Over the past decade [2000-2010], this condition [precariousness] became all but pervasive, and it is this heightened insecurity that much art has attempted to manifest, even to exacerbate. This social instability is redoubled by an artistic instability, as the work at issue here foregrounds its own schismatic condition, its own lack of shared meanings, methods, or motivations. Paradoxically, then, precariousness seems almost constitutive of much art, yet sometimes in a manner that transforms this debilitating affliction into a compelling appeal. Hal Foster[1]

As we slug into a new decade it seems Hal Foster’s ‘precarious’ has more fuel in the tank. Foster came to the term precarious via the Swiss artist, Thomas Hirschhorn, whose much maligned Green Coffin (2006) in the lackluster press coverage locally and internationally doesn’t offer a great entry point for Dublin Contemporary 2011. The lack of  strong personal engagement rings in the ears when I walk up to the eyesore located in the purpose built annex for Dublin Contemporary. Known for getting his own hands dirty in his exploration of the precariousness and preciousness of art and its institutional display, here Hirschhorn substitutes the stick for a green carrot.

The term neo povera has been repeated by the curators of Dublin Contemporary in what comes across as a forced effort to thread the disparate art works of Dublin Contemporary together with jittery needle. The premise of the everyday that arte povera prescribed back in the ‘60s is a thin concept for a would-by Biennale. Today’s artworld vernacular and aesthetic is already busy with the precepts and ordinary materiality that formed the bedrock of arte povera. Revisiting such terms has the feel of just another turn of the wheel: a recycling of the old in an effort to revitalise a jaded now. Is neo povera defined by Kadir Attia’s stiffened, empty plastic bags placed on self-consciously high plinths? Is there an unspoken passing of the ’poor art’ torch when we see arte povera founder Jannis Kounellis’ gold leaf, mummified museum objects displayed with David Adamo’s pared back, vertically precarious timbers at Earlsforth Terrace?

As themes and concepts run dry for the artist, perhaps ‘space’ as an abstract unknown is the last frontier for the artist to replicate and twist. Take for instance Mark Cullen's Ark, I could sleep for a thousand years at Earlsforth Terrace, where the viewer is invited to walk up a stairwell attached to another DIY construction, and gaze at an improvised night sky. On the tall platform, several, what can only be described as thin mylar sleeping bags, lay empty. If Cullen was aiming to induce sleep in the viewer, then my fear of having a Rip Van Winkle was appropriate. In a neighbouring room Masashi Echigo’s ajar fridges achieved the same flat line. The best example in recent times of this type of aesthetic was Chu Yun’s Constellation Installation (2006) at the Venice Biennale 2009; a triumph of ‘standby’ space theatre.

The mental evacuation Cullen offered the viewer from his bunk bed to the stars, is manifested physically in Brian Duggan's this short-term evacuation, Pripyat, Chernobyl, 30km Zone, Pripyat. Abandoned in 1986 following the Chernobyl disaster, the Ukranian city of Pripyat was founded in 1970 to house workers at the nuclear plant. In Russia, the city was one of nine similar faux cities, nicknamed “atom cities.” Duggan has built a two metre rusted model of the Pripyat ferris wheel, which was a landmark structure in one of the thirty-five playgrounds that are located in the city. To give the viewer an element of cryptic clarity, Duggan pastes a fabricated evacuation notice to the wall of the room at Earlsforth Terrace.

The nickname of “atom city” and what it signifies (nuclear proficiency and the dangers inherent in technological ambition), makes Pripyat a real, earth bound example of the dystopian landscapes that typify the science fiction genre. Duggan’s formal interpretation spoils and debunks a tragedy that already warps and twists in the mind. Although access to Pripyat is said to be not impossible, long distance photos of the city still populate the internet, exposing the human desire to see what is out of reach. Duggan’s ferris wheel is a cliché of the post-apocalyptical landscape of the horror and science fiction genre; the funfair being the location where the drama unfolds in such imaginings. It also instills an element of trauma, when you think of the child casualties and inherited defects that Chernobyl signifies for the subsequent generations. But the scale of the ferris wheel model is more of a plaything for the child in us; a distraction to forget rather than a monument to remember. In the end, some subjects are best left out of reach, as an act of potential rather than denial.

In a similar vein to Brian Duggan’s portrait of the collateral damage that results from hubristic man and country,  Nina Berman's Marine Wedding Series of photographs achieve an even starker portrait of the surviving casualties of war. One photograph in particular of the disfigured Marine Sergeant Ty Ziegel and his wife to be, Renee Kline, strikes a deep pathos, evoked particularly by the bride’s detached gaze beyond the groom and picture frame. Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times:

Ms. Berman took this picture ... on assignment for People magazine. It was meant to accompany an article that documented Mr. Ziegel’s recovery, culminating in his marriage to his childhood sweetheart. But the published portrait was a convivial shot of the whole wedding party.[3] A couple of months after the wedding the couple would divorce.

Patrick Hamilton’s Uri Gelleresque, Columbian machete bending, bore contextual fruit in how he displayed them in a rather cultish design on the floor of one of the cell-like rooms at Earlsforth Terrace. The meeting of politics, violence and design reached it pinnacle in the form of the Nazi Swastika. Hamilton’s blend of machete and spiked metal frames elicited issues of power and violence without being overtly bombastic; whilst also retaining appropriately cold and intriguing formal qualities.

Thomas Hirschhorn, The Green Coffin, 2006, (installed at Dublin Contemporary annex space.)
wood, spray paint, polystyrene, hands made of synthetic resin and ceramic, watches, tape, prints, cardboard, fabric, chess, chessboards, crustaceans made of plastic, sculptures, photocopies, handbags,
Courtesy Galleria Alfonso Artiaco, Naples. Photo credit: Luciano Romano.




ad hoc MUSEUM


Review of Dublin Contemporary 2011, alongside exhibitions that ran concurrently at commercial galleries, art centres and non-profit spaces. Various venues in Dublin city centre.

6 September – 31 October, 2011.

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