December 8, 2014
08 December 2014 - Our Arty Blogger is back! Des Kenny gives a personal response to our current exhibition by Sinead McDonald, ‘Uchronia’.
Sinead McDonald’s photographs in Draíocht’s First Floor Gallery explore, through the medium of self-portraiture, alternative identities she might have assumed if destiny and chance had determined a different future from her present fate as an artist. Can fantasising divergent future histories offer a sense of control over current existence? Are all our blind tomorrows fractured if viewed from a disordered contemporary society? Such questions naturally surface when standing before these inquisitive images.
Self Portrait at my son's grave on his birthday
In one of the more poignant photographs the artist stands in a graveyard before her imagined son’s gravestone. It is the only photograph in which the artist does not confront the viewers gaze but turns away and hides her devouring loss from voyeuristic eyes. It is a frightening realisation that even invented suppositions have ungovernable and painful tragedies. A fiction can fearfully seed contemporary life with a premonition that may summon unwanted fate.
Self Portrait once removed
In Self Portrait Once Removed the artist presents herself as a young teenage boy standing awkwardly but self absorbed in his school tracksuit on a suburban street. He seems to portray an internal conflict while assuming the identity of a female persona in a male body. The boy becomes an actor transforming his identity to inhabit another’s vision as the artist becomes an ambiguous spectator while she views her own gender change. The sexual metamorphasis hints at the dual nature of our humanity that lies submerged in the silhouetted preserve of the psyche.
Self Portrait if my parents had called me Irene Sinéad instead of Sinéad Irene
There is also wit and humour explored in certain images. In one photo the artist poses the question what would happen if my names were reversed from Sinéad Irene to Irene Sinéad. Inevitably this minor rearrangement creates a new character of a primary school teacher in a catholic school. Irene Sinead sits primly in a chair soberly dressed correcting children’s exercise books as a statue of the Virgin Mary looks down on high denoting that greater forces than humanity decide our vocation. The theme of naming a child and its consequence is explored in the famous Johnny Cash song where the absent father called his son Sue. He grew up strong, learning to defend himself, fighting all who jeered his name. Irene Sinead on the other hand is not a fighter but a shy introspective school teacher preparing children for exciting possible futures reserved Irene will not achieve since she accepts fatalistically life is predetermined.
Self Portrait if I'd been born an only child
While in a Self Portrait as an only Child she stands confidently erect in a dress suit next to her Audi. She places her hand on the car proudly proclaiming ownership. Her world is ordered but conventional and there is no desire to experience life beyond her middle class existence.
In another photograph she has become a doctor because she accidently walked home in 1989 by way of Camden Street. What mysterious event occurred on Camden Street that helped decide the career of the protagonist is shuttered away unseen but had profound effects similar to Saint Paul on his eventful journey on the road to Damascus. We are left wondering if contrary routes were chosen, divergent outcomes would unfold, changing the course of personal and world history.
In all the photographs the artist portrays her characters with their hair tied up in a ponytail. The presentation of hair typifies the role of each character and becomes a prop in creating new identities. Yet in Self Portrait Working on the Time Machine her hair hangs loosely, flowing uninterrupted over her shoulder. Caught in the present her hair flows undisturbed not yet ready to participate in future characterisations since the time machine is not switched on. The artist stands transfixed anxiously waiting for the time machine to decide her future. The show leaves the spectator pondering many unanswered questions but this is a strength not a weakness. Long after leaving Draíocht the viewer is burdened with lingering thoughts that life’s arresting past may dictate our shimmering tomorrows.
Self Portrait Working on the Time Machine
Desmond Kenny is an artist based in Hartstown, Dublin 15. He is a self taught painter, since he began making art in 1986 he has since exhibited widely in Ireland and abroad, solo shows include Draíocht in 2001, The Lab in 2006 and Pallas Contemporary Projects in 2008. His work is included in many collections including the Office of Public Works, SIPTU, and Fingal County Council. Kenny's practice also incorporates print making and he has been a member of Graphic Studio Dublin since 2004.
December 1, 2014
Sinead McDonalds ‘Uchronia’ in our First Floor Gallery was launched by Dr Seán Enda Power, Lecturer and Irish Research Council Fellow on Metaphysics (2010-2012) on Thursday 27 November 2014. Seán has very kindly given us his speech for our Blog.
Sinead McDonald, Emer McGowan & Dr Seán Enda Power
Most people who hear the word ‘utopia’ will think of it as meaning the best possible world. It is a place where everything is perfect and things are as they should be. However, the word means, literally, ‘no place’--a place which is nowhere. It is not on any map; you can’t get there from here (and you can’t here from there).
‘Uchronia’ could also mean the best possible moment, a time when everything is perfect and things are as they should be—however, again, it literally means ‘no time’. A uchronic time is a time which is no-when. It is not in the history of our world. It is not in the past, present, or future.
Stated baldly, the statement that uchronia is no-when is incoherent. A time which is no-when is no time at all. What could that mean? One way to make it coherent is to say this: uchronic times are times but they are times which do not stand in a temporal relation to real time. They are not in the present moment; they are not in the past; they are not in the future. With a utopian country, you cannot get there from here. Similarly, with a uchronic scene, no one now can get there: it is not happening, did not happen, will not happen.
Many (but not all) of Sinead McDonald’s ‘self’-portraits are uchronic portraits. This could mean they are portraits of the best possible times. It’s clear from the titles, however, that these are not the best times. Instead, they are portraits of her in situations which will never happen. However, the titles of the pieces indicate, although they do not happen, these situations stand in an intimate relation to times in her life that have happened. They are portraits of how things would have been if things were slightly different in the past (e.g., “Self Portrait - If I hadn’t met my now ex husband”).
Shift one thing and these would not be uchronic portraits but real portraits. Being so intimate, one might wonder if these should be called uchronic: surely, at least in imagination, you could get there from here?
This brings us to one portrait amongst the others: “Self Portrait - Working on the time machine”.
We all want to change something in our past. Some of these are things - for example, earthquakes - we couldn’t have avoided. But others seem tied to our decisions and choices. One of the most difficult things in life is to separate these two. But once we do, if we can, who would not want to go back and change things--make the other decision, bring about the other outcome?
Recent research by the Pew Institute of the American public asked them what futuristic invention would they most like. 9% of respondents said they would like a time machine.
According to the show This American Life, what a lot of people said they would then do is this: go back and kill Hitler before he rose to power. (Lots of people regret the second world war, I guess).
The belief that, if you could travel in time, you could also change the past is obviously very common. For many, it is the most interesting aspect of it. We see that in lots of time travel stories; Back to the Future, Looper, Primer (although, not Bill & Ted). But there is a problem with changing the past: it leads to a paradox often called The Grandfather Paradox.
The Grandfather Paradox is this (taken from its description by the philosopher David Lewis in the 1970s): Tom hates his grandfather. He has a time machine and is a crack shot. He travels back in time to before his grandfather met his grandmother and shoots him dead. As a result, his grandfather never meets Tom’s grandmother. So Tom is never born. So Tom never gets to hate his Grandfather, get a time machine or become a crack shot. So, Tom doesn’t travel back in time and kill his grandfather. So, his grandfather meets his grandmother and Tom is born. So Tom is born, hates his grandfather, gets a time machine becomes a crack shot, goes back and kills his grandfather. So Tom is never born …
The paradox is not that Tom can kill his grandfather. It is that in doing so he also ensures his grandfather lives (by Tom ceasing to be born). The contradiction is that Tom both kills and doesn’t kill his grandfather, is born and isn’t born, travels in time and doesn’t travel in time.
However, McDonald’s portraits aren’t of her killing her grandfather (I don’t know McDonald’s feelings about that). Killing Hitler doesn’t obviously stop my grandfather meeting my grandmother. Similarly, the kinds of regrets I have are not obviously things which prevent my own existence. So couldn’t we go back and change the past if we had time machines? If she wanted to, couldn’t McDonald make these imagined portraits real? However, one thing prevents you going back and changing the past. Unlike Tom’s patricidal hatred, it is something intimately tied to going back and changing the past. The desire to change the past creates as much of a paradox as Tom’s killing his grandfather.
What I could call the Desire Paradox is this:
You want to change something you regret. You have a time machine and know how to change it (just don’t ask her out; just don’t cross that street at that time). You travel back in time to before you did the event. You do the other thing than what you originally did. As a result, you never did the thing you regret. All seems now right with the world. So you never regret the thing you did. So you never want to change the past. You don’t get in a time machine. So, you don’t travel back in time and change things. So, the thing you regret occurs after all. So you regret it, want to change it, get in a time machine, know how to change it, go back, change it. So it doesn’t occur; you don’t regret it; you don’t want to change it …
Our desires to change the past themselves prevent their satisfaction. (These paradoxes don’t prevent time travel itself. They just prevent changing the past. We might however still go to the past without changing it. So, perhaps, we might just go there to see times which we want to see, and haven’t seen in a while.)
McDonald’s portraits are uchronic because they really are of times which she can’t get to. The same applies to any similar portraits we have of ourselves. No matter how much we might want to change the past, because we want it, we cannot do it.