‘New Irish Works’
Published July 2013
PhotoIreland 2013 spanned Dublin, Limerick and Cork, occupying multiple venues throughout these cities. The festival was ambitious in its scope and the variety of lens-based media, which included the work of established international artists such as Gerard Byrne at Temple Bar Gallery and Willie Doherty at IMMA, Earlsfort Terrace. The exhibition ‘New Irish Works’ was a key element of PhotoIreland 2013, presenting photographic projects by 25 emerging artists, selected from an open submission by a panel of curators. The show was split across venues in each of the three cities, giving each artist the opportunity to present substantial bodies of work. *
New Irish Works, the stand-alone publication of the same name, offers an overview, bringing together all the works on show. Whilst documentary photography features strongly in the selection, themes such as estrangement, displacement and the sublime are explored in more fragmented, esoteric ways.
There’s also a strong interest in narrative, memory and representation of place. The Spanish philosopher George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.** Recollections of past atrocities are symbolically alluded to in the work of Yugoslavian-born Drangna Jurisic. Her strange, disconnected images evoke recollections and memories of Yugoslavia and explore the histories of the representation and the politics of place. Linda Brownlee also explores place, but through a series of intimate portraits of teenagers on Achill. Brownlee’s subjects are placed as mainly solitary figures and, while alluding to issues of isolation and how little there might be to do in this wildly remote area for teenagers today, the work also seems to conjure up a generic sense of angst that forms part of the teenage experience. Another and quite different series of portraits is presented by Grainne Quinlan. The Strawboys examines a dying Irish tradition that reflects the changes in Irish society; the Strawboys have passed from being a symbol of festivity and celebration to something strange and sinister.
The work of Barry W Hughes melds rumour and fiction in his exploration of events surrounding the cast and crew of the 1956 film The Conquerer, who were thought to have been affected by radiation emanating from a US government atomic testing site nearby to the film set. Through a series of pixellated TV images, Hughes’ images ‘re-narrate’ the film, which was directed by Dick Powell and starred John Wayne and Susan Hayward. The eeriness of the images is like a strange echo of Chris Marker’s La Jetee. The title of the work, Metatastic, alludes to cancerous growths and the static electrical charges from TV screens. The overall impact of this work is mysterious and unsettling.
Film Deaths is another series of images plucked from TV screens. In this series, Maureen Brady presents a compendium of 117 deaths from different films. Media analysts have long argued about the increase in ‘compassion fatigue’ through a media saturated with violent imagery of tragedy and suffering. Although Films Deaths might seem a macabre exercise, it highlights the prevalence and relentlessness of violent media imagery and the desensitisation this engenders.
Photography fills frozen moments with a multitude of possibilities, and there is a palpable tension in the work of Eithne O Regan. In Any Moment Now, she seems to seek out strangeness; her images are on the threshold, waiting for something to happen. In one image an aircraft caught mid-descent over a house could be moments before disaster or just another plane landing and the imagination, through the image, can take you to either place.
Photography, unlike other art forms, never seems to lose much in reproduction – perhaps because of its inherent ‘publishability’. The ‘New Irish Works’ catalogue proves an effective way to encounter the works of photographers working in series. In this regard I was drawn back to the pages presenting Roseanne Lynch’s Place. The silence of these enigmatic and elusive images – minimal, geometric tonal studies – leaves space for contemplation. It’s compelling and sublime work – repeated viewing of which is rewarding. I was reminded of what Ansel Adams once wrote about his take on language and the image: “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” ***
Alison Pilkington is an artist based in Dublin. She is currently undertaking a practice based PhD at NCAD Dublin.
* The full list of ‘New Irish Works’ venues and exhibiting photographers is as follows: Dublin – National Photographic Archive (21 June – 3 August), Barry W Hughes, Dorje de Burgh, Dragana Jurisic, Kevin Griffin, Linda Brownlee, Robert Ellis, Shannon Guerrico; Istituto Italiano di Cultura (25 June – 24 July), Stefania Sapio; Alliance Française (2 July –30 August), Shane Lynam. Goethe Institut (28 June – 26 July), Ethna O’Regan. Instituto Cervantes (11 – 30 July), Paul Gaffney; Limerick – Ormston House (4 – 27 July), Claudi Nir, Cáit Fahey, Caroline Mc Nally, Grainne Quinlan, Ieva Baltaduonyte, Miriam O’ Connor, Roseanne Lynch; Cork – TACTIC (5 – 27 July), David Thomas Smith, Martin Cregg, Maurice Gunning, Muireann Brady, Yvette Monahan, Patrick Hogan, Mandy O’Neill.
** George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1906
***The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, 1981