Odile Blanc, a farmer from a French Alpine village in John Berger’s story, Once in Europa, recounts to her brother a riddle: ‘four point to the sky, four walk in the dew and four have food in them; all twelve make one – what is it?’
The answer, she tells her brother, who sighs loudly to show he has heard this too many times before, is a cow. ‘It has two horns, two ears pointing up, four legs for walking on, and four teats with milk in them.’
Riddles play with conceptual boundaries, and force us to acknowledge that language is not as stable as it seems. Modern art is not a riddle to be solved, but it does play with conceptual boundaries and it can force us to see the world in new and unexpected ways.
This selection of works from LCGA’s permanent collection counterpose a range of abstract, oblique and playful perspectives next to Mary Burke’s series ‘At Home on the Farm’.
Dark bounding contours appear as a ‘slow friesian train’ moving towards the edge of abstraction in John Shinnors’ Cows Come Home, while Michael Warren opens up a range of rich, interpretative possibilities with elegant minimalism in his work.
Revealing two corners, Helena Gorey subtly distinguishes ‘lawn’ from ‘field’ in her witty monochrome. It is what lies beneath the surface that preoccupies Nano Reid in her modernist mosaic, Ancient Land, capturing rich soil and red earth through thick, expressive marks. Piet Moog, meanwhile, uses the primitive language of cave painting to remind us of our ancient, spiritual relationship to ‘beasts of burden’.
Rendered in planes of colour, shape and form, these abstract and semi-abstract works defamiliarise and destabilise their subjects, preventing us from feeling ‘at home on the farm’. In doing so, they can help us to see the farm, and our relationship to it, anew.
The title is taken from the poem ‘Cows’ by Martina Evans’, All Alcoholics are Charmers, Anvil Press 1998
Artists included: Augustus N. Burke, Helen Commerford, Seamus Farrell, Tom Fitzgerald, Helena Gorey, Martin Healy, Ronnie Hughes, Mark Joyce, Cecil King, Arno Kramer, Nick Miller, Piet Moog, Deirdre O’Mahony, Nano Reid, Tom Ryan, John Shinnors, Donald Teskey, Maighread Tobin, Lorraine Wall, Michael Warren.
Virtual tour of exhibition:
Caption for image: Martin Healy, Augurs III, 2018, b/w photograph, 148 x 118.5cm, (purchased 2020) & Tom Fitzgerald, Apparatus No. 13, Arch, 1989, limestone, steel, wood & paint, 70 x 100 x 40cm, (purchased 1990) part of LCGA’s Permanent Collection