‘Reflections on things yet to come’ was a solo exhibition by Fiona Mulholland, which presented new sculptural works developed during her two-month residency at Leitrim Sculpture Centre. On entering the gallery space my gaze was firmly fixed on a horizontal strip of blue neon lighting, which drew me nearer, until some words could be deciphered. A six-foot high billboard-style frame, constructed from painted steel, supported the question Are we there yet? The luminous lettering exuded an audible electric crackle – an iconic sound associated with this type of retro signage.
In the background, the rear wall was guarded by some clear corrugated perspex sheets, with greater opacity achieved in the places where overlapping occurred. As a ‘drawing’, it was animated by blue streaks darting across its reflective surface. As an urban boundary marker, it indicated that I should turn back.
Behind me a mass of transparent three-dimensional structures were assembled on the floor, stacked, layered, and functioning almost as a diffuser, absorbing, reflecting, and distorting the light in the space, while casting dramatic shadows. Visually, I interpreted Mirage as a shimmering cityscape. Geographically, it was a dense floating island.
During my initial movement through the space, a luminous orange sunset had revealed itself to my right, becoming visible through a large gap between the partitioning walls of the adjacent space. I made my way towards the blazing source, anticipating heat, but detecting instead a cold draft. On my approach, I could hear the low whirring hum of an electric fan, and the sound of something synthetic flapping in its breeze.
Of things yet to come was a static sunset, composed of industrial steel gridding and layers of amber perspex, illuminated from behind by fluorescent strip-lighting placed at floor level. It made me think of post-card images, sun-sets at iconic sites: the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal. The re-production and circulation of such imagery serves to perpetuate a false reality. Fully aware of its artificial state, I marvelled at its beauty all the same, and basked for a moment in its radiance.
To the right of the ‘sun’, the tall figure of a tree imposed itself upon the space, projecting oriental silhouettes onto a fabric screen (installed to block out the street level window). Weeping and Willows portrayed the adornment of an already existing ‘found tree’. A heavy base secured the tree trunk firmly at an oblique angle, appearing solid and immovable, contrasting with the flimsiness of
its jangling transparent leaves. These were cut from recycled water bottles, each threaded into position with steel wire and brass tubing. When replicated in such a way, the universal symbols of ‘sun’ and ‘tree’ became interestingly kitsch, a departure that I found particularly appealing. The work considered fake states of being: escapism as a parody on reality, tourism as a human process of self-colonisation. If the first space was a monument to urban existence, then the second was its exotic destination.
A third space, located to the left of the main entrance, contained two wall-mounted works (Untitled 1 & 2), which were sculptural drawings constructed from orange security netting. The strong curatorial engagement that permeated the other spaces was lacking in this area, and those particular pieces were less appealing, feeling like appendages to the main event.
As an artist, Mulholland has displayed a durational curiosity about the ephemera of modern life, combining found objects with construction materials, producing a sculptural ‘bricolage’ aesthetic. ‘Reflections on things yet to come’ was a continuation of this dialogue, but her inquiry felt more urgent. The work, whilst retaining its tactile appeal, displayed a paring back of elements that not only extended the sensory pleasure of the encounter, but also allowed the symbolism in the work to resonate more clearly and freely, with distinct contemporary relevance.
Mulholland’s use of neon signage stands out as being undeniably ‘of the moment’. Frieze Art Fair 2011 show-cased a large amount of textbased work, with extensive use of neon lettering employed by artists such as Cerith Wyn Evans, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Tracey Emin. This contemporary re-appropriation of neon is not concerned with nostalgia, rather, it is a mode of declaration that subverts any commodity function, sign-posting instead the stark truths that persist beneath the surface. Are we there yet? articulates a universal impatience. It directs the viewer to a vision of ‘paradise’ – once a simplistic image, functioning in the mind of the city-dweller as a site of liberation – but in late-capitalism, ‘paradise’ is exposed as a displaced, artificial landscape, more problematic than our immediate terrain.