DANGLING from the ceiling of Dublin’s ArtBox Projects, as if drying out after being trawled from the ocean, Maria McKinney’s monstrous catch forms a hanging garden of tumourous stalactites as part of the group exhibition DEAD ZOO. Up close we find the hanging masses have been chroma-assaulted by aerosol spray paints. Closer, we discover the netting that moulds, folds and holds the monstrous mass of material together. Closer again, a peppering of fake finger nails with a French nail polish finish – the clichéd imagination takes flight: the freakish result of a body drop in a lake close to a nuclear plant? Medical waste accidentally flushed down a toilet that led to the ocean? 

Drawing back the curtains on this mangrove of teratomas we find a laptop playing an underwater scene of a ‘guiding hand’ navigating the depths. This hand from Atlantis is disrupted by a viewfinder made of some composite material and shaped like an early 3D printer prototype for a geoid. McKinney’s diorama feels ad hoc, homespun and homemade: some school science project by some thing in some far flung future – the mind boggles. Everything else in DEAD ZOO is offset by McKinney’s Othership installation. In a sense Teresa Gillespie’s and Catherine Barragry’s art come across as beached remnants from McKinney’s big splash in the gallery. 

In this year’s March/April edition of Visual Artists’ News Sheet I reviewed Gillespie’s solo exhibition at Wexford Arts Centre. There, as here at ArtBox – albeit in an obviously edited presentation – tactile impressions of sinuous intestines, swollen masses and samples from the primordial soup lay stagnant on the gallery floor. For some reason I have never felt the disgust that others have commented on with regard to Gillespie’s art. In fact, I find the artist’s yuk and muck materialism comforting. There’s something preverbal in her film montages; flashbacks to paranoid-schizoid infancy, a time when we find ourselves enmeshed in the parts rather than the whole of the mother. Whether you like it or not Gillespie always manages to leave you with an afterimage. The one I took away from ArtBox is of a baby buggy marooned on a choking mudbank from the video work swollen, squirm, seeping sticky slip spit.

If Gillespie’s art is the stillborn manifestation of preverbal memories dug up from the grave of the preverbal unconscious, and then activated and corrupted by corruptible adulthood, Barragry’s art is innocently tick-tocking away in the gallery. There’s something both physical and cerebral about Barragry’s work – the best of both worlds – in which performance continues in the gallery even though the performer has left the building. A timber stepladder activates an elevated pair of black and white photographs, one of a child and maybe her mother; the other of the same child, same pose, with a donkey. The eye vacillates. The memory loads with uncanny and nostalgic irruptions. Floor-bound, a fantastical ‘anthill’ provokes a stoop and invites an eye. Wall-bound, the top and tail of a leafless and soilless tree is sewn into a swath of brown fabric: a natural palindrome, an a priori sacrifice. 

But the work that challenges McKinney’s big splash at ArtBox is an almost imperceptible splash from Barragry, titled What that which is above is made by that which is below and that which is below is like that above. An upside-down, head-high plastic container spits out a thread from its mouth while, up close, water is found dribbling down the thread’s back like glycerol ants. Down, down the water tightropes, first through a bone fragment that seesaws on a handmade stilt, then, onto the gallery floor where a discrete puddle collects and a handmade hem prevents the trickle from escaping into the gallery. For me, Barragry is a revelation. Her set of objects at ArtBox is complete in their shared double-bindedness. More please!

However what we need now is to counterbalance my ‘girl-crush’ at ArtBox with a starry-eyed bro-romance. In Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Han Solo disembowels a creature seconds dead, then stuffs a bloodied, cold and dying Luke Skywalker in with the warm giblets. But beyond the disgust, violence and implied stink of the event, it was the imagined sensation of comfort and warmth within the disemboweled creature, relative to the icy winds of planet Hoth outside, that had a visceral and lasting effect on me as a kid. Perhaps, it was a case of being young, and therefore instinctually closer to the experience of being in the mother’s womb. At Dublin’s ArtBox artists Catherine Barragry, Teresa Gillespie, Maria McKinney and curator Hilary Murray manage to stuff me right back in the womb for a moment before wrenching me back out into the cold light of day.

[James Merrigan]

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Water has a memory.

IMAGE CREDITS: © Kari Altmann and Eillis King Gallery, Dublin.

Thank you to Jonathan Eillis King for images and additional information.

Catherine Barragry 

Teresa Gillespie 

Maria McKinney


ArtBox Projects, Dublin

20 March – 25 April 2015


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