Golden Thread Gallery
‘Convergence: Literary Art Exhibitions’
Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast
16 June – 6 August 2011
Curated by Dr Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, ‘Convergence: Literary Art Exhibitions’ attempts – and I would argue, succeeds – in exploring the way(s) in which many contemporary artists appropriate from; and are inspired by, various works of literature. It considers the many relationships between art, literature and exhibiting, opening up potential ways of thinking about and / or of seeing these relationships. The narrative is of a cyclical nature, reflecting the process of making work from work, which in turn gives rise to other work and so on.
The exhibition is divided into four rooms, with an additional two reading spaces, and two more separate works – one of which, by Michalis Pichler, serves as an introduction to the exhibition, as a kind of prelude or prologue. The second, by Eric Zboya, emphasises the cyclical nature of the show, joining beginning and end and signifying a visual invitation to start again. Another element of the show was simple shelf in the foyer housing the sort of tourist material often associated with visiting literary monuments or museums, highlights the distance between that kind of material and the conceptual works in this exhibition.
The first work encountered is a Michalis Pichler’s Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2009) – a musical piece represented on video. The title refers to a visual poem by Stephane Mallarmé, which had been made into a new work by Broodthaers, blacking out the words into a graphic pattern. Broodthaers’ piece in turn was reinterpreted by Cerith Wyn Evans (who has work in another room), who cut out these black lines. Finally (or maybe not) Pichler has mounted these cut out pages on an automatic piano mechanism, essentially making the poem a piece of music. This intriguing and satisfying piece exemplifies the kind of layering and multiple readings of work which underpin Convergence.
There is a quiet logic to the layout of the show, relationships which link one room to the next or refer back to other ideas already expressed. The tendency is to lose yourself minutely in each individual work and come back to the space to realise the broader connections between that piece and others in the room, an overview of how things fit together, a sort of micro and macro view. Julie Louise Bacon’s intriguing works, Lonesome No More (Or An Homage to Kurt Vonnegut) and The Twins (both 2011), reflect this double perspective on the world through her two viewfinders, one of slides of the New York skyline, the other of the earth from space. The jigsaw puzzles of war-torn remains in Afghanistan are re-assembled as swirls on the wall, reminiscent of galaxies in space or being sucked into a vortex. A looking from without and within. Vonnegut’s black humour is reflected in the afghan carpet with motifs of tanks and guns and the twin tower plinths on which the puzzle boxes sit
Several trains of thought run through this exhibition, which sometimes accentuate the separate rooms, sometimes override the distinctions between them. The concept of monument is teased out in several of the works, especially those of Sean Lynch and Andrea Theis, exploring how writers or works of literature are honoured, questioning how the canon is understood, challenging that and re-interpreting it. These explorations highlight the need for multiple readings of work, that no single interpretation should or could be absolute or final. A piece of work made from or inspired by a writer or work of literature may after all be the most appropriate form of tribute. Monuments imply fixed, final, dead. That cannot be said of literature which is renegotiated, reborn with each new reading, encouraging critical consideration of the world we inhabit, when we re-emerge from this other space.
Re-writing, close reading, drawing practice, inscribing and writing by artists: all are represented. The relationship between writing and art has a rich and broad base and although it is not new, as evidenced by the various generations of artists (and writers) represented (and referenced) in this exhibition, it owes much to the work of writers, artists and even composers from the 60s and 70s, including John Cage, James Joyce, Stephane Mallarmé, Kurt Schwitters, among many others, who were then beginning to explore interdisciplinary practice. Curators such as Harold Szeemann have explored this area, but only in the last few years do we see these references to literature curated into international and highly regarded exhibitions. What was once considered sterile or non-political is now being appreciated for its depth and breadth, its ability to consider the human condition, how we think, how we communicate with each other. The relationship of language to human existence is central and in my opinion this exhibition, which brings such a diverse range of works and artists together with this central concern, is an important one. It is an exhibition which demands time, but one which is dynamic, inspiring and long overdue. You will want to see it a second time.
‘Convergence: Literary Art Exhibitions’ is on show at Limerick City Gallery of Art during September 2011.
‘Fish Flesh and Fowl’ at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast is a retrospective of Dermot Seymour’s painting, spanning four decades. The show is large, with over 50 paintings and to see his work en masse in this way, it is hard not to be impressed by his singular, unchanging approach to the subject matter: the politics and culture of Ireland.
The politics of Northern Ireland has shaped much of the identity of the arts scene there since the 1980s, and Seymour has managed to carve out a particular niche within that canon. His detached, starkly realist style of painting, populated with animals and headless figures tottering precariously on precipices, sit somewhat uneasily with Northern Irish political artwork. The curator, Jim Smyth, remarks in the accompanying catalogue:
“In the sense that Seymour considers painting to be a means to an end, a way of transforming ideas into tangible form, he stands outside the mainstream tradition”.1
Seymour himself sees his work as closer to the tradition of magic realism, which would seem a much fairer assessment than the largely conflicting critical responses to his work, which have situated him within the realms of photorealism, surrealism and even postmodernism. Echoes of Frida Kahlo’s straightforward representational approach to imagery is evident in much of Seymour’s work. Yet, where her work focuses on the deeply personal, Seymour’s cool detached eye never seems to turn towards the self. His personal vision charts the world around him, the politics and landscape of Northern Ireland in the 1980s and the 1990s examined with unflinching rigour.
For this exhibition, the curator has examined what he considers the four distinct phases in the development of Seymours’s work. The first phase is the early works that explore ‘the troubles’ and the conflicting identity of Northern Ireland, as seen through the eyes of a young man from the working class, loyalist Shankhill Road community. The second phase – from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s – explores the political landscape of Northern Ireland, which perhaps to an outsider, is a bewildering and densely tangled affair. As Smyth says
“It is the juxtaposition of symbolic images, historical references a rag bag of illusions, an upended cabinet of curiosities that draw the confused viewer into these paintings”.2
One particular painting from this era, View from a helicopter with sophisticated surveillance equipment, is a particular comment on the British military presence in Northern Ireland. The image is split between a close-up of a woman’s legs and an aeriel view of fields. This impossible dual perspective could be read as a metaphor for the convoluted politics of Northern Ireland. The third phase of Seymour’s work sees his move from Belfast to the rural west of Ireland. Here the paintings explore wider issues of man’s inhumanity to man with themes of war and politics set in a wider context, albeit through twilight zones populated with animal and bird metaphors and allusions. His more recent phase, in particular the ‘Eyed’ series, focuses on portraiture. Through it, he has explored the corruption and excesses of Irish society and politics under the ‘celtic tiger’. Portraits from politics and media, such as those of Brian Cowen and Irish footballer Roy Keane, sit happily beside all manner of beasts and fowl. In one particular painting, from the series ‘Hiberno God’, a baboon stares wistfully out of the frame, not at us the viewer but beyond, perhaps at the world at large or his place within it. His eyes glint with an uncanny humanity that is absent from many of the human faces.
The exhibition is collated from both public and private collections with contributions in the catalogue from Ireland’s leading literary figures, Seamus Heaney and Dermot Healy. The show will travel widely in Ireland and also to the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.
Many critics have commented on the literary nature of Seymours’s work and his work has graced the covers of literary anthologies. But perhaps it is best to let the pictures be pictures and express something in that way, rather than be reduced to language. Seamus Heaney says of the work, “What I admire about Seymour is that he has no obvious design upon me but leaves me alone with things that are entirely persuasive in their own right”3
One of the more recent paintings, Hiberno Head, expresses something of what Heaney describes. A headless figure presents a fish to us – the viewers – from a twilight landscape. The image is in one way powerfully literal, but also expresses something nameless, something beyond words. Heaney writes: “His [Seymour’s] technique in the immediate painterly sense seems to me unquestionable, but he has a technique in the more important sense that the poet Patrick Kavanagh once assigned to it , when he defined it as ‘a method for getting at life’. And the fact of the matter is that getting at life is extremely difficult”.
1 Jim Smyth Dermot Seymour ,‘Fish, Flesh and Fowl’: A Retrospective, 2011, 11
2 Ibid. 12
3 Seamus Heaney on Dermot Seymour 2011
VAI at Arts Council Northern Ireland’s Artist Career Enhancement Scheme, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast
In support of the recent launch of the Arts Council’s Artist Career Enhancement Scheme, artists are invited to a series of afternoon talks at the Golden Thread Gallery which will focus on professional development of artistic practice within the Visual Arts.
The event will feature Noel Kelly (Director, Visual Artists Ireland), Peter Richards (Director, Golden Thread Gallery) and Debra Mulholland (Business Development Manager, ACNI).
Noel’s subject is the building of curatorial relationships between galleries and artists.
The event will take place tomorrow, Thursday 31st March 2-4pm at Golden Thread Gallery