Human After All (Daft Punk, 2005)

Irish art centres breed compromise the same way agreeable relationships do. Because artists can't be choosers they politely refer to their experience with the not-fit-for-purpose architecture of art centres as 'challenging'. But this is just the beggar talking.

Society, religion, therapists tell us that compromise is a good and necessary thing in a relationship. But as individuals, being uncompromising is the stuff of heroes, of geniuses, of trailblazers. Artists don't always get to be heroes, geniuses or trailblazers because they make art within a system that is beset by compromise. They are always the beggar, never the chooser.

Mermaid Art Centre is the mothership of compromise.

I had a solo show there in 2012: that babbling brook of a cafe downstairs with the indifferent jabbering, all that glass, all that light, too much public, too much civic. During the installation I was nagged by the same question: was it worth transforming an art space not fit for purpose for an audience that would never come?

So, in anticipation of Andreas von Knobloch's solo show 'In Support', I asked the artist could I meet him in the gallery on the day of the official preview. He agreed. I don't know why I asked, it was a potentially compromising get together, artist and art critic. But there was something about what the artist wrote in the press release that implied it would be okay to meet, that his work was about conversation, conviviality, even inviting compromising situations; that 'In Support' was an open question rather than a closed answer.

I met the artist, we shook hands, we walked and talked. There was a casual to-and-fro to our conversation like the to-and-fro between von Knobloch's art and the gallery’s architecture. He introduced me to his mother, who sat on the gallery floor (in support) with her back to a big block of white foam that had been nibbled at by the artist's hand.

The gallery floor invites such lounging because von Knobloch has covered it in a sweet-coloured carpet underlay, the strata of which looks like some concoction of jellies and ice cream. Some oblong portions of the underlay retain their syrupy-cerise-shop-seal, playfully suggesting “red carpet entrances”. And that's just the womb of the exhibition.

The guts are made up of materials that you would find behind the stage set of your home, including plastic pipes and cavity blocks. von Knobloch's structures pole vault through the gallery; the play of art is being played out rather than the posturing of physics.

The materials that hold these pole vaulters in place – nylon strapping, metal clamps and foam – suggest movement and transition, climbing and rigging, and of all things, painting. In one instance the artist has removed a light fitting through which a length of nylon strapping disappears. It's a one liner that sticks.

Pleasure, purpose and play are being performed here, or are 'In Support' of one another, so everything feels uncompromising and free. The carpet underlay is not a conceptual conceit or contextual necessity. There is pleasure in the feeling of it underfoot; or how it traps your step; or how it ripples outward from points of contact. There is pleasure exhibited too in von Knobloch's choosing of materials, colours and textures. Sometimes the medium is message enough.

But it is the friendly white foam that is the marshmallow that holds this camp fire together. The foam cushions contact points between von Knobloch's structures and the uncompromising architecture of the gallery. In instances where pipe-meets-foam-meets-cavity block-meets-architecture, the foam takes the form of a breast or a butt. And that is the thing, at the end of these pole-vaulting displays you are searching for the human dismount. Without that human element all we get is an animated hardware store.

But what is most exciting about von Knobloch's art is its potential scope for adaptability toanyspacewhatever[1]. We get a sense of this physical adaptability – but also environmental 'mood swings' – when we leave the light-filled transitional space of the gallery to enter the more intimate, partitioned spaces where the civic is less invasive. Here the artist's fencing with the architecture is less parry and more thrust. Isolated from the civic racket von Knobloch's art holds the space in its grasp. I started to think about basements here; windowless and derelict architecture which von Knobloch could make livable. Because above all else, von Knobloch's art is a livable and transformational art, even in the midst of pure compromise.

[James Merrigan]

Through 3 September.


1. The title under which the relational aesthetics posse came together at New York's Guggenheim in 2008/2009.


The Art of Compromise