Lily Cahill and Rob Murphy play the same open-ended riffs as Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher who strummed his phantom limb to the unchained libertine beats of grotesque realism and carnival. My only experience of the collaborative pair is one Halloween weekend in 2013 at The Drawing Project, Dun Laoghaire. While the remains of the holiday played outside with a cheerful, cotton candy air, inside The Drawing Project the artists gave the viewer the remains of a plundered world; a sneak peek through the bars of a push/pull gateway to hell, with “The crusades” and “inferno” describing images of funfairs and dead zoos. If felt like they were trying to represent the memory and emotion of ‘everything’ before the END with a limited and broken archive, and were failing miserably. Short, closely cropped film loops portrayed a roller coaster ride, ghost train ‘exiting’, and vérité stroll through the Natural History Museum, with Sonic Youth’s toolshed scordatura version of The Carpenter’s Superstar whispering sweet nothings in the ears. The three projections felt heavier than the technology and light that made them. There was a dead weight to their presence, like white flags of surrender, flapping on the cold white walls of the commandeered commercial space, and coloured in by the enfant terrible of tacky and dead nostalgia.  

This time around the June bank holiday signals Cahill and Murphy’s return, bringing with them another funhouse archive of zombie artefacts that have gleefully survived the rigour of the END. But if you blink you’ll miss it. Partly because their presence at Broadstone Studios, Dublin, was only a four day stretch (just like their stay at The Drawing Project). But mainly because their fleeting, digital captives waltz out-of-step on walls and recesses of the Victorian common room.

Unlike The Drawing Project space, a shell of recently failed, capitalist enterprise, Broadstone common room is musty with immutable Time. The markedly different character of the two spaces where Cahill and Murphy have made and left their mark – on my watch anyway – has a profound effect on their distinctive aesthetic. However, the same confident scarcity prevails as did at The Drawing Project, with no art objects to anchor the intermittent splices of sounds and visuals Cahill and Murphy have gathered and displayed in on/off synchronicity.

At Broadstone, the previous experiences of funfairs and dead zoos have graduated to a day out at Dublin’s Viking Splash Tour and a trip to The National Gallery. Those of you who are not in the know, the tourists and locals that sign up for the Viking Splash Tour make their presence annoyingly felt on the streets of Dublin City Centre with a choreographed, collective roar. Directed from inside the tour’s amphibious vehicle, Cahill and Murphy’s camera focuses on the tourists in close quarters. There is an initial sense that nothing is working in Broadstone. No sound. Moments of dead air. And then the show begins to crackle, when the silence is broken by sporadic outbursts of the group roar from the Viking tour.

Then more dead air. Another crackle. The back of the Oscar Wilde statue on Dublin’s Merrion Square comes into view. Furry. A garland of pink flowers, maybe peach, passes through the air in slow motion. It fails to lasso the neck of Wilde. More dead air. Was that Oscar Wilde? Pink or peach? Can’t be sure...

Adjacent, and projected onto the plastered recess of what was once a Victorian shuttered window, we are brought before the ‘most popular [and delicate] painting’ in Ireland, Frederic William Burton’s Hellelil and Hildebrand, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs (1900), at the National Gallery, Dublin. Only on public view for one hour/three days a week due to light sensitivity, the water colour and gouache is sealed in a black cabinet the rest of the time. In this instance the visual is rarefied; dead air is reified.

One last crackle in the dead Victorian air of Broadstone comes as a pan-flute rendition of Abba’s The Winner Takes It All (1980). Cahill and Murphy give you a moment to recognise the pop song before they award you with the source image: there’s precision in their seemingly arbitrary storytelling after all. On Dublin’s Grafton Street, a young man, missing an arm, holds the pan-flute in his right hand whilst raising his left stump to let the ‘unfulfilled’ jacket sleeve go flaccid. The talented musician’s stump is at such an exhibitionist angle that it pokes you in the eye. When you take in the full mise-en-scène of the one-armed pan-piper playing Abba’s The Winner Takes It All, with a Bank of Ireland looming behind, all you can do is laugh for fear of crying, or cry for fear of insensitively laughing. I laughed; tragic comedy indeed! All of this on top of the references to Ireland’s favourite painting of unrequited love, Britain’s favourite break-up song, and Oscar Wilde, whose gradual fall from grace came on the foot of losing a court battle to hide his sexuality from a repressed and homophobic public: losers in love do become winners in the end. Well, winners sometime/someplace in perpetuity.

Cahill and Murphy’s quirky tales from quotidian experience is a game of give and take. In their hatchet-job archive they focus on giving us back the good stuff in visceral pulses; shaking us in and out of our reverie like a form of gentle waterboarding.

3 June_2014_

School’s Out!



Broadstone Studios, Dublin

28 May – 1 June, 2014



5-Channel projection installation.

Duration: 10 minutes 3 seconds.

Dimensions variable.

Stills courtesy of the artists.



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