VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2015: ‘Studies on Shivering’, Damir Očko at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin

Damir Ocko
Installation View of ‘Studies on Shivering’ at TBG+S, 2014


Damir Očko
Studies on Shivering
21 November 2014 – 24 January 2015
Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin

The clear and ordered manner in which Damir Očko’s works are arranged in ‘Studies on Shivering’ may initially conceal the extent to which Očko intends for these works to slide across into each other and cross-pollinate. This process of synchronous readings makes for a demanding experience in which our own cognitive processes are implicated. A musical score is presented with a poem embedded within it and we read in the opening inter-titles to the film TK that the piece is “for voice and string”. This invitation to experience a work in a way that seems initially incongruous to it, places a hesitancy within the audience – triggering the sense that a more authentic reading of the work may lie elsewhere. This strategy of deflecting hierarchies of meaning permeates the entire show and ultimately forces us to reflect upon how we derive meaning from sensory stimulus and how that might effect our perception of the world.

A group of nine collage works on paper constitute the TK Scores. Here, a poem is arranged in sequence across nine sheets of paper; interspersed with the poem is an experimental music score.   While the score is formally interesting, containing curiosities such as gold and silver foil in amongst its furious lattice work of black marks, as an audience we also know that what we are looking at is code.

We feel that a truer experience of the piece would be an aural one – listening to musicians navigate and interpret the musical text. There are similar deflections at work in seeing a poem printed as an art-piece. To experience the full force of both mediums, they need to be embodied: activated by being played or read. It is as though the physical manifestation of these works in the exhibition can be compared to seeing the tip of an iceberg above water. We suspect that a more ‘true’ or authentic understanding of what we’re seeing is present elsewhere and what is made physically apparent serves only as an indicator of the work’s existence, not its true nature.

As we journey further into the exhibition we realise that this emphasis upon our own sensory mechanisms is the fulcrum around which this exhibition turns. Očko’s film TK is located at the centre of the exhibition in a dark and enclosed space. The film depicts people shivering. One sequence within the film features a number of men standing, close to naked, in a frozen landscape, fixed to the spot and shaking with the cold; this sequence is inter-cut with a close-up of a shaking elderly hand, attempting to write on a sheet of white paper. Beyond the obvious harshness of what we’re viewing, a more unsettling impression develops: that the stressed bodies we are witnessing represent a wider sense of unrest and incapacity within more bodies than just the ones depicted in TK.

A strange and provocative dichotomy springs from the film. On one hand Očko places trust in the audience’s ability to navigate the complex sensory world presented both in TK and in the wider exhibition. He trusts that we can leap from the stimulus of poetry to projected images and back to our memories of a printed musical score on the wall outside. However, in TK we see two groups of people who appear to embody potential, yet are presented enacting struggle: the cold men are all young and fit, yet have been fixed to the spot; all they can do is shiver in the face of their extreme circumstances. Meanwhile, the elderly hand struggles to enact one of our greatest human achievements: writing. Presenting such disempowered figures at the centre of a show that also trusts in our capabilities as sensitive and thinking beings invokes difficult questions around the ways in which power is distributed and embodied.

Documents that were derived during the making of TK are on display in the gallery and foreground a sense of the art objects in ‘Studies on Shivering’ as fleeting and unstable repositories for the ideas underpinning them. A black and white photograph describes what we understand to be one of the cold men in TK departing the film-location with a duvet wrapped about him and a car in the distance. A group of 16 large white sheets of paper containing what we believe to be the shaky and barely legible writing created in the film are on display across one wall of the gallery. While these Untitled works seem to authenticate the experiences in TK, they also suggest that, although the film is positioned centrally within the exhibition, the creative impetus in the making of this film is resonating out from it, finding material expression as it departs from these documents, and we imagine this creative energy moving and echoing through future materials not yet evident.

A fascinating polyphonic experiment is set in motion through ‘Studies on Shivering’. Like the simultaneous playing out of musical melodies, we are called on to allow each of the parallel moments within the exhibition to reside within us and ultimately challenge and deepen our understanding of the ways in which images, sounds and ideas move through us.

Sarah Lincoln is a visual artist based in West Waterford.

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