Ellen Desmond reviews the current Crawford exhibition which features the cream of Irish modern and contemporary art.
Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery is currently playing host to one part of the eclectic and thought-provoking ‘Into the Light: The Arts Council, 60 Years of Supporting the Arts Exhibitions’. The Arts Council Irelandis the Irish government agency for developing and funding the arts.This exhibition celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of The Irish Arts Council and is both interesting and quite unusual in that it is, at the same time, being part-hosted by three other galleries across Ireland – Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery, Limerick City Art Gallery and The Model in Sligo. Each of these indulged in a separate selection of different works from the Arts Council’s collection to compose their own individual section of the exhibition. The self-selected artworks are only being displayed in the gallery that choose them but collectively the four showcases compile this 150 piece collaborative exhibition.
All works in this extremely modern and original body of art date from the year 2000 or later, so the sense of nostalgia evoked by experiencing the Crawford’s quarter of the exhibition is extremely worthy of note. The core theme developed by The Arts Council for choosing the works was “the idea of memory and residue, as something that lingers, or endures; present”. It is therefore quite overwhelming to stand in front of such obviously new and different twenty-first century works and feel oneself being plunged back in time into a memory or thought, while remaining situated quite obviously in the presence of modern art. Personally I found the majority of the works fulfilled this aim and suited this idea superbly well. Especially relevant is Brendan Earley’s Chalet, which perhaps sums up what is at the heart of the entire collection. This image captures the memory of a building recalled from Earley’s childhood and comes from a collection of Earley’s marker drawings. This could almost be referred to as a visual memoir and yet its style is an ode to the modernist project; an impressive juxtaposition of subject matter and approach by any account.
However, there were a number of items that seemed out of place or perhaps their presence just lacked a bit of explanatory detail; a tiny chunk of context on the name plaques could have aided the understanding of the meaning of the collection as a whole. An example of this is arguably prevalent with Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s Forestall. This could completely tie in with the theme but the reason is unbeknownst to the average onlooker and to an uninformed eye it appears as nothing more than an unrecognizable still life in pale colours that are quite washed out and lack any considerable impact in the dark, eeriness of the exhibition room. Admittedly, the alternative argument does stand in that the artworks selected should be able to speak and fight for their own right to be there without the distraction of wordy description and so if one is to follow that road then the blame is with the artworks rather than the gallery.
Before the opening of this exhibition it had a previous working title of Legacy Systems [Residuum Unknown], which was discarded for the current title. This relates to both computer technology and the redundancy of older technical methodsas well as the growth of quality in an artwork over periods of time. It is probably best that this highly complicated title was not used in the promotion of the exhibition as it requires some serious thought, yet upon my acquisition of this information I couldn’t help wondering if some of the pieces were more related to this title’s idea than Into the Light or “memory and residue”. Thinking particularly of Nevan Lahart’s Goya’s Gaia Nos. 9 & 18, which are two highly graphic images of the Earth photocopying itself and digging a hole in itself and the admirable and technologically advanced Portrait to Smile Once A Year (Mary) by John Gerrard.
Along with this, several short videos also seem to tie in closer with the discarded computer and technology based title. Of these videos Niamh O’Malley’s Talbot St. Vignette stands out. This visual work makes use of both a moving image and a painted still, with the painted still used as a highly convincing backdrop to people captured on video walking down the street. It’s not until the end of this video when the projection begins to fade out that the painted still is differentiated and perceived as what it truly is. This is very much a high quality piece, examining the relationship of a single moment in relation to the unstopping movement of time. It also comments on the idea of how a moving “real-life” scene becomes a still image, in other words, how life becomes still and painted art. It also perhaps even goes as far as to consider how art makes its way back into the living world in an intriguing and beautiful endless circle.
There were a few works that stood out as highly superior and recommendable views. Among these was Stephen Brandes’ Bed and Breakfast, which is even more fascinatingly impressive once it is realized that the intricately perfect and geometrically accurate image was administered using markers and acrylics. The wooden paneling used as a background draws the viewer’s attention from across the room and the minute details will have your eye racing from edge to edge for some sort of explanation of the story or imagining being told by the image, which seems to be something along the lines of a tree growing out of a house amongst ruin – on wood. I loved this piece; it had several thought-inspiring dimensions to it and yet remained solely 2D in its physical entirety.
The two paintings from Elizabeth Magill’s Parlous Lands series were also highly impressive, as was Eoghan McTigue’s Empty Sign TU. Of the photography selections, Paul Seawright’s Untitled (Man Sleeping) stands out considerably as it remarkably captures a moment in a young man’s life, thousands of miles away from the lives we are living here. A delightful element of this piece is the amount of information about the man, his life and his world that Seawright manages to convey in one single frame. We are immediately aware that this man does not seem to be living at all sustainably; he is in a cramped and stuffy, decaying environment, it appears he is probably just trying to get by. In fact, Untitled (Man Sleeping) uses this one moment to convey a wide shift in the association between rural and urban economies and the movement of rural peoples to cities that are becoming flooded with immigrants.
A book has also been produced as part of the Into the Light Exhibitions. This includes over one hundred of the selected artworks as full-colour illustrations, as well as essays and a timeline exploring the visual arts and arts policy in Ireland over the past 60 years. The book is available for sale at each of the hosting venues. Into the Light will remain on show in the Crawford only for a short while, until the 23 of February, so time is ticking before its presence becomes merely a residue in the memories of those lucky enough to have seen it.