My approach to art is quite radical. It has more to do with theatre and staging than making objects such as paintings or sculptures. I think that the fetishism of objects is pathetic. (Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster)

Why does one write on art when you take away the editorial agenda, obligation or payment? For me it is all to do with the successful failures of art practice. Art is never brave. It doesn’t have to contend with the linear narrativity of television programming, where risk and audience ratings have to meet half way; or plot lines need to be adaptive if not respected. Art has the benefit of the doubt when it comes to plot holes and audience numbers. So why does one write, well...

From a distance, Brian Duggan’s ‘Three Lives’ at Rua Red Arts Centre is one of the most visually wondrous interventions to an art space in Ireland to date, but somehow has conceptually spoilt innards.

A theatrically-lit, metal spirographic zeppelin looms massively over a neatly partitioned maze of plywood – where you blindly come across inset TVs with nostalgic boyhood thematics. The utilitarian labyrinth is dimly-lit by Emerald City light bulbs – well, considering their frosty green tint, the potent nostalgia throughout the maze, and the goal of finding your way home – The Wizard of Oz associations write themselves.

Later I read in the accompanying newspaper catalogue for the exhibition that Duggan’s references go back to the late 1930s – specifically the Hindenburg Disaster – when a German passenger airship went up in flames in the skies above New Jersey, resulting in 36 fatalities. The event is a rewarding backdrop to Duggan’s installation, which is in memorium to a ’30s aviation aesthetic, not a reflection on the tragedy.

Duggan’s nostalgia for spent technologies is recaptured and mediated via such pixellated stars as Pac-Man or roll-playing adventures as Final Fantasy. Although I am from that arcade generation when 3 lives cost 10p and a ‘free man’ was rewarded after hours of play, I was disappointed with the endgame of Duggan’s installation. And yes, I acknowledge that ’80s computer games did have a tendency of having no endgame, or celebratory credits that signified you had successfully completed the digital journey – in some instances completion was signified by a loud irritating noise and blank screen – but only the nerdy few have knowledge of such gaming quirks, and when you do, the knowing does not have enough body to follow Duggan’s magnificent visual prelude. Perhaps this is the sacrifice that Duggan has made for what is an impressive cinematic vista – on a par, if not more impressive than Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s Turbine Hall Commission for Tate Modern in 2008 (although her quote above is self-indulgent and self-righteous).

Duggan’s installation has the same distant gaze of a land surveyor rather than someone lost in their subject and the risk that comes with that subjective embeddedness. As you wander past that initial one-point perspective framed by the cavernous gallery space of the Tallaght art centre, you enter a reductive maze of boy-toy ’80s nostalgia and signification that doesn’t measure up to what is a Wagnerian prelude with the possibility of something gloriously operatic. In the end we get a sepia ghost wearing ruby red slippers.

The newspaper publication also includes essays by Hillary Murray and Fiona Woods, which have the same distant surveying gaze as Duggan’s. Although rewarding reads – especially Fiona Woods’ ‘Some Practices of In-Between’ – as a discursive frame for Duggan’s installation they are both overdetermined, offering critiques of the civic and ecological architectures that condition art-making.

The crux of Murray’s argument is “we don’t want to see progressive art forms lost or not fully developed simply because they don’t sit easily within the gallery space”. Doesn’t the commissioning of artworks for badly drawn art centres debunk that argument? And hasn’t art centre architecture been the scapegoat for misjudged curatorials for long enough? And when are artists going to take responsibility for their own work? There is also a mention of collective enterprises of the eco-kind being “broken” through re-staging in the art gallery. Isn’t such re-imagining of off-site artworks within the gallery space a ritual to signify the reputation of the artist rather than the artwork?

A counter argument to Foerster’s theatrical position is that artists and curators have become so dependent on the crutch of theatricality that the modernist convention of white wall and fetishised art object is being lost in theatrical smoke and fairground mirrors.

So why do I write? Well it helps if creative endeavors have an element of risk, which Duggan’s ‘Three Lives’ has in spades.

Brian Duggan, Three Lives, Rua Red Arts Centre, Dublin
19th March – 28th April. 2012

Courtesy of the artist and Rua Red Arts Centre.


Architecture’s Handmaiden

Brian Duggan

Three Lives

Rua Red Arts Centre
19th March – 28th April 2012



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