VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2014: ‘A Lamb Lies Down’ at Broadstone Studios, Dublin

Foreground: Vanessa Donoso lopez, Tihunita – or the fake lamb, 2013; Background: Martin Healy, Genesis 28:12, single channel video, 8.20 min, photo by Paul McCarthy

‘A Lamb Lies Down’
(David Eager-Maher, Mark Mcgreevy, Lee Welch, Rachael Corcoran, Adrian duncan, Beagles and Ramsay, Martin Healy, Ricky Adam, Vanessa Donoso López, Jonathan Mayhew)
Broadstone Studios, Dublin
4 – 30 November 2014

This exhibition borrows its title from a double album (A Lamb lies down in Broadway as one of the ten) by Genesis, released in 1974. The narrative, written and sung by larger-than-life showman Peter Gabriel (about the short life of a Puerto Rican youngster living rough in New York City), unfolds on the first LP, while elaborate instrumental music takes up the second. This kind of music with its now mythical genealogy – from Moody Blues to Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who and Yes to Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Genesis – has a name: prog rock. Suspended in an ever receding past, it has captured the imagination of Paul Hallahan, the curator of the show, which is situated not in white cube grunge, but in a Victorian building, still retaining some of its original fittings, itself an echo of a time long gone. The links are loose; why shouldn’t they be? Dualities come to mind: outward appearance, inner presence or the impact of nineteenth-century popular music (opera) on rock, for example.

I liked the honesty of Adrian Duncan’s daring Romantic Escape (2013), a construction so elegant as to defeat the geometric pattern of the homely carpet, where simplicity signifies itself in a delicate split balance of forces between arte povera materials: a transparent plane held by strips of wood, somehow fastened in fragile ways.

After speaking to the curator about the background to Jonathan Mayhew’s ‘If you loved me, you would admit that you’re ashamed of me’ (2013), I considered the idea of being more than one person at any one time – the person you once were overlapping with who you are now. The work comprises three sets of still shots taken from a documentary, as far as I could gather, which form a dual portrait of a couple, former punks, using double exposures.

‘A Lamb Lies Down’, installation view, photo by Paul McCarthy

It’s nice to see oil paintings at a time when well over half of Dublin Contemporary, for example, was lens-based media. But I must admit, Mark McGreevy’s bizarre Comfort of a Garden Shed (2008 – 09), with its morphed couple, half human, half not, in an even stranger landscape, was enigmatic. Likewise, David Eager-Maher’s Post (2013) with its bird’s eye view of a troubled land overcast by skies laden with purple clouds. I thought of estrangement or maybe felt estranged by these images, which seemed to relate, remotely, to the nightmare of Rael’s descent into psychological and existential darkness on the second LP. I asked Paul if I needed to know the lyrics. He didn’t think so, but maybe I did.

In Lee Welch’s set of photographs, Que sçais-je? Other men’s flowers, Behold the hands (How they promise (2013), it felt less important to know how title and image combine. This strikes me as an intervention on the photograph as document of the real; circling, marking or pointing something out with a painter’s brush marks another real, overlaid on the surface glazing the art paper. My impression? That the gaze is fixed, again, on smaller things. This was a far cry from the Baroque enacted in the Beagles & Ramsay video Glitter Desert (2006), where two heads in wigs peer at you in an act ever deferred, their bodies seemingly buried, like the character Winnie in Sam Beckett’s Happy Days (1961), but speechless, almost motionless, in a glittering landscape. Similarly, the eighteenth-century worlds within worlds of Vanessa Donoso López’s Tihunita – or the fake lamb (2013), with its four concentric glass bells and bizarre commedia dell’arte figurine wearing a ruff, which are only partly human.

There’s no denying that Ricky Adam’s Punk is Dead (2010) states a fact in a harsh shot – but why? It strikes me as a provocation: if prog rock is no more than an empty shell these days, punk is no better. Anyway, for all its stage rebellion, did it ever have the guts to get to the real African sound behind rock and the other creative dimensions of world music?

There is no duality, though, in the soundscape which often creates a discordant Babel in shows featuring videos. Here, the sound of The Hollies playing in Rachael Corcoran’s video It never rains in Southern California (2012), alternates with Martin Healy’s Genesis video (2006). Corcoran’s is bright but tragic in juxtaposing a concert with a NASA shuttle disaster culminating in the loss of lives; while Martin Healy’s desaturated, almost nostalgic sepia hits another chord, engaging a modern band to play Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven. Corcoran’s piece reminds me of decades of MTV escapism, relentless pop videos playing on regardless of the real world; Healy’s makes me think of an idealised past.

David Brancaleone lectures at LIT-LSAD. His writing has appeared in Circa, Vertigo, Experimental Conversatons, Irish Marxist Review, Enclave Review and VAN. He is also a filmmaker.

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