Alannah Matthews- A personal response to ‘Echoes of Sorrows Past’ and ‘Sublimation’ at St. Luke’s Crypt

I get nervous at exhibitions.

My body becomes a site of imagined destruction.

What if I drop my wine and the glass somehow catapults at that painting? What if the painting then collapses, skids towards the cast to its left, and an artist’s months of work shatters before their very eyes? What if my body just spontaneously spasms into a tornado-esque force, ploughing every work in the exhibition to its demise? It seems that -for me at least- the body can often feel too large, too present, around the delicacy of artworks. That a divide exists between the messy, hairy pulse of the body, and the mapped, preconceived environment around it.

‘Echoes of Past Sorrows’ was an exhibition of artworks by Kathryn Kelly, held by Sample Studios TACTIC Visual Arts Programme, and assisted by TACTIC member Katie O’Grady in St Luke’s Crypt, Cork City in February 2019. The work was Kelly’s response to the sudden loss of her father, and an exploration through death, mourning and grief, which was further inspired from her readings of Julia Kristeva and John B. Ravenal- exploring ideas surrounding the physical and metaphysical nature of life cycles, and the relationship between beauty and death. A sound composition by composer/producer/DJ Ellen King titled ‘Sublimation’ was presented as a visceral, throbbing response to the visual works on show.

When I heaved myself through the entrance to the Crypt two years ago -sweaty and jittery and full of exhibition destruction nerves- I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d seen a Facebook event for a sound and visual exhibit in St Luke’s, and the description attached felt like a love letter to my little goth heart. On entering the crypt, I became immediately aware of the cave-like nature of the space. Sure, there were exhibition leaflets and wine glasses milling around me, but it felt different this time, like I’d entered a vessel, the belly of the church above, a body of stone. The works were placed tastefully around the softly lit vault, separate entities threading the space like visual beats- I felt calm, they had room to stretch and breathe. Kelly’s use of material was varied and reflective of the themes discussed in the work.

Wood, paper collaged, near feathers, fabric, fur, assembled with neon, plaster paint, By wooden boxes, painted, Stuffed with fibres, and rose quartz, stone, rope trailing.

There was a blue and magenta light installation which tossed my view between hot and cold hues, downwards at plaster of paris skulls on a shallow mound of shredded fabric. I had rarely felt so dizzyingly distracted from myself, yet so vividly rooted in my surroundings.

We sat down to ‘Sublimation’.

Saying that we ‘listened’ to the piece doesn’t quite fit the bill. Not to sound wankery (but to sound wankery), we ‘experienced’ the piece instead.   It’s a feeling I’ve found hard to accurately describe since hearing the work. King took sounds and mixed them around, tearing them, stretching them, and teasing their edges so that they lay on each other like layers of a cake. They wove and bled between each other like veins, resulting in an overwhelmingly visceral experience. I’d meditated before- you feel your body weigh itself down, your mind floats overhead and you look down at yourself, you’ve separated. This was different. As I sat, and the soundscape sprawled around me, I felt acutely aware of my body. I was connected. It felt as if the landscape of King’s piece had crawled inside of me, occupying my space as I occupied that of the works around me,

Sizzling,

Echoing,

Crackling,

Cawing,

Climbing,

Jingling,

Soaring,

Scratching,

Trembling,

Throbbing,

Pulsing,

Breathing.

As the volume of sound climaxed around the crypt, I felt it push and heave inside my chest, resulting in tiny gasps, and the realization that my cheeks were wet. I scrubbed at them, and tried to look as aloof and composed as I could, I was at an exhibition afterall, a certain decorum is expected.

When I left the crypt I didn’t feel nervous anymore. I felt calm.

‘Echoes of Past Sorrows’ and ‘Sublimation’ had extended a hand and shown me that in the precarious, ephemeral nature of being a body, there is also beauty. That beauty, art, and the visceral body aren’t separate, but entwined. Two years later, I still think of how it felt to allow those sounds and sights to change my body. I think of how nice it is to escape from reality into that memory. And I think of how I’d like to thank Kathryn Kelly and Ellen King for creating that memory.

Conversations from Cobh

Conversations from Cobh is a response to a visit to Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh. The Arts Centre was closed on the day due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Sarah:

I was so excited that day going to Cobh because ah I really wanted to see that exhibition.. ahm Debbie Godsell and Fiona Kelly and Sarah O’ Flaherty like big fans of all of them and I was all ready to be like… I guess inspired by their work because… ahm well the image, the image is I think of Debbie Godsell’s work – it’s like all prints like folded over like these kinda like wooden structures and that’s something ahm I was just really excited to like to see. And also like the show is called something like ahm Visions of an unsettled earth I think, which I mean like c’mon.. that’s pretty much the whole vibe that’s going on right now. I mean that could pretty much be 2020 [laughs] 2020 vision.. 2020 Vision of an unsettled earth.. that’s pretty much what’s going on… So I was really excited to see it. Well y’know.. I feel like we had planned to go like before and y’know, obviously we didn’t and then we couldn’t and then we were like we’re gonna go this Sunday and we had it all planned and it was such a hype ahmm I feel coz even y’know the fact that I was hungover and was supposed to drive us out and then was like [laughs] in no fit state to do so, we still went anyway y’know getting the train and stuff and y’know like it was kinda like a mad dash to get to the train and it was so anticlimactic then [laughs] to get out there .. I think we shoulda.. I think the omen was the taxi man’s  complete indifference to our like peril ahm his like really relaxed attitude while we’re like-we were up the walls, I think that was probably an omen and we arrive out there and then like fecking nothing ahmm… Ya it’s kind of am [pause]

 it’s kind of like… it kind of feels like very apt for this year because like I think a very common thing that we keep saying is ‘oh like when the restrictions lift-or like when everything goes back to normal-like oh we’re gonna have some, we’re gonna have some class night out or something, or like we’re gonna have some’…’oh can you imagine now when we can just do this or we can just like go for a pint and not worry about it or like just go to the cinema and oh y’know it’ll be a laugh when we can go dancing again and blah blah blah blah’ but .. and it’s always kind of like waiting and waiting and waiting and none of it happens ahm.. ya ..God I feel like there might be some connection between like … waiting and like Cobh, Cobh as a place of waiting, like somewhere that you leave… even that, that statue of y’know the emigrant Annie Moore – which like I had completely forgotten about that story and even when like you and Kim were going on about it ahm and then it only came back to me when we started singing that folk song by the statue and then I told you about how-how everyone laughed at me when I brought that song to school.. but I wasn’t too embarrassed because I was quite into that jam… ahm ya I think there might be something in that .. waiting to get out of Cobh, waiting to get out of Covid…

Actually- have you ever read ‘Waiting for Godot’ coz that’s just basically two lads waiting for something that never happens and ahh.. in many ways that was the three of us there in Cobh and in many ways that’s all of us in the whole country [sigh]

Niamh:  

I am-no ah-I haven’t read waiting for Godot… I just looked it up there though and they have like the full play -on YouTube .. I might give it an ole listen… or watch ahm ya .. I dunno it kind of feels like.. even ya back to the taxi driver – where in all fairness I mean I was pushing it a bit late coz I was working the night before and I was like..aw will we make it in time?.. and he was just kind of like- he scoffed and was like tsst -it did kind of feel like ‘ aw jaysus why are you..’-kinda would it even be that bad to miss it-and also he was like fuck it you’ll get there anyway ah-and the whole having to get the train there… The thing is, is like, when I was going down, I feel like when I have gone to the Sirius.. Arts Centre it’s been kind of sunny and there’s kind of been a feel of like it’s ‘oh it’s a grand day out now’ and just like even on the way down having to wear the mask on the train it was just  like ugggghh and it was dreary and miserable out and actually I was freezing and just like our conversation on the train where it was just like oh ‘is it-is it even open?’ ‘ah god ya-it should be’….. but then like [laughs] just that walk from the train station just walking into Cobh like right past the Sirius Arts Centre and seeing it completely closed up and dark inside , I was just like ah ya that’s how-that’s how-that’s how it is, shoulda expected that. I think there is something about the aimlessness of it .. like you’re just kind of like it’s like, like we floated, like we kinda just floated  around Cobh then because we went there with that purpose and then that purpose was taken away [laughs]  and I was like oh  when will we get back there, will we be able to see that show again and.. I was just like I kinda of remembered the times I’d been there in the past where I’d seen like Padraig Spillane’s show I think. I went down there with my parents and they were like ‘oh ya, that’s pretty cool’

Sarah: 

No, I think you’re definitely right about the aimlessness of it .. coz like that’s a thing.. that’s what made me think of Waiting for Godot as well coz it’s that thing of like ….. it’s kind of that Beckett thing of like, of life passing with like noo meaning [laughs] –just keeping it nice and light there now like but- ya that’s kind of like- it’s that kind of like indifference I guess or it’s that lack of event … ahm ..

Niamh: 

I think … there was a purpose.. and then when our purpose was taken away we were just left with this kind of aimlessness and like-and kind of even-[laughs] erratic behaviour where we bounced off each other-where I mean there was joy in that [laughs] there’s no like ah-denying we had a bit of a laugh there when ah-we literally just saw the statue and were like well ‘oh that reminds us of this folk song’ and just start singing away to the statue [laughs] because.. we were so desperate.[laughs]. well maybe we were just desperate-I was gonna say we were desperate for a bit of a night out – a little bit of sing-song a dance coz those are things that like… those are things that … not that I’m saying they bring us joy-but they do like… just like Godot or like Waiting for Godot where it’s like-its focusing on the pure aimlessness of life itself … which is ah-very heavy right now. I mean … it kind of reminds me of the kind of introspective way y’know .. en plein air….. is that the right thing? Where you go walking? God what’s that called again.. ahmm… but it’s like where you just, you just wander.. oh god what’s that artist? Aww… Where they would just wander around the city and there was no aim to it and there was no… but it’s being  immersed in the structure of the city and just wandering and kind of like there being a process to that or maybe there’s even a meaning in that itself rather than  having a purposeful like … having a purposeful location… having that very point to get that.. it kind of like contrasts I ‘spose…not really contrasts …. It challenges the idea of the aimlessness of life… it’s like the aimlessness is the purpose… is this too much? [laughs]

Sarah: 

Ahmm… I think you’re thinking of a flanuer..  ahm like ..kind of like a dandy who wanders around with no purpose… ahm.. ya actually I read a really good book there during the first lockdown called Flanuese so it was like-it was like a female gendering of that word coz all flanuers are men or whatever it was about women walking the city and that was really interesting, it was really empowering coz like obviously ahm women walking by themselves… y’know …. it’s a big deal … so ya must lend you that. What was I gonna say? Ya, I guess we were three gals wandering … Ya I guess it’s that thing of… ahm just because you’re not… I guess there is such an emphasis on acting I guess and on producing and on contributing ahm that there is like less of an emphasise in life on contemplation and like on being. So it’s kinda like that ah-that difference between the active life the kind of like contemplative life… the life of like being or existing. And I guess that’s something like y’know.. I think I can speak for everyone [laughs] that we struggled with during the first lockdown -that when like-when what you think is your purpose, when your action is taken away from you and you don’t have that role anymore in society- ya I’m being heavy- when you have that taken away … y’know .. it is possible to just be like… that is like a nice thing…but trying to get your head around is like.. scary I guess. Sorry I’m definitely rambling now…  I don’t know if that makes sense

Niamh: 

A tonne of sense. A tonne. Really interesting in you saying that.. because  like it is true… coz like, it was very funny, coz like after that day like-I think it was the last day… of work for me so like-then where I’ve been in this job for three years …later on that week I was let know ‘oh look you’ve been let go again’ ahmmm and ya I was able to more identify with that fact like ah I felt aimless.. I felt dejected … just due to the fact like even…it kind of gave me some kind of value…not that I would base my value on the j- wellll mmmmmm -like that feeling of being able of-being able to contribute to society .. and-and.. like that-that like somehow I was like ‘oooh this like something that I feel happy doing’ and also feel like it gave me a purpose y’know just to structure the rest of my life around and then it was taken away.. well not taken away but like… then you have to deal with the fact that you should be .. you should always be ok with just being .. and just living because like… [laughs] what else are you supposed to do? Like it shouldn’t be indoctrinated that that like value should come from the doing…ahmm… and pure existence is just … you can find joy in that… Jesus bit deep… But ya I’d love to borrow that book because it was it was just three gals just wandering … …. As we do actually…

Sarah: 

Hmm… ya, no coz like it doesn’t even matter, sorry no that’s not right, it does matter where you get your value from…but I think it’s like if you think that’s what society values I guess.. y’know like if you’re-if you’re like ‘oh that’s my role’ that’s how society sees my role or whatever and if that’s taken away then that can be quite a scary thing .. ya… but it’s like that’s just like.. oh god I’m gonna sound like a prick but like that’s just being in a machine I guess and you just get wrapped up in it. Oh god can’t believe I just said that but any way I did… ahmm mort.. ah ya but it’s a strange space to be in…

Niamh: 

Hmm ya it’s interesting it’s like this whole thing screams ‘liminality’ .. y’know I did my thesis on it

Sarah: 

Ya like Cobh being a port as well like obviously ya it’s a liminal space and then the fact that we’re all in a liminal space .. [heavy sigh]… anyway

Niamh: 

But it’s lost its purpose as well hasn’t it?… With age.. ahmm as well now it’s just kind of a tourist destination in regards to like the ferries and stuff and even those fucking aimless purposeless benches for a view that looks out onto …. Nothing really…god!..

Sarah:  

I guess that’s the thing with liminal spaces as well they don’t.. hmmm.. I remember I wrote about y’know Aoife Claffey’s work.. and she did her degree show about Cork airport y’know the old terminal.. and it was a liminal space but it was a liminal space that had had its purpose removed because obviously it wasn’t operating as a terminal anymore ahmm I remember I was talking about her in relation to Hal Foster’s ‘archival theory’ which he used to describe Tacita Dean and that idea of recalling lost souls.. if you think of this.. the archival in relation to Cobh coz its lost its purpose in what it’s doing ,say, but obviously there’s the statue say of Annie Moore and ‘ooh the Titanic’ and ‘oh the history of the place’ ‘ oh like Spike island’ y’know but like what’s actually going on there now? I basically remember summing up Aoife’s work saying something like it evoked feeling towards the concept of time… so like time as a thing of great beauty but also like time passing as a source of anxiety… anyway that’s a fucking lot but I feel like you know more about the liminal right?

Niamh: 

it’s change of purpose and its sudden lack of purpose.. is I suppose-it is a spot for dark tourism- it is a spot for like ‘ oh the famine jaysus, the famine’  there is nothing sadder for me I suppose than something that’s lost its purpose…and there is something tragic  and… and-and kind of sad about that-ahm ya.. but like ya in regard to liminality.. the guy who was the first to coin.. oh god, I can’t remember his name-but he wrote a book about it and it was about societal rituals and it was about not even epic things happening it was about the individual rituals and the space between it happening and it being done… there is this palpable thing inside that space and he could conflate this to huge societal events where there has been a huge disruption of the norm I guess… It’s like these giant disruptions create this kind of bubble or space and it’s like throwing a ball in the air and when the ball is in the air-when there is no action-when it hits the precipice it’s -kind of like .. where we’re just hanging in the air and we’re just waiting to see the next like kind of… causation

Sarah: 

I .. I … I agree with you that something that loses its purpose is like tragic and sad but also… well I guess it’s that thing of ruins being beautiful y’know? Like they’ve obviously lost their purpose but they are quite beautiful, I wouldn’t say that I get sad looking at a ruin and then there is something about Aoife Claffey’s work that’s really beautiful, the terminal like…. That… was-when I saw her work for the degree show, I just thought like ‘wow’ … I don’t – do you say it’s sublime or something? It was very beautiful-and like you did feel this like immense awareness of time. .. So I agree with you I think it’s really sad but in a… in a really beautiful way. But yes we are totally up in the air …like in – a little ball… That is really interesting I think… coz its funny like… I know that we like … there was a lot of.. like getting the taxi to the train station.. and then the train to Cobh.. like very y’know.. I guess that’s a liminal space in itself like us travelling to Cobh and then Cobh itself being a liminal space and then the fact that the… we couldn’t go to the exhibition because we are all in this liminal space of waiting for fucking COVID to be over

Niamh: 

But… it is a very creative space to be in because the social norms have broken down like-the regular isn’t the regular anymore but like also y’know [laughs] it can be a space of crisis as well but ahm ya… obviously kind of like a lack of power  and control which everybody has to kind of be ok with like y’know and then when were in Cobh it was kind of just like lets wander then-let’s just be wanderers for a day let’s just be or something like that. The guy’s name was Van Gannep! When like ahm …as well as that-when like talking-when talking about sublime and stuff within ahmm Aoife Claffey’s work I was kind of like reminded of Bill Viola whose like one of my favourite video artists and The Crossing which is so sublime and so ahm kind of liminal where it’s someone passing through water but it just feels so meditative… can we say that? Can we say that Cobh was meditative? That in the walking… naww I suppose not … I suppose I wouldn’t-it’s just waiting…

Sarah: 

’Member I said we were on a pilgrimage because we were walking around and we just ended up in the Cathedral and we lit a candle and then we talked about how we should do the Camino when this is all over? So …. It ..I guess there was a spiritual aspect to the walk which was meditative… I love that … that this is a time of creativity but also a time of chaos … ahmm I think I might start typing up some of this…

Niamh:

 Ahm I completely forgot about us lighting that candle [laughs] in that church and it was a Sunday of all days as well and the fact that we were talking about the Camino as well and also I was going on about how doing the Camino.. I was like ‘ah what’s the fucking point?’ And ye were both like ‘aahh it’d be fun’ – I kind of like felt like there was no point in it-It was just walking for the sake of walking which I guess we were doing as well.. It definitely felt like a mini pilgrimage…

Hazel Scully – A review of Daphne Wright’s exhibition ‘ A Quite Mutiny’ at the Crawford Art Gallery.

Daphne Wright is an Irish artist, born in 1963 in Longford, now based between Dublin and Bristol.  She studied art at NCAD and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Polytechnic and  is represented by the Frith Street Gallery in London. Wright works in sculpture, film, print and installation, considering ideas of communication, faith, ageing and death. Wright had a major solo exhibition at the RHA gallery in Dublin in collaboration with Arnolfini arts centre in Bristol, entitled Emotional Archaeology, from 20 January 2017 to 26 February 2017. That exhibition featured works spanning 25 years of her career.

A quiet mutiny was a large-scale exhibition of all new works commissioned  by the Crawford Art Gallery, running from 15 November 2019- 16 February 2020. I was lucky enough to work as a tour guide at the Crawford Art Gallery at the time of this exhibition, for children and teens. I also volunteered with the Lonradh group, an artist-run gallery initiative for those experiencing memory loss or dementia and their carers.

In the exhibition, Wright worked almost exclusively with a fragile unfired clay as her chosen material. Cracks were visible in many pieces, and it was clear to the viewer that these works were not built to last. This was a conscious artistic choice by Wright. Throughout art history, most artistic output was created with durability in mind. The idea was to leave a legacy behind after the death of the artist. Wright plays with this idea, turning it on its head, calling into question the commodification and commercialisation of contemporary art. The fragility of the material, in turn, reflected the ephemerality of life in all of its various stages.

No plinth or protective glass covered the pieces, with minimal labelling. There was a self-guided tour pamphlet which visitors could avail of, with information on each piece. The viewer travelled through the space at their own pace.In A quiet mutiny, familiar objects from everyday life came under Wright’s scrutiny. Plates, a rug, a zimmer frame, and a stand-alone, near-empty fridge door were among the works on display. A frail, unfired clay zimmer frame; so fragile it is hardly fit for its purpose, added to the melancholy of the environment. For whom is such an object intended? The frailty of the material enacted a mutiny against its purpose. Wright seemed to focus mostly on extreme ends of the age spectrum, childhood and old age, though the exhibition was recognisable and familiar to a person at any life stage.

A stand-alone, near-empty fridge door was almost shocking in its suggestion of loneliness. The fridge is a common focal point in a home: opened many times a day, providing nourishment and sustenance to inhabitants. Here, like the zimmer frame, the object rebelled against its purpose – made of dust with nothing to offer but its empty shelves. The piece was quietly evocative and even upsetting, symbolic as it was of undernourishment, both physical and emotional.

Unidentifiable clay objects on a clay shelf were based on collectible toys her own children used to covet. She is interested in how children collect objects, and how as we get older we learn how to categorize and become part of the systems and institutions which are a part of growing up. Our roles change as we go through life, as do our relationships with organisational systems. Wright observes the social mores of our time, the conventions and the objects with which we surround ourselves.

This same preoccupation with categorisation was found nearby with her collection of small woodland creatures attached to the wall: credited to the Guardian newspaper, these pieces evoked the educational posters that national newspapers often include with their publications. Such posters adorn many a childhood bedroom, and are an example of the social and political world filtering into the personal. Wright is keen to show how the personal is not divorced from these spheres.

A stand-alone piece, not rendered in clay, were the small watercolour sketches of children’s faces in an array of different emotional states; mostly tearful, unhappy expressions. Wright has said that these were inspired by her old child’s emotional state, crying and not wanting to go to school, and how difficult that is to experience and  navigate as a parent. The images also bore a resemblance to ‘emojis’ on phones, which perhaps help children to navigate emotions and learn how to express themselves.

Wright also created two new video works for the exhibition. The first, Song of Songs, depicted an elderly woman and her carer, their body language symbolic of a lover’s embrace in tragedy. The second video, Is Everything Ok? depicted an older man with his face painted as a lion. The video portrayed him using team-building language common in middle management, as well as responses to his wife’s health. The effect was jarring, as the meaning was not immediately clear. However, the artist draws attention to the liminal space occupied by one who has moved from a career in middle management to retirement, from the public sphere to the private, personal post-work stage of life.

The show was not without humour: downstairs, a thin, branchless Christmas tree, presumably thrown away after the holidays, was nonetheless  adorned with a big clay star. A child’s buggy and clay football stood directly on the floor, in front of a female nude: a female body created by a woman for women: here Wright attempts to reclaim the female nude from centuries of male desire and eroticism, and ultimately the male gaze. A faint suggestion of arms crossed against the abdomen was visible rendered in the clay, a protective, often female, gesture.

Upstairs in the millennium wing, giant sunflowers marked a part of the exhibition where the influence of the natural world was strongly felt. They were imposing and massive, seeming almost anthropomorphic, like a Greek chorus. We were reminded of the natural world that surrounds and envelopes us throughout our lives. According to Wright, neighbours of hers gave her their cut sunflowers to aid her in creating the clay models. Creating an unfired clay that would nonetheless hold up the structures took years.

While A quiet Mutiny often felt melancholy: an eerie, colourless world created by the artist, there was also the suggestion that if we look, really look at our lives, its structures and the objects we surround ourselves with, we can better understand what it means to be human. It is indeed possible to find beauty and comfort in the quotidian and in the temporary.

The responsibility we have as care-givers to both children and the elderly was a major concern, and the ways in which the social and political is filtered from the outside into the home. Wright walked us through an entire lifetime on two floors.

Like its title, the exhibition spoke quietly, but for those who chose to listen, it said volumes about the full human experience. Wright showed us that powerful contemporary art does not need to shout to be heard.

Wright may not have given us physical objects to last a lifetime and beyond, but instead created works as fallible as human life itself. There is something reassuringly full-circle about that.

Power in Gathering: A response to Joy Gerrard at The Glucksman

Entering The Glucksman for the first time, for me, in 6 months carried the same sense of nervousness and slight social unease that the lifting of restrictions gave each familiar public space. There’s a new set of social rules to be learned. I had spent some time exploring the grounds of U.C.C., uncovering a new path in its enclosed grounds, still cautious of venturing in. Don’t forget to sign in, make a record of your presence. But those concrete stairs were the same, and the expectation of being able to stand for a few minutes exploring someone’s viewpoint, their expression, held the same. 

The painting of Cross (Protest against Brexit, London, June 2018 ) 2019, by Joy Gerrard, attacks you with movement, with chaos and energy. It’s the first piece you see when you climb to the top of the grey stairs. The piece is large in scale but mainly intriguing in the small strokes of black Japanese ink on canvas. She has captured the aerial view of protestors on the streets of London, protesting Brexit in 2018 which, frankly, has been a shit-show of uncertainty for the past four years. In the context of my visit it reminded me of the same unrest and sense of uncertainty felt over the past few months. That unease coming from governmental restrictions and the complete shutdown of society, as well as the explosion of protests against racial inequality that is rife within the current systems that modern society is built on. 

The painting itself is accompanied by two smaller works of Gerrards, each with incredible detail in the movement of the marks. The large canvas however had me enthralled with its mark making and composition. Her depiction of bodies that seem to topple over each other, climaxing in the middle of the canvas, are encaged in four corners by the rigid buildings of the capital London. These structures were holding them in, even in their revolt. The power of one compared to the mass was clear. There is power here. I move back and forth from the canvas, pacing, trying to see the detail but also the ‘full picture’ in one go, which really feels impossible. Her use of ink on canvas, of varying opacities of black, form wonderful layers, which build and build. Each stroke on the enormous canvas feels both planned and fluid. The black and white nature of the ink reflects the growing disparity between political views within current british politics, or global politics. Its polarising.

The movement of people, this mass gathering gave me chills. It was wrong. It very nearly revolted me, the anxiety of being placed among such a large group of people, thousands, after months of feeling cautious, even dirty when walking down the road and bumping into someone. Obviously it reminded me of times where I’ve marched and protested in the past as well. That giant sense of camaraderie with every individual in the crowd, part of one large mass movement, with a goal and a sense of being heard fully. But this image has been misconstrued, warped and changed.

 A new context, a new flow of images and associations, the flashing of articles and the news headlines explaining the negative impact of gatherings. The black ink now feels less like political poles, but of varying percentages, of the possibility of spread of infection. The buildings that herd the protestors in like sardines feels less like the constraints of power structures that have been built into society for centuries, but of the capitalist structures that frame and control the decisions of the people, even putting economic stability over individual health and well being. The Brexit protest was futile, in the end they’re sticking to their guns. But they were heard, they came together out behind their screens to physically express their opinion. It was needed though, as protesting has been for centuries. 

It was later at night when the black strokes of the painting, the chaos, hit me. The ink stayed with me, and would not leave. It morphed in my mind, expanding into sharp 3D metal pokers and bars. Pulsating and moving with an urgency. A conflation of senses. My eyes were closed and the painting seemed to take over my consciousness, twirling and growing. Chaos, and power in a gathering. Panic set in as these forms spun out in my mind. Stagnant water marks. Maybe it was a bit of sensory overload, but definitely Gerrard’s piece held an impact on me. It was the first piece of art I had the ability to view after the lockdown, and it certainly ignited an appreciation for the real life experience.

Niamh Murphy

‘NUMB’ – Stephen Doyle – Triskel Arts Centre

This is an exhibition of new work by the artist Stephen Doyle that examines the experience of Chinese LGBTQIA+ community. The work is informed by a residency in Shanghai and is on display in the Triskel Arts Centre until the November 2020. Free tickets to book a viewing of the show are available on the Triskel website: triskelartscentre.ie

You can follow the artist on instagram: @stephendoyleart

Worn by 12 am, Oil and Mix Media on Canvas, 35x25cm. Image courtesy of artist

– ‘Do you have a ticket?’

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– ‘Follow the arrows going up the stairs and keep to the left’ . . . . . . .

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  • Shanghai Citizen

Strolling up the ramp of the Triskel Gallery Space with its metal railing and low ceiling, I begin to feel like a passenger on little subway carriage. Stephen Doyle’s paintings are spaced out as if they are windows out onto the platforms of everyday life and I’m in that lovely transitory feeling of observing; being in and out, distanced and removed, like The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway, the action happens around me. The work depicts scenes from public transport and city life. The paintings are filled with people, there is a couple in the gallery space with me and yet, I am alone. Numb is the bold title of this series depicting the LGBTQIA+ community, inspired by Stephen’s residence n Shanghai. The work comments on the exclusion of these individuals from society and the numbness and sense of isolation they feel as a result. Numb: unable to think or react in a normal way. I’m thinking this room should be packed full of bodies, sardines in a busy train carriage, full of Stephen’s friends and peers congratulating our friend. We should be hugging, shaking hands and having conversations about the work. Commenting on Stephen’s skill but also using the space to talk and learn about LGBTQIA+ issues. I’m thinking how important and powerful it is to have a physical space to raise these issues. I’m thinking how lonely these past few months have been. Of course there is always the awkward eye contact that jolts you back to the real world, contact with the here and now and the girl at Caihong at an Intersection in the Changning District is catching my eye. I feel her eyes on me on the other side of the room. Back in the here and now, I begin my journey through the exhibition.

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  • Between Grindr and Yili Road

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  • Lost in Commute

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This work is typical of Stephen’s painterly style. Perfectly imagined, designed and executed. There is always a strong structure and composition in Stephen’s paintings. Solid shapes, angles and lines create the artists world. His formulated depiction of commuters on a subway perfectly demonstrates this . However amidst this precision there is always a sense of play. The bold, baby-pink, train-track stripes that run along a man’s sleeve or the subtle use of a light-green, oil pastel line to create an insignia are mark-making skills that breathe life into these works. There is an extraordinary amount of control in this process. Meticulous planning is involved in Stephen’s approach. Stephen has always been organised. We started out in Crawford together. I went through endless existential crises – considering dropping out to go do law or teaching or anything other than giving into this base desire to make art. Stephen is forever rock resolute in his intention, in his vision, in his boundless ambition. We bonded over our commitment to hard work and utter fascination with the art world. I helped Stephen set up for his degree show and the next year, when I graduated, I was allotted the same space. We joked that it was a lucky spot but we knew it was hard work that got us to where we were. Stephen worked in the paint store throughout my final year and was always on hand to offer wise counsel on what materials to use, or what to take away from a challenging tutorial, or to advise on fund-raising for the show. When I graduated out into the big, bad world I was lost. Stephen was also a member of the Backwater studios and ambitiously planning his latest attack in the art world – it was college all over again. He introduced me to a gallery in Dublin… He helped me install my first solo show… I reread his artist statements…He teaches me about queer culture.. I went to his first solo show in Dublin.. saw his painting in the National gallery and bought the catalogue feeling proud.. I try and let him into my mess of a brain.. jumped for joy when his work was acquired by the Crawford Art Gallery.. we bitch and moan about our struggles for funding.. send each other in opportunities and plan our careers together.. We journey together.

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  • Worn by 12am

When I saw this painting in Stephen’s studio many months ago I started to get really excited about where this new series would bring the work. Watching the series evolve and emerge was a thrilling experience. Ideas and impulses becoming concepts and creations. Seeing all the paintings together in the one space, I am drawn once more towards this melancholic, intimate work. At first I thought the power of this piece lay in the mere novelty of seeing Stephen’s work on a small scale, but seeing it again in this new space makes me realise I was wrong. The man seems to be haunted by the steps he sits on. Infact, he seems more solid than his surroundings. Maybe I’m still there. The words floated into my head in a loopy blue handwriting. I remind myself to root out that notebook once I get home.

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[I will transcribe it for you now: Robert Morris in Convo with W.T Mitchell 1994 – Joseph Brodsky once said something to the effect that one of his strongest visual memories was of sitting on a wooden porch in Russia at the age of five looking out at a mud road, and wearing green rubber boots. ‘Maybe I’m still there he said’. The note comes from a Whitechapel reader I perused while attempting to do research for my undergraduate thesis. I was sitting in studio, both legs under my desk, I had a little maquette of a landscape scene perched at my elbow and I believe there was a window facing my back. I remember urgently copying it into my notebook, even though it had nothing t o do with my chosen topic. Maybe I’m still there.]

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  • Not my sister, not my friend… not here

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‘Where did he get the camera?’ The other masked people in the gallery space are wondering. Again, I am transported back to the present. In this work, two women are conversing and a security camera extends out from the painting actualizing into an object in the gallery space. I want to tell them but I’m unsure if I should talk to them. I make sure I keep my distance as I shuffle along from painting to painting. Following their pace is the only physical interaction we share. A couple of times I think about interrupting explaining I know the artist; that I had witnessed a lot of the work being created but I can’t bring myself to do it. I am a solo passenger on this journey through the exhibition.

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  • Searching…

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Immediately I look for my favourite mark of the whole series. A singular, brush-stroke movement. The totally unapologetic process of a wonderful wrist action that sits in a row of pristine trees – big, fat and lush I think back to my squeal of delight when I first saw it and Stephen grinning in appreciation. Mark-making is a shared love of ours and now I am remembering our recent chat about my work. We both stood swilling our cups of tea in contemplation of my work; ‘That’s gross’ -‘Ok yes but just ignore that bit and imagine the texture and I’ll be doing a wash over that later and obviously I’ll be changing the whole of the right side because that’s a fucking mess.. well I’ll be knocking it right back anyway but the composition is there’.. ‘it’s a great composition’.. ‘ya I’m happy with it’. We started laughing once we realised how silly we sounded and I realise that I’m smiling now as I move along to the next work.

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  • Caihong at an Intersection

in the Changning District

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The couple before me have left now and a new bunch of passengers are permitted to enter the space. The woman in Caihong at an Intersection in the Changning District observes us all.

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  • Voguers in the Afternoon

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I reach the final painting of the exhibition. Two friends having a cup of tea stare back at me. Stephen originally contemplated calling this piece by another title. Spilling The Tea he explained made reference to the ceremonial aspect of tea in Chinese culture while invoking a queer phrase. ‘Spilling the tea’, I’m embarrassed he had to explain to me, is having a good gossip. I leave the exhibition and immediately ring my friend.

Sarah Long