Sunday, December 18, 2016

Old Stuff #5 and A Story

In the fields this morning, the dog was barking and barking at something in the next field.  He wouldn't come back when I whistled him but kept on barking - a threatening, 'don't come any closer' bark.  I thought it must be hunters - on Sundays they come into these fields with lurchers and terriers looking for rabbits.

When I got to the dog, he was staring into the next field but there was nothing there.  Absolutely nothing there.  Nothing to be seen or heard.  I called him to follow me into the field but he wouldn't.  He went the long way round and caught up with me further up the field.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Parasite Drawing x 3

A Weed Is A Plant Out Of Place

I wrote this review for a critical art writing competition but as nothing is going to come of that, here are 1275 words to ignore:

Dorothy Cross, Foxglove, 2015, bronze    Photo courtesy of Lismore Castle Arts

A Weed Is A Plant Out Of Place: The Invigilator's Cut

Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore, Co. Waterford:  3 April – 2 October, 2016
Anna Atkins, Harry Callahan, Pierpaolo Campanini, Mat Collishaw, Dorothy Cross, Latifa Echakhch, Susan Hartnett, Michael Landy, Mateo Lopez, Maria Sibylla Merian, Adrian Paci, Luisa Rabbia, Jeanne Silverthorne, Philip Taaffe, Emma Tennant, Michael John Whelan and Pae White.
Curated by Allegra Pesenti.

After a while it's more about what the works have to offer you.  Not the normal five second visitor/art work interaction but say The Guardians, a video by Adrien Paci, that will give me, the permanently upright invigilator, 6 minutes and 22 seconds of seated peace if visitors watch it all, which most of the time they do.  Prolonged viewing is often unusual for video works but this is an unusual video, a beautiful video without dialogue, text or music that opens with slow pans of tall trees and overgrown funereal artefacts.  Next a trickle of children, some barefoot, through a graveyard.  They wait around for a time and then everything begins – a hand brushes crumbs of dirt off white stone, fingers peel away cobwebs or uproot brittle weeds that sound like sticks breaking and then a bucket of water is sloshed over stone and the camera zooms out and out and out to show dozens of children washing every grave in a constant movement and babble.  The most commonly asked question after 6 minutes and 22 seconds: 'Where was that filmed?' Paci filmed the video in his home town of Shkodër, the centre for Roman Catholicism in Albania, where after the withdrawal of Russian troops following the collapse of Communism, local children were paid to clean the graves that had been hidden by a protecting shroud of weeds.

Adrien Paci, The Guardians, video, 2015

[Most common visitor comment on entering the gallery:  'I hate weeds']

Michael Landy, from Nourishment (detail), 2002, etching

'A Weed Is A Plant Out of Place' germinated from Michael Landy's series of 2002 etchings entitled 'Nourishment' for which Landy studied and drew the weeds growing around his studio in London.  After viewing the work at Landy's studio, Pesenti, the show's curator, became fascinated by these scraps of plants growing wherever the slightest opportunity, the least nourishment could be found.  On returning home to the USA, Pesenti, Italian by birth, was detained in secondary immigration at LAX.  Looking around, she saw herself and her fellow travellers as weeds, waiting at the margins to move into foreign territory and put down roots.  Depicted roots and all, Landy's weeds are obsessive, eye-wateringly detailed portraits of individual plants rather than generic or scientific illustrations and as such, announce the intent of the exhibition which is to rehabilitate and reassess weeds, to remind us of the status they once had as food or medicine or as repositories of historical and socio-cultural beliefs such as death, fertility, and grief. 

This reassessment is difficult in a gallery which is surrounded by seven acres of gardens maintained and weeded by a team of gardeners.  Most visitors come to see the gardens and the gallery is unexpected.  Some visitors are curious, others hope for a way into the castle.  Instead they are given an exhibition guide and invited to look at art.  

[Personal Gallery Diary Entry: Friday, 26 August 2016:  A man in a blue blazer inspects the gallery before finding a painting his wife "might like".  He brings her in, timidly chaperoning her straight to the work, a botanical watercolour of a lily by Emma Tennant.  Both of them look at it, neither speaks.  Then they both turn and walk out.]

Dorothy Cross's Foxglove (2015) is a star performer.  Immaculate, perfectly and significantly reproduced in bronze, it stops visitors in their tracks.  A hand reaches out to touch the sharp edges of a leaf but I am there to discourage too much artistic interaction and instead show them Crosses' fingers that have been flawlessly cast in place of some of the bells.  There is always a reaction, usually a laugh and a step back, a grimace, or a hand to the chest, 'that's very good now'.  Cross's foxglove is an invigilator's dream, the connections coming thick and fast; digitalis for the fingers and the Latin name of the plant, for the childhood (and beyond) desire to put one's own fingers into the floppy purple bells, for digitalin, the heart drug that can kill or cure, for the whole poisonous aspect to this plant, so beautiful in nature and so sinister and malevolent in its neutral bronze reincarnation.  

[Visitor comment: Wednesday, 14 September, 2016: 'Tumbleweeds in an art gallery are a sign of the end of civilization.'

American, Australian and South African visitors do not want to see tumbleweeds in a gallery in a castle when they have them piled up against the fence back at home.  European visitors are unsure of what they are looking at.

Answers to questions:  Yes, those are real tumbleweeds and we had them shipped from the United States at the request of the artist.  Yes, we did pay for them.  Yes, they do have a specific place in the gallery and must not be moved, clattered into or picked up and turned over by impromptu would-be curators. 

The tumbleweeds are distributed around the gallery floor, impeding progress, completely out of place, non-native to Ireland and non-native ironically, to the States even though they are one if its iconic symbols.  This shift and the responses to it are revealing – they are either too exotic and alien or too familiar and inappropriate.  The subtext of this show is migration, both vegetable and human, the two being linked for where we travel, so do our weeds and these gate crashing tumbleweeds, spiked triggers for unconscious reactions to interlopers, show that there is often no control and that 'home' is a transitory concept sometimes defined by where one ends up rather than where one begins.  The artist, Latifa Echakhch, lives in Switzerland but was born in Morocco.  She was unable to get a visa to attend the exhibition opening.  

Latifa Ekchakh, Tumbleweed, 2016, installation view (detail)

 [Personal Gallery Diary Entry, Tuesday, 19 April, 2016:  A man and a woman.   She is wandering around praising the works and showing interest.  He has thin brown hair in a ponytail and a very square jaw and even when walking into the gallery looks as if he is walking out again.  All the time she is trying to involve him, get him interested, pointing out works, exclaiming how lovely things are.  She is inducing him to like the art.  She is forcing the art upon him.]

Mateo Lopez's 'Urban Tumbleweed (Helecho)' (2016) has also infiltrated its way into the space.  A paper weed in an inflated clear plastic bag it sits unobtrusively in one corner of the gallery having taken advantage of the warm protection of plastic to sprout from a corner of soil disguised as rubbish.  It looks pitiful, yet exists and will thrive, an embodiment of the dual nature of weeds as 'weedy', something feeble and frail and equally, voracious and uncontrollable, appearing where they are least expected and with any luck taking over; impervious, adaptable, interminable.  Like us.

Mateo Lopez, Urban Tumbleweed (Helecho), plastic bag, paper, wire 2016

[Home Diary Entry, Tuesday May 3, 2016:  Farmer Weed Killer has sprayed the edges of every field and lane and everything that was springing up straight and strong is now falling down, curled, contorted and dying.  But here, the weeds are safe, although trampled by the bullocks.  I was reading that weeds need disturbance, soil turmoil, to thrive and I know from experience that even the doused weeds will come back and patches will have escaped altogether and although it is only the third day of summer, their skeletons will be there in the winter to come.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

8 Drawings

I made these in 2014, all very quickly, trying not to think.  There are some print elements and some with paint rubbed into the paper and a hope for the best.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Autumn Return

July, August, September, October ...

Four months or thereabouts.  The next few posts will hopefully show and tell what I did in this time.  Beginning with

Monday, July 4, 2016

An Occasional Print

Printing has become an occasion rather than something I do regularly.  I have to give myself a day, get change for the toll, then drive for a leisurely hour up the M9 past Mullinavat and Knocktopher and then find money to park the car on Horse Barracks Lane, right next to the Smithwick's brewery in the centre of Kilkenny. 

In summer I often park outside the very lovely St. Kieran's College because it is free and walk through the city and although this takes about 15 minutes, it is worth it because Kilkenny City is a wonderful place with narrow Kilkenny marble pavements and groups of tourists and hustle and bustle and charity shops to divert the footsteps, unless I'm carrying paper or heavy rollers in which case I am too tired and sweaty to be diverted until I reach the studio, put down my load, turn on the radio and begin.

This drypoint print is based upon drawings I have been making somewhat obsessively of late and is for the Blackstack Studio 2016 box set.