VAN November/December 2013: Critique Supplement – ‘False Memory Syndrome’ at Temple Bar Gallery

installation view ‘False memory Syndrome’ TBG+S (forground to background. left to right) works by Sarah pierce, Alan phelan and micheal Boran.

‘False Memory Syndrome’
Michael Boran, Sabina McMahon, Sarah Pierce, Alan Phelan
 05 – 26 September 2013
Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin

In September 2013, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios marked three decades of prominence in Dublin’s designated cultural quarter. The ground floor gallery is an accessible exhibition space, open to the busy street through its entirely glazed south facing façade. Four artists were invited to “imagine alternative histories” for TBG+S in response to their archives, with the results veiling the institution’s literal and metaphorical ‘transparency’ in a number of complex scenarios.*

50 was a very mixed-media installation by Alan Phelan. It comprised a sequence of tableauxs, consuming a large area of the exhibition space. 50 was the number of energetically recycled motifs and in some cases original objects from the loosely archived remnants of a series of fund-raising exhibitions called ‘Multiples’.** Wittily compiled and cross-referenced, these physical histories, arranged in composites and layers, offered potentially endless hours of archeological fun. Phlean’s project was more generous than irreverent, and extended to the participation of others. Sarah Doherty, a recent graduate from DIT, contributed Found (2013), a soap carving that incidentally pointed backwards to an earlier soap piece by Jeanette Doyle. In reconsidering a lavender-infused eye-pillow by Sarah Pierce, the artist’s mother, Harriet Phelan, covered a black eye mask with hundreds of tiny shells.

Sabina Macmahon, A Temple, A Bar, An Excavation and An Elephant Bone

Michael Boran’s set of black and white photographs, Far and Away, depicted wagons parked along cobbled streets, and might have come from the National Photographic Archive just up the road in Meeting House Square. Dusted off images of old Temple Bar perhaps? A humdrum heritage before the cultural circus came to town? Then you notice the anachronisms, suspiciously modern-looking crash barriers, passers-by decked out in modern gear. In fact the photographs were taken in 1991 when Temple Bar was dressed up as a film-set to resemble Boston in the 1890s. Printed here for the first time, the photographs embody their own history; the gap of 22 years between the instance of capture and eventual release is just one aspect of their peculiarly time-warping effect. In an area now synonymous with the creative interpretation of provenance, Boran’s archive brought to light a coalescence of the real and the fabricated, the before then, the then, and the now.

The real and the fabricated achieved a dry synthesis in A Temple, A Bar, An Excavation and An Elephant Bone, by Sabina MacMahon. The artist cornered off an area of the gallery to display artifacts unearthed during a 1993 excavation of the ground directly beneath the gallery space. A miscellany of objects arranged in back-to-back vitrines was clearly labeled and catalogued. Number 17, a ‘Fragment of terracotta’, number 16, an ‘Earthenware pot’. Accompanying descriptions varied from the fulsome to the pithy; the ornately decorated ‘Plate’ had a detailed back-story, while a neighboring lump of matter was simply, ‘Brick’. The style of MacMahon’s presentation rang true, but tales of immolated elephants were less easy to swallow. This dichotomy of truth and fiction was exemplified by the cohabitation of the unlikely ‘Elephant Femur’ with the more prosaic ‘Potato’. Boiled, chipped or fried, the humble potato reminds us of the potential within the ostensibly mundane. An elephant could burn to death on Essex Street, proving that days, like the spud, are protean.

Sarah Pierce presented a video recording of a debate, Artist or Superartist?, hosted by the Temple Bar Gallery in 1998. Donning headphones in time to hear Campbell Bruce say, “The creative act is something that emerges, it is not something that is pre-ordained by words”, I found myself nodding along with the audience. In a debate fixated on language and its determining role in artistic opportunity, no one was cutting words any slack. 15 years later, with art practices increasingly under the aegis of the PhD, I wondered if words had eventually got the upper hand?

An opening night performance saw Pierce sitting before the monitor repeating the words of the participants***. Her practice tends to flatten the temporal spaces between creative events and these overlaps, however precisely layered, benefit from unpredictable slippages. Repetition creates a space, not unlike the one between the shooting and printing of Boran’s photographs (or the spaces between truth and fiction, originality and copy, in the works of MacMahon and Phelan) for a third memory to emerge****. This is less a false memory than a new register, a register that sits between the first instance and its reiteration. Recovering a multi-layered past, the exhibition, smartly curated by Rayne Booth, found lots of new spaces to look at.

John Graham is an artist based in Dublin.


1. Gallery press release
2.‘Multiples’ (1998 – 2003) attempted to make art collecting more accessible while raising funds for TBG+S’. more than 150 artists took part.
3. I didn’t witness the performance. i’m told it was uncanny, weird, compelling.
4. Pierre Huyghe’s Third Memory (1999) is perhaps the best-known iteration of this idea.

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