Engage – An Exhibition
Few know about DIT’s Fine Art school in Portland Row, and neither did I until I walked like a lost child into the ‘White Lady Art Gallery” where students of the college had taken over a small space in the back of the room. Invited by Niamh Murphy, an artist whose work was also on display I trundled down to the Gallery along the quays to check out the evening’s proceedings. It would be important to note at this point that I am no Art expert, I very much appreciate, but only in the same way that a child appreciates the stars. I lack any ability to understand the cosmos, but I have a fantastic time looking at them.
‘Engage’ was, if you can imagine such a thing a large Andromeda of concepts displayed on six white walls. Some had worked in the medium of paint, others with visual media and watercolour. Leonard Traynor’s was the first piece which wrangled my gaze, most notably because it didn’t look (to me at least) to be a piece of art. A small screen with headphones attached displayed a grainy YouTube clip of four Russian teenagers playing the Beatles classic She loves You. Halfway through listening to the clip I realised the lyrics had been changed from ‘She loves you’ to ‘Ruptured Gas Main’. Following a ponderous few minutes, wondering if there was something I had missed I asked the artist, bearded and wandering with a glass of the free wine, to explain to me the concept, as it had surely been lost on me.
Leonard explained how he was attempting to show the brevity of news stories compared with the longevity of pop culture, all too familiar territory for a journalist to appreciate, “Popular songs live on forever whereas news stories are forgotten about and fade away. By combining the two we draw a conversation between the importance of news compared to pop culture”. I admired his attempt to open this dialogue but couldn’t help feeling the conversation had already been had. Joe Soap would rather hear the lovely Liverpool lads tell them that ‘She loves him’ than listen to on repeat the significant structural problems of our energy crisis, unless of course Gas mains happened to be the raison d’étre of his intended audience. Maybe the news story had not been significant enough? Maybe I’m a philistine, in Art it’s always hard to tell.
Squirming my way through the now packed room I slipped amongst deafening chatter, and came to a second piece which again had me baffled. Placards were mounted to the wall, GO HOME, FATHERS PROVIDE NURTURE TOO, GAY MARRIAGE EQUALITY NOW’ all in black bold covering an entire wall. Gay marriage equality I could understand, being somewhat aware of student liberal politics I understood the point quite clearly, but the others, ‘GO HOME’ especially had me stroking my chin in ignorance. Again I went in search of the artist. ‘I am a medium through which other people express their views’, explained Maria Quigley. For almost a year Maria had been asking people to write down anything they felt, so long as it was true to them and picket outside places she thought the message might be relevant. “‘GO HOME’ was one of the trickiest pieces I had done”, standing outside an immigration centre Maria had stayed true to her word and had, against all her own held beliefs become the medium through which people could have their say. “I am trying to normalise the idea of picketing”. Maria had turned herself into a piece of moving, unbiased art. It was in my opinion, one of the cleverest pieces I had ever seen. Beyond respecting the concept I respected more the sheer cajones she had displayed, not only giving people she did not agree with a voice, but she physically had ‘stood’ for whatever messages she displayed.
Gemma Fitzpatrick’s piece was by far the most visually stunning, a symmetrical collage of triangular shapes interlocking with dazzling colour. Each colour had been coded with a message of normality and domesticity beside it. An Avant Guard pie chart separating the differing aspects of her life, each triangle chaotically placed on top of another with paradoxically careful symmetry. I had no need to call the artist for help on this display, not because I believed I had wholly understood the piece but rather because my own interpretation had satisfied me enough. The eye thirsts for symmetry and colour, adding another layer of complexity to the piece might have drowned me.
The rest of the pieces were just as eye catching but I didn’t believe they had been executed with the same clarity or attention to detail as the previous. Thomas Tully’s typographical display was rugged but full of aggression, an inverted message, “You greedy Cunt” was striking, but the execution did not live up to the delicacy of the other pieces. Maybe that was point, again I remind you I am but a baby in this universe.
Niamh Walsh’s two paintings were pastel-like imitations of domestic life, two images displayed the double expectations of the female role at home. One, a women changing for bed, the other a cup being washed, both painted with dull greys, a commentary on the mundanites of domestic life? I asked Niamh about the display which stood in front of her paintings, large basins for washing hair which were filled with beautiful ‘Pot Pourri’. “Does it signify the beauty of feminine domesticity, are you trying to contrast the dull occasions of normal life with the beauty of others?”. “No, they were always in the gallery, we couldn’t move them”. And in those lines I fully accepted my ignorance.
I had only caught glimpses of the other artist’s work, Paul McGrane and Ronan O Reilly. Their pieces, geometrically brilliant metaphors for life and death and silk like tentacles etched onto black paper were unluckily smaller than the rest. Given the cram of bodies which had gathered round each it was a miracle I had managed to spot them at all.
The most interesting sight of the evening was the crowd, an eclectic mix of young and old, artists and posers, personalities so large that they consumed the air of the room and made it impossible to look beyond their padded shoulders and velvet suits jackets. I wrote only three notes during my hour and a half glimpse into their world, the final being, “These people are more stunning than paintings…the art would be nothing without them”.