COM,MA, MA:AP Show Response

The Masters of Art & Process at Crawford College of Art & Design 2020 ran between the 14-17th of December and included 9 artists; Catarina Araújo, Padraic Barrett, Deirdre Breen, Aoife Claffey, Seán Daly, Joseph Fogarty, Inguna Mainule, Kate McElroy and Ida Mitrani. Their exhibition had to contend with restrictions so unfortunately it was open for a small period of time, however they have a video exploring the exhibition and the booklet available online on the Crawford MA:AP website. A selection of the artists’ work is still on display in the window of the Grand Parade white building, for those out for a wander, a coffee and a view.

I began the tour with a couple of others, brought through the building upstairs to a large white studio turned exhibition space. The name of the exhibition, COM,MA, utilises the language of a punctuation mark to link the works, to encapsulate the experience of creating art in a year of constant pauses and explores the need for making time for contemplation before action.

It’s exciting going to end of year exhibitions, to see a collection made by several different artists, coming to a course for different reasons and seeing the different expressions of that period of time studying.  A masters exhibition is such a different experience to group exhibitions centered around a theme or as a showcase, such as in the Glucksman or in smaller galleries like Studio 12 in the Backwater. It is a different type of viewing; jumpy, with an intense amount of information and new visual expressions of various topics. This is why I love going to these exhibitions, it’s invigorating to see and feel the depth of commitment, investigation and development of an intense period of time. I feel you need time, an open ended freedom to view, and circle back, give it a week then come back for a second look. However I could only manage to book one space. I was overwhelmed and exhausted at the time.

Masters shows produce work created through a structure curated by an institution; a word that denotes a sense of the impersonal; of a structure unmoved by individual needs. However, it is a form in which a body of people deem it is the correct structure of study to produce, elevate and explore individual practice. A structure that should provide space to push individual ideas, expand thought processes and individual work ethic. Community created by an institution manifests intense individual scrutiny and to fall or flow with this is a key skill that is taught outside of the structure of modules and essays. The group created, of strangers, of people who studied their undergraduate together and know each other through artists groups, plays an important role in the outcome of a masters. Not to mention the evolving relationship that comes from working and learning from lecturers the students may have known throughout their undergraduate process.

In order to view the show you had to book a tour, the open door policy of a normal exhibition changed in response to Covid-19 safety policies.There is an extra commitment involved in booking a space, rather than an apathetic wandering in. It’s not on purpose, it is actually detrimental to the viewing of the exhibition, to limit those being able to view work they otherwise would never have stumbled on. It is, unfortunately, letting a false sense of elitism that surrounds the study of Fine Art be proven.

In the center of the space stands the white sculpture of both styrofoam and a mold mimicking the structure of the packaging it has integrated into. It reminds me of ogham stones, a symbol of communication through wasteful and disposable packaging. Joseph Fogarty’s sculpture is interrupted by nuts and bolts, disposing of the objects proposed use to one that questions the materiality of the individual. His other industrial looking sculpture looked like a plinth; presenting waves of set silver metal on top. A mirror at the base reveals a rusted industrial object, round and circular and clearly decaying. It is hidden underneath this preserved silver paint, that could be melted metal, cleanly packaged by silver painted wood and glass. Leaving me with questions like ‘what is it, where is it from? What was its purpose?’

Two T.V. screens lay nearby, on the floor in opposite corners. The screens displayed a pair of hands moving in unison, the movements were contracting and releasing in rhythm, as if in sync with the breath. The artist Catarina Araújo had created ordered movement, the hands washed out in blue and surrounded by black. It felt strong and controlled. Another screen mounted on the wall showed a full body moving, remembering her work now this video portrayed this body moving more freely. The video was inverted, the body creating a full circle in parts. There was a triangle tattoo on the back, mimicking the triangle motifs of the prints and paper sculptures that interacted with the video pieces. The strong lines of both the images and sculptures felt important, clean, as if distilled from the rest of the environment.

A natural form; a sculpture, was encroaching on the space, freeing itself from the sculpture that was presented on paper hanging from the wall. This sculpture by Ida Mitrani consisted of strips of discarded plastic, pods from coffee machines, moss and grass, looking like a morphed and hybrid hedgerow. It is presented as organic matter, similar to the organic digital prints on the wall. The manipulated images of organisms were quiet in their tone, fleshy in colour, but unassuming against the white of the paper and walls.

I moved to a separate room of the exhibition, viewing Seán Daly’s work. He had created circular balls of earth that were satisfying to look at, in both their soft roundness and their size. Several of these objects were placed on a wooden table on top of graph paper. I wasn’t sure if the single drawn line depicted a graph or a map, maybe of a coast, maybe the origin of the man made manipulated mud. Above this was a large photograph depicting in detail one of these objects, exploring the objects planet like textures, ones the eye couldn’t perceive in such detail. Contrasting this image was a series of photographs showing the process of their creation, ending with their destruction. Underneath this lay the raw materials of clay, water and sharp fragments of one of the broken objects. Another one of these earth balls lay on the shelf, its outer layer cracked and breaking down already. It is perfection breaking down.

In this new room a sculpture of soft pink foam stood, in the shape of a chair. It stood solidly on four legs, shaking timidly like jelly each time the fan blew in its direction. Inguna Mainule had created softness in familiar domestic forms and packaged a ton of clothes in 3 vacuum packed bags that just stood solid in its compaction. The softness of these domestic forms translated onto a large painting of a section of ceiling, nearly all in white, depicting the molding of a ceiling and the light shadow of a ceiling light. The paint reveals a darkness underneath, the rush of paint revealing a depth. A soft, pink painting was mounted on a wall nearby, a pendulum hanging from the base, moving like a grandfather clock. 

Deirdre Breen’s sculpture interrupts the middle of this space. Black lines entwine in on themselves, creating circles, with the metal rods forming shapes out of the space. The circles hold strong pink forms, solid, cube-like and also soft looking. Like large sponges squelched and tied in knots together, they are stuck on the metal rods like a human sized bangle bracelet. A vibrant blue partner to the pink sculpture hides in the corner, rodless. Another black metal rod cuts through the space, yearning from the floor up towards the ceiling, held down by another strange soft pink sculpture. It sweeps up like a music note, a strange crochet. This work shares its space with Inguna Mainule’s work, the similarity of colours forms a colour motif for the show and further unites the exhibition.

In the space adjoining these sculptures hung various photographs and a large sheet of aluminum, with the photographs depicting softness and textures that were devoid of context, speaking more to the quality of light and colour. Kate McElroy had placed the plain, untouched metal sheets to the wall, mimicking the photographs, with the large rods that held them up sticking out. The sheets reflected back the space, and the individual viewing the space, in a similar blurry and non-saturated form the photographs depicted. A large sheet of perspex, or maybe even glass, interrupted the view of the aluminium,  hanging halfway down it from rods sticking out from the wall. The artist statement hung in the space, like the other artists, however it seemed to be printed on tracing paper, the words see through and ethereal.

I was led down to a room, to where Padraic Barret had set up a blacked out space. It resonated with a dull sound that graduated to a higher, intenser vibration. The only light source was coming off two video projections, that were shown on a large green rectangle on the floor and on an opposing wall. The rectangles were revealed, after each video looped to its end and faded to black, to be composed of multiple hard drives and switch boards from computers and sound systems. Both videos were intriguing in their continuous, single shot form, unsettling but familiar. The video on the floor filmed a nude figure of the artist from a height as he sprints around a grid-like concrete space, the camera seeming to chase him as he futilely bounced around the perimeter, searching for an escape. It is a video game with no controller. The second, similarly filmed in a continuous shot, gradually swept towards a figure pushing an industrial object up an enclosed slope, reminding me of Sisyphus.The pulsating sound was continuous, I could feel it in my bones. At the back of the room was a cage of wires, similarly this cage continued the rectangle motif.

 In the final exhibition area, after leaving the room where the sound seemed to control my body, Aoife Clafferty had set up visually immersive video and sculpture pieces. A structure of coloured perspex panels jutted out from the wall, overlapping with each other, creating abstract forms. It was dimly lit, but as light hit this structure the overlapping colours created dynamic and complex shadows that interacted with the structure itself. An acetate sheet was placed over one of the panels, the text on it projecting onto the structures below it in an interesting fashion. On a wall in the middle of the room another blue perspex glass jutted out, letting you experience the colour change of the whole structure from this perspective. This resounding work continued in the projection of repetitious video, of trucks driving, shipping containers and other textural video pieces, which was projected on an open ended box on the floor. This held water and three mirrors that projected sections of this video out onto the walls, creating a more immersive experience. The box held pieces of lego along with the mirrors, suspended in the water.

As much as I admired and felt impressed by the work in the show itself, with some pieces resonating with me still, it was the way in which I was viewing that left a lasting impression. It was the tour, waiting patiently outside in anticipation and the structured time limit of occupying the space that impacted the physical experience and perception of the exhibition. It was at a late moment that the lifting of restrictions by the government meant the exhibition could be viewed in person, this meant one of the artists, who had set up her exhibition in the James Barry exhibition space, had to undo the installation work and repurpose it to the Grand Parade building. This change didn’t seem to phase her, and continued on to adapt to these new changes. I can’t stop thinking about how there is an innate need to continue on with what we care about in our individual lives and so it demands adaptation and change. A change in how we study, produce and experience art; it isn’t detrimental or big but somehow it feels so important. It means that adaptation is doable, I’m not saying easy but that an institute can adapt is a positive outcome.

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