Temple Bar Gallery + Studios is pleased to present Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s solo exhibition, Inscriptions of an Immense Theatre. Ní Bhriain’s new immersive film is set in three distinct locations, each of which has been transformed into a site of dreamlike strangeness. The film begins from within the interior of the British Museum, slowly revealing the museum’s earliest collection; it moves next to the site of a temporary accommodation centre reminiscent of those used to house asylum seekers in Ireland, the camera gliding past exterior views of its anonymous units; it ends within an empty limestone quarry, tracking the quarry’s rock surfaces and factory interiors. Linking the three seemingly disconnected sites is an exploration of inscription, loss and imperial legacy.
The title of the work derives from the earliest known museological writing in the western world – Samuel Quiccheberg’s Inscriptions or Titles of the Immense Theatre (1565), which details the practice of museums and the organisation of the world’s objects into classes and subclasses. This was essentially an instruction manual for the creation of private collections, with an explicit western imperialist agenda.
The museum, here, is scrutinised as a capsule of this early colonial thinking, which disrupted the continuity of the cultures it claims to preserve. Acting as a metaphor for this troubled narrative are the rock surfaces of the limestone quarry, which reveal the deep time of geological history but, again, through the very destruction of that history; the sprayed industry notation and gouges left by machinery speak of the violent extraction behind this geological revelation. Finally, the accommodation centre speaks to a mundane and vivid reality of displacement – a scenario of human dislocation that in the contemporary moment symbolises the ongoing dark aftermath of Quiccheberg’s imperial theatre.
Inscriptions of an Immense Theatre is composed using long tracking shots, filmed on drone and MOVI devices and combined with extensive CGI. It entices the viewer into a disorientating space, drawing attention to the displacement inherent to representation itself – the slippage between real and illusory, presence and absence. This is done as a means of questioning the constructs and absences that historically underpin cultural representation. Integral to the work is Susan Stenger’s layered soundtrack, which was developed from a study of the patterns of Morse code and the traditional tunes and phrases of Irish keening. The resulting melodic laments are immersed in a grounding of deep drones and atmospheres to create what she describes as a form of ‘sonic geology’. A voiceover, performed by Eileen Walsh, references Quiccheberg’s original museological text through collaged fragments. With the context and ultimate application of the text rendered uncertain, wider implications of cultural control and imperial aspiration are suggested.
A large scale tapestry, The Muses, forms another major part of this exhibition; translated from photo-collage and combining archival colonial photography that exoticises the traditions of non-Western cultures, with imagery of damaged quarry walls, this work continues the central exploration of the relationship between imperial inscription and loss.
Ailbhe Ní Bhriain is an Irish artist working with film and photography. Recent solo exhibitions include Sirius Arts Centre, Cork (2018); Domobaal Gallery, London (2017); The Dock, Carrick-on Shannon (2017); Galway International Arts Festival (2017); and RHA, Dublin (2016). Recent group exhibitions include Pallas Projects, Dublin (2018); Podroom Gallery, Belgrade (2017); The Broad Museum, Michigan (2016/17); The Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork (2016); and Paris Photo (2016). Her work increasingly involves collaboration with musicians and composers, with screenings and installations incorporating recorded sound, live performance and improvisation. Ailbhe Ní Bhriain is represented by Domobaal Gallery, London.
With special thanks to Domobaal, Kris Kelly and Enter Yes. This work is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland Visual Arts Project Award. Temple Bar Gallery + Studios would like to thank ARUP for their support of the exhibition.