CECILY BRENNAN, Black Tears (2010), HD Video 8’, Still image courtesy of the artist.

Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar made great art out of weeping, best exemplified by the Spaniard’s The Weeping Woman (1937). But Picasso’s portrayal is a violent sort of grief, whereby the painted handkerchief stabs Marr in the face like a broken pint glass: the pre-fight threat ‘I will rearrange your face’ takes on new meaning through the artist’s cubist vocabulary.

Cecily Brennan’s digital work Black Tears is installed on the second floor of the Crawford, where a curved corridor leads the viewer past a series of nineteenth-to-early twentieth century painted portraits of women—a ‘William Orpen’ the best among them. Set in a small dark room, the projection size is more advertisement than intimate. First impressions are that this lager than life emotive gesture presented by Brennan in the reductive form of a woman crying is aesthetically reminiscent of the filmed emotive gesture of Bill Viola’s work.

Brennan’s background is painting and her formal painterly strengths are evident here in the use of colour and texture. Her collaborator is the since deceased Irish actress Britta Smith, who is set against a deep red backdrop, which has the same luminosity as a live broadcast blue-screen. Smith is crying, but digitally painted black cephalopod tears that drip down Smith’s gracefully wizened face. However, even with the digital enhancement, they are not fat tears. They are not those ‘real’ tears that the griever tries to suppress with clumsy hands when emotion comes upon them too fast. This is a premeditation on grief, with moments that slip into real grief as if Smith, for a split second, is catapulted back into a traumatic past, or forward into a ’what if’ future. They are tears that are struggling to escape dried-up eye ducts.

There were moments while watching Brennan’s Black Tears that I became self-aware, embarrassed both by the fabricated portrayal of ‘real’ emotion, and even more so by the prospect of being caught watching this display of personal grief. Aside from the purely aesthetic experience, and an exquisite one at that, it is Brennan’s intention “to confront and question personal affliction.” In an age that Albert Camus called ‘pitiless’, and a period in which art is in retreat from the ‘real’ (Paul Virilio), perhaps the only way art can get close to an emotive reality that has been lost through militaristic trauma and technological progress over the last century, is to present it as an enhanced aesthetic experience, hoping that irony and insincerity won‘t taint the results as it so often does in the postmodern reading of contemporary art.


The Aestheticization of Grief

CECILY BRENNAN_Black Tears_Crawford Art Gallery_Cork_

13 January – 26 February_2011_



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