‘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.