James L Hayes, James McCann, Alex Pentek and Amanda Rice showcase some of their latest work.
Opening: Thursday May 1st @ 6pm
Runs: 2nd – 11th May
Open Daily: 1-6pm [closed Mondays]
Review by Barry Kehoe
A flag is a banner, a symbol of representation, an object of celebration and a marker of identity. An object with a translucent property is one which allows a certain amount of light to penetrate and flow through its surface while also reflecting light. This simultaneous flow and reflection gives a certain ambiguity to an object that becomes partially present and never wholly realised in its physical relationship to the visual properties of light. This invocation of the scientific properties of the translucent flag in the exhibition title opens up the analysis of these artists’ works to a problematic search for identity and meaning that is always on the verge of being realised but never fully knowable.
There is a peculiar similarity between the rituals of scientific experiment, the incessant repetition in search of a knowable result and the other process of repetitive ritual that is performed in divination to pursue a higher truth. Somewhere in between these oppositional processes that both seek for truth sits the art work of James L. Hayes, The Essence of taste. It is a mixture of scientific research project, bronze sculpture, robotic engineering and cult ritual that delves into the process of physis. Physis is a Greek theological, philosophical, and scientific term usually translated into English as “nature.” More specifically it relates to the creative energy by which natural processes transform living organisms. For example, how an acorn becomes an oak tree. In this case the plant under analysis is the asparagus plant or rather some bronze and iron cast asparagus. One metal represents organic farmed asparagus and the other a mass produced asparagus. They sit in a circular drill of clay and are sprayed with a liquid from a robotic arm that rotates above the drill. The liquid was made by extracting the active agent that causes human urine to smell strange after eating asparagus. This complicated process of separating the urine was achieved in a centrifuge in University College Cork. The ritual of rotation and spray is completed by a motion sensor so that the visitor becomes an element in the rapid oxidisation that transforms and breaks down the metal asparagus plants as they move toward a more entropic state. Considering the process by which asparagus can change the odour of human urine this artwork becomes very disconcerting, and is a reminder of the constant chemical processes and cycles that make up the materiality of the living human as a natural element rather than an entity that exists outside of nature.
Alex Pentek’s Transcending Column is a tower of folded paper that forms a graceful archway at the gallery entrance. As with Brancusi’s endless column we can imagine the repetition of pattern and motion in the making process of this work that transforms paper a familiar two dimensional material into an object that embodies space. The paper archway is filled with the potential to occupy that space with an indefinite expansion rising and falling, presenting a purity in its clean white surface manipulated by folding into repetitive and meditative patterns. The scale of the work activates the viewer to crane back the neck to follow the line of its form, towering above towards the ceiling raising an awareness of the space of the exhibition and diminutive human scale in comparison.
In James McCann’s installation titled Monomania 3 Pornographic Images form part of a viscerally inspired piece that is more performance than sculpture. A disturbing collection of pornographic images and plaster cast body parts are surrounded by metal a-frame towers of dirtied and sullied boards. This obsessive work of unconscious and perverse repetition explores with a graphic and vivid focus on the fetishist and alienating obsession with objects of desire. The alienating objectification of sexual organs for cheap titillation is attacked by the industrial surplus, the detritus of the casting process. The boards and card covered in splashes of plaster and paint demystify the romantic idea of art production, presented as they are, obscuring and sitting above the pornographic images strewn upon the floor along with the plaster moulds of faces. There is a fetishist obsession in the act of making that stems from a more primal instinct, a primal instinct that has more in common with sexual desire than platonic contemplation. In considering the fine line between obsession and the madness that can result it is often beneficial to consider the experts from the enlightenment when the practice of psychology and the study of mental illness was in its infancy. François Boissier de Savages in Nosologie Méthodique (1772) wrote:
“The distraction of our mind is the result of our blind surrender to our desires, our incapacity to control or moderate our passions. Whence these amorous frenzies, these antipathies, these depraved tastes, this melancholy which is caused by grief, these transports wrought in us by denial, these excesses in eating, in drinking, these indispositions, these corporeal vices which cause madness, the worst of all maladies.” (Foucault, Madness and civilisation 1965 p.85)
The work of Amanda Rice, Looking Back at Endstal, presents a beautiful landscape that has a dark underlying past as it was the area of holiday, recreation and retreat for the Nazi’s during world war two. Reminding the visitor that somewhere in the historic human narrative there is always an inevitable darkness, a horror hidden in the sublime, that process beneath the surface where transformation takes place. It is a border of reason and unreason, chaos and order, good and evil that is immune to the immutable beauty of the natural world. Carl Gustave Jung in his book “The Spirit of man, Art & Literature” writes from a romantic perspective of how a child born and raised in the Alps comes under the inevitable influence of the mountains:
“The great peaks of the Alps rise up menacingly close, the might of the earth visibly dwarfs the will of man; threateningly alive, it holds him fast in its hollows and forces its will upon him. Here, where nature is mightier than man, none escapes her influence; the chill of water, the starkness of rock, the gnarled, jutting roots of trees and precipitous cliffs—all this generates in the soul of anyone born there something that can never be extirpated..”(Jung p3)
This work of Amanda Rice acknowledges as did Jung the romantic and spiritual identification with nature in man but it also reveals not only its self-reflective character but also its transcendent qualities. This dual process reminiscent of the metaphor of the translucent flag problematizes a blind identification with the natural world without the consideration of the influences of heritage and the role nurture plays in identity formation. In a romantic Jungian frame do these mountains, as portrayed in Looking Back at Endstal, threaten the identifier with a dark legacy, an underlying and hidden horror, which can be shared through the narrative of a collective unconscious? One must continue to peer longingly through the translucent flag to find the evasive answers along the borders of the unknowable.
Translucent Flag an exhibition featuring artists James L Hayes /James McCann / Alex Pentek / Amanda Rice ran at The MART, 190a Rathmines Rd Lwr from the 2nd to the 11th of May 2014