Helen Carey’s text for Michelle Browne’s solo presentation at the LAB, Dublin (found in the in-between spaces of the fold-out press release), gives a portrait of an art practitioner who, within the formalist guises of her ‘documents’ on show at the LAB, traverses the roles of the artist. In a sense, Carey’s text invited me to write as it solely framed Browne’s art practice within the discourse of the “Museum” – covering the archive and the curatorial. But I wanted to look at the ‘object’ of Browne’s work at the LAB, which reveals, in the artist’s tripartite delivery as ‘artist’/ ‘curator’ and ‘collator’, an art practitioner who is juggling with the game of documentation, and the loss of the ‘object’ after the Event.


The curse of documentation is the performance artist’s burden to bear. It is almost an obsession, revisiting the Event over and over again through it’s mediated versions. The curator Hans Ulrich Obrist describes a paradoxical “amnesic effect” from the over-documentation of everyday events through our growing technological proficiency. The preposition ‘over’ suggests a limit to our ability to over(consume) and over(distribute), like the housing ‘bubble’. There is a loss of the ‘real’ through the lens of our digital camera, but there is a further erasure of the senses when the mediated event is uploaded to the web. To make this discussion more complex, we could view the gallery as another form of mediation, which in nihilistic fashion is the last in a series of erasures of the original object or Event, displaying the results of the mediated journey, from real event/recorded event, to memento or funerary object – A ‘Wake’ for the Death of the Event.


However, there is a depressing finality to that summation, which Browne’s ‘documents’ overcome. There is something joyous about her ‘revisiting’ of events at The LAB, even if you are a virgin visitor to these revisited events you are invited to literally take part through the apparatus of a telephone that is placed on a wall close to the entrance/exit for the convenience of the inquisitive viewer who wants to make an inquiry related to the documents at The LAB. Alongside, one small file box with note cards is left for any witnesses of the actions and events from the Mind The Gap project. These objects are not only forms of mediation, but offer the viewer the potential to make a discreet performative gesture.


Interestingly, I have never been given so much choice for inquiry and re-interpretation, re-imagining and renewal of the art ‘object’ or the ‘Event’s Death’ in an art space. In the context of the present, which could be viewed as another gap between crisis and unknown potential, these mediated invocations of past events revive a longing for the future, not a dark reflection on the past. And Browne’s themes or impetus for these events should form a memento mori – one video document is titled Nama Taxi Revisited; or perhaps the term ‘revisited’ is suggestive of an invitation to play ‘seriously’.


The video document, Nama Taxi Revisited, is one of many inventive scenarios by Browne at The LAB that bridges the gap between governmental opacity and transparency; represented by the unfinished and empty architectural structures that are tragic/comedic landmarks that, for the sake of denial rather than the economy – the mind rather than the pocket – would be better off demolished. The video tracks Nama informed taxi drivers escorting their passengers around Dublin to get the inside information on what buildings were sold off to Nama. Once again, there is a reflective analysis of the past events through witness/participator audio accounts of the Nama taxi tour.


Browne’s articulation of the ‘document’ is not serious museology. This is especially evident in the second video document A life on The Ocean Wave Revisited . The display includes a portable DVD player hung on a wall; a plinth with a telescope placed on top and headphones; with a considerable gap between DVD player and plinth. The folly of the telescope in the display reads as an effort to illustrate the real action of using a viewing instrument for the performative event documented in the video, which includes a boat full of people singing on the ocean and viewed by the audience from the distant shore. The video is interrupted by voiceovers – presumably by the initiators of the event – who reminisce about the successes and expectant failures of such performative experiments in art mediation. This reflective analysis of past efforts is persistent throughout. For Browne it seems that the document is not the result of the successful event, but a way to revisit, to even poke holes in the Event.


The timing of this show is a big part of the success of Browne’s documents at The LAB. If these documents had been shown earlier they may have come across as didactic. Showing them in the future will give the archival nature of the objects a tone of nostalgia or tragedy. There is a balance here. But there is also a loss, a death; no more ‘revisits’ can be contemplated for these documents.


The project, Mind The Gap, stands out in the memory. I was left with the residual documents and objects from the series of events that were commissioned by Absolut Fringe Dublin in 2009. These included a ‘maneuverable’ wooden bench, a slide show of images and text, and a ‘newspaper’ full of interviews, led in a very open and human way by Jessica Foley. Mind The Gap could be read as ironical because the idea of ‘document’ fits nicely between the ‘gap’, if you are lucky enough to find it, which Browne does at The LAB. The ‘gap’ that I am referring to is the interstices between the fora that shape the parameters of art’s production. I am quick to avoid the term ‘creation’ as this term hints at some mystical process; a Beusyian shamanistic ritual.


In general, the contemporary artist needs to be efficient in the age of multidisciplinary art practice. The artist needs to be able to adapt in order to objectively analyse the chaotic process of artistic subjectivism. For the ‘serious’ art professional, objectivism is good – subjectivism is bad. In a sense, the artist needs to be a leader, as well as a good designator for his/her syndrome of multi-personas. With all this splitting of roles and personas, Browne is a surprisingly controlled author/director of events at The LAB.

While in this space of ‘documents’ an ‘aggressive’ projected image of the Don't Quote Me event held outside the Screen Cinema Dublin in 2009 included a quote by the fictional Wall Street finance mogul, Gordon Gekko, which read: “...And you are all being royally screwed over by these, these bureaucrats, with their luncheons, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.”


Significantly, this filmic intrusion on entering and leaving The LAB was flaccid rather than revolutionary: the blood stayed tepid. There is no Hollywood moral or dramatic speech that will create a tour de force out of Ireland’s real economic mess. But that is why the sociopolitical themes, scenarios, and mediated events conducted by Browne at The LAB collate to represent the failure of such introspection or retrospection as a form of confession. Browne’s documents of previous performative actions reveals an archive that places art at the centre of the civic, the social and the architectonic. It doesn’t presume to rupture these infrastructures, but does push up against them.

APRIL_2011_


A(Wake) for the Death of the Event

Michelle Browne,

‘out on the sea was a boat fu! of people singing’ & other stories

The LAB, Dublin

4th March -9th April, 2011.


Michelle Brown, A life on The Ocean Wave Revisited (Video Still), The LAB, Dublin, 2011.



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