What is the relationship between death and sensuality? One has to be careful in choosing the recipient for such a question; some may fall into a state of irreconcilable disturbance when sim- ply asked to consider the position that there might, in fact, be a relationship. How could the seemingly diametrically opposed concepts of pain and pleasure (in terms of sensation and action – both given and received) overlap? Interconnect? This nexus between ‘Death and Sensuality’ was explored by 10 Irish artists in Jim Ricks’ curatorial at Mina Dresden Gallery San Francisco.

The artists, focusing specifically on appropriation, generalise their personal inspirations and preoccupations in order to dissect a larger point of interest for the more heterogeneous American audience: that violence, death, love and sensual- ity affect every individual on both a subjective and objective basis – they pervade every culture. The consequence of this is that viewing Death and Sensuality (fittingly named for the controversial writings of renegade surrealist Georges Bataille) suggests viewing society’s mutual points of unification and division. After all, death and sensuality have time and time again proven their uncanny ability to provoke both.

The styles of the artists here are diverse. Each approach varies distinctly from the next and the result is a conglomerate show of talents that range from draw- ing, to video installation, to collage, makeshift book works and more. Any potential for dissonance is effectively eliminated through the collective loyalty to theme and the considered application of each individual’s craft, which in turn results in a viewer experience that is both multifaceted and multisensory.

Sometimes there exists a fine line between appropriating art and stealing it. Perhaps some of you will remember the famous lawsuit between photographer Patrick Cariou and painter/photographer Richard Prince, or the repercussions of Jeff Koons’ appropriation of Art Rogers’ photograph into String of Puppies in 1992. The general consensus among the larger art community seems to be that copyright problems can be avoided through precaution and observance for the law. The interesting thing about Roisin Byrne is that she unabashedly neglects both. However, it is her reckless abandon (in combination with almost endearing – or at least amusing – manipulative tactics) that has awarded Byrne a devoted audience of those who enjoy the dual package of ‘keep ya guessing’ entertainment, and special circumstances in which to evaluate the themes of ownership, integrity and perception.

With Massage: “On the 4th of December 2009 the artist Roisin Byrne placed an order for a neon sign intended to be at all times turned off. On hearing she was in fact the second artist that week to order such a thing she ordered the other artist’s instead, 2010 (simply titled The Medium by original artist Ryan Gander) a broken ‘a’ in a red neon sign spelling out Massage calls into question the connotations – sexual or otherwise – of such a display, while Byrne focuses on the effect of her appropriating (commandeering) the piece.” To be fair, it’s not a fresh concept. The origin, for both artists, is media philosopher Marshall McLuhan, the man behind the phrase “The medium is the message,” and subsequently the novel The Medium is the Massage, but Byrne would still seem the guiltier of the two. It’s not as overt as her posing as a horticulturist in order to steal plants off Turner Prize-winning ‘environmental’ artist, Simon Starling, or shop- lifting – then ingesting – Swarovski crystals, but the message is communicated.

Massage: On the 4th of December 2009 the artist Roisin Byrne placed an order for a neon sign intended to be at all times turned off. On hearing she was in fact the second artist that week to order such a thing she ordered the other artist’s instead. Roisin Byrne, 2010 Neon tubing, clear plexiglass sheet, chains, email correspondence, solicitors letter.




Death and Sensuality

A group exhibition of contemporary Irish artists:

Nina Amazing – Roisin Byrne – Alan Butler – Benjamin DeBurca Breda lynch
James McCann – Leo McCann – Tom Molloy – Not Abel – Alan Phelan

Curated by Jim Ricks, Mina Dresden Gallery, San Francisco

November 4th – December 3rd, 2011

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