23 May 2014 – 21 September 2014
Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane
Eva Rothschild’s sculptural practice is positioned within the aesthetic of an earlier generation of artists, whose oeuvre was determined by intrinsic material properties and an obstinate respect for classical modernity. Artists like Richard Deacon, Alison Wilding, Richard Wentworth and, in Ireland, Eilís O’Connell and Maud Cotter, established a tradition in which their innovation was moulded through the inherent characteristics of metal, plastic, leather, paper, wood, plaster, glass, ceramic and so on. The principles of their work seem to be in opposition to current tendencies towards a fragile, unravelling and explosive approach evident in the work of Jessica Stockholder, Sarah Sze and, in Ireland, Tadhg McSweeney and Aleana Egan. In a tentative way Rothschild’s work could be viewed as a bridge across to this fragmented approach, whilst retaining a fundamental rational order.
Rothschild’s exhibition at the Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane exemplifies the kind of gravitas that underpinned classical approaches to sculpture. Recurring characteristics of weight, density and sturdiness are explored through robust materials such as industrial grade metal cabling, steel, concrete, jesmonite, leather and a simple palette of mostly black, punctuated with green, red and purple. Motifs and forms that appear throughout the exhibition like circles, rings, hooks, links, triangles, knots, tangles and hollowed out ovoid forms suggest that meaning teeters between a ritualised adoration of modernism and an otherworldly metaphysical philosophy.
In the most expansive work in the exhibition, Lantern, three elongated rhombus armatures descend from the ceiling to the floor in the form of a chain of metal rods, links and hooks that eventually meet the ground to encircle three other pieces inside its oval boundary. One can’t help thinking of religious and new age practices of circling, holding hands, taking Communion, singing and worship. Rothschild’s stated interest in the romantic, spiritual and esoteric qualities that can be attached to inanimate objects runs throughout this exhibition.
She points to Greek architecture as a reference citing Klassix in particular. Made from corrugated cardboard and polystyrene it’s title and form could either be read as a votive homage or humorous play on the legacy of classical architecture. Overlapping hanging circles in other works evoke the modern Olympic symbol into which she intervenes with esoteric and mystical appendages.
Half Sun (2014) acts as an anchor to the exhibition as a whole, hanging as a centrepiece on an end wall and the final point in the gallery spaces. It is a large circle made of rich soft leather. The top half is dark and warm and begins to shimmer at the horizontal diametre point where long thongs of brighter coloured leather are knotted into the work. They spill downwards and outwards in a cascade of light flooding from the depths of the circle. Like a Cathedral rose window this work resonates spirituality.
Restless I (2014), a wall based work that sits into a corner just below ‘normal’ viewing height is sublimely beautiful. It is made up of two equilateral triangles whose sides meet along the line of the corner. It is faultlessly fabricated and covered in a deeply reflective black gloss coating. From its interior a series of elegant square bars jut out in triangular spikes. An internal energy is created emanating from the fathomless black colour, the multiple reflections and the diamond shaped vertical plinth that supports it. Its dynamic propulsion and seductive power is irresistible.
The exhibition also includes a small selection of photographs – People with Snakes and a video work. The video work is an experiment that lives out a curator’s nightmare in which a group of 6 – 12 year old boys were invited to experience Rothschild’s work in a pristine gallery – unsupervised, except for the camera filming them. In a frighteningly short period they descend into destructive mayhem, flatten everything in sight and play football with Rothschild’s ovoid forms.
Titled Boys with Sculptures it is enigmatic and puzzling, made even more so by an accompanying confessional documentary of the boys trying to deconstruct, interpret and contextualise their behaviour. As the mother of a seven year old boy it seems unfair, and aside from clichéd notions of boyish instincts and cynical poke at the dominance of men in the art world it is hard to decipher a more specific motivation for the work. However, the photographs counterpoint the video and comprise a series of delightful portraits of happy individuals and families handling snakes. It seems a straightforward way of illustrating tolerance and acceptance .
Overall this is a formidable exhibition by an artist who has persuasive and cogent vision. But perhaps most of all it is her fascination for the mysteries of human instincts and desires that drives her work.
Carissa Farrell is a curator based in Dublin