Category: Critique

VAN Critique November/December 2015: ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ Mel French at Luan Gallery, Athlone

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Mel French, Fledgling, 2015, wax, tree, steel

Mel French
‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’
Luan Gallery, Athlone
5 September – 30 October

MEL French is well known as the recipient of public commissions, but ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ at the Luan Gallery is her first solo show. The two handsome rooms of the gallery, one dark and one bright, offer the artist a resonating setting for her sculptural exploration of affects.

Entering the building, we first face Interjection (2006), an aluminium bust on a plinth. The screaming figure with its distorted features and bulging neck muscles belies the classical format. It aptly sums up the impression left by the summer’s news with its escalating emotional appeal to our attention; only the outrageously loud will be heard. In the darkened gallery, four works are set up. Permeo (2005) is a near life-size group of two bodies simultaneously fighting each other off and entangled together – quite literally – as the arm of one goes right through the torso of the other and back. They seem unable either to embrace or get away from each other. (more…)

VAN Critique November/February 2015: ‘Into The Woods’, Gary Coyle at the RHA, Dublin

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Gary Coyle, After Watteau, photo by Paul McCarthy

Gary Coyle
‘Into The Woods’
RHA, Dublin
4 September – 18 October 2015

THE overwhelming feeling upon entering into the RHA’s Ashford Gallery, given over to Gary Coyle’s compact solo exhibition, is of crossing into the realm of fantasy and fairy tales. This is thanks to the show’s eponymous work which covers all four walls, a floor-to-ceiling ‘wallpaper’ featuring digitally-reproduced drawings of a dense Northern European forest of dark blue birch trees.

Tucked among the trees, there is a little cabin picked out in a lighter blue, a refuge from the dense woods, or a possible haven for the lost traveller. But the cabin, it transpires, is a representation of the isolated shack built by the USA’s notorious domestic terrorist, Theodore Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber. Coyle is fascinated by American boogeymen, including serial killers, and allusions to these sinister characters appear again and again in his work. (more…)

VAN Critique November/February 2015: ‘Softening the Stone’, Chris Campbell- Palmer at Platform Arts

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Installation view of ‘Softening the Stone,’ image courtesy of Platform Arts

Chris Campbell-Palmer
‘Softening the Stone’
Platform Arts, Belfast
4 September – 24 October

‘SOFTENING the Stone’, a solo exhibition of work by London-based Chris Campbell-Palmer (b. Belfast, 1990), marks an exciting time in the career of the artist and in the evolution of Platform Arts as an exhibition space.

Founded in 2009 as a studio group for contemporary practitioners, Platform’s ambitious approach to the development of their exhibition programme is highly impressive, as is this presentation of new work by Campbell-Palmer. The exhibition marks the launch of Platform’s reconfigured gallery layout, which has seen the venue transformed from an expansive 3000-square-foot gallery into two distinct, and arguably more manageable, exhibition spaces. Despite the reduction in size of Platform’s main exhibition space, it by no means feels like a compromise in terms of scale, and the gallery remains capacious and industrial – an ideal setting for Campbell-Palmer’s sculptural and relief works. (more…)

VAN Critique September/October 2015: Ruth E. Lyons at the Mermaid Arts Centre, Co Wicklow

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Ruth E Lyons, ‘The Sea, The Sea’ 2015 exhibition view, image courtesy of Paul Tierney

Ruth E. Lyons
The Sea, The Sea
31 July – 5 September
Mermaid Arts Centre, Main Street, Bray, Co Wicklow

I first encountered the great chunks of rock salt that appear in this exhibition at the artist’s rural Co Offaly studio, a former hay loft located in a soft and yielding bog land landscape far from the ancient sea where these salty boulders originated. The rock salt is a remnant of the long lost Zechstein Sea, a landlocked body of water that once stretched from North West Europe to the East. Mined in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, it is now commonly used for de-icing roads.

Historian Mark Kurlansky has written extensively about the immense historical and social importance of salt (Salt A World History 2002), associated with everything from human sexuality to trade, wealth and power. The search for salt has had an impact on landscapes across the globe, from the development of salt mines to the otherworldly appearance of salt refineries. Salt has been a highly valuable commodity for thousands of years. (more…)

VAN Critique September/October 2015: Laura Gannon Silver House Uillinn, West Cork Arts Centre

Crit Laura Gannon

Laura Gannon, ‘Silver House’, nine-panel screen, oil on linen with cut-outs, aluminium and oak frame, 214 x 1017cm, photo by Johnny Savage

Laura Gannon
Silver House
Uillinn, West Cork Arts Centre
18 July – 12 August 2015
Commissioned for Uillinn, Gannon’s exhibition comprises a new body of experimental large-scale architectural drawings and a new film work, Silver House. The film was shot locally in Goleen, West Cork, during the Spring of 2015. The work is a collaboration with the sound composer Susan Stenger and features Eilish Lavelle and her home as the subject and the site of the film.

Lavelle has spent the last 40 years designing her home and garden in line with the ideals of high modernism, transporting the early-twentieth century avant-garde to the coast of rural West Cork. The house was once a horse stable, transformed by Lavelle in the 1970s with floor-to-ceiling windows, glass and chrome furniture, and bathroom walls covered in mirrored silver paper. However, the passage of time has softened the clean modernist lines.
The audience are seated on a white fur bench – a reference to the fur bedroom created by Adolf Loos in 1903 – which provides a tactile but also comfortable vantage point. The fur suggests the intimacy of being invited into the comfort of someone’s home before the film even begins. Silver House opens with the specific – a deadpan close up of the intricate organic design of the rich red wallpaper – before cutting to the exterior of the property where the ancient trees sweep down to the Atlantic Sea.
This cutting continues throughout the film, shifting between interior and exterior, the inanimate and intimate portrait of Lavelle, the purely visual and Lavelle’s personal stories about her home. Like the house, the film borrows techniques from early avant-garde film, using montage to juxtapose fast and slow paced shots in a way that compresses and fractures space, time and information. (more…)

VAN Critique September/October 2015: El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State at IMMA

Klinom krasnym bej belych

El Lissitzky, Klinom krasnym bej belych, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge. (1919 – 1920), reprint 1966, offset on paper 48.8 x 69.2cm, Collection Van Abbemuseum, photo by Peter Cox, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State, with Rosella Biscotti, Maud Gonne, Nuria Guell, Alice Milligan, Sarah Pierce and Hito Steyerl
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin Garden Galleries
30 July – 18 October 2015

Curatorial practices require imaginative conceits, while considerations of funding and timing require pragmatic ones to boot. All of these appear activated in an exhibition that finds unexpected but stimulating connections between the co-development of abstraction and political ideology in post revolutionary Russia, and a desire for national sovereignty enacted on Irish bohereen in the years before 1916. The show is co-curated by Director of IMMA, Sarah Glennie, and Annie Fletcher, Chief Curator at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, from where the El Lissitzky material comes. The work of four contemporary artists, reflecting on “the position of the artist within our society now” adds fresh fuel to these retrospective fires.

In Room 1 three computer monitors, vertical and side-by-side on the white wall, glow a uniform red. They sit in an alcove built into a false wall angled within the room’s normal dimensions. This wedge-like ingress alludes to another work in the show, but that’s not apparent at first; for now it’s just peculiar but nice. Red Alert (2007), by German artist Hito Steyerl, refers to Homeland Security Red, the red of imminent danger, the colour of fear. Deceptively serene, the softly glowing monitors also refer to Russian Constructivism and in particular to Aleksandr Rodchenko’s ‘end of painting’ icon Pure Yellow, Pure Red, Pure Blue (1921). Rodchenko’s triptych is boiled down to a single colour and slogan, a uniform ‘red or dead’. (more…)

VAN Critique September/October 2015: Jan McCullough at Belfast Exposed

Crit Jan McCullough

Jan McCullough, ‘Home Instruction Manual’ installation view, Belfast Exposed Futures, 3 July – 22 Aug 2015

Jan McCullough
Home Instruction Manual
Belfast Exposed
3 July – 22 August 2015

Jan McCullough’s project ‘Home Instruction Manual’ developed from the artist’s interest in traditional instruction manuals. Typing “how to make a home” into Google, she soon found an online chat forum where the participants gave instructions on how to transform a ‘house’ into a ‘home’. McCullough subsequently rented an empty property in Belfast for two months, putting into practice the advice she had gathered online. The photographs and objects on show at the exhibition ‘Living Room’ – presented in the Belfast Exchange gallery space at Belfast Exposed – document various elements of this project. (1)

A large, white plastic rug lies diagonally across the exhibition space. Printed onto the rug is the text from a series of online conversations, including the quote “not too clean but not super cluttered – just ‘lived in’ I guess!” (Molly Bdenum, 12.53, 7 August 2014). The rug dominates the room, but other two-dimensional domestic elements – a light switch, a window, a sofa and a fireplace – form part of the work’s narrative. McCullough uses black plastic tape to render these as flat life-size pictures. The tape is applied intermittently, which creates a rhythmical pattern. These stark, monotonous, graphic configurations are analogous to the binary code of the digital realm. (more…)

VAN Critique September/October 2015: Anna MacLeod at The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim

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Anna MacLeod, ‘Water Conversations’, Alberta, 2015, Documentation of performative walk at Lake Miniwanka, image by Alex Bishop-Thorpe

Anna MacLeod
Water Conversations, A Survey of Works, 2007 – 2015
The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon
3 July to 12 September 2015

Water Conversations is an ongoing research project by artist Anna MacLeod. Over the past eight years MacLeod has travelled internationally to conduct research and engage in dialogue with artists and communities around the global and local issue of water as a precious and endangered resource. By focusing on material from four or five locations the artist has successfully negotiated the risky transition of her vast repository of works and projects into a visually effective and conceptually engaging representation of her practice at the Dock, Carrick-On Shannon.

In dealing with such an urgent and pressing issue, MacLeod opts for a narrative thread that is low key and prosaic – rather than catastrophic or overtly political. The show pivots around a range of hand-made apparatus and found objects purposed for various water-related functions. They are displayed alongside documentation of their use in performative and site-specific events from many of the locations. For a work made in the Canadian Rocky Mountains MacLeod fashioned an elaborate rubber and aluminium umbrella that resembles a miniature glassless Victorian botanic house. (more…)

VAN Critique July/August 2015: Gabhann Dunne at The LAB Gallery, Dublin 1

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Gabhann Dunne, Floraborus, installation view, The LAB, Dublin

Gabhann Dunne
Magenta Honey
The LAB Gallery, Dublin 1
1 May – 13 June 2015

Gabhann Dunne has been painting since the 1990s and is an artist for whom the alchemy involved in manifesting an entity from paint appears effortless. He also demonstrates an easy aptitude for drawing. The compression of these abilities into effective visual shorthand appears to have coincided with his MFA at NCAD, from which he graduated in 2011.

This latest exhibition includes work done in response to the milieu of Dublin’s North Bull Island. The only city-based UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, it came into being as a consequence of a man-made intervention in the form of early-nineteenth-century engineering works.

The impact of our species on the planet is not always so fortuitous and, unsurprisingly, the environment emerges as a central theme. The exhibition’s cryptic title reflects the well-documented plight of the bee as a matter of major ecological concern, and emerged from Dunne’s research, which revealed bizarre incidences where artificial sugars from anti-freeze and confectionary casings are used in the making of honey. In a recent interview on RTE Radio 1’s Arena, he relayed how these dubious honey products are produced in vividly-coloured “greens and blues and violets”.

Having encountered some of the featured paintings online, their most surprising quality in situ proves to be their diminutive scale. The exception to this is Floraborus, which was conceived for The Cube, a seven-metre-tall glazed space on The LAB’s ground floor. A multi-part piece exploring the theme of water, which is vital prerequisite for a living planet, its main component is an oil painting in tondo form, suggesting water projected over a blue sky. This work references a project that aims to relocate supplies from the Shannon to reservoirs that will serve Dublin consumers. It is surrounded by a wreath of flowers – or, more accurately, endangered and invasive plant species – painted directly onto the wall and extending, in ripple-like flourishes, up its full height. This device suggests transience and was inspired by Italian murals seen on trips abroad. A small companion piece features a figure in the act of drinking a glass of water, painted in a pleasing mix of thin, streaky paint juxtaposed with juicier passages and traces of pencil.

The remaining works on unframed boards of in-the-main horizontal orientation are arranged individually or in groups along the three walls of the first-floor mezzanine gallery. This is a complex space with varying ceiling heights and other potential visual distractions, but the scale of the exhibits has the effect of inviting the viewer to partake of intimate scrutiny, which is in keeping with the artist’s belief that painting is primarily about looking. The best examples testify to the efficacy of Dunne’s annotated style and deliver strong imagery comprising simple forms on minimally textured but nonetheless sumptuous backgrounds. Their array of beautiful blues and greens – some with magenta under paint – camouflage the darker subject matter.

Morrigan’s Pearl spotlights the endangered freshwater pearl mussel, a bivalve mollusc with an incredibly long lifespan and important ecological role. But its central subject is marginally overworked in relation to the nuanced grey background, which alone conveys almost enough. The makers of the aforementioned honey also appear, struck in mid-air by arrows in Sebastian’s Bee, an art-historical reference to the oft-painted martyred saint, or as a treasured miniature in Golden, with its lapis-lazuli-effect background and gold-leafed circular mount.

One particular grouping suggests a narrative turn. Comprising four separate boards, The Bull’s Hares references the threat to Bull Island’s population of hares, and emphasises their essential role in its ecology. The first is suggestive of a primordial ancestor, a simple form encapsulating an innate propensity for movement, while the second features the fully evolved animal running at full pelt and the third a generic hare in freefall, its footing on the planet compromised by human activity. The final piece is the most unsettling due to its potential for prophecy, and depicts a startled animal with shredded ears and alarming, post-apocalyptic eyes.

Other works evoke the cosmos. In Alpha Beta Proxima, A Rodent’s Hope, purples, blacks, pinks and yellows swirl and shimmer, due to the careful manipulation of the medium to deliver surface variation. In contrast, Durragh features a close-up of the artist’s son’s face, perhaps indicating his concerns as a parent about the world his children will inherit. It is difficult to portray a young child’s features without courting sentimentality, but Dunne just about gets away with it. Any reservations are brushed aside by the humour of a tiny patterned bolster positioned to break the fall of the painted deer in Dee’s Pillow, and the hopeful golden glow of the abstract Hi Susan.

Bringing together a diverse mix of subjects and approaches, all loosely wedded to the Bull-Island-inspired environmental banner, Magenta Honey is a quietly thoughtful and essentially painterly showing that’s well deserving of close looking.

Susan Campbell is a PhD candidate in History of Art at Trinity College Dublin.

VAN Critique July/August 2015: Adrian Ghenie, Pieter Hugo and Olaf Brzeski at The MAC, Belfast

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Work by Olaf Brezski on show at ‘ I will go there take me home’

Adrian Ghenie, Pieter Hugo, Olaf Brzeski
‘I will go there, take me home’
Curated by Gregory McCartney
8 May – 26 July 2015
The MAC, Belfast

‘I will go there, take me home’ marks the second installment of the MAC’s guest curator programme, which offers independent curators the opportunity to develop exhibitions in the MAC’s three impressive gallery spaces. This year’s recipient is Gregory McCartney, a Derry-based curator who has devised a rich and multi-faceted exhibition which forces audiences to consider violence, failure, destruction and – quite bleakly – “the end of things…[from the] end of personal and social empires…[to the] failure of philosophies; the failure of systems; [and] the failure of people”.

The exhibition includes major works by three artists of international acclaim – Adrian Ghenie (Romania), Pieter Hugo (South Africa) and Olaf Brzeski (Poland) – none of whom have exhibited before in Ireland. Despite their geographical separation, each artist is no stranger to violence and all of their works are sobering, visceral and thought provoking, albeit in varying ways. Whilst no works here are rooted in or directly reference Northern Ireland’s contentious political history, the presentation of these works in Belfast nonetheless enables the country’s own troubles to bubble under the surface of the exhibition. (more…)

VAN Critique July/August 2015: Kathy Prendergast at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

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Kathy Prendergast, Eclipse, 2014 – 2015, Photography by Jed Niezgoda

Kathy Prendergast
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork
10 April – 13 June 2015
The elegant first floor landing and Gibson galleries at the Crawford have been emptied of their fine paintings and ‘objets d’art’ to accommodate Kathy Prendergast’s exhibition ‘OR’, which also extends into the adjoining modern gallery.

At the centre of the landing, Prendergast’s After All (2015) is an intervention in the Gibson Cabinet, made specially to hold collectables donated by the eponymous patron of the gallery. A single white antique plate is retained on a mirrored shelf at one end, with a crescent moon outlined in blue. At the other end, four exquisite watercolours by the artist, Planets (2015), are laid two-by-two, depicting varied circular shapes against a dark background.

The wide central shelves of the cabinet initially appear empty until random circular outlines of the removed objects come into focus, highlighted by layers of ash dust of varying thickness. The effect is of a sealed airless universe, and a positive / negative pattern of doubt is literally raised as to the relevance of the removed objects. Two atmospheric moonscape paintings from the permanent collection have also been hung on the landing. (more…)

VAN Critique March/April 2015: Sabina Mac Mahon at Belfast Exposed Photography and Queen Street Studios & Gallery

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Maimie Campbell, The Death of Cuchulainn, 1929, tempera on board 67 x 55 cm

Sabina Mac Mahon
‘An Ulaid – South Down Society of Modern Art’
Belfast Exposed and Queen Street Studios, Belfast
16 January – 28 February

Sabina Mac Mahon’s research project, An Ulaid – South Down Society of Modern Art, is displayed in two different venues in Belfast: Belfast Exposed Photography and Queen Street Studios & Gallery.

Belfast Exposed’s downstairs gallery bears all the familiar hallmarks of a museum-based show, in which factual information and a collection of artefacts are utilised to construct characters and tell a story. The open layout – vitrines, free-standing and wall-mounted display cases, framed archival photographs and an abundance of wall panels – provides detailed information on a group of seven artists: Maimie Campbell, Pauline Doyle, Edward Hollywood, Sarah Leonard, Iris McAragh, Heber O’Neill and Thomas Pettit, who co-founded the South Down Society of Modern Art in rural Northern Ireland in 1927.

Mac Mahon has included an incredible amount of detail in the texts incorporated in the exhibition, which appear to be thoroughly researched and chart the formation of the group, their inspirations, travels, influences, styles, output and eventual decline in 1930. Hand-written postcards, aged and frayed, contain correspondence between the members whilst abroad. Black and white photographs show a group of smiling young artists and the spaces and places where they grew up and in which their meetings and art making took place. Even the biscuit tin in which Mac Mahon found the memorabilia that initiated her research project sits on a plinth under a protective case.


VAN Critique March/April 2015: Teresa Gillespie at Wexford Arts Centre


Teresa Gillespie, below explanation (clocks stop at 3pm and existence continues), mixed media with found objects and video, 2014/15

Teresa Gillespie
‘below explanation (clocks stop at 3pm and existence continues)’
Wexford Arts Centre
12 January – 7 February 2015

“Phenomenology fails to provide a guaranteed tether to the world and its things. The relationship between consciousness and content remains to be worked out.” (Arthur C. Danto) (1)

The annual Emerging Visual Artist Award (EVAA) is one of the most sought-after visual art opportunities in the country. The winning artist is awarded €5,000 and a solo show at Wexford Arts Centre (WAC). As the 99% majority of visual artists in Ireland could be categorised as ‘emerging’ the profile of artists who do apply is most likely very colourful.

The profiles of EVAA recipients suggest that the term emerging applies to new and relatively young artists. Since 2006, when Seamus Nolan was the inaugural winner, three male and six female artists have taken home the award. Yes, strange to see the gender imbalance swaying the other way for a change in an art context. The last five artists to win the award have been female. A turning of the tide perhaps?

Just over a year after receiving the award in 2013, Teresa Gillespie’s resulting solo exhibition at WAC is a sprawling shag pile of heavily textured and layered materialism. The theory behind the art is derived from Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical novel Nausea (1939), a makeshift narrative delivered as a series of diary entries by a protagonist who one day pulls the scab off existence to find nothingness underneath. This old existential chestnut (a chestnut tree root being the main visual maker of nausea in Nausea) originates in Sartre’s proposition that “existence precedes essence”. In one particularly existential moment the protagonist, Roquentin, observes that “the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a veneer. This veneer had melted, leaving soft, monstrous masses”.(2) (more…)

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: Nom Nom Collective at White Lady Art

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Ropey Smurf, paint and ink on repurposed album cover

Nom Nom Collective

White Lady Art Wellington Quay, Dublin
29 Nov – 23 Dec 2014

The Nom Nom Collective comprises eight artists who have worked together for around a decade, five of whom are included in their current exhibition ‘Nomstalgia’, at White Lady Art on Wellington Quay. Lints (Denmark), Poncho (Ireland), Dr Lamps & Mr Splink (Ireland), Loki (Ireland) and Jine (Ireland / Canada) have taken part. The other three – Askim (Brazil), DS (France / Ireland) and Met10 aka The Assistinator (Denmark) – are not in the show for various reasons. The collective members describe themselves as street and graffiti artists, supplementing their respective practices with jobs in graphic design, illustration, advertising and publishing.

Nom Nom gave themselves a brief for this exhibition, taking the theme of nostalgia as a starting point. Given their age profile, their inspiration stems from the 1980s and early to mid 1990s. Overall, popular media dominates and there is often overlap between artists whose formative years ran in parallel. They pay homage to cartoons, television drama, toys, video games and other iconic phenomena including the old Irish Punt coinage and obsolete technologies.

The White Lady Art Gallery is far from a white cube space. The exhibition literature describes how the work is hung ‘salon style’, which is funny given that a bank of shampoo chairs remains in the gallery, left over from its previous life as a hair salon. Coming from the fine art world, I had to swallow my white cube inclinations and embrace this whole other art culture, sinks and all.

Loki’s oeuvre in watercolour and ink is dominated by super-feminine female characters – sexy, self-possessed, sashaying – as well as male comic heroes that she has converted into wonderfully costumed, super-sexed heroines, including female versions of CP30 and R2D2, the Ninja Turtles, the Ghostbusters and the T101 (in an image created with Sarah Connor). These are exaggerated genotypes – over-styled, big hair, tiny wastes, luscious lips and big saucer eyes that are sometimes blanked out – casting them as them indifferent rather than oblivious. The dynamic of Loki’s characters is tempered by their small scale and delicate hand-made execution. The elegant fine lines, confectionary colours and just a tiny hint of bony fragility successfully camouflages their other worldly potency. The drawing skill and handling of watercolour and ink reveals an accomplished and restrained finesse.

'Lints', Who Killed Robin

‘Lints’, Who Killed Robin

Nintendo, Super Mario, Dungeons and Dragons and other icons of the 1980s occupy the memories of Poncho and Dr Lamp & Mr Splink. Poncho’s heavily outlined ‘portraits’ of power up items from Super Mario Bros in his Mario Slots series, titled Flower, Star and Mushroom, depict strangely misplaced and slightly perplexed looking characters trapped in opaque backgrounds of solid red, blue and green. Like Grandpa Simpson they have become wrinkled and sagging and are surreally melting off the page. Dress Up Arnie is a startled Arnie from Terminator 2 separated from his pants (and his genitals), still waiting it seems, a full generation later, to be reunited with his clothes. Poncho’s work is solid and distinguished, though of an acquired taste.

Dr Lamp & Mr Splink is one artist who switches between street art (Dr Lamp) and graffiti (Mr Splink or Splink). Of all the work in this show his is the most nostalgic in the traditional sense. He has crafted a series of weapons: daggers, swords and knives, all beautifully sculpted in MDF, a most unlikely material. They are touching mementos to the childhood fantasy world of adventure and play, replicating actual weapons from cartoons and toys, rendered trompe l’oeil with paint to appear realistic. Though they are too fragile to play with, they have a warmth and density that is distinctly sculptural. Duck Hunt is a wall-based work that takes on the ‘flying ducks’ ornaments, popular in living rooms throughout the late twentieth century, and featuring in the eponymous 1980s Nintendo game. The ducks are made of composite square MDF units, evoking the primitive pixelated appearance of early video game technology. It is a work of devotion, earnestness, excitement and joy.

Danish artist Lints brings the audience into faraway and unfamiliar worlds. As in Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr Who and other science fiction creations, these are depictions of strange and outlandish creatures in their own environment, faithfully observed according to the ‘prime directive’. The motivation for this work seems less playful and more abstract than works by either Loki, Splink or Poncho. There is a sense of a struggle for invention and a desire to become totally of itself rather than of the influences that clearly run through it. Like Loki, Lints also uses watercolour and the medium lends itself well to his imaginative and colourful compositions.

It is most difficult to pin-point the nostalgic influences in Jine’s dreamy and ephemeral works on paper. Hanging loosely on clips like pages from a sketchbook, the images reveal the process of invention and re-invention filtered through years of exposure to the same sources that appear in the other artists’ works. There is an experimental and fresh approach to mark-making, rendering various tangible textures to the characters and a three dimensional depth. They are stong pieces but could have benefitted from more work.

Nostalgia is a tricky theme to approach for any artist, with far too many opportunities to appear overly-derivative or hackneyed. On the whole the Nom Nom Collective manage to strike a balance between homage and their own personal critique of the material they are working with. ‘Nomstalgia’ is a full and enjoyable show with a lot to see, remember and think about.

Carissa Farrell is a curator based in Dublin 

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: ‘Art & Activism’ – Published by Fire Station Artists’ Studios, 2014

Speakers at the Fire Station Artists' Studios seminar, 2014

Speakers at the Fire Station Artists’ Studios seminar, 2014

Book Review / Anne Mullee
Art & Activism
Editors: Liz Burns and Clodagh Kenny
Published November 2014

The latest publication from Fire Station Artists’ Studios is less of a manifesto or call to arms and more of a provocation asking, ‘what does activism really mean to artists?’ The book is a slim volume containing a collection of interviews and essays. In the introduction co-editor Liz Burns explains that she chose the title as an attempt to open up discourse around the idea of the artist as activist, primarily focusing on work that emerged from the ‘Troubling Ireland’ mobile think tanks, which began in 2010. (more…)

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: Debra Bowden ‘Beginnings’ at the Toradh Gallery

Debra Bowden Cave V11

Debra Bowden, ‘Cave V11’, 2013, pigment, oil bar and mica on paper

Debra Bowden
17 November – 16 December 2014
Toradh Gallery, Ashbourne, Meath

. Why are they such a popular subject for paintings? In many hands, even when well executed, they come across as sentimental, chocolate-box images, anodyne and unchallenging. In Debra Bowden’s work, now showing at the Toradh Gallery in Ashbourne, Co. Meath, they are none of the above. Of the 24 pieces on display, the majority feature this benign-seeming animal, but its representation goes well beyond the simply bovine, reaching as far back as prehistoric times.

In its subject matter, execution and choice of palette, Bowden’s work evokes the primitive cave drawings of Lascaux and Chauvet. These works are fascinating. Were they recordings or decorations? A means of communication or ritual markings? Whatever their purpose, they are a vivid reminder of that most human activity: creation, and a rebuke not to confuse primitive with paltry or puerile.

The warm ochres and rough materials that Bowden uses – sand, pigment, mica – bring us on that heady journey into the depths of prehistoric markings, reminding us of our origins and remonstrating with us for assuming that in our evolution we have somehow left behind the primeval. Recently, there have been anecdotes about cattle becoming more aggressive, explained perhaps by their lack of human contact in an environment which is more industrialised and less peopled than in the past. When Bowden speaks of exploring that “empathetic relationship between man, his environment and the indigenous animals that inhabit it,” she is asking us to examine just how strong that relationship is now, and to wonder what we may have lost over time.

In this exhibition, Bowden shows six images from what is presumably a larger series – the numbering here is not sequential – of which ‘Cave I’ is the most dramatic. It presents to the viewer an animal that, although familiar in form, has nothing of the bucolic or pastoral. This is a beast, a force to be reckoned with, presented in strong, minimal lines and earthy, tactile media. There is confidence and coherence in Bowden’s conjunction of skill and subject matter. (more…)

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: ‘Uchronia’, Sinead McDonald at Draiocht, Co Dublin

Sinead McDonald, Uchronia

Sinead McDonald ‘Self Portrait If I Hadn’t Walked Home Via Camden Street in 1989’

Sinead McDonald
28 November – 7 February 2015
Draiocht, Blanchardstown, Co Dublin

Artist Sinéad McDonald does not like her photo being taken.1 So what motivated McDonald to produce her first solo exhibition made up almost entirely of self-portraits? The answer is that while McDonald is the subject, artist, photographer, director and all-round protagonist in this series of works, they are fictions.

The show’s title, ‘Uchronia’, which literally means other time, draws the viewer into the realm of the ‘what if’. As the press release for the exhibition states, “these images investigate fate, free will and predestination, truth and longing, and look at how decisions, accidents and circumstances can change us utterly. What is it that makes us who we are? What if we could go back and undo things? Do we really have the power to shift our own narratives?”

McDonald is a Dublin-based artist, photographer and digital media producer and a graduate of the Art in the Digital World Masters at NCAD. She describes her research and practice as focusing on issues of authorship and narrative in portraits and images of people, and the creation of identity in online and offline spaces. McDonald’s work incor- porates new technologies: digital production, web based art and physical computing, alongside photography, video and historical lens-based processes. (more…)

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: ‘Studies on Shivering’, Damir Očko at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin

Damir Ocko

Installation View of ‘Studies on Shivering’ at TBG+S, 2014


Damir Očko
Studies on Shivering
21 November 2014 – 24 January 2015
Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin

The clear and ordered manner in which Damir Očko’s works are arranged in ‘Studies on Shivering’ may initially conceal the extent to which Očko intends for these works to slide across into each other and cross-pollinate. This process of synchronous readings makes for a demanding experience in which our own cognitive processes are implicated. A musical score is presented with a poem embedded within it and we read in the opening inter-titles to the film TK that the piece is “for voice and string”. This invitation to experience a work in a way that seems initially incongruous to it, places a hesitancy within the audience – triggering the sense that a more authentic reading of the work may lie elsewhere. This strategy of deflecting hierarchies of meaning permeates the entire show and ultimately forces us to reflect upon how we derive meaning from sensory stimulus and how that might effect our perception of the world. (more…)

VAN Critique Sept/Oct 2014: Eva Rothschild at Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane

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Eva Rothschild, installation view, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, 2014. All works © Eva Rothschild. Courtesy of Stuart Shave / Modern Art, London, Galerie Eve Presenhuber, Zurich, The Modern Institute Glasgow and 303 Gallery, New York.

Eva Rothschild
23 May 2014 – 21 September 2014
Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane

Eva Rothschild’s sculptural practice is positioned within the aesthetic of an earlier generation of artists, whose oeuvre was determined by intrinsic material properties and an obstinate respect for classical modernity. Artists like Richard Deacon, Alison Wilding, Richard Wentworth and, in Ireland, Eilís O’Connell and Maud Cotter, established a tradition in which their innovation was moulded through the inherent characteristics of metal, plastic, leather, paper, wood, plaster, glass, ceramic and so on. The principles of their work seem to be in opposition to current tendencies towards a fragile, unravelling and explosive approach evident in the work of Jessica Stockholder, Sarah Sze and, in Ireland, Tadhg McSweeney and Aleana Egan. In a tentative way Rothschild’s work could be viewed as a bridge across to this fragmented approach, whilst retaining a fundamental rational order. (more…)

VAN Critique Sept/Oct 2014: Caoimhe Kilfeather at Temple Bar Gallery


Camille KIlfeather, ‘This Attentive Place’, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin, 2014

Caoimhe Kilfeather
‘This Attentive Place’
Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin
20 June – 20 August 2014

Caoimhe Kilfeather seems interested in the space around objects as much as the objects themselves. In her recent exhibition a diaphanous blue screen (made from overlapping sheets of oiled and pigmented paper) reshaped the gallery’s coordinates and provided an atmospheric setting for a number of seemingly related though rather mysterious artifacts. (more…)