VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2014: Mark Durcan at The Lab, Dublin

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Mark Durcan, ‘i’m astonished, wall, that you haven’t collapsed into ruins’ installation view, The lab, Dublin, photo by Michael Holly

Mark Durcan
‘I’m astonished, wall, that you haven’t collapsed into ruins’

‘ The Lab, Dublin’ 
15 November 2013 – 25 January 2014


Time and memory merge into each other; they are like the two sides of a medal. it is obvious enough that without time, memory cannot exist either  – 
Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema, 1989

Having the architectural personality of those transitional spaces in airports where they plonk the vending machines, The Lab, Dublin, is a challenging gallery to theatricise. But Mark Durkan’s installation of projectors, mirrored objects, water dispensers, ceramic bowls of bubbling / vaporous water and a water fountain with mirrored surrounding, has managed to equalise the remoteness of The Lab’s Jane Doe gallery space and transport the imagination somewhere else.

Although experiential, Durkan’s bright lights and vanity box installation is buried in literary devices. The artist’s techno-theatrics come across as a ‘representation’ of the future from the perspective of the 1960s dystopian science-fiction literati or ’70s cinema equivalent, such as William F Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s novel Logan’s Run (1968) and Michael Anderson’s film adaptation (1976). The exhibition title, ‘I’m astonished, wall, that you haven’t collapsed into ruins’, is a partial epigram from a piece of ancient graffiti from Roman Pompeii, which ends with the words: “since you’re holding up the weary verse of so many poets”. The literary extends into role-playing elements, represented by a helmet, bow and jug of water placed on a multi- faceted, mirrored plinth, which ties into Durkan’s dystopian, sci-fi theatre, implying that the spectator- gamer is to hunt / fight for depleted resources. These dystopian imaginings also suggest the ‘Dying Earth’ sub-genre of science-fiction / fantasy, from HG Wells’ novella The Time Machine (1895) to Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007). The combination of such themes and opulent display unavoidably places the The Hunger Games on the tip of one’s tongue.

With winter’s shortened days upon us, Durkan’s exhibition at The Lab is also one with two faces. During the day the projected and refracted light achieves a visual conceit, as if time, marked by an accelerated orbiting sun, is passing thousand-fold overhead without nightly reprieve. However, the isolation and remoteness perpetuated by Durkan’s orbiting facets of light is built on the balance between daylight and digital light – one chasing the other around the gallery. While at nightfall that balance is lost. This is especially the case with Durkan’s water feature in the ‘dark room’ of The Lab, which lacks the diurnal banality of the main gallery, descending instead into a hyper-theatrical disco or UV-lit nightclub toilet where veins are easy to miss.

At the furtherest point from the gallery’s entrance, the artist’s scattered elements coalesce to form a ‘drum-kit’ of mirrored surfaces. Water being a visual and auditory component throughout, Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975) appears in the intertextual frame of reference. In particular the film’s barn fire sequence, in which an implosion of oneiric and non-chronological images are further fragmented through the addition of water and mirrors. The collision between memory and the present to form a ‘crystallising’ future (defined by uncertainty rather than clarity) in both Tarkovsky’s and Durkan’s visual acrobatics, is best described by Gilles Deleuze and his equally agile concept of the ‘crystal-image’, “It is itself the vanishing limit between the immediate past which is no longer and immediate future which is not yet… [a] mobile mirror which endlessly reflects perception in recollection”.*

An exhibition that feels positively cold, soulless, and devoid of life or eventual life – even though the sound of life-activating water tinkles around The Lab – Durkan’s description in the press release of a future fantasy in which the “human population has dramatically decreased” rings true in the experiential encounter with this artwork.

However, Pádraic E Moore’s commissioned ‘letter’ response to the artwork (placed in the gallery) is an unnecessary inclusion to what is a crystal clear vision. This is not a criticism of Moore’s prose but a criticism of the strategy of placing a wandering textual agent within the gallery environment. The text, which begs to be read, distracts you from what are wonderful visual theatrics that can be experienced and ‘read‘ in equal measure. Being commissioned rather than compelled to write, like some new or future world explorer or archaeologist, compounds the redundancy of this document. Moore’s text has the potential of reducing everything down to theoretical smoke and mirrors. However, it does not spoil what is a sublime experience. Unlike the majority of artists before him, Durkan succeeds in transporting the spectator to a parallel imagining by transforming the ugly corporeality of The Lab into a mere shadow puppet of its former self.

James Merrigan is co-editor of Fugitive Papers and art critic at billionjournal.com

Note: *Gilles Deleuze, Cinema II, Continuum, 2005, 79

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