Des Kenny Reviews Amharc Fhine Gall X - Transhistorial Terrain

January 8, 2016

Ella DeBurca, Ruth Clinton & Niamh Moriarty / Curated by Linda Shevlin
WED 09 DEC 2015 - SAT 13 FEB 2016 
Ground & First Floor Galleries, Draiocht Blanchardstown


14 December 2015 - Our Arty Blogger is back! Des Kenny Reviews Amharc Fhine Gall X - Transhistorial Terrain ...  

Amharc Fhine Gall is an annual exhibition for emerging visual artists based in county Fingal and occupies the Ground & First Floor Galleries in Draíocht. Fingal Arts Office, moving with the current contemporary art trends, has employed a curator to pick the artists for this exhibition. The curator in today’s art world must have great knowledge of the forever changing landscape of contemporary art practice and be adept at generating projects which keep pace with new interpretations of modern visual aesthetics. The curator also brings intellectual rigour to an exhibition while creating a platform for artists to express themselves. The artist and curator working model is an inclusive relationship that charters two diverse artistic disciplines towards a common vision. A symbiotic dialogue between both partners with a shared vision can raise the profiles of artist and curator to achieve a more extensive visual arts audience.

The curator Linda Shevlin is very interested in how artists interpret local history and how re-evaluating the topical hinterland of our buried past can affect present and future social history. The curator searched through the visual archive of Fingal Arts Office and decided on fifteen artists whose work had an affinity with the curator’s preoccupation with social history. Linda then made fifteen studio visits over three days which culminated in picking three artists for the Amharc Fhine Gall Exhibition. The curator decided to include a number of Fingal artists who did not make the exhibition shortlist in other projects she is currently engaged with and future art programmes awaiting realisation. The dynamic relationship between artist and curator will continue long after this exhibition has finished.

Linda Shevlin has titled the show “Transhistorical Terrain” which hints at her interest in the environment of indigenous social history and renders a cohesive system for debate between artists and a regional audience. The curator does not overtly influence the artists on how to display the works but does offer suggestions to maximise the choreography of presentation.

The Ground Floor Gallery features the work of two artists Ruth Clinton and Niamh Moriarty
who work collaboratively together. The show consists of photographs, a video and various banners. The artists received permission to make work in and around the estate of Glenmaroon House which was formally owned by the Guinness family and latterly by the Daughters of Charity. The estate has fallen into disrepair and now stands vacant, clasped in the grip of the withering elements of Irish weather. As the artists worked in the house over weekends they discovered traces of a film crew working on a film about the 1916 Rising. Scattered pages of script denoting scenes and directions for actors were discovered throughout the house. The artists decided to use these found pages as an additional motif in their exploration of the houses history. Artifice and fact melded accidently and the discovered actor’s lines were embedded into a newly constructed plot. A fabricated record of events was construed to be true and a storyline was fashioned around this fiction. On a wall in the gallery a line of photographs are displayed showing various aspects of the house. Stairs seem to always pull the viewer upwards by design to an inaccessible location, a long corridor glazed in darkness might have two shadowy silhouettes and doors open searchingly as in a barren dream, stir an atmosphere of unease. Interspersed throughout these photographs are the pages of dialogue between a male and female volunteer who are trying to defend the building from the advancing British Army. There is bristling tension as ammunition runs low and the volunteers decide to retreat. In one scene a British soldier raises his rifle to shoot a volunteer in a basement but is shot by Frances and dies. The scripted word invigorates the photographs with additional significance. Are these the stairs and corridors the volunteers fled through? Is that blood or red paint on the stairs? The formal barrier between reality and fiction erodes and the vacuum is filled by the viewer’s imagination.

A short video with an insistent music score plunges the spectator into another fictional history of the house and perhaps suggests a murder may have occurred there. The opening sequence reveals trees disappearing into clinging mist and milk white steps lost in fog. History seems to drape itself in obscuring mist before unveiling its truths. The windows of the house fog up as if a passerby breathed upon them before leaving. Doors open and close without us seeing the protagonist. Dead flies and butterflies that accumulated on window sills are arranged into a black shaped directional arrow which points towards an unseen revelation. A hand is held over a hot oven and perhaps the same hand holds a torn page describing the safe use of knives. If this advice was followed a terrible act would not have occurred. The video ends with an aerial shot of the house as if taken by a news crew seeking the only access to a crime scene for the morbid viewing of an insatiable TV audience. Left uncertain if this reading of the video is correct, alters ones sense of critical judgement and undermines its fatal certainty.

In the centre of the gallery is a large grey banner stretched between two poles. The gauze like material has a translucent quality and seems to refer to an excerpt of a Kafka novel which describes the action of male servants attempting to raise grey linen sheets in the air so they could manufacture the atmosphere of a misty morning for the benefit of the lady in the great house. There is also a connection to this banner in the video on Glenmaroon House. This banner is raised in front of a window to give a misty morning effect as in Kafka’s novel. It brings into question the opening sequence in the video showing mist covered trees and fog covered steps, may not be a natural event but something conjured up by the artists. This is a multi-layered exhibition were fact and fiction are threaded together to fabricate a poetic realm were the imagination can reside. 

In the First Floor Gallery, 
Ella De Burca’s temperate piece in the Amharc Fhine Gall exhibition is made of a video projected on a large homemade kite. The kite is tilted at an angle as if caught in the turbulent wind, aching to break free of its restraints. Upon the kites clear plastic surface is displayed a short video. Ella spent time researching the history of St Ita’s Hospital in Portrane. The hospital cared for long term psychiatric patients. The institution opened in 1900 and at one time housed 1600 patients who were looked after by 300 staff. Most of the staff lived on the site. The hospital grew its own food and small industries occupied the patients. It was conceived as the ideal method to treat the mentally ill at the time. By the 1940’s due to poor financial support it fell into disrepair and its services for the patients became limited.

Against this historical backdrop the artist has conceived a work which tries to commemorate the patients who are buried in unmarked graves in the hospital grounds. When the veiled social history of an institution like St Ita’s is unearthed, a remnant of the tangled distraught memories of its history clings like a residue to the researcher. This is alluded to in a booklet printed by Fingal Arts Office where the artist chronicles a conversation overheard on a train while travelling to Brussels. An artistic couple discuss the documentation of a performance work, were a residue of the performed piece still remains after the event. Perhaps this was not fully understood until the artist became involved with this emotionally unsettling project. Sometimes this resonance of clinging history cries out for someone to bear witness to the suffering of the grieving past. During her research the artist discovered weekly screenings of films were shown to raise the spirits of the interred patients. She decided to screen a video over the patient’s graveyard to commemorate the memory of those weekly films and also aspire to exact repentance and acknowledge their padlocked suffering.

The artist flew a large kite up into the darkening winds of a star filled sky. On this blustering kite she projected a dancer skipping and tapping across a stage to the sound of an Irish ceili tune. The imagery hints at De Valera’s desire that all citizens would find happiness if they danced on every crossroads throughout Ireland to the rhythmic beat of Irish music. This ideal way of life was not granted to the patients of St Ita’s whose smothered torment was hidden from a blinkered society. The incessant tapping of the Irish dancer appears frenetic as he tries to remain in shot of the video projection caught on the rippling surface of the flying kite. Briefly the word SORRY mingles with the Irish dancer on the kites surface as if their choreographed interaction seeks redemption for past injustice. Then the music and dancer fade and the word SORRY holds the forgiven air above the graveyard of the forgotten. The artist silhouette is seen now and then as she struggles to control the kite wishing to take wing up into the splintered night sky. Although a short video it seems to grip tenaciously to the viewer like an afterimage on the back of the eye. It remains there like a residue snagged in the shadow of consciousness long after one has left the show.

Read more about the show ... here ...

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.


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