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No Spoilers!

We breathe too fast to be able to grasp things in themselves or to expose their fragility. Our panting postulates and distorts them, creates and disfigures them, and blinds us to them. 

Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay.

[Quoted in Jonathan Mayhew’s All Flowers in Time for The Hut Project (Part II)]

A person advised me on the way to visiting Jonathan Mayhew’s All Flowers in Time for The Hut Project, that “it's very good at night”; but qualified the statement a moment later with: “it's good during the day also.” There was a lot of information in this remark—criticism too—unbeknownst to the person volunteering it. It wasn't a spoiler per se, but it was close. And the incident was the reason for the following preamble to experiencing the work.

I go out of my way to avoid exhibition spoilers online because I want to experience art the way I think it should be experienced, exclusively in situ. However it's nigh impossible to achieve this unless you fully disconnect from the internet. Unplugging also means missing out on art happenings, because online is how art is now advertised, distributed and promoted. 

Artists and art institutions are part of the problem in this regard. Both give away too much in their eagerness to promote rather than safeguard the experience of art. We make judgments and assumptions all the time about the things we interact with online: about the images that promote art exhibitions; about the images that document art exhibitions; about the photo-ops at gang-bang openings. Soon the online herd will be convinced that the image is a passable, even better substitute for the real thing.

I know there are some people—HANDS UP!—who have experienced some galleries and artists exclusively online, and believe they have the right to judge programmes and art with a few swipes and zooms of their smartphones. ‘It looks awful online’ does not come with the addendum ‘it's better in reality’. The only way art's reputation can be saved in this virtual vs. reality scenario is if the experience in the gallery can trump the experience on the smartphone for those that are convinced by their smartphone's ability to reproduce the aroma of reality.

Sure, sometimes promotional images can look better than the real thing with a clever crop here and filter there, but experiencing art is a physical activity, influenced by so many chance variables, sensory and emotional, that hinder or help your experience along the way. The experience of an exhibition starts with expectation, then fantasy. It physically starts the minute you step out your front door and make your way to the site of art: it's a cumulative experience, always building in momentum.

From email invites replacing postal invites, to social media invites replacing email invites, it seems to me that getting people to the art event is more important than protecting the experience of the exhibition and the enigma of art. That's why landing in a city that is not your own with a Time Out in hand is my favourite way to experience art.

In this scenario you are disconnected from your local networks, influences, habits, hype, online validation, institutional cheer-leading, and assumptions about the people and art spaces that you have come to know so well that you have stopped really looking, asking questions and making responses that go a little deeper than ‘It’s amazing’.

‘It's amazing because I (we) say it's amazing’ just doesn't cut it for me. Of course we should celebrate art and be advocates for art but not to the detriment of asking ‘why’ so and so is this and that. It's the lack of expansion on hyperbole that's the killer. It's like our responses are being said on the edge of a cliff with no room to expand on what is in essence, an empty echo. 

And here’s this person volunteering the information that the optimal conditions for viewing Mr. Mayhew's work for The Hut Project is nighttime. And here's me standing in the rain at midday. Where do I go with that? Come back another day—or night according to you? It's a four-hour round trip. Fuck that! (FYI: I know this person was innocently thinking out loud. And although I am using and abusing the remark as a fillip for writing, my thoughts were definitely corrupted en route to Mr. Mayhew’s work).

For instance, on the way I start a discourse analysis  of the said remark, asking myself what does “good” and “very good” mean in this person’s reception and judgment of Mr. Mayhew’s All Flowers in Time? It obviously has something to do with the visual properties and qualities of the work. I assume then that I am about to experience an artwork whereby the visual qualities will be affected by the daylight by a degree of “very”. Theres's a chasm between “good” and “very good”, isn't there?

When you think about it, however, “very good” is not a compliment at all. In some ways “good” sounds more demanding. At least hate and love, even ambivalence, are more emotive responses than “very good”. “Very good” is what the childcare worker says about your two year old's colouring ability in crèche.

What value is being translated or transacted by using such throwaway terms. I always imagine a robot voice when someone says or writes ‘amazing’ as a response to anything, never mind art. Maybe it's just me but I can't measure terms such as bad, good, very good, amazing, superb, terrific. Relative to what? Your bad, good, very good, amazing, superb, terrific taste? 

However, when this person in question said “very good” there was a pause................., a moment in which the individual seemed to be reliving their experience of Mr. Mayhew's work at nighttime. It was like this person was thinking of the sex they had the night before. It was a slow “very good”—  reflective and vacant. This person must have returned to the hut during daylight, and all they experienced was a nimble “good” second time around.

Walking past the National Gallery I get the sense that Mr. Mayhew’s All Flowers in Time scrubs up well at nighttime. There's the suggestion that it needs the night to luminesce, or effect its luminescence. It's a work that plays in the dark to get noticed and be noticeable.

The obvious assumption is, it’s artificially lit in some way which steers it in the direction of the theatrical. It’s visual properties are important; or the visual is what this person holds important in the work of art. But, according to my accidental source it's relatively flawed in daylight: pimples show up at midday. My wavering conclusion is that it must be glamourous at night; not exactly entertaining, but seductive and contemplative.

But as I cross the road to Ely Place, the far end of which The Hut Project is located in the Office of Public Works, I recollect that Emile Cioran is mentioned somewhere in Mr. Mayhew's online promotion of his All Flowers in Time. The quote referenced is one of the Romanian  philosopher's  verbally alive but philosophically pessimistic aphorisms about our very breathing distorting our perception of the world around us.  

Unlike Nietzsche, who believed life could be affirmed by sheer will, especially with God being dead and all, Cioran was a philosopher slug who one day decided to enter his own consciousness through some orifice in his body, and then seal all the vents so he could bathe in rage and resignation without hope of ever escaping. Writers like Cioran show us all up to be mere hacks. 

That's why when I first read the reference to Cioran I thought it was either novel and ambitious, or just foolhardy on the artist’s part. But perhaps Cioran's lyrical verbal soup, whose subject is decaying and becoming, lends itself well to Mr. Mayhew's All Flowers in Time?

As I arrive at the entrance to Dublin's Royal Hibernian Academy, and before I walk inside to collect a text that the press release has informed me will be waiting for every visitor in the foyer, I take a quick glance towards where The Hut Project is located. There, in the pissing rain, I catch a glimpse of Mr. Mayhew's All Flowers in Time unfurling in the hut; insinuating death and decay in baroque resplendence. End.

[James Merrigan]

OPW & RHA present the

HUT Project {Part II}

All Flowers In Time

Jonathan Mayhew

End of Ely Place, Dublin 2 (adjacent to the RHA)

Opens Thursday 14th January 2016, 6-8pm

Viewable around-the-clock...

Through 19 February 2016.


Jonathan Mayhew

All Flowers in Time. 2016