VAN November/December 2013: Critique Supplement – Cora Cummins ‘The Black Rose, The Green Pool and The Blue Sky at VISUAL

Cora Cummins, Pool, HD video, 2013

Cora Cummins
‘The Black Rose, The Green Pool and The Blue Sky’
Visual, Carlow
05 October – 05 January

In her book ‘The Artificial Kingdom’, the writer Celeste Olaquiaga borrows the metaphor of dust to describe the rundown state of dreams in modernity. This exhibition by Cora Cummins, ‘The Black Rose, The Green Pool and The Blue Sky’, employs the imagery of the remnants of private leisure spaces. Like Olaquiaga, she is drawn towards the striations in our minds and the landscape that this accumulation of ‘dust’ can effect.

Pastoral sounds are emitted in waves from two video works in this show, enhancing the sense that these key artworks are quietly reveling in the insistent and potentially overpowering effects of unhindered nature. The camera work in both video pieces is patient and observant. The central focus in the larger of the two video projections, Pool, concerns a geometrically shaped, aging, outdoor swimming pool.

Cora Cummins, Walled Garden 2013, etching and aquatint

In fixed-camera positions, the video piece very slowly circumnavigates this formerly grand space. The cut-stone paving surrounding the pool has been forced upwards by the swelling ground beneath; moss and lichen have long established themselves along the inside wall of the pool. Objects designed to aid human use, such as handrails and a diving board, are encroached upon by nature and seem increasingly stranded and obsolete.

The Fold is an occasional and experimental publication that Cora Cummins co-founded. Issue 8 has been published to form a part of this exhibition. In this sensitively designed issue, we are introduced to eight tangentially connected stories, which relate back to the environs depicted in the works on display. The selection of stories contain an energetic fluidity, moving from a personal family anecdote to macrocosmic and lyrical descriptions by the writer Rebecca Solnit of the colour blue in the earth’s atmosphere. In a story entitled The Green Pool, we learn that Cummins’ grandfather told her as a child about a bed of rare black roses which were removed from an area in this local estate to make way for a swimming pool. While Issue 8 of The Fold stands alone as a beguiling and idiosyncratic art object, it also functions by vectoring potential ‘meanings’ towards other works on display.

The video piece Rose is projected onto a wall adjacent to the Pool projection. Much like Pool, Rose displays an intense and steady concentration, concerning itself entirely with the exploration of a single rose plant. The fixed-camera angles in Pool mirror the geometric human-made forms which populate the work and contrast with the more intimate, hand-held approach at work in Rose. Here the camera weaves and winds in amongst the gnarling tendrils of the rose bush, the angle of the camera mostly positioned upwards, as though mirroring the heliotropic growth-instinct of the plant.

The content and form of these two video works play in subtle and intelligent ways with each other. Aside from the easily identifiable connection between the story of the artist’s grandfather and the pool and rose at the centre of the video works, the other contributions to The Fold criss-cross the videos in oblique ways, drawing attention to the stratified layers of dust which both enrich and challenge our understanding of the landscape and human interventions into it.

Four of the eleven etchings on display in this exhibition depict various types of private gardens. Unlike other works in the show, these images appear entirely removed from their wider landscape. In the print The Walled Garden, for example, the space outside the garden is represented by blankness. Such images lack the tension, or untidiness that this breach brings to bear upon the works. This series of prints seems more cautious than others and as a result they lack a sense of urgency.

The highly personalised and intimate potential of printmaking techniques are used effectively in four different etched interpretations of the swimming pool – present as a subject in both The Fold and Pool. Here, multiple depictions of the same subject underline the sense that our understanding of a place or state of being is ever-shifting, depending on the stories that accumulate around it, or the level of sensitivity we may have to more enigmatic forces such as the changing light reflected in still water.

This exhibition weaves a quiet spell, in which slow but powerful forces have prised open and found fissures in the walls of these private spaces. The dust settling around these particular aging modernist dreams is nuanced and worth sifting through. Ruins can illicit a sublime and melancholic outlook, yet the title of this show suggests that they can also trigger a visionary perspective, whereby stories have the potential to eclipse their concrete sources and spin out in all sorts of wild and independent ways.

Sarah Lincoln is an artist based in Waterford

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