‘POV (points of view)’
Monster Truck, Dublin
17 may – 15 June 2013
‘Points of View’ at Monster Truck is a group show where the artists involved have all addressed how lens based media – mainly photography – functions to represent a subject or a place. They are also connected through having lived or worked in Belfast at some stage in their career.
The Belfast connection is most obvious in the photographs of Aisling Kane. Representations of masculinity and place are intertwined in Kane’s photographs of male friends and members of her family from the Ardoyne area of Belfast. Ardoyne is an area of Belfast that has been frequently represented in the media as a sectarian flashpoint especially with provocative images of Orangemen clashing with the local catholic community. Kane attempts to redress the balance by offering a different, much quieter and intimate perspective of the community.
Kane’s work is very much within the realist tradition of twentieth-century photography pioneered by Walker Evans and August Sander. Her photographs evoke the “tender cruelty” of Evans’s work; there is a palpable vulnerability in James (2012), bare-chested and tattooed, the story of his life written across his body. I wondered what had happened to the ‘Philip 1985 – 2003’ marked in ink across his chest.1
In subtle ways, Section 31, a low point in the history of media censorship in Ireland, comes to mind in Ciaran Hussey’s installation Dead Air. The censorship of the media in coverage of The Troubles is somehow echoed in the found footage of journalists in that ‘in between time’ of broadcasts. The ‘dead air’ of the title suggests the mute voices of the Irish media at a time when discussion and debate was needed more that ever.
Possibly one of the greatest and worst aspects of the Web is the seemingly unmediated dissemination of information. Audiences’ increasing appetite for sensational imagery and an acceptance and desensitised attitude towards violent imagery shows no sign of decreasing.
With this in mind, perhaps, Duncan Ross takes the notorious image of soldier Lynndie England posing with a row of Abu Garub prisoners and has it remade as a kind of ‘Bayeux tapestry’ for current audiences. There is a curious flattening of meaning of the image, which is modest in size and alludes to the domestic labour and retelling of stories. As Marshal McCluhan famously stated, “the message is the medium”.2 Here, the piece becomes more about public attitudes towards imagery of this kind and less about the content: images of human suffering and degradation.
On a lighter note, the photographic projects of Jorden Hutching, Tonya Mc Mullen and Andrea Theis offer different perspectives on the ideals of tourism and what tourists want to take away in terms of a photographic record of a particular place.
Hutchings and McMullen’s participatory postcard project Here You Go invited members of the public to mark and describe a place of personal significance on a postcard mapping a mile radius of Gallery PS2 in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. The artists then visited the sites and photographed them. On display in the gallery is a series of postcard-size photos alongside the original marked postcard with comments from the participants. The comments and photographs ranged from the banal to the prosaic, but I particularly liked these two: “where I first kissed a boy, decided I no longer wanted to kiss girls” and “war memorial so much suffering so much resilience”.
Anyone who has ever tried to capture an iconic building or monument as a record of their holiday (haven’t we all?) will smile when looking at Andrea Theis’s photographic intervention Reviewing Image Disturbance. Carried out over five days, Theis placed herself front and centre of Weimer’s famous monument to Goethe and Schiller, frustrating and confusing the public by becoming an interloper in their holiday snaps. She recorded reactions to her intervention and shows these in the gallery. In her pictures, she appears to remain calmly stoic and impervious to requests for her to move. There is a curious tension in her position, which is one of power and vulnerability. I enjoyed her tongue in cheek categorising of the public reaction to the event by what appeared to be anger, confusion, bargaining and amusement.
As a group show, ‘Points of View’ holds together very well, and the Belfast connection is an interesting one. There are tenuous undercurrents of anxiety threaded through the work, hints of a shared trauma. Is this perhaps an unconscious response to living somewhere where violence has tainted communities and everyday life for a long time? Somehow it is impossible to ever know how a place will affect us, but there is something in the lines of Seamus Heaney’s poem Clearences that gives a sense of politics, memory and place:
A cobble thrown a hundred years ago
Keeps coming at me, the first stone
Aimed at a great-grandmother’s turncoat brow.
Alison Pilkington is an artist based in Dublin, she is currently undertaking a practice based PhD in the painting dept at NCAD.