When two curators agree it's a trend.

When two critics agree one becomes redundant.

(Peter Schjeldahl quoting Dave Hickey)

The other day I found myself studying a photograph of my son aged six months on the fridge door. He is now three years old. But at the time the photograph was taken family and friends and even strangers remarked on how he was the spit of my wife. I didn't see it at the time. He was a baby and looked like all other babies. But now I see it, in the photograph on the fridge. It's startling, the resemblance.

This both terrifies me and excites me, this moment of subjectivity, this moment of not being able to see what is in plain sight. As an art critic and artist you need to believe in your eyes. But the stuff that is bubbling underneath your eyes, the volcano of subjectivity that you can't control or worse still, are unaware is controlling you, is what influences our perceptual, interpretative and critical relationships with the world around us.

So if our eyes are telling lies, especially in our intimate or durational relationships with someone or something, what then? Do we embrace our subjectivity, our mood, our biases, our desires, our instinct and intuition in our verbal embrace of the world? If we do is there not a danger of not making sense, causing offense, not being heard, not fitting in, ignored, deaf, dumb? Wait there, is that a bad thing!?

In the world of art where subjectivity is allowed to boil over in the process of art making, our ways of interpreting art with words seem quite restricted, reiterative, samey. We use words that are within arms reach, words that suit the context, impress the context, that bridge the gulf between losing oneself and self control. Language is not allowed the free rein to become the consummate ‘miscommunicator’ that it is in our other relationships with the world and its things. The language of art is one of stock and staple.

In our local art scene under-interpretation persists – one review bleeds into three. There is an over dependency on certain words. There is a hoard of acceptably sophisticated words and theories and references and even moods that certify the object as art. 'Liminal' is one such word, a word that we adopt as artists in art college (I did), a word that signposts art but ventures nowhere, a word that is, ironically, a closed door to interpretation.

Not the first time this year in the Irish art scene, the word liminal is invoked again and again in the literature and criticism surrounding Caoimhe Kilfeather's current solo show at Dublin's Douglas Hyde Gallery. But the word liminal leads us down the same worn path of hedge-sitting rather than hedge-cutting, to a world of predictable and legitimate ways of talking and thinking, experiencing and interpreting art. Liminal even forces a certain mood upon art, which is moody at the best of times, and doubly so when the moody observer enters the equation.

Peering down from DHG's mezzanine Kilfeather's art looks like unhemmed pockets of white noise. Then, stepping down into the gallery the darkness begins to lift as eyes adjust to the light; from dream to waking, from waking to dream. The adjustment never steadies as one after another photograph and sculpture forces the pupils to constrict and dilate, pin pricks to black holes.

When we talk around art like Kilfeather's the time of day doesn't always have to be dawn or dusk as has been suggested over and over again in reference to the artist’s DHG show. The light doesn't always have to be twilight or crepuscular either. Maybe we are in a sitting room and the blaze of white noise pulsing from the untuned TV is pinpricking the dead of night – inside and outside – on furniture, on toys, on mirrors, on pictures, through windows and into the night to alight upon whatever textures lurk out there: there's multiverses of interpretation lying in the dark. Maybe if we can’t trust our eyes perhaps we should close them.


Maybe Kilfeather's piles of tempered metal are not symbols of 'entropy' (inevitable decay) – another staple of art language, or the reiterative zombie ruins of Modernism, another. Perhaps those piles of tempered metal are the shadows of last night's popped pharmaceuticals, the inky silhouettes of pain and sex and sleepless nights; and the monochrome photographs of misty hedgerows the labyrinthine entrances and exits to and from dreams or drugs. Maybe this is about popping pills rather than propping up history yet again. Why not!?

The experience of Kilfeather's art is all down to patience and time, staying with each work until the drugs take hold. But the hourglass of light and dark that makes up her art always tends towards darkness. And in the dark we can say anything, think anything, write anything. So why don't we!?

Art is only as deep as the well of our interpretative faculty, and our interpretative faculty depends on expanding beyond the stock and staple and legitimate language of art. For me Kilfeather's art offers the potential to expand beyond journeyman vocabulary, especially in the relationship between her monochrome photography and piles of metal which are teaming with suggestive noise at DHG. Her art may come across as silent at first but that doesn't mean our verbal response should be a whisper. Have a go yourself, it's an exhibition that deserves some noise!

[James Merrigan]

Through 27 July.


Liminal’s fine,