc it would have been more interesting to see what sort
of discussion, be it provocative or polemical, that the work would generate
if shown in closer proximity to, for example Dorothy Ann Daly's crocheted
wall drawing, or any of the more acceptably 'feminine' work shown in the
back room at City Hall. This back room was a difficult space in terms of
how the work was installed. This was unfortunate, especially in the case
of Elizabeth Byrne's 'The Insistence of furniture' where the conceptual
research of the installation involved confinement--the actual placing of
Paddy Jolley's VHS film loop 'Late
for the Train' was shown on a monitor at the end of a stairwell, a location
which suited the work, a figure in the New York Subway flat out on the
ground as trains on either side stopped at the station. As an installation
the stairwell had the right atmosphere or 'end of the line' quality about
The video installation 'Untitled
Unsigned Story' by Amanda Coogan in the main space was a video of a woman,
mostly in close up. Through a variety of facial expressions, tapping fingers
on her face, and guttural sounds, Coogan presented the frustration of failed
communication and mistranslation. Coogan writes: "Irish sign language has
been consistently and consciously oppressed" and in situating this Coogan
opens up an intriguing view of some of the socio-political relations of
a marginalised community. This video was installed in a wooden structure,
a cross between a house and furniture. It was difficult to figure the necessity
for this. The conceptual terrain of the video did not need any props to
support itself and the sculptural rhetoric of the wooden structure appeared
jaded in terms of the complexities of language being figured in the video.
The collaboration between Amelia
Stein and Barry McGovern 'Do You Love Me Cunt' employed Beckett's logic
although this was more an illustrative piece. This work comprised a black
and white photograph of Barry McGovern looking suitably aggressive/ angry
as he recites an excerpt from Beckett's 'How It Is'. Listening to this
extract as one looked at the photograph of McGovern, restricted the photograph's
possible readings to one of a 'character study' of the actor performing.
This made it difficult to know what this image was meant to mean. The installation
was located in a small corridor beside a lift and listening to the sound
piece it was hard to resist thinking how much better it would work in the
Within City Hall, the placing of
Andreas Gursky's large colour image 'Chicago Board of Trade' in the Council
Meeting Room was impressive. Gursky's image, of the stock exchange taken
from above, presenting the action on the floor as frantic and trivial at
the same time creating a strong dynamic with the discourses of power flowing
through this Council Room.
The performance of Fergus Byrne's
'Splint' took place on the Saturday in Cruises Street. Byrne with the help
of two assistants and behind the cover of a makeshift 'tent' was wrapped
up in roof slates, turning himself into a "vertical pillar". Byrne eventually
emerges from this architectural space by using physical pressure to break
the gaffer tape holding the slates in place. What made this particular
performance so nerve racking was the alternative performance it gave rise
to by a group of local teenagers. Besides the verbal abuse there were various
moments of risk for the artist and the people standing close by. As the
teenagers pushed into the tent as Byrne was being wrapped, the potential
for him to fall and get cut up by the slates became a tense build up. Cruises
Street on a Saturday afternoon is a great location for performance because
of the volume of people passing by, although the lack of an official EV+A
presence to aid Byrne was a mistake.
St Mary's Cathedral, offered a tomblike
location to view Karl Grimes' 'Blood Cell Memorial': A grid of 24 colour
images of blood cells together with others in alcoves or lying on pews,
so that there was the potential for them to get lost amongst the memorabilia
and artifacts in the Cathedral space.
The billboard of Mike FitzPatrick
'EV+A Not As Good As It Used To Be' required the collaboration of all EV+A's
open submission artists. The billboard containing photographs of the artists
with the above caption was, to use FitzPatrick's words "...an attempt to
test the ability of an institution like EV+A to resist censorship". As
an example of how effective this proposed 'institutional critique' was,
the billboard occupied a prominent location just outside City Hall.
FitzPatrick's artist's statement
continues "this work delivered in the format of a billboard, could act
as an incentive for people in general to be more conscious of, and engaged
with, an exhibition which is publicly funded and highly regarded by the
participating artists". FitzPatrick aspires to a 'discursive practice'
and yet the piece prioritises his intentions and perceived possibilities
of how the work "...could act". It is worth noting that artists who did
ask what the caption would be were not told.
There is also a problem here in
the simplification of specific audiences to a more general "people in general".
Who for example? EV+A as the largest art exhibition in Ireland, draws a
large percentage of the 'art community' in the country. There seems to
be an over simplification of 'art community' audience 'bad'; the 'people'
audience 'good'. This is not to discount the validity of a practice which
wishes to reach beyond a given 'art' audience. However, there is a political
myopia in operation when 'artists' become some homogenous targeted group.
FitzPatrick ends his statement with:
"I defend my actions on the grounds of freedom of artistic expression and
the broader social intent of the work". Unfortunately this follows a certain
cynical logic that falls into a heroic conception of the lone artist (male!)
battling to change the world no matter the personal cost.
Located in a tax office, Susan MacWilliam's
'The Last Person' is a strange and humorous reconstruction of the paranormal
events surrounding one Helen Duncan (1898-1956). The video is based on
Duncan's trial. A medium from Portsmouth, she "...was the last person to
be prosecuted under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735". The video uses
the court reports as a narrative, recounted by a monotone male voice. The
enigmatic qualities of MacWilliam's video were expanded by its setting
in the bureaucratic atmosphere of this '70s style Civil Service space.
Jonathan Horowitz's 'Bach's Two
Part Invention' situated in Maloney's Bookstore was an installation comprising
an audio track, a framed vintage photograph and text. The photograph is
of the 1974 Minnesota Music Teachers Association Piano Contest Recital
in which Horowitz took part. The text presents Horowitz's memories of the
contest; the fact that he forgot his piece and his subsequent disinterest
in the piano lessons which he was forced to take until he left the family
home. The sound accompanying this is of piano notes played randomly, resulting
in, not quite dissonance but more of a depressing but humorous pointlessness
which was totally in sync with Horrowitz's story of suburban mores in Minnesota
Two of the largest installations
in EV+A 98 were located in Glen House, Daphne Wrights's 'Looking for the
Home of the Sickness' and Brian Hand's 'Foam'. Wright's installation, comprises
rows of plaster rhododendrons which vertically frame horizontal rows of
miniature Georgian balustrades, which are torso height and again made in
plaster. Just behind the balustrades are miniature park land 'dead' trees
placed in a random pattern behind each one. The visual effect of this alludes
to a theatrical space the effect of which is intensified by the sound element
which is someone whistling a tune, which is vaguely familiar, reminiscent
of British music halls. I think the tune is a an Edwardian music hall song
"I don't want to play in your yard". With lines such as "I won't let you
pick my pansies, And you won't climb my apple tree, I don't want to play
in your yard if you won't be good to me".
'Looking for the Home of the Sickness'
as with Wright's other projects explores the cultural positions of Irish
Southern Protestantism. In this instance the 'Big House' of the Anglo Irish
Ascendancy is figured. The plaster while referencing the decorative qualities
of the interiors of these houses also creates a melancholic space, eerily
nostalgic accompanied by the whistling of this tune. What makes Wright's
installation so effective though, is that none of the things it alludes
to, the 'Big House' or the sense of nostalgia for example, are fixed in
terms of reading the work. Each element complements the others and promptly
runs off with its own network of associations--creating a complex and ambiguous
viewing space where all inherent 'essentialisms' are open to question.
Brian Hand's 'Foam' is an installation
comprising a slide dissolve of two images taken a minute apart of the Green
Isle, a trawler, being salvaged from Howth harbour after an arson attack
which resulted in the trawler sinking. The sound, coming from four different
speakers is of the first line of Sea Breeze, a poem by Stephane Mallarmé.
These four lines are synced to occupy the space together just as one slide
dissolves into another, creating a dissonant babble in the centre of the
space. This was said in French and three translations, one in Irish and
two in English. Two of the translations were by two Irish poets, Brian
Coffey and Denis Devlin. Both Coffey and Devlin were signalled by Samuel
Beckett as an emergent tradition more concerned with translation. In employing
them in this instance Hand, is in a sense indicating a different trajectory
of modernism in an Irish context, away from the 'originality' centredness
of Yeats & Co.
Hand's negotiation of translation
is also apparent in the use of images employed. The images show a group
of men observing a trawler being brought out of the water. On first viewing
it is difficult to see how the image has changed when the dissolve takes
place. Slowly different aspects of the image make themselves apparent,
one man disappears behind something while another emerges, a hand raised
in one image goes down in the next. Pursuing this emphasis on translation,
Hand misregisters the slides, so the dissolve is never smooth. Another
factor situating translation was the difficulty in deciding the location
of the image. As a place it has the look of some generic space in the States.
'Foam' was installed in an architects storage/archive space containing
shelving units stacked with architectural plans and files which surround
the installation with an abundance of texts and documents making the location
well suited to the conceptual space of 'Foam'.
One of the things that is interesting
about EV+A as an institution, especially in an Irish context, is the amount
of work, discussion and negotiation involved to make this multi-location
exhibition work. The amount of 'good will' required between different and
competing art spaces singles EV+A out as an institutional practice that
makes it highly specific to Limerick and to the people there who organise
it. I think it is important to state that as things stand in Dublin for
example, an exhibition of this size would not be contemplated, never mind
get off the ground. Whatever criticisms of EV+A 98 one might wish to pursue
or negotiate, its potential as a large 'event' and its potential to change
each year are aspects of EV+A which need to be put to the fore.
All quotes in the main text are
taken from the EV+A 98 Catalogue published by EV+A, Limerick City Gallery
of Art, Carnegie Building, Pery Square, Limerick, Ireland.