Crawford Art Gallery, Cork
10 April – 13 June 2015
The elegant first floor landing and Gibson galleries at the Crawford have been emptied of their fine paintings and ‘objets d’art’ to accommodate Kathy Prendergast’s exhibition ‘OR’, which also extends into the adjoining modern gallery.
At the centre of the landing, Prendergast’s After All (2015) is an intervention in the Gibson Cabinet, made specially to hold collectables donated by the eponymous patron of the gallery. A single white antique plate is retained on a mirrored shelf at one end, with a crescent moon outlined in blue. At the other end, four exquisite watercolours by the artist, Planets (2015), are laid two-by-two, depicting varied circular shapes against a dark background.
The wide central shelves of the cabinet initially appear empty until random circular outlines of the removed objects come into focus, highlighted by layers of ash dust of varying thickness. The effect is of a sealed airless universe, and a positive / negative pattern of doubt is literally raised as to the relevance of the removed objects. Two atmospheric moonscape paintings from the permanent collection have also been hung on the landing.
In Gibson Gallery I, a high-ceilinged rectangular room, Eclipse (2014 – 15) dominates the space. 27 standard desk globes of varying sizes are arranged on a thick rectangular table on two trestles. The globes and table are painted in matt black. The title of the work infers a closing off of light and, by extension, of knowledge of the world. On the facing side wall, The World in 12 Pieces (2014 – 15) is a symmetrical arrangement of 12 silver metal frames for the Carte Generale du Monde, fueilles 1 – 12. The 12 world maps have been removed to reveal the painted wall behind; the frames retaining only the white mounts with titles of the continents and mapping references.
In these works, Prendergast has extended her usual cartographic manipulation to a complete erasure of reference, giving greater emphasis to form over content. There is an underlying doubt about the usefulness and notions of certainty around maps and mapping. The third work in this room, Linz / Wein (2014) features an Atlas of Europe laid face up in a wall-mounted glass case, its two opened pages depicting part of Austria inked in black with its many settlements picked out in white, like a shimmering constellation.
The spherical motif reappears in Gibson Gallery II, a high square space containing two works. In the centre a small plinth supports I (2014). Eight empty glass domes of the kind used to cover taxidermy specimens are placed neatly one inside the other, reducing in size each time. This simple piece conveys very effectively the impression of receding orbits in empty space.
A continuous low-level whirring sound draws us to look upwards – no title (2015), consists of a continuous line of 100 cream battery-powered clocks placed high around the four walls. The clock faces have been replaced by blank plastic discs painted to match the wall, the absent mechanisms reinforcing a sense of measureless time.
The final work, Questions, Questions (2014 – 2015), occupies the cavernous modern gallery. Salvaged strips of wood, stained black, are placed tightly together to form a narrow, irregularly edged walkway, which is raised slightly and laid at an angle across the centre of the space. Above the pathway for its full length, multiple sheets of tracing paper are suspended in pairs from tension wires, containing text outlined on black strips. The two angled side walls of the gallery are painted dark grey, anchoring this work very effectively in a space that could otherwise have overwhelmed it.
Multiple questions and statements are posed on the sheets of paper – researched by the artist or provided by friends at her request. Giving voice to the themes raised in the other rooms, they include: “What is creativity?”; “How did we arrive at this place? “; “Do we know more than we used to?”; “What is the future of history?” and “If humanity’s great moral strides were, not long before, impossible to believe, the trick question is: what’s next?”. One especially pertinent quandry reads “In a disenchanted, 21st century world, how can we re-find a sense of amazement, wonder and awe at the mystery of our own and the Universe’s existence?”. This question underlines one of the central concerns of the exhibition, namely the need to step back from our known certainties of the world and our acquired senses of knowledge and control in order to rediscover a sense of real-time and rootedness in place.
In this setting, the floating pathway leads to associations with ancient roadways uncovered from bogs, raising questions as to who travelled along it and what their worldly concerns were. The questions posed along Prendergast’s pathway take on a timeless resonance in this setting, providing a strong metaphor for the exhibition as a whole. With minimal intervention in simple materials and elegantly curated by Ingrid Swenson, this exhibition reminds us of the limitations of our universal knowledge to address the most basic human issues.
Colm Desmond is a Dublin-based artist who has also written reviews for Enclave Review and Recirca.com